The Changing Same of U.S. History

The Changing Same of U.S. History

Image: Zhixiao Jiang Power and Liberty: Constitutionalism in the American Revolution Gordon S. Wood Oxford University Press, $24.95 (cloth) The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America Carol Anderson Bloomsbury, $28.00 (cloth) “Our Constitution is so old ,” says Heidi Schreck in her 2019 Pulitzer– and Tony–nominated play What the Constitution Means to Me . The line is a deliberate double-entendre, its meaning turning subtly on intonation. On the one hand, it captures the complaints of those who want to change the system— so old carrying the sense of obviously obsolete . On the other hand, it gestures at the reverence of those who think it’s our rock— so old , in this case, meant as a badge of honor. By binding these two visions together, the line also gives expression to the ambivalence of liberals like Heidi and me, who were taught to believe that the Constitution can and does change but have learned to wonder about who has benefitted from its protections, much less its ambiguities. There is a widening gulf between those who see the Constitution’s age as a sign of its wisdom and those who see it as the dead hand of the past. Lately, the debate about whether the Constitution is the problem or the solution has reached a new level of intensity. An older standoff between originalist jurisprudence and living constitutionalism has come to seem quaint, especially in the face of design flaws, from the Electoral College to the Senate, that […]

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