Today is no ordinary day in America. The House of Representatives will begin an impeachment inquiry of the president, a process undertaken only rarely in the past two centuries. In doing so, the House will exercise a power granted to it by our country’s Founders, men whose grand plan it was to channel even the most dangerous human passions into something useful and constructive: a durable system of self-government. Their design will once again be tested in the months ahead.
This isn’t the first test of the constitutional system, of course. American history has been a series of tests of our system, through war, civil unrest, economic collapse, and the demand for the enfranchisement of one marginalized group after another. The system has always emerged from these tests, sometimes scathed, but always durable. Generations of Americans have made this country a better place by arguing over constitutional principles and, when necessary, refining, reinterpreting, and amending our civilizational template. The work is never done; the country is imperfect, and always will be. Each generation has the chance, through the mechanisms of our representative democracy as outlined in the Constitution, to make it a better place.
But the threats the constitutional system faces now are serious: populism; technological advances that humans seem ill-equipped to navigate; widespread dissatisfaction and ennui among citizens whose active participation in the American project is a prerequisite for its success. How does a system that is more than two centuries old meet the challenges of today? A growing number of people argue that it can’t.
To answer many of the fundamental questions now being asked about our system, The Atlantic, in partnership with the National Constitution Center, is embarking on a year-long exploration of the issues and controversies surrounding the Constitution. Our Constitution editor, Rebecca Rosen, will lead an effort to identify essays and arguments from the many corners of the debate. These essays—starting with one from Jeffrey Rosen (no relation), the president of the Constitution Center and a contributing writer to The Atlantic—will strive to be comprehensive in scope, erudite in analysis, and passionate in their devotion to the idea that the American experiment is a worthy one. We hope that readers will find them essential to this moment.