On Tuesday afternoon I invested (not “spent”) time watching an hour of Impeachment II. The film of the attack on the Capitol was agonizing: Violence, hatred, obscene slogans, torture of a cop caught in a doorway and screaming in pain, the deliberate inflicting of fear and terror for those elected representatives of the people who were fulfilling the Constitutional responsibility to ratify a presidential election. The means the mob used fit well the end they sought: the overthrow of American democracy.
And then there was Jamie Raskin: Intellect mixed with tears. A professor of constitutional law who won the respect of his neighbors, enough to elect and reelect him to Congress and then to win the respect of his congressional colleagues. A father who could bury a brilliantly shining son, shadowed by dark depression, who on the last day of 2020, the Year of Lonely Despair, wrote his family a note: “‘Please forgive me. My illness won today. Please look after each other, the animals, and the global poor for me. All my love, Tommy.” And killed himself.”
And a father who could still find the strength to do his constitutional duty to the people, and appear in Congress to complete the election process. And then to shed thears as he described his family’s and his own fear and horror as they hid from the rampaging mob.
That was the best version of American democracy: Love for both family and the Republic; intellect and emotion connected; a political leader unafraid of tears.
I need to pause here for full disclosure: I was a close friend for many years of Jamie’s father Marc Raskin. We worked together on a book about US “nuclear deterrence,” arms control, and disarmament; we worked together to plan the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive center for thought and action; we co-authored “A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority” that became a crucial manifesto to oppose the US war against Vietnam; we raised our kids, including Jamie, together on the same block in the heart of Washington’s most interracial and most progressive neighborhood.
And when the New York Times interviewed Jamie a month or so ago, he mentioned two childhood memories:
“The younger Mr. Raskin keeps a 1964 clipping from The Washington Post with a photo of him as a 2-year-old toting a placard at a protest. When he was 6, his father took him to the first Freedom Seder, a Passover meal that brought Jewish and Black people together a year after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
I had written that Freedom Seder, and it became the entry-point into my Jewish life for the next 50-some years, away from the Institute and away from Washington DC. For some years, away from Marc; but in the years before his death in 2017 we were in warm connection. So you need to know: I am not “neutral” about Jamie Raskin, any more than I am “neutral” about the democratic Amerca that gave him birth and grew him up and shaped him into one of its finest defenders.
Here we are: the worst, most violent, most racist version of America – and its most devoted democrats. Its whole history, crystallized in the second impeachment trial of its first fascist President.
How do we make sure he is the last of “It Can’t Happen Here,” of “The Plot Against America,” fictions no longer? How do we make sure there are many Jamie Raskins, Congressmembers from the State of Truth, the Twenty-sixth District of Honor, the County of Love?
We must keep ourselves aware that the insurrectionist mob of January 5 was not an accident and not unique. Groups like them marched with rifles to the Michigan State House, planned to kidnap the Governor of Michigan. Henchmen of our would-be Pharaoh delighted in shedding the blood of other people: a sudden rush of deaths in Federal prisons in the last weeks of Trump, as if the White House could not bear to lose their power without staining their hands with blood. Almost half a million dead of the COVIV Plague, many of whom could have lived if the White House had not been obsessed with ignoring the danger in order to win an election – not imagining it could lose the election by ignoring the danger. Just people dying, and at that, disproportionately Blacks. Who would care? What could go wrong?
We need to be aware: As democracy sickens, more and more people turn against it. Some of our institutions are built to be anti-democratic: the Electoral College. The Senate, and even worse, its filibuster. The Supreme Court, which gutted the Voting Rights Act and the many laws of many years to limit the power of money in elections, but said that partisan gerrymandering was too complicated to forbid.
So we will need to exert ourselves to transform the institutions that prevent democracy.
It is not even just America that is at stake. We Americans such an impact on the planet that democracy or the reign of Carbon Pharaohs here will determine the future of Earh and Homo-sapiens everywhere. So if we ever to save a million species, perhaps even our own; if we are to restore a California that does not burn like a furnace, a Midwest that does not flood like the marshes around New Orleans, a Florida that does not sink into the sea -- we must create many Raskins, many nonviolent marchers, many prayers and Freedom Seders taken into public space.
The Capitol is a symbol of representative democracy, but it is not the seat of democracy: democracy sits in every neighborhood. In Shalom Reports coming soon, we will pursue the question: How do we affirm the Globe and the Neighborhood at the same time?