If you’re experiencing some grief and dismay about the future of your country these days, you probably are not alone.
May we all find some measure of comfort by keeping in mind that the miraculous thing about living in a democratic republic is that it’s organic, meaning it constantly changes and grows in fits and starts by way of our constant self-examination.
We know this because America, as it was defined in 1819, is measurably different from the one that exists today. The American republic of 2039 is likely to be very different than this present one, if - to borrow from Benjamin Franklin - we decide to keep it.
The indomitable belief that we can be a better nation, a better people, is practically genetic, with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution serving as our sacred texts.
We are the bearers of these companion deeds, which guarantee and protect our self-determination and reinvention when events and circumstances call for it.
But the ever-evolving dream of becoming a “more perfect union,” as Abraham Lincoln hoped, cannot be achieved apart from our willingness to embrace the whole of what it means to be a free people.
Though it can make us uncomfortable, even angry, dissent and criticism are necessary components of that freedom.
We’re a nation literally born from dissent. If freedom is our mother, surely dissent is our father.
Dissent shakes us out of the sleepwalk of ambivalence and demands that we pay heed to that which threatens to diminish us through incompetence, corruption and injustice.
Dissent is sometimes prophetic, speaking truth to power and daring us to live up to the promise beheld in the words, “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”
It’s not merely our right to dissent, it is our civic duty. No one dissents if they believe their country has no need for improvement. They do so because they have faith it can be better.
President Barack Obama noted: “What greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation.”
President Theodore Roosevelt likened an unwillingness to embrace dissent as cowardice, saying: “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”
Dissent is the life’s blood of a free country. There is no binary choice here.
Perhaps the great irony is the belief that suppression of dissent and the unpopular speech we don’t like preserves our liberty.
It does not.
Reach Charita at 330-580-8313. On Twitter: @cgoshayREP.