Jamie Raskin on surviving tragedy, and his refusal to let America lose its democracy
In the seven days between December 31, 2020 and January 6, 2021, Congressman Jamie Raskin lost almost everything.
He lost his beloved son to suicide. They buried Tommy on January 5th.
The next day, Raskin’s family didn’t want him to go to work at the U.S. Capitol. “And I said … we’ll be in the Capitol,” the representative says.
Today, On Point: One year after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, we talk to Rep. Jamie Raskin about losing his son, and his refusal to let America lose its democracy.
“The first thing we have to acknowledge is that democracy is in danger,” Raskin says.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Today is the day. One year ago, when the entire world witnessed a violent attack on Congress, and the fragility and uncertain future of American democracy was revealed. Americans physically attacked their own government. Some assaulted police officers, ransacked and defecated in the halls of Congress. They temporarily stopped a fundamental democratic process. The fair count of legal, certified electoral votes submitted by all 50 states. And they did so because, as many have subsequently said in court filings, they believed they were called to do so by Donald Trump. So here are some of the things that the former president said in his long speech, at the rally on January 6th, before the attack on the Capitol.
DONALD TRUMP [Archival Tape]: We will never give up. We will never concede, it doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there is theft. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore, and that’s what this is all about. And to use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with, we will Stop The Steal.
… What the hell is going on? There’s never been anything like this. We will not let them silence your voices. We’re not going to let it happen. Not going to let it happen. We want to get this right because we’re going to have somebody in there that should not be in there, and our country will be destroyed and we’re not going to stand for that.
… I think right here, we’re going to walk down to the Capitol. And we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.
CHAKRABARTI: Some of the things that Donald Trump said on January 6th, before the attack on the Capitol. During the attack, he failed to use the power of the presidency to protect Congress. And after the attack, Trump was impeached for a second time. And during the impeachment trial, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon submitted a question which ended with this, quote: ‘Is President Trump innocent of inciting the Jan. 6th attack by saying be peaceful during his speech that day?’ Well, House Manager Representative Jamie Raskin rose and offered this succinct response.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN [Archival Tape]: If you rob a bank and on the way out the door, you yell, ‘Respect private property,’ that’s not a defense to robbing the bank.
CHAKRABARTI: It was a swift yet easily missed moment. But to me, it’s brevity was its eloquence. I found it truly remarkable. And I haven’t been able to forget it since. Not just for the fact that Raskin so succinctly summarized a core argument for political accountability, but that he did so and led the impeachment trial in the midst of obliterating personal pain. Because at the end of 2020, Jamie Raskin had lost his son to suicide. He buried Tommy on January 5th, and he came to work at the Capitol the next day on January 6th.
As Raskin writes, quote, ‘The private and public traumas of suicide and violent insurrection demolished all the core assumptions I carried with me each day that my children would be healthy and alive, that they would let my wife and me know if they needed anything, that no political party or power elite would try to overthrow our constitutional democracy.’ That is from Representative Raskin’s new book “Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth and the Trials of American Democracy.” And he joins us now. Representative Jamie Raskin, Welcome.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Thank you, Meghna. I’m delighted to be with you.
CHAKRABARTI: So just a few paragraphs after that section that I just read from the beginning of your book, you also write this. You write, ‘If a person can grow through unthinkable trauma and loss, perhaps a nation may too.’ So, representative, in the last year, what has given you the confidence to be able to write that sentence?
RASKIN: I’ve thought a lot about what trauma is. And it is the violent demolition of your basic expectations about what life is going to be like. But what I’ve found is that trauma can steal from you everything that is most precious to you, everything that is most beloved to you. And so it upends your whole world. But at the same time, it connects you to other people in a really profound and deep way that you could never see before.
And there’s a lot of trauma in America, and a lot of grief and a lot of sorrow. And suddenly, Sarah and I and our daughters, our whole family, are connected to it. And you know, we’ve got to see this through. I’ve got a friend named Norman Sandridge, who is a professor of classics. And I asked him very early on whether there was a Greek God of trauma. And he said, no, that there wasn’t. So he said, why don’t we imagine one? And we imagined the Greek God of trauma that looked in two directions, kind of like Janus. That looks to the past and the future at the same time. And the god of trauma steals everything from you, and leaves you completely bereft and destitute.
But at the same time, it connects you in extraordinarily powerful ways to other people, and makes you grow in wisdom. And the problem is, is that if you don’t think that’s a fair trade, you say, Well, I don’t think it’s worth it. I’m not going to do it. The God of trauma says, sorry, you’ve got no choice in the matter. So that’s the problem. But given that this is where we are, we’ve decided to move forward and to work to try to save American democracy, and to fortify it. And then to live for the kinds of causes that Tommy believed in.
CHAKRABARTI: As I read the book representative, I got this clear sense that you’ve been existing in this kind of liminal space, if I can call it that. I mean, it’s that space between. That twilight space, dusk and dawn, a purgatory, I don’t even know what you want to call it, but it’s this almost indefinable in-between. And then maybe that’s why the Janis figure seems so appropriate here. Have you been able to turn in one direction over the past year, towards something, towards a new dawn?
RASKIN: Well, my dad always used to say to us when we were kids, when everything looks hopeless, you are the hope. And so I grew up with that sensibility and I want to transmit that to our kids and our family. And we’ve got a big family, with lots of cousins, and uncles, and aunts. And these people have been critical to our ability to make it, and a huge group of wonderful friends. And my constituents have been extraordinary, and people really across the country and around the world.
So I just continue to believe there’s a lot more love and a lot more goodness out there than there is, you know, even wrapped up in all of the sinister plans to destroy our democracy, and to take us down a very dark road of denying things like climate change, and COVID-19 and that the Holocaust happened. And you know, there’s a whole system of totalitarian thought now, which is challenging our society. But I think that the vast majority of the people reject it.
CHAKRABARTI: In your book “Unthinkable,” you write in detail about you and your family’s experience of January 6th. Now we don’t have enough time, obviously, to go into as much detail as you share, but I wonder if you could tell us at least part of that story. What happened to you on the 6th of January?
RASKIN: Well, Tabitha and our son-in-law, Hank, who’s married to our older daughter Hannah, came with me. Basically, the kids have been trying to convince me not to go in, and I told them that it was a constitutional duty and function. And we had an extremely slender majority, and I had agreed to be one of the leaders of the Democratic opposition to the anticipated objections that were coming from Republicans to Electoral College slates.
So as a constitutional law professor, Speaker Pelosi had asked me to get up, and to defend the process and to explain that we were there, not as voters, to vote for whichever candidate we wanted, but rather as vote counters, simply to receive the electors coming in from the states. So I had to go. And they came with me, and Tabitha and Hank were originally up in the gallery with a bunch of Democratic colleagues of mine, because we were respecting the COVID-19 protocols.
Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle were not, and they were seated close next to each other on the GOP side. But our Democratic colleagues were spread out up in the gallery. And after I made my speech, the kids went back to a little room off of the House floor that Steny Hoyer had allowed me to use, since I had family there.
CHAKRABARTI: Do you mind if I just step in gently for a second here? Because there’s so much about that day, about your experience of that day, that I did not know until I read the book. But you write how your daughter actually made some corrections in your speech, some edits before you gave it. And she told you to make it more like your son would have wanted you to.
RASKIN: I had tried to tone it down, but Tabitha read it and said, Take all these adjectives out of there and stop being so provocative. Joe Biden has won and just explain that the election is over. You know, I had wanted to get into detail … not to everyone, but at least some of those 62 cases in federal and state court where all the judges rejected all of the claims about electoral corruption and fraud. And Tabitha was basically saying, You know, you don’t need to relitigate each of these cases. Just say the process is over, and we need to count the votes.
CHAKRABARTI: We are speaking today with Representative Jamie Raskin. His new book Is “Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth and the Trials of American Democracy.” And we’ll talk a lot more about that when we come back. This is On Point.
CHAKRABARTI: You were telling us about your experience of January 6th. And just after you finished giving your speeches on the floor of the House, what happened right after that?
RASKIN: Well, I think we were into maybe one or two other speeches when I got a text from a friend of mine in California named Alyssa Milano, who’s an actress, and she said, Are you OK? Is everything all right? And I said, Yes, what do you mean? And she said there’s been a breach in the Capitol. And then I looked, and I found some other messages, and one of them was from someone sending me a picture of the insurrectionists bearing the Confederate battle flag who had made it into Statuary Hall. And I crossed over the aisle to show it to Liz Cheney. And I said, it looks like we’re under new management here, and she just shook her head and said, What have they done? And I had heard this loud barging noise like boom, boom, boom. People trying to barrel their way into the House floor. And a lot of members ran over to the central door to the House chamber, and then officers came in with their guns drawn, telling everybody to get back.
But we were told to put on our gas masks, and I didn’t even know that we had gas masks, and people were searching for them and fumbling around. And then there was a kind of nauseating din as these like 1950s style air shelter buzzers went off on the masks. And it was just pandemonium and chaos. Speaker Pelosi was escorted out of the room, as were the Republican leaders and Steny Hoyer, our majority leader. Our new House chaplain, who was on day three of the job, got up and made a moving speech, a prayer calling for peace and safety. But then we were quickly shepherded out of the House chamber and began our flight to safety.
CHAKRABARTI: Your daughter and son-in-law were upstairs right in the gallery, and so you were physically separated from them already as normal proceedings had been going on. But then, of course, as the insurrection were underway, that got even more, more serious. And in fact, during the impeachment trial, you talked about how you had been separated from Tabitha and your son in law, Hank. And here’s a little bit of what you said.
RASKIN [Archival Tape]: My chief of staff Julie Tagen was with Tabitha and Hank locked and barricaded in that office. The kids hiding under the desk. Placing what they thought were their final texts and whispered phone calls to say their goodbyes, they thought they were going to die.
CHAKRABARTI: I mean, fortunately, later on, you were reunited with both of them. And again in the impeachment trial, you recounted what happened when you were reunited.
RASKIN [Archival Tape]: I told her how sorry I was. And I promised her that it would not be like this again the next time she came back to the Capitol with me. And you know what she said? She said, Dad, I don’t want to come back to the Capitol. Of all the terrible, brutal things I saw and I heard on that day. And since then, that one hit me the hardest.
CHAKRABARTI: Representative Raskin, why did you choose to share that moment with the world, essentially, during the impeachment trial?
RASKIN: I was reeling still, obviously from the loss of Tommy. And the best I could do was record the actual emotions I had. I certainly saw far more bloody things and far more violent things than that, but I think I said that the two worst were Tabitha saying she didn’t want to come back to my work place, and seeing someone spear a police officer with an American flag. But the reason why Tabitha’s statement hit me so much was because it felt in the larger scheme of things, my whole chosen line of work, you know, throwing myself into electoral politics and congressional politics and American politics, had led us down some dangerous paths. And Tabitha was saying she didn’t want to go to my workplace anymore. She didn’t trust the safety of my workplace. And in the large scheme of things, I know it’s rather trivial, but for some reason it just, it wrecked me.
CHAKRABARTI: I don’t think it’s trivial at all, because, as you just said, did you also feel as if you had come within a hair’s breath of losing another child?
RASKIN: Well, I had told them that they would be safe, they asked. They said they heard that Trump was inviting his people to come to Washington. Would they be safe? And I said, obviously way too cavalierly, in hindsight, of course, we’ll be safe. We’ll be in the Capitol. It had never occurred to me that somebody could enter the Capitol without going through the metal detectors, without a security screening and not get shot by the officers. And I just kept thinking about one day, June 2nd, when Black Lives Matter came to protest after Trump and William Barr had unleashed a police riot in Lafayette Square against Black Lives Matter. And there was a BLM protest at the Capitol, and there were just hundreds of National Guardsmen lined up phalanx style on the steps of the Capitol, and that was the image I kept. I kept returning to, about what would happen if anybody tried to threaten us. But the reality was that eight or nine hundred people entered the Capitol without going through the metal detectors. They broke their way, and they smashed our windows. They beat the daylights out of police officers, and they came in.
And as Senator Lindsey Graham said on that day, all of us could have died. They could have had a bomb. And there were bombs left at the DNC and the RNC that morning. But many, many colleagues of both parties have told me that they thought that somebody was going to pull out an AR-15 and begin shooting. Because of course, we have so much experience from Newtown, Connecticut and the Pulse nightclub shooting in El Paso, Texas, and the Tree of Life synagogue, and the Charleston church shooting. I mean, all of these things where somebody makes an entrance, and then they decide to commit a mass slaughter. And that was on the minds of a lot of people that day.
CHAKRABARTI: Representative, I promise that I want to hear from you quite a bit about the current state and fragility of American democracy, and how we strengthen it. I promise I will talk with you about that. But I just want to remind folks that in recounting how you experienced January 6th again, it was just the day before that you had laid your son to rest.
And I was reading a really terrific article in the New Republic by Michael Tomasky, it just came out recently about you. And in it Michael admits that it was, I think, on his fourth meeting with you in reporting the story that he asked about your son. And I apologize that we don’t have the same amount of time to build an appropriate rapport. So I hope you don’t mind if I ask now about your son. I would just love for you to tell us about him.
RASKIN: Tommy was a second year student at Harvard Law School when we lost him. He, of course, had been sent home with everybody else because of COVID-19. And that made it very tough, and it was a time of a lot of gloom and isolation and despondency for young people, generally who have reported just skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression. And that’s not just young people in their teens and 20s, but even kids have been experiencing these symptoms.
So he was very emblematic of his generation in that sense. But Tommy was just a brilliant and dazzling young man with a perfect heart. And he loved the world with great passion, and he loved ideas and he wrote sensational poetry and plays. And he did magic tricks, and he was just the life of the party, and he was filled with laughter and he was filled with joy most of the time. But towards the end of college, he was afflicted with depression and he had a doctor, a couple of different doctors. He had, of course, medication he was on.
But anybody who has struggled with depression will be able to tell you that it’s a very inexact science when it comes to getting the medication right, and the general context a person is in makes a difference, and it was a tough time. And you know, we obviously have been bedeviled by a thousand unanswered questions, and self-cross-examination and self-doubt about things that we might have done this way or that.
But inevitably, it all comes back to the hard reality that we lost him on the last day of 2020. So he left us a note which said, ‘Please forgive me, my illness won today. Look after each other, the animals, and the global poor for me. All my love, Tommy.’ And in that tiny little note was compressed, the main values and drives of his life. And the three most important words might be ‘All my love.’ Because he gave all of his love, every single day.
CHAKRABARTI: I was looking at one of his poems, which we found, which is online, Where War Begins. And there’s a little excerpt of it. Where he wrote:
‘When it comes to the right to live free from the blight
of aggression, oppression, from tyrannous might,
how smart you are friends shouldn’t matter at all;
trauma is still trauma for the creatures that crawl.’
RASKIN: Tommy was a zealous vegan, and he was not a self-righteous vegan, and he admitted that, you know, he had eaten meat for most of his life and he didn’t think there was anything intrinsically immoral about desiring to eat it. But he said there’s no reason for anybody to be eating meat anymore with the invention of the Beyond sausages, and the Impossible burgers and all of these new creations. And he just felt very much the injustice of animal slaughter for purposes of human consumption. So he’s turned a lot of us people into vegans and vegetarians.
In fact, I don’t know a single person who converted more people over, but he never did it through guilt tripping. He would invite people to go out for dinner, or maybe he would make somebody dinner or lunch, and he would show them there’s another way of doing it. But he arrived at that through what our daughter Tabitha describes his overarching value, which was probably utilitarianism. Always trying to create the maximum good for the maximum number of people. But it’s just that he didn’t stop at the boundaries of humanity. It wasn’t just people, it was people and animals or, as he said, all sentient beings. And used to pet our dogs and say, you know, Potter or Zola or Toby, you are a very fine sentient being.
CHAKRABARTI: You just said a couple of minutes ago something that you explore quite frequently in your book. That understandable, profound self-examination that family members go through when they lose someone to suicide, especially a parent who loses a child. I presume you probably still are trying to just connect the dots, as you put it in the book about what you might have missed in Tommy or the little actions that maybe you could have changed, or done differently. But you also ask yourself those same questions about this country that you’re serving. Like, how did all of us, or most of us, not connect the dots to lead us to the now obvious conclusion about the fragility of American democracy? How do you navigate those kinds of considerations simultaneously?
RASKIN: Well, thinking about them together actually helps me. You know, ultimately with Tommy, you hit upon a very bitter, irreducible reality, which is that mental illness is a real thing. And you know, that’s been tough for me to accept. But it is a real thing. And Tommy told us that in the first sentence of his note. And he asked for our forgiveness, which is an invitation for us to ask him for his forgiveness, for whatever. Whatever we might have done differently.
But you know, the thing … everybody is asking me what my advice for other families who have a depressed family member or a kid, I wish I could give somebody a surefire solution. But the one thing that I settle upon is that you have to use the word suicide in conversations about stuff. I think I feel a lot of self-reproach for not engaging in that conversation a lot more, and a lot more freely. And I basically feel like not talking to a depressed person about suicide is like not talking to a teenager about sex. You think you might be making it less likely by not mentioning it, and you don’t want to endow it with any special power.
You don’t want to cast a spell on the future, but in truth, it’s quite the opposite. If you don’t talk about it, it gives it a lot more power. And that’s the way I feel about the word fascism, too. You know, for a long time, it was just considered impolite to talk about fascism in American politics, like that was beyond the pale. And I think we saw the fruits of that on January 6th, because that had the telltale hallmark characteristics of fascism.
The mobilization of street violence to tear down a constitutional process, an attack on an election to try to overthrow a duly elected candidate, and the use of propaganda and big lies to make all of it happen. … Look, I’ve lost my son and I’m going to do whatever I can to try to save our democracy, and to make a future worth living for my daughters and my constituents. And, you know, future generations. And we’ve got to use these words if we’re going to save our democracy.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, as you write in the book: ‘Just as I will condemn myself for missing multiple glaring clues that Tommy was on the path to taking his own life, I will condemn myself for missing multiple glaring clues that Trump and his forces were on a path to overthrow the 2020 election and would come dangerously close to doing so.’ Well, when we come back, Representative Raskin, let’s talk about how we avoid the nation going further down that path.
CHAKRABARTI: This is On Point and I’m Meghna Chakrabarti. And today we are talking with Representative Jamie Raskin. He represents Maryland’s 8th Congressional District. His new book Is “Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth and the Trials of American Democracy.” And you might remember that during the second impeachment of Donald Trump and Congressman, Raskin was the lead House manager during the impeachment trial. And I want to play just a little moment from the final words in Representative Raskin’s closing argument during that second impeachment trial.
RASKIN [Archival Tape]: They attacked this building. They disrupted the peaceful transfer of power. They injured and killed people, convinced that they were acting on his instructions and with his approval and protection. And while that happened, he further incited them while failing to defend us. If that’s not ground for conviction, if that’s not a high crime and misdemeanor against the Republic in the United States of America, then nothing is. President Trump must be convicted for the safety and security of our democracy and our people.
CHAKRABARTI: President Trump was not convicted, though it was the most bipartisan votes for conviction in the history of the United States. But Representative Raskin, you are a renowned constitutional law scholar as well. Did participating in the second impeachment trial, and seeing how the vote ended up, expose to you some weaknesses in our constitutional system? That it’s only as strong as the people who we vote into to protect and obey the Constitution, and if they do not see a crime in the president of the United States not protecting Congress itself. To ask your question: What is an impeachable offense?
RASKIN: Well, of course, that’s right. Our whole constitutional system depends on active civic vigilance and engagement. That’s why mental health is so important. Because in an authoritarian society, in a dictatorship, the mental and physical health of the population is irrelevant. All that matters is the people at the top. But if you want to run a democracy, we need people to be at their absolute best for the purposes of self-government. We need people to be engaged. And the framers were very clear about that.
They were also clear that the biggest danger would come from people who struck a pose as friends of the public, but in fact were demagogues who appealed and pandered to negative emotion. And then became, as Alexander Hamilton put it, tyrants over the people, trampling their rights and their liberties and the will of the majority. That’s in the very first Federalist paper, by the way, that Alexander Hamilton wrote about demagogues, who become tyrants.
RASKIN: So we’ve always known that it requires people’s engagement and participation. But we’ve got to think about what democracy means in the 21st century. Because we’re dealing with all kinds of new realities, we’re dealing with climate change, we’re dealing with the mental health crisis, we’re dealing with the social media and the internet. And all of these things came to play on January 6th. And so there are certain improvements and changes that we can make to the Electoral Count Act, to the Constitution.
RASKIN: I’ve been a critic of the Electoral College ever since I got into politics. The very first bill I introduced as a state senator in Maryland was for a National Popular Vote Interstate Compact that would lead to the obsolescence of the Electoral College, and lead us to a national popular vote. And I only wish we had gotten that done. We could have saved ourselves a lot of trauma and a lot of heartache. So we’ve got a lot of work to do. But the first thing we have to acknowledge is that democracy is in danger. We are under attack and we have to recognize all of the forms of right-wing authoritarianism that are trying to steal away our democracy.
CHAKRABARTI: Can that reckoning, though, across the United States, among all Americans, happen for as long as the Republican Party is still held in the thrall of Donald Trump? I mean, obviously in the hours after the insurrection, as the electoral count was finally completed, we had hundreds, essentially of members of the Republican Party still object to the counts in several states. On the other hand, we had then Vice President Pence complete his duty as the vice president of the United States, and you have called him a hero for doing that.
But even Mike Pence, after January 6th, continued to promote the same misinformation or disinformation that Trump had been saying. He also just called the attack on Congress one day in January. So I don’t know how we have a national reckoning, as you’re saying, if a larger than critical mass of Americans don’t believe there’s any reckoning needed. Maybe I should just put a finer point on my question here, and I’m sorry. Sometimes I get a bit wordy. But do you believe the Republican Party is a party that still believes in democracy?
RASKIN: Well, right now, the Republican Party under the leadership of Donald Trump has positioned itself outside the constitutional order. They are attacking the basic premise of representative, and presidential and electoral democracy under our constitutional system. Which is that when your party wins, you take office. When your party loses, you accept the result, and you go back and you try to work harder for the next election. And we just lost an election in Virginia for governor, which bummed us all out in the Democratic Party. But we didn’t try to overthrow the government in Richmond, Virginia, and stormed the state Capitol, and beat up police officers and tell lies about the election.
So that’s what’s so dangerous about what’s become of the Republican Party. But having said that, I want to say there is still a struggle within the Republican Party. Liz Cheney is still a Republican, Adam Kinzinger is still a Republican, Senator Richard Burr is still a Republican. You know, there are Republicans out there who are trying to fight. Admittedly, they have come under enormous pressure. They’re being driven out of the party, just like election officials who refused to do Donald Trump’s bidding, like Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in Georgia. I agree with all of that, and it may be that the Republican Party does just become an authoritarian political cult committed to basically fascistic ideas attacking American democracy. And I’ve told Republican colleagues, You know, before this is all over, you guys are going to be fit only to be selling incense and flowers at the airport. And sleeping in a room with 50 other people, and having tapes played through the middle of the night, because you are acting like cultists.
CHAKRABARTI: How do they reply?
RASKIN: Some of them, of course, are true believers. When you’re talking about Marjorie Taylor Greene, or Jim Jordan or Lauren Boebert, you’re talking about people who have a glazed look in their eyes. But for the ones who have maintained some semblance of reason and understand what a fraud Donald Trump is, they have resigned themselves to the idea that this is what politics is. Politics is basically letting the alpha male in your party take over and dictate to everybody else what to think about everything, and you just walk the plank with that guy. I think that Liz Cheney, and Adam Kinzinger and Mitt Romney and some others have shown us that that doesn’t have to be the road to hell that people take in the Republican Party.
CHAKRABARTI: So let’s take advantage of this moment and the fact that our audience here on this program is quite politically diverse. Speak for a moment to listeners right now who are still followers of Donald Trump. What would you tell them about why they should resist the pull of authoritarianism in this country?
RASKIN: Authoritarianism has got nothing to offer us, authoritarianism is just about the mobilization of hatred and contempt and racism and misogyny. That’s where they’re going and you can see it all over the world. I mean, do you want to be part of Vladimir Putin’s party? Do you want a society like Bolsonaro in Brazil or al-Sisi in Egypt? Or Duterte in the Philippines, where he says he can recognize drug dealers on site, and just go out and shoot them? I mean, that’s the path of authoritarianism. So here we are in the world’s greatest, multiracial, multiethnic, multi-religious constitutional democracy, and we are the product of these amazing movements that have opened America up. And are we going to squander all of that?
I mean, those are the choices. I just, I don’t even see how that can be a real choice. And I understand that there are some deep historical tectonics beneath all of this and that it is very tough for large parts of the population that America’s demography has changed. I understand that. But Donald Trump doesn’t have anything to offer anybody. You know, the Democratic Party, as flawed and imperfect as we are, we passed an infrastructure plan, a massive $1 trillion-plus investment. We’re doing that. Trump talked about infrastructure. He never even introduced a plan.
And, you know, 2020 was a remarkable year for a lot of reasons, as I talked about in my book. But one of them was that it was the first time in modern presidential political history that one of the major political parties did not adopt a platform at its convention. The Republicans did not even pass a platform. They said they couldn’t do it. Well, what does that mean? Their platform is whatever Donald Trump says it is. If he tells people the dictator of North Korea is our best friend and he writes love notes to them, the Republicans go along with that. If he turns on the dime and says, No, you know, he’s somebody we can go to war with. Well, go with that. So they’ve destroyed critical thinking skills in their party. I mean, that’s a remarkable turn of events.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, you mentioned reform or changes to the Electoral Count Act earlier. And noted your long opposition to the Electoral College, more broadly here. So there are things, legislatively, that can be done to protect our democracy. And the January 6th select committee has a role in that. Does it not? I mean, because the committee will be eventually making recommendations, won’t it?
RASKIN: Our role is precisely to deliver a comprehensive and granular report on the events of January 6th and the causes of it. But then to make specific legislative and policy recommendations about how to prevent such a nightmare from befalling the Republic again. So we will look at a whole, wide ranging series of recommendations that we could make to Congress and to the American people.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, as we reach the last couple of minutes here, Representative Raskin, I want to play another moment from your closing argument during the impeachment trial, the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump. And this is a moment where you invoked some of your most cherished historical Americans.
REP. RASKIN [Archival Tape]: Ben Franklin, a great champion of Enlightenment. An enemy of political fanaticism and cowardice. And, of course, another great Philadelphian, once wrote this: ‘I have observed that wrong is always growing more wrong until there is no baring it anymore. And that right, however opposed, comes right at last.’
Comes right at last, think about that. This is America, home of the brave, land of the free.
The America of Ben Franklin, who said, ‘If you make yourself a sheep, the wolves will eat you.’ Don’t make yourself a sheep. The wolves will eat you.
The America of Thomas Jefferson, who said in another difficult moment, ‘A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spirits dissolve and the people recovering their true sight restored their government to its true principles.’
The America of Tom Paine, who said, ‘The mind, once enlightened, cannot again become dark.’
CHAKRABARTI: Representative Jamie Raskin serving as head house manager in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Representative Raskin, my final question to you circles back to the title of your book “Unthinkable” because that is literally a word that I and many Americans, including myself, that I used when January 6, 2021 happened. I just thought, it was unthinkable to me as a person who adores this country, that the United States could bring itself to the cusp of losing our own democracy. And could skirt that cusp for as long as we have been and continue to be. But in your book, you also conclude with the fact that your son Tommy, thought of the word unthinkable in a different way. And I was wondering if you could share that with us.
RASKIN: ‘Unthinkable’ does capture that sense of unreality so many of us had in my family when we lost Tommy, it was just unthinkable that life could proceed without him. And also the sense so many people in America had about this violent attack on America, and this attempt to overthrow Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College, and throw everything into the House of Representatives for a contingent election, as unthinkable. These things were just beyond the pale.
But I try to strike a positive and optimistic note, drawing on Tommy’s deepest hopes and most ardent values. Because he really believed that we could move to a world without hunger, and we can move to a world without hunger. Also, in a world where a lot less meat, animal meat, is eaten. He believed that we could do away with war, and leave war behind the way we’ve left behind slavery, and witchcraft and other social institutions that we regard as wasteful and irrational in hindsight. He thought that democracy can move us forward to much greater things. He wanted a lot more from democracy. Not a lot less.
And I feel like we’re at a point in our history where we’ve got to decide, are we going to sink into that authoritarian cesspool, with all of the despots abroad and with Donald Trump? Or are we going to keep moving forward in a way that draws on the best traditions, and values of our past and looks to bold new vistas, things that we never, never even thought about before? That could be the experience of our children, and our grandchildren and future generations. That’s our choice.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, as you write in the book, Tommy dared to think about not only what was unthinkably dreadful in the human experience, but also what might be unthinkably beautiful in our potential future. That’s from “Unthinkable.” Its Rep. Jamie Raskin’s new book. Representative, thank you so much for joining us today, on this day in particular.
RASKIN: Thank you for having me, Meghna.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.