an open letter to my tennessee senators in the us congress


Dear Senator,

I was born in Mt. Juliet in 1981. My dad held down two jobs. He taught art during the week at Two Rivers and worked construction on the weekend. Sometimes, when playing baseball in the backyard, he’d toss a plum my way instead of a ball. My mom stayed at home and took care of me and my sister. Mom painted birdhouses in her spare time. Hung them in our backyard. Gave them away as Christmas presents. Cooked our dinners. Did the taxes. Raised us to believe in our hopes and dreams and God. She raised us Republican.

I grew up with Ronald Reagan. I grew up with the idea that the United States of America was a shining beacon on a hill. I grew up during Morning in America. And I believed in that story with all of my heart. I still do.

My views on the country, and the Republican party, began to shift, though, around 2001, as I watched my country launch two wars in two different countries, with seemingly little thought to the reasons or consequences. As I watched my country torture prisoners. As I watched my elected representatives, and the president I voted for (George W. Bush), refuse to condemn that torture. As I watched our economy collapse. As I watched the architects of that collapse, for the most part, escape meaningful punishment. As I watched the widening income gap swallow people up. As I traveled to other countries, teaching in South Korea and Vietnam, and as I married a wonderful British woman with whom I now I spend a great deal of time at our home in London, while still getting back to my hilly Tennessee home as much as possible.

I have become far less of a staunch Republican, too, because–as with so many of my generation–I’ve come to view certain elements of the typical Republican platform: opposition to gay marriage, opposition to abortion, opposition to meaningful action on climate change, etc, to be against the best interests of myself, my fellow Americans, my country, and the world.

I voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 because I believed in the story he told about America. I was proud to see gay marriage legalized. I was proud to see someone take steps—even broken, stumbling steps—towards fixing our health care system.

But. I wasn’t entirely happy with the results. Both of my parents died (Dad in 2009 and Mom in 2013) of cancer, still afraid, in some ways, of the cost of their death. My sister and I spent so much wasted time arguing with insurance companies, trying to make sure we were covered for Hospice Care, when we could have been and should have been caring for our mom and dad. I didn’t like that.

And I don’t like the continuing rash of inequality that devastates our country.

I believe people voted for President-elect Donald Trump, in part, because they believed in the story he told about making this country work again for those people swallowed up in the caverns of inequality, and I believe that people voted for President-elect Donald Trump, in part, because they were mad as hell and they weren’t going to take it anymore from anyone, no how and no way.

I get that.

In this election, I agreed with President-elect Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders that there was a lot to be angry about. This problem of income inequality, driven not only by globalization but the increasing power of technology, is hollowing out the people and institutions of our country. Corruption in politics—particularly in the way campaigns are run and financed—desperately needs addressing. The crumbling infrastructure of our roads and bridges and government systems (so much tech debt) needs our attention.

But. Here’s the thing.

I never agreed, and neither did the majority of my fellow Americans, with many of President-elect Trump’s positions. We didn’t and don’t approve of the demonization of immigrant groups (his rhetoric on Mexican and Muslims was appalling). We didn’t and don’t approve of the callous attitude portrayed by President-elect Trump towards woman, veterans, or those with disabilities (his actions and words sickened me and reminded me of how, as a boy, I feared locker rooms). We didn’t and don’t approve of his acceptance, and support, of a man like Steve Bannon who has expressed doubts over the continued existence of racism in this country while, at the same time, speaking out against the number of Asians in Silicon Valley. We didn’t and don’t approve of President-elect Trump’s failure to call out and condemn openly racist supporters and openly racist acts committed in his name (one ‘stop it’ doesn’t quite cut it). We didn’t and don’t approve of his conducting his campaign, or his presidency, as a chance to reward himself and his family. We didn’t and don’t approve of his attempts to improve relations with Russia, while simultaneously weakening the alliances that have helped maintain–despite the rise of organizations like ISIS and the continuing refugee crisis in Syria–what has been, relatively, a time of peace for our world (we need leadership, not an inconsistent bully). We didn’t and don’t approve of President-elect Trump’s continued railing, in recent tweets on Twitter and in the past at his rallies, against fundamental rights and institutions enshrined in our Constitution–threatening to open up non-existent libel laws against the press, or complaining about so-called professional protesters.

I think we can agree that freedom of assembly and freedom of the press are worth more than President-elect Trump’s ego.

I was happy to see some of your fellow Republicans speak out against President-elect Trump’s more nasty comments and less than helpful policy proposals. People like John McCain, who expressed his concerns over reaching out to a man like Vladimir Putin, who has murdered opponents and jailed journalists. As he said, “When American has been at its greatest, it is when we have stood on the side of those fighting tyranny. That is where we must stand again.”

People like Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who expressed his concerns over President-elect Trump prior to the election, and—though he has congratulated him on winning—still promises to hold him accountable. Promises to not be an uncritical follower. Promises to argue for the principles he believes in. Promises to listen to the people.

I ask of you the same. I ask that you demonstrate over the remainder of your term that your ultimate loyalty lies not with one man, or even one party, but with the United States of America and its Constitution, and with the rights and institutions and norms (a free press, the right to assembly, respect for the rule of law, continued progress on civil rights—particulary with regards to racism and sexism) that the people of this country have fought and bled and died for over the last two hundred years. I ask that you protect the rights of all Americans and work to allow greater access to the polls, not less. I ask that, while I’m aware that you represent only a small portion of the electorate of the United States of America—and that your ability to remain in power may rely on your ability to maximize support from this small portion of the electorate—that you still take to heart this reality: the majority of the electorate in the United States voted against President-ellect Donald Trump and, therefore, against the policies he represented. And a large percentage of those who voted for President-elect Donald Trump did so even while having a high level of disapproval for him–presumably for some of the same reasons many of my fellow Americans voted against him. I ask that you govern for the people of Tennessee who wanted change, who wanted to be heard, and who wanted to see the institutions of our country not weakened, but strengthened.

I ask that if, as a matter of principle—as a matter of Constitutional law—it becomes necessary to stand against President-elect Donald Trump, that you will. And that you know we will stand with you. And that you remember that if you don’t, we will elect someone else. Someone who will help ensure this country continues its march toward a more perfect union and an even brighter beacon on a higher hill. A beacon that calls to those who want a free and fair society, a free and fair economy, a free and vigilant protector of human rights, and a free and rational supporter of science and technology.

I have never written a representative before. I have never campaigned for one. I have never felt so motivated to participate in our democracy. But this election inspired me, and I think a lot of people, to stand and to speak.

I look forward to seeing from you the leadership the people of Tennessee deserve. I will be contacting you regularly from this point on as to your progress and the progress of our country.

Thank you for your time and your service.

Your fellow Tennessean,
Christopher Robert Kammerud