Unthinkable review: Jamie Raskin, his lost son and defending democracy from Trump | Books

Unthinkable is the proper title for this extraordinary e book, as a result of it describes a superhuman feat.

Jamie Raskin is a advantageous author, a Democratic congressman, a constitutional scholar and a deeply loving father. When 2020 started, he had no inkling that simply 12 months later his nation and his household would face “two unimaginable traumas”.

On 31 December, his stunning, sensible, charismatic 25-year-old son, Tommy, took his personal life. Six days later, a vicious mob invaded Raskin’s office, the cradle of democracy, leaving a number of useless and injuring 140 law enforcement officials.

Raskin suffered “a violent and complete shock to the foundations”. By no means had he felt “so equidistant … between the more and more unrecognizable place known as life and the all of the sudden intimate and increasing jurisdiction known as dying”.


That is the place the superhuman half got here in. As an alternative of succumbing to unfathomable grief over the dying of his son, Raskin seized a lifeline thrown by the Home speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and agreed to steer the trouble to question Donald Trump for inciting the riot which could have derailed the peaceable transition of energy.

He discovered “salvation and sustenance … a pathway again to the land of the residing”.

“I’m not going to lose my son on the finish of 2020 and lose my nation and my republic in 2021,” he informed CNN, lower than three weeks after Tommy’s dying.

Raskin’s astonishing story of tragedy and redemption, of “despair and survival”, depended fully on all of the “good and compassionate folks” like Tommy, “the non-narcissists, the feisty, life-size human beings who hate bullying and fascism naturally – folks simply the precise dimension for a democracy … the place we’re all created equal”.

Tommy Raskin was the fourth technology in an amazing liberal household. His maternal nice grandfather was the primary Jew elected to the Minnesota legislature. His father, Marcus Raskin, was one of many earliest opponents of the Vietnam battle when he labored within the Kennedy White Home. In 1968, Marcus Raskin was indicted with William Sloane Coffin, Dr Benjamin Spock and others for conspiracy to assist resistance to the draft. When Raskin was the one one acquitted, he famously demanded a retrial.

Jamie Raskin taught constitutional legislation then ran for the Maryland Senate, with Tommy, then 10, his first marketing campaign aide. Within the state legislature, Raskin helped outlaw the dying penalty and legalize same-sex marriage.

Tommy was a second-year scholar at Harvard Legislation Faculty when Covid started. Like so many others with medical melancholy, the disaster deepened his signs. His father described his sickness as “a type of relentless torture within the mind … Regardless of very advantageous medical doctors and a loving household … the ache turned overwhelming and unyielding and insufferable eventually.”

That is additionally a political memoir, of the Capitol assault and the second impeachment. Driving to the Capitol, Raskin noticed MAGA supporters heckling a younger Black driver and a automotive with a bumper sticker studying: “If Weapons Are Outlawed, How Am I Going To Shoot Liberals?”

He realizes these “fascist bread crumbs all through the town” ought to have activated “some type of cultural alarm”. Extra chillingly, he studies the choice of some Democrats to cross their chamber after Congress was invaded, “as a result of they thought a mass shooter who entered could be much less prone to intention on the Republican facet of the Home”.

However Raskin was by no means afraid: “The very worst factor that might ever have occurred to us has already occurred … and Tommy is with me by some means each step of the best way. He’s occupying my coronary heart … He’s exhibiting me the best way to some type of security … My wound has now grow to be my protect of protection and my path to flee, and all I can consider is my son propelling me ahead to struggle.”

Trump supporters clash with police on 6 January 2021.
Trump supporters conflict with police on 6 January 2021. {Photograph}: Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Photographs

Essentially the most highly effective a part of Raskin’s e book, the heart-shattering half, is his love letter to Tommy, a “dazzling, treasured, sensible … ethical visionary, a slam poet, an mental large slayer, the king of Boggle, a natural-born comic, a pal to all human beings however tyrants and bullies, a freedom fighter, a political essayist, a playwright, a jazz pianist, and a good-looking, radical customer from a distant future the place battle, mass starvation and the consuming of animals are thought-about barbaric insupportable and absurd”.

Raskin realized that for the final week of his life, his son had made an effort to impersonate somebody in excellent psychological well being, so nobody would intervene. These have been his parting phrases: “Please forgive me. My sickness received immediately. Please take care of one another, the animals and the worldwide poor for me. All my love, Tommy.”


Raskin takes some solace remembering the story of Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie, who died of typhoid fever on the age of 12 in 1862, plunging his dad and mom into melancholy.

It had been some extent of satisfaction that Raskin responded to each constituent, however a deluge of condolences made that unimaginable. There was additionally a name from Joe Biden, three days after Tommy died. The president-elect promised “the day would come when Tommy’s identify would convey a smile to my lip earlier than tears to my eyes”.

Finally Raskin was satisfied to put in writing one letter for everybody sending condolences, one for everybody who wrote about impeachment and a 3rd for everybody who provided condolences and political solidarity. One truly wrote: “I used to be in search of a condolence card for the lack of your son which additionally mentioned ‘and thanks for saving our nation too’, however Hallmark apparently doesn’t make these.”

Naturally, one among Raskin’s son’s heroes was Wittgenstein, who believed the reality of moral propositions is set by the braveness with which you act to make them actual.

“On this customary,” Raskin writes, “there have by no means been more true moral claims than those made by Tommy Raskin, as a result of he was all braveness and engagement with his ethical convictions.”

Might this e book and Tommy’s instance encourage us all to rescue our gravely beleaguered democracy.

  • Unthinkable: Trauma, Reality, and the Trials of American Democracy is published in the US by Harper

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