The U.S. began as a glorious experiment.
At the close of the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked: “What kind of government have you given us, Dr. Franklin?” He replied: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
That republic was tested during the Trump administration — norms ignored, laws broken — which revealed cracks in our democratic system. How do we understand America now?
Launching today, Feb. 4, WNYC Studios, the city’s public-radio station, and The Atlantic have teamed for a podcast that tries to answer that question: “The Experiment: Stories From An Unfinished Country.”
Each Thursday, WNYC host Julia Longoria, together with the Atlantic’s writers and editors, reveals the powerful forces, past and present, that determine our distinctly American destiny.
The debut podcast concerns two people: A Montana hunter who kills a trophy bull in a stretch of Yellowstone Park known as the “zone of death,” where even murder is possible. And a scholar trying to close a loophole in the Sixth Amendment that allows it to happen.
“Over the past year, we’ve lived through a big, confusing and important moment in this country, but the 24-hour news cycle can be frantic, exhausting and alienating,” said Longoria. “I crave a step back: something slow, deliberate, and, occasionally, delightful. … 'The Experiment' will ask big legal and governmental questions through small, personal stories. Our country is messy, but I hope we can revel in its sometimes wonderful strangeness.”
Next week’s episode addressed the fragile existence of the Voting Rights Act, which was eviscerated by the Supreme Court. The magazine's senior editor Vann R. Newkirk II draws a parallel between the landmark legislation and his mother’s life.
Future episodes will focus on those elements in American life — medical, legal, religious — that explore issues of identity and national purpose.