An open letter to Aaron Sorkin and Garrison Keillor


Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’ve kind of missed the point. (Especially you, Garrison.)

Your op-eds and open letters have gone viral over the past few days because they make us feel better: Garrison’s because he places Trump-management into the hands of the Republican politicians who often hate him as much as we do, and Sorkin’s because he offers the trite (and very American) promise that from this disaster will grow an America made stronger and more united through the shared battle of preventing Trump from destroying, well, everything. We will survive four years of this, you say, one way or another.

The problem is that a very real number of us won’t survive this.

The people who lose their health insurance if the Affordable Care Act is reversed may not survive this.

The women driven to back-alley abortions may not survive this.

The poor and the homeless and the addicted and the disabled who face radical cuts to social services may not survive this.

The refugees deported to war-torn countries may not survive this.

The women whose sexual assaults Trump’s rhetoric enables may not survive this.

The undocumented people deported to their nations of origin where they may have no networks or capacities to earn a living may not survive this.

The Black folks, Latinx, undocumented, queers, Jews, Muslims, and Arabs — and anyone who could be mistaken for one of those categories — may not survive the racist aggression that Trump’s movement has empowered.

Garrison, your letter says that we should read Jane Austen and grow heirloom tomatoes and perhaps enjoy a little schadenfreude while the Republicans are forced to deal with the undocumented, the opioid-addicted, the Mexico wall.

But seriously: you know what happens if we let the Republicans deal with the undocumented, the opioid-addicted, and the Mexican border, right?

I paraphrased your statement to a co-worker of mine today — an unassuming, white, 40-year-old, college-educated, (presumably) straight dude who works in the same underpaid branch of corporate America that I do, and who wore a Hillary Clinton t-shirt on election day.

He looked me in the eyes, unblinking, and said, “I don’t give a damn about growing tomatoes.”

Aaron: you’re a lot closer to the mark. Thank you for acknowledging the shelter afforded by your privilege, and for asserting that it’s time for us to fucking fight through every channel available, by opening checkbooks and rolling up sleeves and working on behalf of those who are less able to help themselves. I hope you’re right that Trump will be impeached within a year of taking office, but the hope is a slight one. You see, if Trump goes out, Mike Pence goes in. I’ve lived in Mike Pence’s Indiana since he took office. The only comfort I would take from a Pence presidency over Trump’s is the fact that I feel pretty confident that Pence could go four years without literally nuking anyone, and I feel pretty confident that Trump couldn’t. Refugees, the undocumented, people of color, queers, and women in need of abortions will suffer just as much, if not more, under Pence.

There is no easy way out of this one, and there is no guarantee that we’ll emerge from this stronger and better than we started.

My grandmother called me last night. She is a teacher, a Chicago Jew, an opera aficionado, the wife of a WWII veteran who ran an electrical distribution business in rural Illinois. She, and my grandfather, tried their best to raise anti-racist children in farm country in the 1950s and 60s when the sentiment was not popular.

“I think this is beginning of the end of America’s dominance in the world,” she told me.

There is no elbow-grease solution to this problem where we come out universally shinier than we went in–at least, not on a global scale. This is the dent in the body of the car where the rust begins to set in. If we turn our attentions to artisan beers and classic literature, Garrison, the rust will spread. And when we fight, Aaron, let’s call it what it is: mitigation and damage control.

This isn’t about the next four years. This is about the indefinite future of this country. We have the power to shape where we go, but let’s not mince words about it: the results of this week’s election do not mark a detour en route to the same destination. This is a radical change of course.

When I told my wife I was going to write this up, she asked me not to be too cynical. We don’t need that right now, she said, and she’s right. So here’s the good I’m seeing from this already: many of us who have found the ease of complacency too hard to resist are motivated, now, to step up. I count myself in that category. It’s frustrating that it takes this kind of cataclysm to make that happen, but I’ve never seen an outpouring of people wanting to care for each other like I’ve seen in the past 24 hours.

I don’t expect that the United States will emerge from this better and more beautiful than it was going in, institutionally-speaking. I didn’t grow up with the American-style patriotism you need to believe that; its exceptionalist rhetoric has never resonated with me. But I think we’ll see concerted efforts toward goodness and social justice on the part of many of its people.

And that’s pretty great.


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