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Unmaking the Presidency: Donald Trump’s War on the World’s Most Powerful Office, Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes

Reviewed by Graham G. Dodds

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Most observers agree that Donald Trump was not a typical president, but there is much disagreement about what his unusual presidency means for the institution of the presidency and for American governance. In Unmaking the Presidency, Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes describe how Trump challenged basic understandings of the presidency. The authors are senior editors at the highly regarded website Lawfare, and they contend that Trump was not merely an idiosyncratic president; he systematically—and, for the most part, consciously—rejected time-honored norms about the institution of the presidency.

Hennessey and Wittes claim that “the presidency itself, stripped down to its legal essence, is actually a pretty spare institution” (p. 8) without a lot of rules, but over the centuries, various norms and expectations have been grafted onto that “bare-bones model” (p. 9). Trump rejected many of those historical additions, so “Trump’s presidency is a warped throwback to the presidency before countless expectations and bureaucratic structures developed around it” (p. 9). Trump’s aim in this was not to reconstitute some sort of premodern original presidency but to use the presidential office to further his penchant for personal expression, self-agg

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