Phantoms of a Beleaguered Republic: The Deep State and the Unitary Executive
By Stephen Skowronek, John Dearborn, & Desmond King
JMC fellow John Dearborn has recently coauthored a book with Stephen Skowronek and Desmond King, Phantoms of a Beleaguered Republic: The Deep State and the Unitary Executive. The book is due to be released in March 2021.
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 organized to promote shared interests in steady hands, due deliberation, and expertise.
As the nation’s chief executive, Donald 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 and wrestled to light basic issues of governance long suppressed.
Though this conflict reached a fever pitch during the Trump presidency, it is 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.
John Dearborn is a Postdoctoral Associate in the Center for the Study of Representative Institutions and a Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Yale University. His principal research and teaching interests include the Presidency, Congress, American Political Development, American Political Thought, and Archival Methods. In addition to Phantoms of a Beleaguered Republic, he is authoring a book project, Power Shifts: Congress and Presidential Representation, which will be released in Fall 2021 and considers the relationship between ideas and institutions, focusing on the idea of presidential representation.
Dearborn is a JMC postdoctoral fellow.
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