Today The Atlantic begins publishing the trio of stories that appear together on its October cover. Under the banner “Making America Again,” staff writers Adam Serwer and George Packer, along with the political philosopher Danielle Allen, consider the renewed and growing appetite for radical reform. Each grapples with the successes and failures of the American experiment, from the forging of the Constitution to Reconstruction to the New Deal to the civil-rights movement. Collectively their essays offer a reason for optimism, as they propose that the country use this moment of crisis to recognize its flaws, and build a more perfect union.
In “The New Reconstruction,” published today, Serwer argues that the best analogue to the current moment is America’s first and most consequential awakening—in 1868. He writes: “In the 1860s, the rise of a racist demagogue to the presidency, the valor of Black soldiers and workers, and the stories of outrages against the emancipated in the South stunned white northerners into writing the equality of man into the Constitution. The triumphs and failures of this anti-racist coalition led America to the present moment. It is now up to their successors to fulfill the promise of democracy, to make a more perfect union, to complete the work of Reconstruction.” Serwer traces how Andrew Johnson’s racism and the turmoil in the South reaffirmed the necessity of Black suffrage, and draws parallels to today: “Just as southern dispatches and congressional testimony about the outrages against the emancipated radicalized the white North with a recognition of how the horrors of racism shaped Black life in America, the proliferation of videos from cellphones and body cameras has provided a vivid picture of the casual and often fatal abuse of Black Americans by police.”