The noise is democracy
“Our political institutions work remarkably well. They are designed to clang against each other. The noise is democracy at work.” — Michael Novak
When I first read that quote by Novak, I couldn’t help wondering when he said it, and whether he still feels that way. Everywhere I turn, I hear people complaining about the government. There’s a diversity of opinion about where the blame lies, but there is clear consensus about one thing: a lot needs fixing. If only we could agree on what, and how, and when.
Ah, but that’s really the argument that Novak is making, isn’t it? If there is a great deal of vocal disagreement, maybe that’s an indication that democracy is working. That we feel not only the urge but the freedom to complain; that we examine our leaders again and again in the court of public opinion; that we elect all sorts of representatives who themselves have a hard time reaching agreement — maybe these are healthy signs of government that truly aspires to be “of, by and for” an increasingly diverse people?
I’m not saying it’s right to show disrespect toward our leaders, or toward anyone else whose opinions offend us. I abhor hateful name-calling and gratuitous insults. But constructive criticism, incisive commentary and hilarious satire are all necessary components of a society ruled by a Constitution and a Bill of Rights.
If I could, I would find a way to banish all trolls from the internet; they pollute thoughtful discussions with vicious and often illogical attacks, acting ugly seemingly for the sake of ugliness. It makes me tend to shy away from the comment sections following any news story, particularly if the topic is controversial. It also makes me angry that we allow the lowest common denominator to hijack reasonable argument. Polite disagreement may sound like an oxymoron, but I believe it’s possible.
Meanwhile, with election talk already beginning to dominate the airwaves, let’s brace ourselves and get ready to see this nonstop and often irritating chatter as an inevitable by-product of the incalculable blessing of living in a free country. I invite you to join me in resolving two things: one, I will not let all the complaining and whining and hand-wringing cause me to lose sight of how many reasons we have to feel thankful; and two, I will not become part of the problem by venting my (often reasonable) frustrations in inflammatory speech or over-reactive anger at anyone who happens to disagree with me.
Let the clanging begin!