- Expected Jul 28, 2020
In Defender in Chief, celebrated constitutional scholar John Yoo makes a provocative case against Donald Trump's alleged disruption of constitutional rules and norms.
Donald Trump isn't shredding the Constitution—he's its greatest defender.
Ask any liberal—and many moderate conservatives—and they'll tell you that Donald Trump is a threat to the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution. Mainstream media outlets have reported fresh examples of alleged executive overreach or authoritarian White House decisions nearly every day of his presidency. In the 2020 primaries, the candidates have rushed to accuse Trump of destroying our democracy and jeopardizing our nation's very existence.
Yoo argues that this charge has things exactly backwards. Far from considering Trump an inherent threat to our nation's founding principles, Yoo convincingly argues that Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton would have seen Trump as returning to their vision of presidential power, even at his most controversial. It is instead liberal opponents who would overthrow existing constitutional understanding in order to unseat Trump, but in getting their man would inflict permanent damage on the office of the presidency, the most important office in our constitutional system and the world.
This provocative and engaging work is a compelling defense of an embattled president's ideas and actions.
Yoo (coauthor, Striking Power), a UC Berkeley law professor and former justice department official under George W. Bush, casts Donald Trump as a vigorous defender of "the constitutional order" in this sober-minded yet myopic account. Walking back his own previous warnings that the Trump administration represented "executive power run amok," Yoo argues that Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey, successful pushback against the special counsel inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election and impeachment over the Ukraine affair, and "conservative makeover of the federal courts," are all in line with the Framers' vision of an "energetic unitary executive" with the authority to act quickly and decisively in matters of national interest while resisting legislative and judicial branch overreach. Yoo critiques Trump's antiimmigration and protectionist trade policies, yet defends his legal right to enact them, and accuses Democratic lawmakers of posing the graver threat to the Constitution by calling for universal health care, wealth taxes, the elimination of the Electoral College, and the granting of "vast new powers" to "unaccountable" government agencies. Yoo cherry-picks historical evidence to support his arguments, treats the question of Trump's actual motives as unimportant, and presents debatable claims, including that the post Great Recession economy had recovered "listlessly" before Trump took office, as fact. This one-sided defense of the Trump presidency won't change minds.