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above: Washington as Statesman at the Constitutional Convention by Junius Brutus Stearns, oil on canvas, 1856 (Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo) 

Society & Culture

The Intersectional Constitution Comes Alive

The death of the sainted George Floyd has proven to be the ideal pretext for the left to accelerate its campaign of dismantling the markers of American historical identity.

With lavish corporate and philanthropic support, radical activists are “resetting” America. This means mandating the instruction of Critical Race Theory in public schools; replacing the American flag with the rainbow “pride” flag; removing allegedly racist statues from public spaces; restricting social media and newsroom language; overwhelming our southern border with unvetted immigration from Mexico and Central America; and rendering former president Donald Trump persona non grata. Yet all this deconstruction is building toward something, the ultimate path to power: a new Constitution.

Rewriting the basis for law in this country is a tall order. But radical egalitarians, whose ranks seem to be swelling by the month, over the last few years have become convinced that this mission is both doable and overdue. In their minds, the Constitution is an obstacle to their ideal of total racial and gender equality of outcomes. As the Framers failed to include such provisions in America’s founding document, it has no legitimacy.

Advocates are blunt about their desire for an inclusive replacement or, failing that, a sweeping amendment that would permanently alter the character of American daily life. Either way, rule of law, due process, and property rights would not figure in this.

One of the more repugnant moral paladins of this campaign to reset the American Constitution is black revolutionary author Ibram X. Kendi, author of the bestselling book, How to Be an Antiracist (2019). In a guest column for Politico, he put his totalitarian instincts on full display:

To fix the original sin of racism, Americans should pass an anti-racist amendment to the U.S. Constitution that enshrines two guiding anti-racist principals (sic): Racial inequity is evidence of racist policy and the different racial groups are equals. The amendment would make unconstitutional racial inequity over a certain threshold, as well as racist ideas by public officials…It would establish and permanently fund the Department of Anti-racism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees.

Such a bureaucracy surely would welcome the input of Kendi, who now heads Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research, the recipient in 2019 of a $10 million startup check from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Equally reprehensible is Blake Simons, a Black Lives Matter activist and a spokesman for the Afrikan Black Coalition, which represents black college students in California. The Constitution “is the root of virtually all our problems in America,” he wrote in a 2015 article, “A New Constitution or the Bullet”:

Our Black Lives Matter protests have stormed the country, yet cops continue to kill us daily, and the judicial system continues to justify our deaths with acquittals, non-indictments, and light sentences—all in the name of upholding the Constitution.

What universe is this man living in? White governors, mayors, and judges across the country practically genuflect before Black Lives Matter. More recently, in June 2021, a blogger named Victoria Abraham posted this barely readable bag of cliches for Teen Vogue:

Black Americans experience persecution based on race and reasonably fear such persecution by the American government, and if they lived in another country, it stands to reason America would grant them asylum. The extent of America’s oppression of Black people means that to dismantle systemic racism, America must begin by replacing the U.S. Constitution with one based on equality and human rights like South Africa did after the end of apartheid—a system of racial discrimination and segregation that has been compared to America’s Jim Crow laws.

And we all know how wonderfully things have worked out in South Africa under a constitution dedicated to social equality, right?

Overheated as these passages are, they reflect a mainstream view that entire legal systems should be infinitely reconfigured to eliminate disparities in income, wealth, and power. As the Constitution, by design, restrains this impulse, the radicals would consign it to the dustbin. Few things exasperate the race and gender police more than the thought of one of their gambits shot down as unconstitutional. To them, the Constitution is a musty outdated impediment to fulfilling our national promise.

Those who call for repealing the Constitution are fully aware of the high hurdle that is the current Supreme Court. Though the Biden administration and congressional Democrats are willing to wade in these radical waters, the court’s originalist majority, thin and tenuous as it is, is likely to block their program. Any honest jurist instantly would recognize the ulterior motive behind expanding the Supreme Court to 15 members, banning the filibuster, federalizing state election laws, ending the Electoral College, and admitting the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to the union.

While a constitutional reboot has a long way to go before it is ever realized, it is now within the realm of possibility. And Broadway—at least a certain part of it—can take much of the credit. On March 31, 2019, “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a play written by and starring actress-playwright Heidi Schreck, debuted at the Helen Hayes Theater following a successful Off-Broadway run the previous year. Playing nightly to enthusiastic packed houses, it created an impetus for challenging the Constitution that even Bernie Sanders cannot match.

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above: Heidi Schreck on stage at the 73rd Annual Tony Awards in 2019 (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)
 

As its title implies, “What the Constitution Means to Me” is less about the Constitution than it is about its creator’s emotional connection to it. The 100-minute, mostly one-person show is constitutional law recast as psychodrama. The Constitution appears as a promising but disappointing suitor, and Schreck as a lover scorned.

Critics, like audiences, raved. “To watch it is both painful and vital, like taking a great deep breath with a set of broken ribs,” wrote Alison Shoemaker in RogerEbert.com. “It will hurt. The pain is worth the reward.” The New York Times’s Elisabeth Vincentelli concluded: “Schreck succeeds in widening her autobiographical play into a paean for basic fairness. The American Constitution, admired as it is, fails to protect all of us from violence and discrimination.” For her effort, Schreck would win the Obie and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best American Play and would be nominated for Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Actress in a Leading Role. She also was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Amazon Prime Video filmed the play during its final week and released it as a movie in October 2020.

“What the Constitution Means to Me” is a landmark work, all right, but in an unintended way. Schreck’s character arc mirrors that of millions of radicalized Americans, marinated in histrionics and moral self-righteousness. Unwittingly, she has revealed the deepest desires of the left’s post-Communist “intersectional” coalition, especially since the backstory features a recreation of her youthful promotion of what she came to reject.

Heidi Schreck—not to be confused with the lovable DreamWorks animated ogre, Shrek—was born in the early ’70s and grew up in Wenatchee, Washington. “When I was 15 years old, I would travel the country giving speeches about the United States Constitution for prize money,” she announces early in the play. “This was a scheme invented by my mom, a debate coach, to help me pay for college.” Well, it worked. Her benefactor, the American Legion, bankrolled her higher education at the University of Oregon.

After graduation, she worked as a teacher and then as a journalist in post-Communist Russia, apparently having learned nothing about why Russia dumped communism. Eventually she settled in New York City and pursued a career in theater, winning engagements for her plays and writing scripts for television. 

Schreck’s accumulation of political baggage over the years led her to write that odious play. Taking the script to the stage enabled her to unload the baggage. No matter what the issue, her verdict is the same: The Constitution, despite its good intentions and elegant prose, has failed to protect vulnerable Americans, which is to say, virtually anyone who is not white, male, or heterosexual. The whole drama can be seen as a negation of the Framers.

If there is one thing that Schreck doesn’t lack, it’s emotion. “The Constitution is a living document,” she proclaims in the play. “That is what is so beautiful about it. It is a living, warm-blooded, steamy document. It is not a patchwork quilt. It is hot and sweaty.” Our heroine appears to be confusing the Constitution with an erotic novel.

The closing sequence is telling. Schreck engages in a mock debate with a black teen actress over whether the Constitution should be retained or abolished. Afterward she randomly asks a member of the audience to pick the winner. For those keeping score, the “retained” position won 123 of 183 contests. In an interview with Time magazine, she was asked: “Your play ends with a mock debate about whether to keep or abolish the Constitution. Where do you stand at the moment?” Schreck responded:

I think we should keep the Constitution. I have a lot of ideas for amendments. But really, the purpose of the debate is to allow the audience and performers to make time and space to imagine something else: to say, “What if we were in charge of creating America today? If we were the framers, what would we do differently? What kind of future do we want for ourselves?”

Perhaps Ms. Schreck has not contemplated the fact that the Constitution was designed to discourage direct majoritarianism, with its endless bandwagon appeals and potential for mob rule, from setting the boundaries of political discourse. Madison had much to say about this in Federalist No. 10. Yes, the delicate balancing of interests collapsed over the slavery issue during the secession crisis of 1860-61. But examining the broad picture, all those seemingly pesky checks and balances have warded off tyranny. When Schreck uses the word “we,” she is referring to her audience, not the American people as a whole. Absent the Constitution’s current separation of powers and its delegation of authority to the states, sinister inquisitors such as Ibram X. Kendi would enjoy a far straighter path to absolute power.

There is nothing wrong with dramatizing one’s younger self by way of a coming-of-age storyline. Actress-director Greta Gerwig, for one, admirably succeeded on this score in her semi-autobiographical 2017 movie, Lady Bird. Heidi Schreck’s play, by contrast, is misfocused. Using the Constitution as a central reference point for a personal odyssey just doesn’t ring true. Like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway smash hit musical, “Hamilton,” it merely functions as agitprop for a hipster herd.

It is little surprise that one of Schreck’s biggest admirers is Harvard law professor emeritus Laurence Tribe, who for decades has helped foster the swing toward the prevailing interpretation of the Constitution as a “living” document with a vast reservoir of unenumerated rights. It was Tribe, in fact, who first contacted Schreck. “I was almost embarrassingly ecstatic,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘This is it: She’s bringing the Constitution to life,’ and you can sense the pulsation of the audience.” The two eventually met for drinks following a performance of the play. Months later, they participated in a discussion moderated by Slate lawyer-journalist Dahlia Lithwick before a live audience.

Despite the enthusiasm of Tribe and Schreck to remake it, our Constitution—the result of months of heated debate and reluctant compromises, not to mention 27 subsequent amendments—defines the contours of a workable political order, and nothing more. And that’s the way it should be. It is not a blueprint for “solving social problems” or protecting each of us from fortune’s slings and arrows. If Schreck and her allies want to solve social or personal problems, they should rely on markets, legislation, courts, philanthropy, and most importantly—as the Greeks understood long ago—emotional maturity.

America’s multicultural left must be prevented from using a new, “living,” intersectional Constitution to become a mega-faction lording its hegemony over its political rivals. Our Constitution is more than a foundation for law and politics. It is an expression of American identity, as much so as the English language, baseball, and Old Glory. Replacing it in the manner envisioned by the radicals, far from “completing” our country, just might finish it off.

Carl F. Horowitz

Carl F. Horowitz is senior fellow at the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), a Falls Church, Va.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in American public life. NLPC recently published his full-length monograph, Slavery Reparations: Revival of a Bad Idea.

 

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Leo Hylan
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Here’s the rub for juveniles like Shreck and Tribe. The Constitution is a written agreement between the writers and the ratifying States.Nothing describes it better than to describe it as a contract. It has agreed upon methods for amendments. It is no more an organism that is somehow living than your leases , your mortgages, your employment agreements, your divorce decrees etc etc. Behave this way and all your agreements are nothing but paper. I dare you to live that way.
 
 

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H. Rearden
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What many people on the Left and Right don't realize about the constitution is that it's purpose was to create a large more powerful national government. It was not to create a small limited government because that had had already been done with the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. If the framers of the constitution wanted a small limited government they would not have written the constitution because they already had such a government via the Articles of Confederation. People should read Lysander Spooner's works.
 
 

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J.D. King
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Time to shut B'way down ag'in! Once and for all! Cue the helicopters!
 
 

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