Episode IV - Built to Last?

Peter travels to Iceland where a few years after the country’s economic collapse, leaders decided to create a new constitution, turning to the U.S. Constitution for inspiration and guidance. This prompts Peter to consider the extraordinary longevity of our own founding document. He’ll talk to a variety of Americans, including Justice Sandra Day O’Connor about why the Constitution, famously brief and full of vague language, has survived for more than two and a quarter centuries.

Peter looks at the incredibly difficult process the framers set up for amending the Constitution; there have only been 27 amendments in 225 years, a fact that frustrates some but that others believe contributes to the document’s authority and power. We’ll tell the story of the failed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, and show how eventually sex discrimination was dealt with by court decisions and acts of legislation instead. One law, Title IX, helped promote girls’ sports programs and we’ll meet one of the beneficiaries of that legislation, 17 year old Olympic boxer Clarissa Shields.

We’ll revisit the story of Watergate and see how the system of checks and balances set up by the Constitution prevented the president from overstepping his power. Peter travels to Washington and beyond, talking to Congressman Barney Frank, P.J. O’Rourke and others about threats to our national charter today including excessive political partisanship, money in politics, gerrymandering, and gridlock.

We’ll end our series with reflections on what has kept our Constitution alive and allowed it to stay relevant. It is a deeply human document. Its creation was not a miracle of perfection—some of its innate tensions nearly ripped our country apart and some trouble us deeply even now. And while our Constitution today may not be perfect, scholar Akhil Reed Amar tells Peter that it is perfectible. “It’s this epic, flawed, spectacular conversation over more than two centuries and it’s still going on. It’s a great gift.”

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