Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)

October 2022

Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in Political Science


Political Science

Major Advisor

Ross Burkhart, Ph.D.


Michael Allen, Ph.D.


Nisha Bellinger, Ph.D.


This thesis attempts to determine if authoritarian tendencies are becoming more or less prevalent in the modern American presidency. Presidential and authoritarian scholars agree that authoritarianism is trending in a more insidious manner in the modern world and that most democracies today are being subverted more inconspicuously by elected officials. The most powerful checks on the power of the president are Congress and the judicial branch, two institutions that do exercise their constitutionally granted powers in some cases, but do not always exert their power in solidarity, leading to discrepancies in the constraint of the president. The presence of conflict leads to the most prevalent usurpation of presidential power, which is unequivocally war powers violations. Through a historical qualitative methodology, I have elaborated upon the major authoritarian tendencies of each modern president, starting with FDR and ending with Donald Trump. There is also a clear distinction between the expansion of state institutions and true attempts to aggrandize the power of the executive which are elaborated upon when necessary. My research has found that authoritarian tendencies absolutely fluctuate in the modern presidency but that the presidents who exhibit the highest degree of authoritarian tendencies are those who serve during times of crisis and conflict. The tendencies of the president to usurp power and disparage democracy came to its zenith under President Donald Trump, who is an anomaly both in his rise to power and his justifications for authoritarian actions. The conclusions that can be drawn from this historical perspective are that even in times of conflict and duress, Congress and the judicial branch must consistently uphold their constitutional responsibility to constrain the president.