'Trump will get his comeuppance': Rep. Jamie Raskin promises consequences for Jan. 6
Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, opens his bestselling new book, "Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy" by sharing "two impossible traumas" he suffered in the same week: "the shattering death by suicide" of his 25-year-old son, and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. As Raskin discussed during our recent "Salon Talks" conversation, these two losses obviously are not equivalent — but in linking them on some level, Raskin is also sharing his deep love for America.
I have interviewed Raskin many times for my SiriusXM radio show, and he has always been a thoughtful, measured person when it comes to talking politics of the day. The fact that he's a former constitutional law professor likely contributes to that professorial nature. That's also why we should all take heed of his words when he states point blank that today's Republican Party has launched a "fascist attack against the constitutional order." In his book, Raskin writes that the GOP is now "the party of Trump, authoritarianism, corruption, and insurrection."
That has become even more obvious in recent weeks as Donald Trump suggested he would pardon the Capitol attackers if returned to office, and the Republican National Committee approved a resolution describing the Jan. 6 attack as "legitimate political discourse." Raskin, who is a member of the House select committee investigating the events Jan. 6, shared his belief that the panel's upcoming public hearings could be the most important in American history, saying they will "certainly up there with the Watergate hearings." You can watch my "Salon Talks" with Rep. Raskin here, or read our conversation below to hear Raskin discuss the "maddening and frustrating" fact that Trump has yet to be brought to justice.
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Your book "Unthinkable" went straight to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. The book is a love letter to your late son Tommy, who took his own life last December, and on some level a love letter to our democracy and what this nation stands for. But I wanted to start with Tommy. You go into detail about his struggle with depression, writing, "Depression, it entered his life like a thief in the night and became an unremitting beast." What do you say to families out there where people are struggling with depression?
Well, I don't claim any particular medical expertise. But I will just say as a dad who's gone through this, that it's obviously important that each person who's facing a mental health struggle be in a therapeutic relationship with doctors and get whatever medication we have that might work. But also, build a close social network to stay on top of the situation. Obviously I've asked myself a thousand questions since all of this happened, but the thing I probably most regret is not talking about the topic of suicide and not confronting it directly.
I think parents probably have an instinct that talking about it will somehow conjure it into existence or cast some kind of spell that will make it happen. But that's obviously just superstition, and it really works in the other direction: To not talk about something is the risky thing, it's to endow it with more power and mystery than it should have. I say that about suicide and I also say that about the word "fascism" in the book. We can't be afraid to talk about that, like somehow that's a breach of etiquette or something.
Switching to politics here, right in the beginning of your book, you talk about how in the week between Dec. 31, 2020, and Jan. 6th, 2021, your family suffered two impossible dramas: One was your son's death by suicide, and the second was the Capitol insurrection. You're not equating the two things, but I can sense your love for this nation. Is that fair to say that: You have a deep love for this democratic republic and what it's supposed to stand for, and you feel compelled to defend it?
Well, I think that's right. It's kind of you to say that. I certainly feel it. And I have felt that Tommy's with me, and he is in my heart. He's in my chest. He was during the impeachment trial in the Senate. And unfortunately we didn't have enough Republican senators to join us in convicting Trump. I mean, it was the most bipartisan, sweeping impeachment result in a Senate trial in American history, but we still fell 10 votes short. And for that reason, we're still in the thick of this struggle.
Like I told the impeachment managers before we went out there, the facts are overwhelmingly on our side. The law is overwhelmingly on our side. I want to make sure that people understand that the passion for our country, the patriotism in your hearts is what's motivating the whole thing. So show your emotion about what just happened to us. They stormed our house.
You write about going into the Capitol on Jan. 6, bringing your daughter Tabitha and your son-in-law Hank with you. So during the siege, you weren't just worried about yourself, you had to worry about your family. We have the footage of this horrific attack on our Capitol by people dressed in Trump regalia and chanting, "Fight for Trump." Yet now we know, thanks to the work of your committee, that Donald Trump, for 187 minutes, watched that and did nothing, even when Ivanka Trump came in twice asking him to intervene. What does that say to you about how Trump viewed this event?
The violence was strategic and political, but it was also sadistic too. He had unleashed primitive impulses in this mass demonstration, which became a mob riot. I view the activities of Jan. 6 as being in three rings of sedition, Dean. There was the mob riot, which surrounded the ring of the insurrection. And that was the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, the Aryan Nation, different white nationalist groups, the Militiamen, the First Amendment Pretorians, there were some religious cults in there. These people had trained for battle and they were the first ones to come and smash out our windows and attack our police officers. They helped convert the demonstration into a mob riot and an attack on the officers. But the scariest ring was the innermost ring, the ring of the coup, which is a strange word to use in American political parlance, because we don't have a lot of experience with coups.
We think of a coup as something that takes place against a president, but this was a coup orchestrated by the president against the vice president and against the Congress. And the whole purpose was to get Mike Pence to declare lawless, extra-constitutional powers, to exclude and reject and repudiate Electoral College votes coming in from Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania to lower Biden's total from 306 to below 270. That would have triggered, under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, a contingent presidential election. And you ask: Why would Donald Trump want Speaker Pelosi's Democratic-controlled House of Representatives to decide who's president? Well, in a contingent election, we're not voting one member, one vote. We're voting one state, one vote.
After the 2020 elections, they had 27 state delegations, we had 22 and one, Pennsylvania, was split down the middle. So even had they lost the at-large representative from Wyoming — my new best friend, Liz Cheney — they still would have had 26 votes to declare Donald Trump president and seize the presidency for another four years. I think they were also prepared at that point to invoke the Insurrection Act and declare martial law, and finally call on the National Guard, that had been held back, to put down the insurrectionary chaos he had unleashed against us.
Are you surprised that we don't even hear an inkling that Trump is being investigated by the Department of Justice for potential crimes?
Well, yeah. I mean, I'm a little bit softer on Attorney General Merrick Garland than some people are, because he's my constituent. I still remember, so bitterly, how they prevented him from even getting a hearing when he was nominated by President Obama to the Supreme Court. But look, people were on Garland's case about the fact that there had been no indictments for seditious conspiracy. And then there was a huge indictment on seditious conspiracy against the Oath Keepers, and presumably more to come. They obviously weren't the only group there. There were these overlapping circles of conspiracy to knock over the Capitol and take down our government. I mean, that was the interruption of the peaceful transfer of power, for the first time in American history, for four or five hours. And we didn't know which way it was going to go.
Trump will get his comeuppance. I know how maddening and frustrating it is to people. I share that feeling, having been an impeachment manager. I mean, he's as guilty as sin. He's a one-man crime wave, and it's amazing that his dad's money and this pack of lawyers he travels with have been able to get him off everything up until now. But I'm with Dr. King that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it tends toward justice. It's going to catch up with Donald Trump too.
You write in the book that we can now say that the Democratic Party, whatever its faults, is the party of democracy and that the Republican Party is the party of authoritarianism, corruption, and insurrection. Can our democratic republic continue if one party is embracing autocracy and fascism and the other party is playing by the rules?
It's a good question. If you look at it historically, liberal and progressive parties have never on their own been enough to defeat fascist and authoritarian coups. It's always the liberal and progressive parties, the left and the center-right together. And when they come together, they can reject and defeat a fascist attack against the constitutional order. And that is the importance of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and Mitt Romney. We had 10 Republicans vote to impeach in the house. We had seven vote to convict in the Senate. So that's like 14 or 15 percent of the Republican Party. If that block holds and comes our way, and we're able to build a cross-party coalition with a lot of Independents and Greens and Libertarians and Republicans and Democrats to defend democracy, we can do it.
The Democratic Party can't do it alone. It's going to have to be the base of it, but we also need to assemble all the other institutions in American life that are part of democracy, because democracy's not one thing. I mean, it is the legislative branch, yes, obviously. But it is courts. It is the states. It is the press, the media, the universities, the colleges, the schools, civil society. Everybody needs to stand up and reject authoritarianism at this point. When people ask what they can do: You can do things every single day to stand up for strong democracy in America.
After Watergate, Congress passed reforms to try to rein in a runaway president in Richard Nixon. I know some have been proposed now. Is there any hope of legislation that will curtail another potential Trump or another person cut from that cloth, regardless of party, who really tries to abuse their power?
In a certain sense, this is what we've been trying to do with all the voting rights legislation. We've been trying to solidify and protect the right to vote and protect the integrity of elections against these outrageous efforts to convert bipartisan or nonpartisan election commissions into partisan election commissions, or to put them directly under the control of GOP legislatures. The problem is that the Republican Party, which is a minority party and a shrinking minority party — remember, Hillary beat Trump by three million votes and Joe Biden beat him by seven and a half million votes. The young people are coming in our direction.
That demography is totally against the GOP, but they've got this bag of tricks that include the most anti-democratic instruments in the country. It's voter suppression statutes. It's the filibuster. It's right wing court packing and judicial activism. It's manipulation of the Electoral College. It's a race between the will of the majority, trying to defend democratic institutions and liberal democracy, against one-party rule, which is what they want. They are a rule-or-ruin party, and I've been calling that them that for a while. I was glad that President Biden picked that up in his democracy speech because they either are going to rule or they're going to ruin our ability to make any progress as a country.
With the Jan. 6 committee, you're going to have public hearings coming up at some point this year. I'm not sure if there's a schedule that we don't know about. Is there any sense of what we might expect to see, or the types of witnesses that you might bring forward in these hearings?
I'd hoped it would happen in March. I think because of all the obstruction and roadblocks thrown up by the entourage around Donald Trump — Mark Meadows, who's kind of doing the hokey pokey, one foot in one foot out, Steve Bannon, Roger Stone — that it's going to be later in the spring, April or May more likely. But I think these could be the most important hearings in American history, certainly up there with the Watergate hearings. I hope we will do them during prime time. I hope we will see them every single day, so we can tell a complete story to the American people about how this took place. It's obviously enormously complex. But people are following it closely.
The vast majority of Americans who we've approached as witnesses have testified. So most people, including people who participated, are cooperating. They understand that they've got not just a legal obligation but a civic obligation to help us figure out what happened. It's only when you get right to that bullseye core around Donald Trump and his innermost confidants that people think they're somehow above the law and can just give the finger to the U.S. Congress.
The way you envision this, it wouldn't be like the first hearings we saw with the Capitol Police, which was months ago? This would be more like lining up a bunch of nights in a row, as opposed to one hearing and then coming back three weeks later?
Yeah, it would not be episodic. We want to tell the whole story. I felt very strongly that we'd go to the police officers first. That was my great frustration about the Senate trial, that we weren't able to have them come and tell the story of what had happened. We wanted to shock the public into remembrance of what this was about. I mean, this was a violent assault on American democracy, a riot surrounding an insurrection surrounding a coup, and it was our officers who stood between us and losing it all. So there were a lot of heroes on that day and we can't forget who those heroes were.
Newt Gingrich literally said that you and others on your committee are going to jail if Republicans get control of the House. I don't know what the justification would be, but when you hear that, does that ring bells of fascism to you? The idea of threatening to put political opponents in prison simply because they're doing their job.
Well, of course that was the direction that Donald Trump took their party in, because the moment he got in, the Department of Justice was treated like a group of lawyers who were supposed to follow his orders in prosecuting his enemies and excusing and protecting his friends. It was like that from the very beginning, and all through the administration. It doesn't surprise me that Newt Gingrich, who's an utter chameleon and total moral invertebrate, would just follow Donald Trump down into that cesspool.
You mentioned that 10 Republican House members voted to impeach Donald Trump, and seven Republicans voted to convict in the Senate. We heard Kevin McCarthy go on the floor saying, "The president's to blame." But that same Kevin McCarthy now is sucking up. What do you make of this, in terms of that party losing its way? Is it just the pursuit of power at literally any cost?
Of course. I mean, the framers understood this. If you go back and read Federalist No. 1 by Alexander Hamilton, he says that the major threat to the Democratic Republic is going to be politicians who act as demagogues pandering to negative emotions who then come to power and go from being demagogues to becoming tyrants. So, exploiting negative emotions in people, racism, hatred, stereotyping, scapegoating and then becoming tyrants over the people. So that's an old story. It's obviously a different story than Donald Trump was telling, but it's one we can recognize immediately.
On another point, you have a documentary, "Loving the Constitution," coming out on MSNBC. It was shot over three years, following you through everything. What can you share about this?
Madeline Carter was someone who was a college classmate of mine, and she kept bugging me for more than a year that she wanted to make a documentary about me and Trump. The constitutional law professor who gets elected the same night as the would-be authoritarian dictator of America — following his story and mine. Of course history takes us places we never imagined going. But I finally relented, I said, "Fine, if you think there's something there, you can make the movie about us." Of course she ended up filming a lot of stuff I wish had never happened, along with some things I'm proud of and some things I regret. But it is what it is. I confess I have lived, as Pablo Neruda said. It is what it is, and I'm curious to see what it's all about.
When Justice Breyer had his press conference, talking about retiring, he mentioned the Gettysburg Address and talked about the experiment this country is. I went back and read the Gettysburg Address, and the very last line is that the government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth. That was the hope of Lincoln. You get the sense that some of our fellow Americans just believe it won't perish from the earth and they don't have to do anything to preserve it.
I mean, I don't blame those people. Most of us grew up with the sense that there was stability and durability in our democratic institutions and that they would grow stronger over time. But of course there are people who also have much more of a tragic sensibility and understand the ebb and flow of history. There are periods of progressive evolution and change, and then periods of profound reaction and destruction, and we obviously just witnessed one of those with these nihilists who took over and tried to destroy everything that had been built for decades. I mean, they just put the civilizing movements of our time in their crosshairs: the civil rights movement, the women's movement, the LGBTQ movement, the human rights movement, the environmental movement, the climate movement and so on.
So yeah, I don't really blame those people. But I think Lincoln was trying to say, if democracy's going to survive, we all have to fight for it. And there will be a spectrum of sacrifice. Some people will give their lives, like the thousands who were killed in the battle at Gettysburg. But all of us have got to be engaged in this. I mean, that's what democracy is. It's something that we take care of together.
Lincoln was posing that as a real question, not as just some kind of rhetorical flourish. I mean, for most of the history of our species, people have lived under despots and tyrants and dictators and bullies and kings and queens and all that. So our American experiment began with some very high ideals. They were compromised from the beginning, with the viciousness of slavery and other kinds of repressive political features. But at least the ideals were there and successive social and political movements have been able to transform the country. And that has left us, even through Donald Trump, the greatest multiracial, multiethnic, multi-religious constitutional democracy that's ever existed. So that's our legacy. That's what we're fighting for now.
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