STANDARDS

Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.3, RH.6-8.4, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, SL.6-8.1, WHST.6-8.1, WHST.6-8.4

C3 (D2/6-8): Civ.1, Civ.2, Civ.3, Civ.4, Civ.8, His.2, His.15

NCSS: Power, authority, and governance; Civic ideals and practices

Enjoy this free article courtesy of Junior Scholastic, the Social Studies classroom magazine for grades 6–8.

CIVICS NOW

The President

The Toughest Job in America?

The U.S. presidency is one of the most powerful positions in the world—and its responsibilities are huge. Get an inside look at one seriously busy job.

Nobody said being president would be easy. U.S. President Donald Trump leads the planet’s strongest superpower. He commands massive armies and can tap huge financial resources with the stroke of a pen. Yet in the two years since he’s taken office, other people in the U.S. government have kept saying no to him.

Recently, for example, Democrats in Congress blocked the president’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border—at least temporarily. And last November, a federal court judge stopped the president’s attempt to restrict how migrants can apply to stay in the U.S.

Trump isn’t the only president who has struggled with the limits of his power. Every American leader going back to George Washington (in office 1789-1797) has as well. That’s just how the Framers of the U.S. Constitution planned it. They organized the federal government so that none of its three branches—the executive branch (headed by the president), the legislative branch (Congress), and the judicial branch (the courts)—would be more powerful than the others.

Another thing unites our presidents: Almost all of them found that the duties of the office were much harder to fulfill than they expected. Indeed, many experts have called the presidency “an impossible job.”

Most of the president’s basic tasks are outlined by Article II of the U.S. Constitution. Others were created by acts of Congress or through tradition. All together, they form a position of great authority—and enormous responsibility. Here’s a look at the seven main roles that make up the tough job of our nation’s highest elected official.

Nobody said being president would be easy. U.S. President Donald Trump leads the planet’s strongest superpower. He commands massive armies. He can tap huge financial resources with the stroke of a pen. Yet in the two years since he has taken office, other people in the U.S. government have kept saying no to him.

Recently, for example, Democrats in Congress temporarily blocked the president’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. And last November, a federal court judge stopped the president’s attempt to restrict how migrants can apply to stay in the U.S.

Trump is not the only president who has struggled with the limits of his power. Every American leader going back to George Washington (in office 1789-1797) has as well. That is just how the Framers of the U.S. Constitution planned it. They organized the federal government so that none of its three branches would be more powerful than the others. The executive branch is headed by the president. The legislative branch is Congress. The judicial branch is the courts.

Another thing unites our presidents: Almost all of them found the duties of the office much harder to carry out than they expected. Indeed, many experts have called the presidency “an impossible job.”

Most of the president’s basic tasks are outlined by Article II of the U.S. Constitution. Others were created by acts of Congress or through tradition. Together, they form a position of great authority and enormous responsibility. Here is a look at the president’s seven main roles. They make up the tough job of our nation’s highest elected official.

Chief of the Executive Branch

Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

The president’s main job is to oversee the federal government. Think of him as the boss of one of the world’s biggest companies. (The U.S. government has nearly 3 million employees!)

To help keep this organization running smoothly, each president chooses a group of senior advisers called a Cabinet. They supervise government departments including Defense (which oversees the armed forces) and Education. George Washington’s first Cabinet consisted of just four people. Modern presidents’ Cabinets are much larger. Today, Trump has 24 advisers—including the directors of Homeland Security and the Central Intelligence Agency.

As the head of the executive branch, the president must also carry out the nation’s laws. Although laws are passed by Congress, the president decides which ones are most important to enforce—and how to do so. The president also appoints federal judges and nominates people for open seats on the U.S. Supreme Court. The president’s choices for both judges and Cabinet members must be approved by the U.S. Senate

The president’s main job is to oversee the federal government. Think of him as the boss of one of the world’s biggest companies. (The U.S. government has nearly 3 million employees!)

To help keep this organization running smoothly, each president chooses a group of senior advisers called a Cabinet. Cabinet members supervise government departments including Defense (which oversees the armed forces) and Education. George Washington’s first Cabinet had just four members. Modern presidents have much larger Cabinets. Today, Trump has 24 advisers. They include the directors of Homeland Security and of the Central Intelligence Agency.

As the head of the executive branch, the president must also carry out the nation’s laws. Laws are passed by Congress. But the president decides which laws are most important to enforce and how to do so. The president also appoints federal judges. That includes nominating people for open seats on the U.S. Supreme Court. The president’s choices for both judges and Cabinet members must be approved by the U.S. Senate.

Guardian of the Economy

The president shares responsibility for the economy with Congress. But as the nation’s chief executive, he is expected to help it run smoothly—and as fairly for all Americans as possible. Overseeing the economy includes many factors, such as trying to keep the unemployment rate down and aiding businesses. Every year, the president proposes a budget for the country. This determines how much money each part of the government, such as the military, will get to operate. Congress adds its own priorities—and sometimes changes the president’s suggested budget completely. The final budget must be passed by Congress and signed by the president.

The president shares responsibility for the economy with Congress. But as the nation’s chief executive, he is expected to help the economy run smoothly. He also is expected to help it run as fairly for all Americans as possible. Overseeing the economy includes many factors. It involves trying to keep the unemployment rate down and aiding businesses. Every year, the president proposes a budget for the country. The budget determines how much money each part of the government, such as the military, will get to operate. Congress adds its own things it considers important. Sometimes, Congress changes the president’s suggested budget completely. The final budget must be passed by Congress and signed by the president.

Head of State

As the head of state, the president acts as the highest living symbol of our country. When he welcomes Super Bowl champions or hosts an official dinner at the White House, he is representing the nation. Americans look to their president for inspiration, especially when he engages with foreign leaders. His actions are expected to represent the nation’s highest ideals and commitment to democracy.

As the head of state, the president acts as the highest living symbol of our country. When he welcomes Super Bowl champions or hosts an official dinner at the White House, he is representing the nation. Americans look to their president for inspiration. This is especially true when he meets with foreign leaders. His actions are expected to represent the nation’s highest ideals and commitment to democracy.

Political Party Leader

The president serves as the leader of his political party and plays a key role in shaping its positions on important issues. He helps raise money for the party and campaigns for members who have supported his policies and are running for office. Experts say that Barack Obama (2009-2017) reshaped the Democratic Party during his presidency. Under Obama’s direction, the party became much bolder in its support of rights for minorities and undocumented immigrants.

The president serves as the leader of his political party. He plays a key role in shaping its positions on important issues. He also helps raise money for the party. He campaigns for party members who have supported his policies and are running for office. Experts say that Barack Obama (2009-2017) reshaped the Democratic Party during his presidency. Under Obama’s direction, the party became much bolder in its support of rights for minorities and undocumented immigrants.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Barack Obama addresses the Democratic National Convention in 2012.

Head of Foreign Policy

Another crucial presidential task is maintaining America’s role as a world leader. A president has to decide what the nation’s relationships with other governments will be like. His goals and actions—including meeting with foreign leaders, often in tough negotiations—make up his foreign policy. Chief among President Trump’s foreign policy aims is convincing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (below left) to give up his nuclear weapons. Presidents also appoint ambassadors who represent the U.S. to foreign nations.

The president has the sole power to negotiate treaties—formal agreements with other countries. Treaties serve important functions, such as ending wars or promoting trade. Before such agreements can take effect, however, they have to be ratified by the Senate.

Another crucial presidential task is maintaining America’s role as a world leader. A president has to decide what the nation’s relationships with other governments will be like. His goals and actions make up his foreign policy. For example, he meets with foreign leaders. He often handles tough negotiations. Chief among President Trump’s foreign policy aims is convincing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (below left) to give up his nuclear weapons. Presidents also appoint ambassadors. They represent the U.S. to foreign nations.

The president has the sole power to work out treaties. Treaties are formal agreements with other countries. They serve important purposes, such as ending wars or promoting trade. But before such agreements can take effect, they have to be ratified by the Senate.

Evan Vucci/AP Images

President Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Commander in Chief

The Constitution divides the power to make war between the president and Congress. Only Congress can actually declare war on another country. But the Constitution names the president as commander in chief of the nation’s armed forces.

That means the president makes major decisions on where and when troops will be deployed, who will lead them, and how the U.S. will use its weapons. The president also has what experts call the “awesome responsibility” of deciding whether to bomb a foreign country. Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) had to make that choice when he ordered atomic bombs to be dropped on two Japanese cities, the action that ended World War II (1939-1945).

The Constitution divides the power to make war between the president and Congress. Only Congress can actually declare war on another country. But the Constitution names the president as commander in chief of the nation’s armed forces.

That means the president makes major decisions on where and when troops will be deployed. He decides who will lead them. He says how the U.S. will use its weapons. The president also has what experts call the “awesome responsibility” of deciding whether to bomb a foreign country. Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) had to make that choice when he ordered atomic bombs to be dropped on two Japanese cities. That was the action that ended World War II (1939-1945).

Legislative Leader

Only Congress has the power to make laws. But presidents have several ways to influence legislation. As a bill works its way through Congress, the president will call members of the Senate and the House of Representatives to urge them to vote for or against it. He will also invite members of Congress to the White House to discuss a proposed bill.

Presidents have another tool when it comes to new laws passed by Congress: They can veto (reject) legislation that they don’t like. Congress can override the president’s veto by a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate.

Only Congress has the power to make laws. But presidents have several ways to influence legislation. As a bill works its way through Congress, the president will call members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. He will urge them to vote for or against the bill. He will also invite members of Congress to the White House to discuss a proposed bill.

Presidents have another tool when it comes to new laws passed by Congress: They can veto (reject) legislation that they don’t like. Congress can override the president’s veto by a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate.

Write About It! What personal qualities should a president have? Why might you make—or not make—a good president?

Fun Facts

The tallest president in history, Abraham Lincoln, liked to wear a 7-inch top hat to make himself stand out. He also used it for stashing important notes.

The tallest president in history, Abraham Lincoln, liked to wear a 7-inch top hat to make himself stand out. He also used it for stashing important notes.

Long before he became head of state, George W. Bush was head cheerleader at his high school. He was also a cheerleader at Yale University.

Long before he became head of state, George W. Bush was head cheerleader at his high school. He was also a cheerleader at Yale University.

Someone once sent 30th President Calvin Coolidge a raccoon for Thanksgiving dinner. Instead of eating it, Coolidge kept the raccoon as a White House pet.

Someone once sent 30th President Calvin Coolidge a raccoon for Thanksgiving dinner. Instead of eating it, Coolidge kept the raccoon as a White House pet.

Illustrations by Zohar Lazar

Like what you see? Then you'll love Junior Scholastic, our Social Studies classroom magazine for grades 6–8.

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