Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith, two attorneys who have worked, respectively, in the Barack Obama and the George W. Bush Administrations, have written a blueprint of considerations to reform and revise aspects of the Executive Branch and the presidency. After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency (Lawfair Press, 2020) joins a number of recent books—among them Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes’ Unmaking the Presidency, Stephen F. Knott’s The Lost Soul of the American Presidency, Lara M. Brown’s Amateur Hour—that assess the American Presidency, pointing out weaknesses in the structure of the office and the means to hold presidents accountable for their actions and decisions while in office. Bauer and Goldsmith come to their analysis from their perspectives and experiences working as attorneys at the highest levels of the Executive Branch and the presidency. They use these experiences to examine what they have seen transpire over the past four years of the Trump Administration, and the abuses of the office itself and aspects of the Executive Branch, particularly with regard to the Justice Department. This book looks at the institution of the presidency, while also exploring the way that Congress and the Courts work in relation to the Executive, providing a fairly comprehensive road map for reforms that can be done by a number of different political actors, including the next president.
After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency really is a map or blueprint, outlining particular problems or controversial behavior by President Donald Trump and members of the Administration and/or Executive Office of the President staff, examining previous examples of the same kind of problems or behaviors, and then offering proposals for reform or revision that would address the problems or behaviors. After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency is divided into three sections, each section has particular focal points with regard to the presidency. Part one of the book focuses specifically on the president and advances proposals that, in many cases, would institutionalize and legalize norms that had been in place and adhered to by previous presidents, but not by President Trump. The second section, which is quite extensive, spotlights the relationship between the president and the Department of Justice. This part of the book proposes reforms that aim to keep the Justice Department independent of presidential interference and allows the Department to function and use its extraordinary tools and law enforcement capacities in a way that is free from corruption or inappropriate influence. The third part of the book is also the most difficult part in terms of reforms, since this section of the book treads into the area of presidential power that is long standing, and historically the realm of the Executive in the constitutional system. Bauer and Goldsmith note that they are committed to the idea of a powerful president, in line with Alexander Hamilton’s argument for an energetic executive in Federalist #70. But they also note that the president needs to be constitutionally accountable, thus their book aims at reforms that will institutionalize some of the guardrails that would contribute to more accountability without weakening the president or the presidency. This is a thoughtful and wise book, examining the problems that have been exposed over the past four years, though are not only limited to the Trump Administration or Trump’s actions in office. The proposed reforms would strengthen the American constitutional system, keeping in place a strong and energetic Executive Branch but making it more accountable and more responsible to the other branches of government, the constitutional system of which it is a part, and to the voters.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award-winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012).
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.