Congressman Jamie Raskin bares his soul in Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy. This combination of memoir and political history covers topics related to the health of this country. One is the crisis of mental illness in this country, especially as it relates to depression and suicide. The second is about the health of our country’s democratic institutions and norms. Raskin experiences both over the course of his book.
First, Raskin describes his son Tommy, a twenty-something law student. We also learn that Tommy took his own life at the end of 2020. His father tells us about Tommy from his childhood forward, and also about the family relationships especially those with Raskin’s two daughters. The family sounds typical in so many ways, with two married, working parents. And yet, in this family, Dad runs for Congress, encouraged by his son’s youthful activism.
Tommy’s bouts of depression and his struggle for balanced mental health affect the entire family even before his suicide. They support and love him, offering potential solutions from family togetherness to intense counseling and medications. Yet, it’s not enough. And so, Raskin also describes their grieving process.
Perhaps you heard reports in January 2021 about the confluence of the Raskin family tragedy and the January 6th insurrection attempt at The Capital. I certainly did. But here in the book, Raskin offers us a behind-the-scenes account of that fateful day. He describes how it felt to return to work so soon after his son’s death. And then the experience of the threatening mob. Next, Raskin explains the process of impeaching President Donald Trump for the second time. His story is full of political and practical details, as he and his colleagues absorb their experiences and charge forward with the impeachment trial.
Raskin writes an excellent book, skillfully blending the two topics into a story about two unthinkable events. Families who experience the death of a child are never the same. Nor will the US ever be the same after this failed coup attempt, AKA January 6th. As Raskin lays out the case for both he’s both a skilled lawyer and a caring father.
Combining the possible death of our democratic way of life with the death of a beloved child is a stroke of unthinkable and unfortunate genius. Walking this path is hard. I also appreciated how Raskin continually talks about how our younger generation is already participating in ongoing efforts to save democracy. That explains how the two events strike home even harder.
Raskin shares many heartwarming stories of family love and caring. Tommy’s parents and sisters obviously adored him. These moments balance the times when Raskin’s anger at the insurrectionists is just barely out of sight. Both emotions are vital to the story, but they also mean it’s tough to read the book. Perhaps I noticed the emotional nature of the book even more because I listened to the audiobook read by the author.
If either or both of these topics interest you, then get started reading Unthinkable now. It’s timely and incredibly relevant to our lives.
Pair with Malcolm Nance’s new book, They Want to Kill Americans, as I did. But if you choose these two, beware of the dark nature of both books. Alternately, try something nurturing like When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön.