COMMENTARY 887.1: Democracy and Respectful Discourse

On this Fourth of July, I hope you will take time to experience pride in and appreciation for the great qualities of our country.

One quality of our democracy is that every citizen is a public official. Thus, the passionate advocacy of political convictions is not only a right, it’s a patriotic obligation.

What worries me, however, is the tendency of many basically good people to be overcome with self-righteous certainty that they’re right and that those who disagree with them are wrong.

Having grown up during the ’60s, I have ugly memories of the brutality and futility of close-minded ideological warfare about the Vietnam War.

Like most of the people I knew, I opposed the war effort, but in retrospect I know that the conduct and name-calling from anti-war factions was not only ferocious but unfair. They called people who supported the war warmongers, imperialists, or ignorant government stooges. Worse, some went beyond protesting policies; they belittled, condemned, and rejected the military personnel who gave and risked their lives in service to their country.

The other side was no better. Adamant hawks labeled war opponents traitors or cowards. They considered any dissent to be disloyal, even criticism of the atrocious slaughter of innocent civilians in a village called My Lai. And they evoked the all-purpose shield of national security to suppress documents (the Pentagon Papers) that discredited government claims about the conduct of the war.

Patriotism shouldn’t take the form of arrogant, chest-pounding, flag-waving claims of superiority or the morally blind chauvinistic claim that we have an inherent right to do whatever we think to be in our national self-interest.

Patriotism doesn’t require us to support whatever national policy our elected officials pursue, but it does require respectful and responsible discourse — on both sides.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 3

  1. Perhaps patriotism does require disrespect and radical discourse. Is it right to respect people or country unless it is deserving? The political scene in America is selfishly taking America down. Perhaps I should say that the people that run the political scene aren’t serving the interests of the people. Greed and the love of money and power has gone wild. Sometimes the people have to assess whether or not to fight fire with fire, or water. How unfortunate. I was one that had to live the Vietnam war. The American people didn’t want that war. Protesters were chastised when they refused to be killed for no good reason when they went North to Canada. If that was disrespectful to my country, then so be it. I didn’t have respect for the politicians then and I certainly am ashamed of so much of what is happening today with our political system. “Are the good times really over for good” in this great country?

  2. Please don’t call the United States a democracy. It is a representative republic. You see, a democracy is ~majority rule over the minority~ aka “mob rule”; “riot”; “lynching”; “two against one”. But in a republic, the minority is protected from the majority. After all, the ultimate minority is the individual.

  3. I agree with you completely, but sadly in our great country a large part, or at least a very loud part of our society claims to be tolerant of each and everything that is so called popular at the time; but sadly those that are so called tolerant are in fact completely intolerant if you disagree with their points of view to the point of good people losing there jobs, and livelihood. Great men and women speakers forced to sit down or leave universities because students and alum may not like these people’s back ground………I have to ask how is this not discrimination!!!! and when in this great country is it legal for a man to lose his business simply because of some very stupid comments he made in the privacy of his own home. The scary part really lies with politicians who are using the power given them to serve and not be served to inflict their agenda on all of us regardless if it good for our society or not!!!! I mourn for my children and grandchildren and the world they will have to grow up in.

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