Divided We Stand: In Praise of Dissent

David Chartrand

David Chartrand

One syndicated columnist wrote the other day that President Obama has “divided the country along fault lines of fear, intolerance, ignorance and religious rule.” There now is a desperate need, she added, “for unity, for finding the common ground, coming together … healing.”

Yuck. Enough already. All this talk of restoration and reunion is giving dissent a bad name.

Forget our differences? I say let’s celebrate them.

America has always been a haven for clashing viewpoints — liberal vs. conservative, Mac vs. PC, caffeine vs. decaf, Yankees vs. Red Sox, those who use loud leaf blowers on Saturday morning vs. neighbors who are trying to sleep. Most presidential elections are a standoff between those who claim to represent traditional moral values and those who represent, well, whatever is the opposite of traditional moral values.

A presidential election doesn’t create these divisions so much as reveal them. Americans are cantankerous, rambunctious and proud of it.

Discord and disagreement are not diseases. Defiance is not a disease. If I want to hold hands with total strangers I’ll go to church and sing “Kumbaya.” Resolving public policy issues, on the other hand, is the only way to survive the baseball season without going stark raving mad.

The problem with political “healing” is that the prescribed cure typically is worse than the disease. Unity and teamwork are good for marriage and basketball. But I get nervous when politicians urge us to “come together” and “work as a team” for the common good. Usually this is code for “Sit down and shut up.” The last thing we need are more leaders who feel that harmony and accord are a good thing so long as everyone is in harmony and accord with their viewpoints.

At the risk of joining those who are always quoting Harry Truman, I shall now quote Harry Truman, who, I should point out, is always referred to as a “feisty” common man who taught us how to “Give ‘em hell.” During a 1948 campaign stop in San Antonio, Mr. Feisty noted that the election of a president is not nearly as important as the rigorous exchange of ideas that gets us there.

“I am the servant of the people of the United States,” Truman said. ”They are not my servants. I can’t order you around or send you to labor camps or have your heads cut off if you don’t agree with me politically. I believe that if we ourselves try to live as we should . . . eventually we will get peace in this world. This is what I am interested in. That is what I am working for. That is much more important than whether I am President of the United States.”

The summer of 2014 is no time to put down our swords. It’s time to put up the dukes. Conservatives and liberals must foster robust, vigorous debate about how America wages its wars, feeds its hungry, educates its children and cares for its ill. Change happens not when people become civil and deferential but when they get angry and fed up.

If Republicans and Democrats are too timid for combat, then hand over the primaries to the parties of Rancor & Divisiveness, the parties of Unbending Compromise; the parties of Americans Who Aren’t Going to Take It Any More. Watch voter turnout soar as we light a fire under those who loathe politics but enjoy a blood good fight.

This is no time to kiss and make up, America. It’s time to rumble.






© 2014, David Chartrand

David Chartrand writes humor and commentary from his home in Olathe. • •

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