Unmaking the Presidency: Donald Trump's War on the World's Most Powerful Office

Unmaking the Presidency: Donald Trump's War on the World's Most Powerful Office

by Susan Hennessey, Benjamin Wittes


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"Unmaking the Presidency, devastating in its understatedness, may prove to be the most important book about the Trump presidency." —Tabatha Southey, Maclean's

The definitive account of how Donald Trump has wielded the powers of the American presidency

The extraordinary authority of the U.S. presidency has no parallel in the democratic world. Today that authority resides in the hands of one man, Donald J. Trump. But rarely if ever has the nature of a president clashed more profoundly with the nature of the office. Unmaking the Presidency tells the story of the confrontation between a person and the institution he almost wholly embodies.

From the moment of his inauguration, Trump has challenged our deepest expectations of the presidency. But what are those expectations, where did they come from, and how great is the damage? As editors of the “invaluable” (The New York Times) Lawfare website, Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes have attracted a large audience to their hard-hitting and highly informed commentary on the controversies surrounding the Trump administration. In this book, they situate Trump-era scandals and outrages in the deeper context of the presidency itself. How should we understand the oath of office when it is taken by a man who may not know what it means to preserve, protect, and defend something other than himself? What aspects of Trump are radically different from past presidents and what aspects have historical antecedents? When has he simply built on his predecessors’ misdeeds, and when has he invented categories of misrule entirely his own?

By setting Trump in the light of history, Hennessey and Wittes provide a crucial and durable account of a presidency like no other.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374175368
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 01/21/2020
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 1,425
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 3.40(d)

About the Author

Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes are executive editor and editor in chief of Lawfare. Hennessey is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and CNN contributor; she was previously an attorney at the National Security Agency. Wittes is senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of Law and the Long War and The Future of Violence, among other books.

Table of Contents

Introduction: "It's Modern Day Presidential" 3

1 "I do solemnly swear": The Oath 17

2 "The President needs help": White House Decisions 35

3 "This president runs this government": The Non-Unitary Executive 57

4 "When a President speaks… it Is for keeps" The Official Voice 81

5 "An inexhaustible fund of political lies": The War on Truth 105

6 "The love of power, and the love of money": Ethics in the White House 135

7 "The power to protect the guilty": Corrupting Justice 165

8 "A Total Political Witch Hunt!": Investigating the President 195

9 "Without deliberation…or appreciation of facts": The Conduct of Foreign Affairs 227

10 "It squints towards monarchy": The Kingly Powers 253

Conclusion: "A man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper" 281

Postscript 293

Notes 307

Acknowledgments 399

Index 401

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Unmaking the Presidency: Donald Trump's War on the World's Most Powerful Office 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Theresakerch-28 20 hours ago
Great informative read I loved this book and found Hennessey and Wittes insightful on both Trump and the history of the Presidency. Many of the norms that Trump has intentionally obliterated are neither statutory nor constitutional, but simply accepted practice. That is definitely something Congress needs to rectify when this country returns to normal. This book is full of facts, citations, and history, and much research was done for this insightful book. The authors tried to and I believe assessed what Trump is doing not what is believed or thought to be doing Hennessey and Wittes did their research and showed you what is really going on. I feel that the authors have really helped look at what is going on with the country and how to fix it.
Dee_Arr 23 days ago
I continue to read political books, hoping that I may find a gem or two that will examine the events of the day without overloading the text with a slanted view. They are difficult to find. This book at times will push toward the center for a few paragraphs before sliding back to the left. The disdain for President Trump is spread throughout the book, on numerous occasions straining the reader’s credulity. Chapter One begins by arguing that his oath of office “…didn’t mean anything at all…” The book asserts that a written opinion by an unnamed person in the Justice Department and Trump’s boast about the size of the inaugural crowd (labeled “the ultimate evidence”) make it “…abundantly clear that the pledge meant nothing to him” and that Trump “…couldn’t even fake it credibly.” Buried in the text is the authors’ admission that “One cannot know what was in Trump’s heart as he said the words the Constitution prescribes.” Even as they admit this truth, Ms. Hennessey and Mr. Wittes still assert the exact opposite. This technique is repeated throughout the book. Similarly, there are pages upon pages concerning Trump’s travel ban, and how the courts forced his administration to back up and dilute the original order. It sounds horrible as the book asserts that President Trump must be out of control. In fairness, the authors allow a passing mention that early in the previous administration, President Obama had tried to close Guantanamo Bay. In both instances, the checks and balances of our government worked. The point is that President Trump is not alone in his attempts to push the boundaries while working to achieve his promised agenda. While I could go chapter to chapter and discuss the smears and insinuations in each, it is easier (and less space-wasting) to break it all down to a quick overview. There is no doubt that President Trump is an unorthodox president; however, he has achieved some of his promises and continues to bring others to fruition. Democrats have unsuccessfully tried to overturn the 2016 election for three years and, recognizing that it will be difficult to defeat President Trump in 2020, continue to try to oust him with whatever method is handy. This book falls into that category. It will be loved by those who already have the same viewpoint and unread by those who don’t, so not much chance of changing anyone’s mind. As far as the writing itself, the choice to flip back and forth between male and female pronouns when referring to a president was distracting and sometimes confusing. Those of you who don’t like your novels filled with vulgarisms may wish to avoid this book. It has plenty of vulgarities, up to and including f-bombs, and not all of them in quotes. While the authors do outline the actions of previous presidents that could be considered precursors of what President Trump has done and said, the book concentrates on finding as much fault with him as is humanly possible. One glaring omission is a discussion concerning the attitudes and actions taken by other politicians in Washington. Donald Trump may be adding his own personality to the job (what president doesn’t) but he is also influenced by those who oppose him. Three stars. My thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux for an advance complimentary copy of this book.