It’s easy to forget that the United States started as an experiment: a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, with liberty and justice for all. That was the idea. On this weekly show, we check in on how that experiment is going.
The Experiment: stories from an unfinished country. From The Atlantic and WNYC Studios.
Music by Ob (“Ghyll” and “Mog”), Parish Council (“Socks Before Trousers” and “Durdle Door”), and water feature (“richard iii (duke of gloucester)”). Additional audio from C-SPAN, Senator Chris Murphy, Lawrence University, the House Judiciary Committee, the Washington Post reporter Rebecca Tan, and the City of Lake Worth Beach.
A transcript of this episode is presented below:
(Over nighttime ambience and the hum of crickets.)
Julia Longoria: Okay. We’re doing, like, a trailer—you know, like a movie trailer. You want to be in it?
Margarita Longoria: Of course!
(Driving, rhythmic Cuban music plays.)
Julia: What’s my name?
Margarita: Julia Longoria.
Julia: And who are you to me?
Margarita: I’m your aunt.
Julia: I want to start things off with my aunt Margarita—
Margarita: (Amid the commotion of a family discussion) … política, y no quiero entrar en política …
Julia: —because whenever my big Cuban family gets together in Miami to drink and dance and argue about politics, my aunt will get a few tequilas deep, and she’ll always say this thing.
(Music changes tone, becomes softer, more strings-heavy. A wine glass clinks.)
Margarita: ¡Que viva la Pepa!
Julia: And she doesn’t just say it; she’ll, like, revel in it, and take it into her soul and, like … (Laughs.)
Margarita: (Slowed down.) ¡Que viva la Pepa!
Julia: “¡Que viva la Pepa!”—long live “la Pepa.” Whatever that means.
Margarita: I don’t know. I heard it in my house. Like, old people in my house—wise people—used to say, “¡Que viva la Pepa!”
Julia: I mean, for me, it has always just meant that Tía is drunk. But recently I looked it up. It turns out what my aunt was drunkenly celebrating all these years … is democracy.
(Music changes tone again, becomes smoother and more electronics-heavy.)
Julia: “La Pepa” is a nickname for an old and dead constitution. Back when Cuba was a colony, Spain wrote “La Pepa,” and promised Cuba that they would have representation in government. They promised them democracy. And I guess people were into this. And so they started saying:
Margarita: (Even slower this time.) ¡Que viva la Pepa!
Julia: “Long live the constitution!” Of course, that promise … died. Democracy never came. Many revolutions were fought. But the saying stuck. And over 200 years later, you can still find tipsy aunts and uncles toasting to its everlasting life.
Margarita: It is an ideal. That’s what it is: an ideal.
(Music shifts tone once more, becomes more somber.)
Julia: You know, a toast is not a statement of fact. It’s more like a prayer, like a repetition of a hope. And I wonder if what my aunt was doing was trying to will an ideal into existence.
Margarita: In this country today, we need to have ideals.
Representative Dan Crenshaw: We are a country of heroes. I believe that. So should you.
Representative John Lewis: We have a moral obligation to speak up and get in good trouble.
Amanda Gorman: (Fades up.) … and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished. We, the successors of a country … (Fades out.)
Julia: I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the moment we’re living in now, in the United States—
Representative Maxine Waters: (Over the shutters of cameras.) What are we going to do? How can a president …? (Fades under.)
Senator Chris Murphy: The most serious attempt to overthrow our democracy is under way.
(The sounds of a crowd play.)
Julia: —when the ideals of our own Constitution can feel far away.
(A crowd chants indistinctly.)
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: We are not experiencing the best of times.
(Crowds from the Capitol insurrection chant “Protect the Constitution” and “Take the house back, America!” Then the sounds of the crowd overlay discussion from the Senate, including clips of Senator Josh Hawley.)
Lake Worth Beach Commissioner Omari Hardy: This is a banana republic, is what you’re turning this place into!
Senator Lindsey Graham: I hope the American people can see through this sham.
Senator Todd Young: Under God! Do we still take that seriously in this country?
President Joe Biden, during a 2020 presidential debate: Will you shut up, man?
Gabriel Sterling: It has to stop!
(A sudden and shocking silence.)
Julia: This show is about the experiment of democracy. It’s about the ideals that we pledge to and toast to, even when they feel far away. And it’s about the messy work we do when we try to bring those ideals down to Earth.
Margarita: Yeah. We’re all experimenting in our lives, and I think that is what this country is all about.
Julia: Okay, can you say, “This is The Experiment”?
Margarita: Este es El Experimento.
Julia: I’m Julia Longoria. This is The Experiment, from The Atlantic and WNYC Studios.
(The music fades into the sound of crickets, which, after a moment, fades away too.)