On Monday night, in collaboration with the Phi Beta Kappa visiting scholars program, 2020-21 Carl F. Cranor Visiting Scholar Professor Corey Brettschneider came to Bowdoin for a virtual visit and lecture on his book “The Oath and the Office: A Guide to the Constitution for Future Presidents.”
Brettschneider, a professor of political science at Brown University and a visiting professor of law at Fordham Law School, spoke to members of the Bowdoin community about the constitutional powers and limits designated to the President of the United States. Brettschneider placed emphasis on the Oath of the Office, discussing the key duties of the nation’s chief executive.
Focusing first on presidential action, Brettschneider discussed what he saw as the failures and successes of presidents throughout history who have and have not lived up to their oaths of office. He pointed to both John Adams and Donald Trump as examples of those who have failed to live up to the duties and responsibility of the presidency afforded by the Constitution. His critique of Adams focused on the actions the former president took against his critics, while his critique of Trump focused on what he believed was Trump’s inability to dutifully carry out the office of the president during the Charlottesville protest by refusing to condemn white supremacy.
“I think that the Trump presidency, when it comes to constitutional law, is not only about someone who didn’t understand the Constitution’s structure and values, but also a failure of the citizenry to demand a candidate who respects constitutional rights,” Brettschneider said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
Brettschneider continued to discuss the more public duties of the president and suggested that Twitter acts as a modern-day equivalent of the bully pulpit popularized by Theodore Roosevelt. Brettschneider closed with a point on each citizen’s role in protecting the duties of the office of the president, ending with a discussion of impeachment and the role of Congress and citizens in making sure a president serves the office dutifully.
“The Constitution is not a self-enforcing document,” Brettschneider said. “It relies on citizens who are going to make a president accountable and demand that our government respect constitutional rights.”
Along with the lecture on his book, Brettschneider also visited three Bowdoin classes in the Department of Government and Legal Studies and met with President Rose on Tuesday. During his class visits, he talked to students about case law, the current political landscape and how the government can better curb an overzealous president. Students and faculty appreciated Brettschneider’s unique view of the Constitution and the duties of the President.
“I think that students should seek out whatever opportunities that they can to learn from and hear different voices and opinions,” Maron Sorenson, assistant professor of government, said in a phone interview with the Orient. “I think it’s such a great opportunity for the students to hear from someone other than me.”
Andrew Rudalevige, chair of the Department of Government and Legal Studies and Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government, who is using Brettschneider’s book as part of the curriculum for one of his classes, believes that both Brettschneider’s book and his lecture can give students valuable insight about the Constitution and the role of the president.
“If his desire for what the book can do is fulfilled, it will be useful for students who may be president one day,” Rudalevige said in a phone interview with the Orient.
Brettschneider’s visit was orchestrated by Bowdoin’s Phi Beta Kappa co-presidents: Dr. Anne Goodyear, co-director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, and Katherine Dauge-Roth, associate professor of Romance languages and literatures. The two co-presidents aimed to bring speakers to Bowdoin who would stimulate intellectual life on campus.
“This is a very exciting year in which Professor Brettschneider’s work fits with larger questions that our larger community is engaging in,” Goodyear said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “That’s why I think that Phi Beta Kappa’s partnership with Bowdoin to bring professors to campus is so important.”