Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘United States House of Reps

The Virtue of Dissent

with 69 comments

Folks, there’s been a lot in the news lately about dissent, and about how it’s supposedly unpatriotic to disagree.

I beg to differ.

We need dissent. Or we can’t function as a democracy.

See, when people feel stifled from talking about anything, whether it’s something that is frustrating, unpleasant, difficult, annoying, or any other of a dozen other things that are incredibly hard to discuss, that causes a lot of trouble.

When you feel stifled, when you feel your voice isn’t being heard, that builds resentment. And at best, when you feel that much resentment, you aren’t likely to be looking for any sort of compromise; you’ve already been told compromise is not possible because your point of view is not important.

And yet, in a democracy, every voice is important. And we all get a say.

Being able to discuss problems in a rational manner without yelling at the top of your lungs or telling the other person (or party) that they’re a bunch of blithering idiots is mandatory. But right now, we don’t seem to have too many in the Congress who are willing to be adults and do the people’s work — i.e., compromise for the common good — because they are either blinded by the power or they are daunted by the responsibility.

Whenever we have one party solely in charge of the government — whether it was the Democrats from 2008-2010, or the Republicans from 2016-2018 — that makes it harder for dissenting voices to be heard. And when they aren’t heard, those voices usually become movements. And those movements become akin to steamrollers…witness what happened with the Tea Party in 2010, for example.

That’s what is supposed to happen in a democracy. Those who feel ignored have a right to talk, to assemble, to figure out what they’re going to do, and then they have a right to make their case to the public.

It is a virtue.

That we can see dissent as a virtue was, at one point, uniquely American.

But now, we have a man as President with authoritarian impulses (or at least a great deal of bloviating and authoritarian speech), and he definitely does not seem to think that dissent is valuable, or a virtue, or needed in a democracy.

He wants instead for everyone to follow him. Because he says so.

To my mind, that is not good enough. We have to have reasons for what we do. Logical reasons. And we have to have some basis and forethought and planning behind these logical reasons.

When government officials pop off and do things on the spur of the moment, we get bad law, bad policy, and a whole host of unintended consequences. That, in general, is why you want to have responsible public officials who are willing to call people — regardless of party or power or prestige — on the carpet when they do something that is harmful.

That’s why we need dissent.

We have had one-party rule with vigorous dissent in the past, looking back to WW II, for example. Harry S Truman, then a Senator, held hearings about war profiteering. Most of those he called before him were Democrats, but that didn’t stop him; right was right, and he did the right thing.

That is what brought him to FDR’s attention, and it’s why Truman became FDR’s Vice President in 1944. Without Truman dissenting vigorously, Truman never would’ve become VP, and thus never would’ve ascended to the Presidency after FDR’s passing.

Unfortunately, the Republicans in charge of the House and Senate have not dissented very much. Not with the travel ban. Not with the tariffs. Not with the immigration situation, whether it’s families being split up at the border, DACA, or anything else.

Nope. Instead, they’ve blindly — as a body — done the President’s work, which is not what the Constitution wanted. (We have separation of powers for a reason.)

Yes, individual Republicans, such as Bob Corker or John McCain or a few retiring House Reps, have stepped up and said they believe that the President needs to be checked now and again. That no one should have that much power. And that there’s a reason we have a deliberative body like the Congress…and that they should do their jobs, and uphold their Constitutional responsibilities.

I believe in the power of dissent. I believe it is constructive to dissent, to allow dissent, to understand dissent, and to appreciate dissent. I also believe that if we start to think that dissenting is “unpatriotic” or “anti-American,” we are ceding our rights of dissent and getting nothing back.

I am concerned that we have so many politicians that are (in George Will’s words as heard on MSNBC months ago), “supine” or “craven.” They do not express dissent because of these two horrible characteristics, and thus do not do the people’s business thereby.

My hope is that more people will understand that dissent is healthy, necessary, and essential.

But my fear is that too many people won’t realize what’s at stake, or what could be at stake if the current crop of supine and craven Republicans in the House and Senate continue to refuse to be a check on this President. And that we’ll go further down the garden path of authoritarianism, and lose our abilities to dissent freely and fairly.

What you need to do, if you live in the U.S., is this: Think hard about what you want out of your representatives and Senators. Do you want them to blindly trust anyone without doing their due diligence? Or do you want them to be like Harry Truman, and stand up for what’s right, whether it’s against their own party or not?

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