We live in unsettled times. Our current political climate in the United States accentuates our differences. President Trump’s attacks on four first term lawmakers of color (who have been critics of his Administration), has reopened a debate on the nature of patriotism and dissent.
A few days ago at a re-election rally in North Carolina, Mr. Trump disparaged Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Muslim, born in Somalia and a naturalized citizen. The crowd chanted, “Send her back!” In his remarks, President Trump told the crowd: “You know what, if they don’t love it tell ’em to leave it.”
These comments brought me back to a popular phrase during the Nixon era: ‘America, love it or leave it’.
Much like today, the political climate then, accentuated differences. Those who were with the President and his handling of the War in Vietnam and those who were against it. There was no room for nuance. You were ‘with us’ or ‘against us’.
It is a simple formula. Agree with me or become the enemy.
Our Third President, Thomas Jefferson had a different view point. He not only made room for dissenting points of view, he saw it as essential for a functioning democracy. He said:
Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.
History is full of those who confuse blind obedience with patriotism. Despots world wide, use this formula to gin up fear and push alternative viewpoints into the shadows.
Thomas Jefferson would remind us, that dissent is not only our right but also our responsibility as citizens.
How then do we disagree during an emotional and divisive time? How can we speak our understanding of truth and yet, as citizens, remain in relationship. Is it even possible?
For an example, I return to the time of President Nixon, the Vietnam War and two friends, Norman and Fred.
Norman (my Dad) was a veteran of WW II. He was a strong supporter of President Nixon and his policies in Vietnam. Fred, was twenty years younger. He served in the Navy during Vietnam and returned as a vocal opponent of that war and a critic of the president.
After the military, Fred graduated from Seminary and became Norman’s pastor. Despite their differences, they became friends. While recognizing their differences, they chose to also focus on what united them.
They found common ground in a shared faith, love of the Red Sox, passion for body surfing at the beach and digging for clams. They were both loving Dads and each in their own way, great role models to their children.
Today, I think we need ‘less Donald’ and ‘more Norman and Fred’.
We can and must debate our differences. To do so, said Thomas Jefferson, is our patriotic duty. Yet, we can do so, while remaining in relationship with one another. It is not only possible but essential, to the well being of our nation.
A few questions to consider: Is there someone with a differing point of view that you can reach out to? Is it possible to recognize differences and still find common ground?
I wish you well, as you seek to navigate the creative tension, that comes with being a citizen of this beautiful and diverse land. A place we each call, home.