Throughout our history as a nation, when Americans realize the laws of our country and the values of our country do not coincide, we make our dissatisfaction known. This was true of the men and women who rebelled against the British Crown and remains a part of our cultural heritage to this day. Since the American Revolution, we have continually worked to bridge the gap between our values and our laws, whether we look to the Seneca Falls Convention, the United Auto Workers strikes of the 1930s, the march from Selma to Montgomery, or the Stonewall Uprising. In 2018, we find ourselves in another era of imbalance and it is the People who understand the seriousness of our condition far sooner and more clearly than those who hold power in Government.
For nearly two years, Americans have publicly shown their outrage over the current imbalances and opposition to the policies, laws, actions, and fumbling kleptocracy of the Trump Administration and the 115th Congress. Through rallies, social media, phone calls to elected officials, letters to newspaper editors, and the voting booth, Americans seek to reinvigorate public discourse on the importance of values, morality, and the rule of law in society. Across the country, Americans are driven to demonstrate we remain compassionate and know the difference between allies and enemies. These Americans are often described dismissively as sore losers, far left socialist insurgents, or unpatriotic ingrates – all of which is untrue. We can be more accurately described as upholding a long tradition in American society as dissenters and are engaged in an act of faith. A demonstration of patriotic faith in the idea of America.
The eminent American observer, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” America, as a concept, is in a constant state of reinvention and renewal. We see our faults, our shortcomings, our mistakes and we endeavor to fix them. We take the opening words of the Constitution not as a statement of conclusion, but as a challenge for the future: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” The men who wrangled the politics of ego, greed, and fear to produce the document that has ruled our nation for over 240 years clearly knew their work was not complete and subsequently added the Bill of Rights as the first ten amendments. And yet, even that effort was known by the Founders to be incomplete as enslaved Blacks were left to the torment of institutionalized racism, resulting in decades of abolitionist activism and a Civil War. Our Constitution was amended again to continue creating a better society and rectify what is essentially America’s original sin, though we are left with a legacy of racial and economic discrimination and death that continues today and remains a fault to be repaired.
Importantly, America endeavors to not only repair her faults, but to create that “more perfect union” by seeking opportunities for improvement that adhere to the core values ascribed to by Americans. Values such as Justice, Freedom, Inclusion, Fairness, and Equality are entrenched in our collective consciousness as what defines us as a nation even though we know they are not yet experienced by all Americans. The heralded melting pot of America was less about acculturation and more about a social contract between us – and ultimately between the People and the Government – establishing an American ideology based on fundamental values with the Rule of Law as the preeminent agreement for social order. Children grew up and immigrants arrived in America seeking to live, share American values, and experience the stability of a society where laws took precedence, where the People were respected, protected and not subjected to the whims of a monarch, dictator, or political party.
When our shared values were dishonored or evolved faster than Government and those in power could take notice and codify, the People began to dissent. At Seneca Falls and the Occoquan Workhouse. At River Rouge and the Fisher Body Plant. In Selma and Memphis. At lunch counters and gay bars. On campuses and street corners. In songs and books and movies, the voices of dissent heard in the streets were amplified throughout our culture. We hear similar voices ringing out in our time at airports and coffeehouses. In the halls of the Capitol and the halls of our high schools. On our streets and at our borders. In music and writing and social media the contemporary voices of dissent rhyme with the voices of the past.
Dissent in our moment, as in the past, becomes a patriotic act of faith as dissenters seek to ensure American values and Rule of Law are not only upheld for everyone, but rights and privileges are expanded to include those who are marginalized and oppressed. It is because dissenters have faith in American values and ideals that we define the voices as patriotic. We can see the visionary promise of an America where Justice, Freedom, Inclusion, Fairness, and Equality are a reality in every individual’s life. We want to bring that vison into reality and we are compelled to dissent when the Government is acting in ways that take us in the wrong direction. There is no call to tear down the republic and replace it with some other form of governing. It is precisely because of our faith in America and our belief in a more perfect union that we lift our voices. We work for a time of renewal and recommitment to American values and toward the day our Rule of Law is never summarily disregarded by those in Government.
Patriotism in America should never be associated with symbols or persons, but with the values and ideals of our common cause as a society. As Mark Twain, another keen observer of America, said, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” Those of us who practice dissent in America are fulfilling our patriotic duty of support to our country, even if we are in opposition to our current Government. We are faithful to the vision of a more perfect union and strive each day to bring that into reality.