COMMENTARY: Respectful Discourse – The Essence of Democracy

On this 4th 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.

The conduct and name-calling from anti-war factions was often ferocious and unfair. They called people who believed the war was justified 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. 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 5

  1. You have some quotable quotes within this essay. Thank you Michael for your thoughtful Patriotic ideas on this our Nation’s birthday.

  2. I agree with civility in patiotism but have to clarify that we are NOT a democracy but the Republic of the United States of America. “I pledge allegiance to the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands…”.

  3. re the USA is a Republic: perhaps it would do us all well to understand why the founders chose to establish our country as a Republic, not a Democracy. And while you’re at it wouldn’t it be a good idea to articulate the very important reasons that our founders purposely and adamantly rejected the whole idea of democracy?? Because clearly the citizens of modern USA don’t know these things. Indeed, I wonder if you at Character Counts know them. You should. You must, if you intend to try to compel your followers to be nice in their political discourse.

  4. Thank you for your wise words. I hate listening to the radio anymore (gave up TV years ago) or most of the hate speech on facebook. If citizens could follow your advice, obtain actual facts and quit crying in their beer it would be a much more pleasant America to live in.

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