Political Science

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What role has technology played increasing the power and reach of presidents?

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Technology has allowed the president to instantly reach hundreds of millions of people with a simple Tweet. It has also allowed the media, which operates across television, the radio, and the internet to disseminate their message around the clock. A century ago, presidents had little direct interaction with the masses outside of public speeches. However, that has certainly changed, much with the aid of modern technology.

President Franklin Roosevelt was the first American president to harness technology to directly reach the people of the United States. His Fireside Chats brought his voice directly into American households and allowed him to talk directly to the people. These so-called chats were a few dozen informal speeches, not made at a lectern and reported in the press, but much more personal as Americans could hear the president's own voice as if he were sitting with them in their living room. This made Roosevelt seem much more relatable than a distant power figure and helped quell much of the early Depression Era anxiety in the country. The relatively new technology of the radio made this possible and later politicians and presidents would take advantage of this as well, although seldom to the same effect.

We have come a long way since these simple radio chats. Now, presidents can make grandiose or mundane public statements on live TV from the White House. These get beamed all over the world and greatly increase their influence. President Donald Trump has taken this a step further with his unfiltered and direct contact with the more than 67 million people who follow him on Twitter. His Tweets are then often retweeted and reported on in the media, furthering their reach even more. It seems that the technology of social media has become a tool that presidents, as well as other politicians, can use to amplify their voice and influence like never before.

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