EDITORIAL: Don’t lament dissent: It’s a sign of freedom

Veterans wave as they participate in the 91st annual McAllen Independence Day Celebration Main Street Parade on Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Many Americans are still enjoying a long weekend that began with Thursday’s July Fourth holiday. Some, however, may argue that “enjoy” might be the wrong word. All over the country people are voicing their discontent over various things that are going on in this country, that these United States aren’t so united right now.

Some people are unhappy with our current president and his administration. They complain about tariffs, authoritarian tendencies and the rejection and mistreatment of immigrants. Others are upset at those naysayers and their attacks on the president, policies they believe are hastening moral decay and the perceived invasion of foreigners who they believe want to steal our resources and our culture.

People all across the political and social spectrum might disagree, but that disagreement is exactly what we celebrated on Independence Day.

Our nation was founded out of dissent. The Declaration of Independence features a long list of complaints against the British crown. Our revolution was the ultimate act of dissent — an uprising by armed subjects against their leaders.

In their great wisdom our nation’s founders, whom we celebrated on Thursday, gave us the ability to undertake similar uprisings, but in a peaceful way at the ballot box. We can throw the rascals out of government, every four years at the highest levels and more frequently closer to home. Indeed, several incumbents in various Rio Grande Valley city, county and school boards were replaced in our most recent elections.

Our Founding Fathers recognized that dissent is a major part of a free society, and that allowing full debate of opposing opinions is the best way to arrive at the best solutions.

Americans generally know how great this country is, and how fortunate we are to live here and enjoy its many freedoms, benefits and virtues. They complain, however, because they know that no matter how great this country is, it can still be better, and they maintain hope that someday it will be. It is only when people have lost hope, when they are resigned to their fate no matter how bad it might be, that they stop expressing any hope for improvement.

We need only look at the continued waves of immigrants and refugees who struggle to reach our borders, many of them trekking thousands of hostile miles, risking and even losing their lives, to appreciate just how good we have it, despite our angst and anger.

Our discontent grows from that hope; we know we as a nation we can be better, and we are upset that we aren’t there yet.

Indeed, experts on performance and motivation will tell you that the highest achievers are never satisfied, and that is what drives them to continue working to improve. Those who are satisfied with their position, who rest on their laurels, as it were, usually don’t put in the same amount of effort, or reach the same level of achievement.

French revolutionary hero Lazare Carnot’s astute observation, made shortly after our successful revolution, continues to apply:

“In a free country there is much clamor with little suffering,” Carnot wrote. “In a despotic state their is little complaint, but much suffering.”

So let us feel free to complain about our government and those who run it, and tolerate those whose complaints clash with our own. It’s a sign of our nation’s health — a sign of our greatness.