In This Review

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 and Benjamin Wittes
432 pp, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020
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Hennessey and Wittes track the evolution of the powers of the U.S. presidency and how President Donald Trump has used, abused, and changed those powers. Their understated description of Trump as conducting an “expressive presidency” doesn’t begin to do justice to the extent of his wrongdoing: his propensity to lie, his routinely unethical behavior, his devotion to the use of law enforcement as “an instrument of power against enemies,” and, tellingly, his refusal to endure scrutiny of his own conduct. Unfortunately, the authors’ discussion of the Nixon and Clinton impeachment processes and of the Mueller report does not compensate for the fact that the book was completed before Trump’s impeachment in December 2019. Still, the authors deliver a chilling analysis of the damage that has been done to the office of the president. Even if Congress can rouse itself to reinforce the separation of powers, the record of the past few years reveals that those powers of the presidency over which Congress has little or no jurisdiction—including the president’s independence in foreign policy and law enforcement, his power of the pardon, and his capacity to mislead the public—are immensely influential when abused by a president who does not take his oath of office sincerely. The authors dread a collapse of norms and the transformation of laws into “paper tigers.”