On September 13, the Millennial Action Project (MAP) in partnership with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, Lyndon B. Johnson Washington Center, and the Archer Center hosted Jeremi Suri, Professor of Public Affairs and History at the University of Texas, for an open discussion about the state of the modern presidency and the implications of the presidency for the millennial generation. MAP President and Co-Founder Steven Olikara sat down with Professor Suri to discuss his new book, “The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America's Highest Office.”
Suri centered the discussion around changes in the office over time, analyzing the office of the presidency itself, rather than the individuals who have served as chief executive. Throughout the discussion, Suri highlighted key elements of how the office has changed throughout the years.
For example, Suri noticed a change in approach to presidential attempts to unite the country, “Once elected as a president you try to bring everyone together and I think 10 years ago that became less the norm,” he said. He emphasized how this divisiveness is harmful to our nation moving forward. “Reform in the U.S. historical context is always about institutional change, the presidents who succeed, succeed for that reason. We need that kind of return, in the way that we think of leadership today.” In order to stray away from polarization, Suri emphasized the importance of revamping our historical context.
Another shift he focuses on is the change in presidents’ schedules over time. He offered the example of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Pearl Harbor Crisis. FDR was only scheduled for a few meetings a day, and had ample time for study and concentration.
In contrast, modern president’s schedules do not allow for down time or reflection, and their time is pulled to thinly. He mentions, “FDR is the last president to master the presidency, he did not cross the line of overwhelment. After we crossed the line of overwhelment, we tried to solve every problem in this world.” Suri emphasized that presidents are constantly pulled in all directions, meaning they can only accomplish so much throughout their presidency, “We need them to focus on the long term solutions; the ones that are going to improve our society. We’re not looking for someone to do everything, we are looking for someone to do a few things well.”
Suri closed the conversation with important advice for millennials in leadership, “The real revelation to this book is how humble we have to be, in order to be a leader, and how little humility we have now. Self humility and confidence always go hand in hand to be a leader,” Suri said. “People follow those who are worthy of following.”