Make America Great again: An open, untimely letter to Ammon Bundy

Dear Ammon,
You and your crew are actors in a great American tragedy.

With your semi-automatic weapons, legitimate grievances, and calls for violence, and my English degree, penchant for public policy, and lazy allusions to Euripides, it would seem that we’re destined to rip each other apart. Political campaigns, a relentless news cycle, and an ever-connected world have conspired to ensure the rhetoric coming from our respective corners remains divisive. We’ve forgotten how to disagree. That a race to arms, an invasion of federal land, and a public invitation of violence was considered a strong opening salvo to you is as much proof of this as it is a tragic irony.

There seem to be two pillars to your position—the reckless nature of mandatory minimums, and federal mismanagement of grazing fees and land rights—the former of which I wholeheartedly concede.

You see, we agree on mandatory minimums—the catalyst for your misguided incursion. You and I, improbable allies, both recognize mandatory sentencing laws are unjust. Sentencing statutes do irreparable damage not just to the individuals victimized by blind laws but to the very principle of justice; they strip judges of the very thing they were trained to do.
The mandatory five-year minimum sentences imposed on Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven have moved you to protest. I applaud your effort. The injustice of these sentencing laws must have been made apparent to you when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the original, much lesser sentences of three months and one year, respectively. Bring me a petition to end mandatory minimums. I will happily sign it.

To your apparent second point: federal land management should be a great, historic debate. We’d sit across the table from each other and talk. I’d start with the Homestead Act, pointing to originating injustice of receiving free land while Native Americans were robbed of their homes and freed slaves never receiving their 40 acres. You’d say that was before your time and isn’t germane. I’d say you get steep discounts for grazing on federal lands, and you’d say that the cost of remaining compliant is killing your livelihood. I’d point to the subsidies you receive from the same federal government you villainize. You’d point to a bureaucratic villain 3,000 miles away making grazing and water rights decisions without your input. I’d concede that the Bureau of Land Management policy disproportionately affects western states. You’d concede your business model is unsustainable in today’s economy. I’d offer recommendations. You’d share insights. I’d listen. You’d organize other ranchers to take legal and civil action. I’d call your congressman for you. We’d celebrate and commiserate, together, over sections of watered-down legislation that made some, if incremental, change.

Compromise might offend the ultimately unimpressive and ineffective machismo pose you’ve struck. But the same founding fathers called upon in the heat of unbending rhetoric would call that same compromise fundamentally American.

Disagreement is good. It’s how we know we live in a free society. Responsible opposition is necessary to a thriving democracy, and democracy is about the incremental movement of the whole of society to a better place.

The extreme and illegal action you’ve chosen to take skips several steps of jurisprudence and peaceful civil disobedience—the better angels of American history and tradition. A great nation requires great citizenship, and your act of ill-advised aggression undermines every core value we have ever stood for. It constitutes an act of terror.

As an Asian-Arab-American, I’m acutely aware of profiling and of labels that may limit better outcomes. Take the privilege you have been afforded and go home peacefully. Participate in and demand a higher level of discourse. Don’t be a terrorist, and make America great again.

Sincerely,

Dujie Tahat