A timely anecdotal narrative about how every incumbent U.S. president has left office, focusing on departures or near departures under duress.
In each chapter, former CIA officer Priess (The President’s Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America’s Presidents, 2016) discusses a discrete path toward departure: rejected by one’s own political party (Presidents Tyler, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, Arthur, and Lyndon Johnson); undermined by opponents and/or subordinates (Nixon); sunk due to general unpopularity (Taft); death by natural causes (Harrison, Taylor, Harding, Franklin Roosevelt); assassination (Lincoln, McKinley, Garfield, Kennedy); temporarily unable to serve due to a traumatic occurrence (Wilson, Eisenhower, Reagan); and impeachment (Andrew Johnson, Clinton). Throughout the book, Priess delves into the provisions of the U.S. Constitution, explaining debates among the Founding Fathers about how much stability to offer a chief executive. Nobody desired an executive with powers so weak as to be ineffective, but at the same time, nobody wanted to be ruled by a monarchy similar to the one from which the country had just won independence. The author makes the historical context relevant through his skilled storytelling, and at the end of the book, he concedes that his research focuses on the “how” of the removal processes without addressing the question of “when.” Although Priess rarely mentions Donald Trump by name, he clearly has the sitting president in mind as he explores the idea of an incumbent president being clearly unfit for office. Of course, he writes, it is inevitable that a centuries-old Constitution cannot be expected to anticipate every permutation of unfitness. As a result, he suggests, without offering specifics, that contemporary policymakers consider amending the Constitution to adapt to current circumstances. Harking back to Abraham Lincoln, Priess writes that government of the people, by the people, and for the people must encompass fair but contemporary means of removing presidents if necessary.
A mostly dispassionate discussion of an issue that must be addressed.