Others see the Constitution as a living document to be interpreted in light of changing thought and circumstance. This view has brought us labor rights and protections, equal rights for people of all colors, persuasions and genders. It's brought us social security, Medicare and, so far, allowed the Affordable Care Act to stand.
To shed more light on the Constitutional debate, I've invited author and friend Cynthia Levinson to tell you about her new kids' book and graphic novel Fault Lines in the Constitution.
A graphic look at the
People have also seen similarities between autocratic leaders around the world today and those in the 1930s-1940s in Germany and elsewhere.
Similarly, for many years, my husband, Sanford Levinson, who is a constitutional scholar, has said, while looking at contemporary domestic political issues, “Follow the dots.” Follow them where? To our Constitution.
To tell you the truth, although I had read all of his books, I didn’t fully understand what he meant until he and I wrote a book for young readers together.
That has now turned into two books--Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today (Peachtree Publishers, 2017, updated in 2019) and Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Graphic Novel, illustrated by Ally Shwed (First Second/Macmillan, 2020).
Researching and writing the books, I realized he was right: many issues in the news today can be traced directly back to what the Framers of our Constitution set in motion in Philadelphia in 1787.
We’re careful not to criticize the Framers. The handiwork they wrought—the government they created out of their reading, their negotiations, and their imaginations—was a marvel for the time.
For better or worse—and, as you can tell from our title, we believe, often for worse—this document has remained largely unchanged. Let me give you some examples of ways that 1787 still reverberates in 2020 and, undoubtedly, beyond.
To show the link between 1787 and now, every chapter starts with a story; most of the stories are recent.
In “At War with Bugs: Habeas Corpus,” we talk about an American nurse who treated Ebola patients in Sierra Leone in 2014.
She had the misfortunate of returning to the Newark, New Jersey airport the very day that state’s governor, Chris Christy, imposed an unnecessarily restrictive quarantine.
Kaci Hickox was incarcerated in a tent in a hospital parking lot, and she sued for the great writ—that is, the right to be released—as promised in the Constitution.
For better or worse, our current federal government has not instituted national policies to stem the spread of COVID-19.
A future government might do so and would need to balance country-wide protections against a disease versus constitutionally guaranteed individual rights.
But, probably at the top of everyone’s list right now is the Electoral College. Why—WHY?!—do we have an Electoral College? No other country in the world has anything similar, and it wreaks havoc with our presidential campaigns and elections.
This really breaks down to two questions: Why did the Framers create it? And, why is it still hanging around?
How to elect the president—which was a novel idea at the time—hamstrung the participants at the Constitutional Convention for months. The method depended on what the executive’s duties would be and how he (they assumed it would be a he) would relate to Congress. Until they worked out these details, they couldn’t decide who would choose him—the people or the legislature.
As we say in the book, that worked fine as long as George Washington was president.
I won’t go into all the mayhem this arrangement has caused over the centuries, except to say that the Electoral College has chosen the less popular candidate five times, so far.
So, why do we continue to tolerate its existence? Because of another fault line (my husband’s “favorite,” if favorite means most destructive)—the difficulty of amending the Constitution. It’s so complex and daunting, I’ll let Ally’s wonderful graphics lead you through the process.
All of them address the structural underpinnings of our governmental system. For instance, while most of us tend to take such matters as our bicameral legislature, a Senate with two senators per state regardless of the size of the population of each state, and the president’s veto power for granted, all of these turn out to have deeply unjust ramifications.
Somehow, we skipped impeachment, which surely belongs in the next edition, if there is one. But, even if there isn’t, the book shows no signs of becoming obsolete. In fact, we blog updates and welcome responses every month at
Please, join the conversation or add your own favorite fault line!
Thank you, Cynthia! Always great to have you on the blog. Some of you may remember a previous guest post by Cynthia Levinson. You can learn more about Cynthia and see all her books here.
I also post here about my books and feature other authors and their books on compelling and important historical topics.
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