The American people still hold the greatest amount of power, says founder of Citizen University

April 8, 2021, 10:10 p.m.

Citizen University founder and CEO Eric Liu makes it his life mission to remind Americans that “it is us regular people who have the greatest amount of power in this country.” Invited by the junior cabinet to discuss his book “You’re More Powerful Than You Think,” Liu encouraged attendees to “become more literate in power,” charging them to learn to see the ebb and flow of the social current and to consider both the current’s direction and “how it can be changed” to help the majority of Americans. 

However, Liu added a critical caveat to this mission. He said at Citizen University — a vast, grassroots organization which seeks to revitalize the civic engagement of Americans across the country — he defines citizen life as “power plus character.” He warned that without an ethical framework, a person who achieved literacy in power would not live like a citizen, but would rather become a “highly skilled sociopath.”

At the event, Liu summarized the three tenets of power that he explores in his book. First, he said that power compounds itself. Liu used this tenet to explain the rapidly rising wealth inequality in the United States, which he said to be at “the greatest levels” since “just before the Great Depression.” Liu emphasized this point to demonstrate that when there is such a massive imbalance in power, “things tip over and fall.”

Liu presented tenet number two of power as the idea “that power justifies itself at every turn.” According to him, those who hold power will prolifically and profusely explain to the masses why the current system must persist as it is. Liu cited the prevailing rationale for trickle-down economics as his prime example of this “law.” He juxtaposed the notion of increased wealth for the elite raising the riches of society with soaring income inequality levels in this country.

Last but not least among Liu’s laws is the idea that power is infinite. Liu said there is always hope to change the incumbent systems. When people rise together for a common endeavor, they generate a social power independent from that which the elite hold. Liu said that his impetus for writing his book was to inspire readers to not “preemptively hand power over to somebody else” by dismissing themselves as too young and too unimportant. 

When asked about President Bill Clinton — for whom Liu served as Deputy Assistant for Domestic Policy in the years 1999 and 2000 — and a quote in which Clinton claimed that “being president is like running a cemetery; you have a lot of people under you and no one is listening,” Liu advised that “presidents of the United States have a vested interest in downplaying their own power.” However, Liu also reminded attendees that the Founding Fathers created the Constitution that made it so that it would “be very hard to get to do anything in government.” 

That is, without the popular approval of the masses. Liu reinforced his point that the people of America hold the greatest power by citing Donald Trump, a president who Liu said “was created by the people.” Indeed, he said that “we create” every major sociopolitical change and figurehead in America.

Finally, Liu charged attendees to always “challenge the assumptions of what’s fashionable” in our present day and age. In order to find “the true spirit of liberty,” Liu said, people must approach civics with “doubt, questioning and searching for meaning.”

Jed Ngalande '23 is the politics and government beat reporter for The Daily's news section. Contact him at news 'at'

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