The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Keep the Constitution forever young (with help)

The U.S. Constitution. (iStock)

The Constitution has aged pretty well, “but only because it has been periodically amended,” Charles Lane suggested in his Aug. 8 op-ed, “No office for old men (or women).” Indeed, our founding governmental document was a brilliant product of 18th-century political compromise — forged, it’s worth noting, by wealthy and often enslaving White men when the country was home to fewer than 4 million people. Remarkably, for its time, it launched a reasonably democratic form of government, bounded by declared human rights, that has survived for more than 230 years. We owe the document immense respect.

But recent political realities make its dysfunction obvious, among them the high and currently politically insurmountable bar to amendment. Evidence of the need for amendment includes the breakdown of the undemocratic Senate, the failure of the electoral college to award the presidency to candidates gaining the most popular votes and the growing swagger of state legislatures empowered to manipulate election-district boundaries and possibly even the outcomes of elections. An undemocratically appointed Supreme Court majority sees no human rights or governmental authority not explicitly codified in the Constitution. It’s hard to see how to adapt outmoded rules of self-government to a time of human-caused climate change and popular demands for gender and racial equality. But one good start would be to work, even if against all odds, to amend the document aggressively. The objective should be, in Mr. Lane’s words, “to correct its initial flaws, adapt to new realities and help the system stay forever young.”

Robert Engelman, Takoma Park