Certainly supporting the troops is patriotic--especially when we consider the risks that the troops face while training during peacetime. There are those very unfortunate accidents in which a few in the military die during training. So how much greater are the dangers during wartime? We will always need to remember that our troops stand in the way between us and those wishing to attack us. Our troops protect us from foreign enemies.
And dissent, if one follows the Constitution and the 1st Amendment, must also be regarded as patriotic. What escapes the attention of those on the right is that our enemy can also be domestic flag wavers. Those domestic enemies can come from the public or private sectors. These enemies consist of all who would rob us of our Constitutional rights. Dissent repels this enemy within by robbing it of its power--the consent of the people. If enough people persistently speak out, those who covet power are condemned to merely burn in lust.
The problem that occurs here is when those on both sides speak past each other in an effort to prove themselves. When this occurs, patriotism is assigned a 1-dimensional definition because only one enemy is recognized. Unfortunately, reality is multidimensional so that if we protect our rights on only one front, we are doomed to suffer a surprise attack on the other front.
Perhaps there is another act that is just as patriotic as supporting the troops and dissenting combined. That act is listening. The act of listening is important for two reasons. First, listening not only defends the 1st Amendment guaranteeing the right of free speech, it enables us to fully benefit from it. The benefits of the 1st Amendment to society includes more than just giving people the freedom to express themselves; it provides society with a free marketplace of ideas from which to select solutions to problems. Merely guaranteeing the right to free speech does not make a variety of ideas available however. It is only when we are willing to listen, that new information and choices become available to us.
The second benefit we garner from listening is that of personal growth. The more we listen, the less self-absorbed and more outer-directed we become. The less self-absorbed we are, the more we admit that we don’t have all of the answers. The more outer-directed we are, the more we can recognize the needs and contributions of others. The more we consider and use what others have to say, the less control we need to exercise and thus the more we practice and promote a democratic process.
Those who either refuse to listen or prohibit others from listening rely on punishment to get their way. They punish those who speak out by discrediting them. Think about how people like Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh attack those on the left. Their targets are often called out of control, unpatriotic, immoral or manipulative. But not only do Hannity and Limbaugh chastise those who speak out, they make the audience of these speakers pay by preying on their fears. How often are we told that if the liberals win, the terrorists win? But conservatives are not the only ones who are intolerant. How many times do liberals say that conservatives are cold and have no heart? Such attacks feed the self-righteous refusal to listen to others.
Those who refuse to listen to others favor control to democracy. In addition, they care more about proving themselves than helping those who are in need. In essence, those who refuse to listen take issue with equality. They feel that opposing opinions do not merit the consideration that their own views do. Thus, they lend themselves to being manipulated by those seeking to abuse power. As a result, they can become accessories to fascism.
I remember my first antiwar protest. It was September 24, 2005, a day when my football team began its climb out of an abysmal abyss by beating Northwestern in a close game. Despite that, my focus was on speaking out against the war. I began my public participation in dissent. As we walked, we saw many counter demonstrators on the side. Both sides ratcheted up the volume in an effort to prove their point. That participation in discourse by both sides was an exercise in patriotism. And the more those on each side listened to those from the other side before stating their views, the more patriotic they became. That is because patriotism is not a competition where one side proves itself by defeating the other. Rather, patriotism is listening, sharing, and including each other despite our differences. At least, that is what patriotism is in a free society.