Phantoms of a Beleaguered Republic
Phantoms of a Beleaguered Republic, authored by Andrew Mellon Professor of American Government Desmond King, with Stephen Skowronek and John A. Dearborn, is an exploration into why American politics has become so dysfunctional. Taking a historical perspective, the book looks at the push and pull between presidential and administration power, which came to a head during Trump’s presidency.
A powerful dissection of one of the fundamental problems in American governance today: the clash between presidents determined to redirect the nation through ever-tighter control of administration and an executive branch still organised to promote shared interests in steady hands, due deliberation, and expertise.
President Trump pitted himself repeatedly against the institutions and personnel of the executive branch. In the process, two once-obscure concepts came center stage in an eerie faceoff. On one side was the specter of a "Deep State" conspiracy—administrators threatening to thwart the will of the people and undercut the constitutional authority of the president they elected to lead them. On the other side was a raw personalization of presidential power, one that a theory of "the unitary executive" gussied up and allowed to run roughshod over reason and the rule of law. The Deep State and the unitary executive framed every major contest of the Trump presidency. Like phantom twins, they drew each other out.
These conflicts are not new. Stephen Skowronek, John A. Dearborn, and Desmond King trace the tensions between presidential power and the depth of the American state back through the decades and forward through the various settlements arrived at in previous eras. Phantoms of a Beleaguered Republic is about the breakdown of settlements and the abiding vulnerabilities of a Constitution that gave scant attention to administrative power. Rather than simply dump on Trump, the authors provide a richly historical perspective on the conflicts that rocked his presidency, and they explain why, if left untamed, the phantom twins will continue to pull the American government apart.