Stephen Skowronek et alDec 1, 2021
Phantoms of a Beleaguered Republic:
The Deep State and the Unitary Executive
Oxford University Press 2021
Phantoms of a Beleaguered Republic: The Deep State and the Unitary Executive (Oxford University Press, 2021) powerfully dissects 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.
Stephen Skowronek is the Pelatiah Perit Professor of Political and Social Science at Yale University.
John A. Dearborn is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Dean's Faculty Fellow at Vanderbilt University.
Desmond King is the Andrew W Mellon Professor of Government at the University of Oxford.
Kirk Meighoo is Public Relations Officer for the United National Congress, the Official Opposition in Trinidad and Tobago. His career has spanned media, academia, and politics for three decades.