My Alexandria, Virginia neighbors are fond of simple-minded and obnoxious virtue-signalling signs, as I discussed here.
Another one has started popping up, this one proclaiming “Dissent is Patriotic.” As a general proposition, little of value can be stated in three words, especially those with “is” in the middle. “Dissent is Patriotic” is a gross generality, and a sign like this bolsters the delusions of smug absolutists and the historically ignorant.
The ACLU has been pushing this slogan (to sell T-shirts, it seems), and it had a re-birth thanks to the NFL kneelers, who are in truth a perfect example of when dissent isn’t patriotic. Incoherent dissent isn’t patriotic: it makes all dissent look bad. Dissent based on hate, lies, or a desire to divide isn’t patriotic: it’s hateful, dishonest and divisive, which is to say harmful, and thus unethical.
Speaking of dishonesty, many of these signs use the phrasing you see on the left, which is a fake quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson. Attaching a dubious assertion to a much-admired historical figure is an unethical propaganda tactic employing a dishonest appeal to authority. (This is a famous example.)
As Ethan Epstein wrote in The Weekly Standard,
Few if any Americans are associated with more apocryphal quotes than Thomas Jefferson, but the false notion that he said, “dissent is the highest form of patriotism” is among the easiest to dispel. Because Jefferson never would have said something so idiotic. Of course dissent can be patriotic, but it isn’t inherently so. What one is dissenting from matters. Were members of the German American Bund, who protested the U.S.’s anti-Nazi policies in the 1930s and ‘40s, enacting the “highest form of patriotism?”
I don’t see what was patriotic about the various Women’s March programs around the country. Self-indulgence and echo chambers aren’t patriotic; ranting isn’t patriotic; grandstanding isn’t patriotic; sexism isn’t patriotic; hate isn’t patriotic. “Well, “Donald Trump, let me tell you something, you are an asshole!” declared Tamika Mallory, the co-president of the Women’s March Board, at the Las Vegas demonstration. How patriotic! “I have never seen anyone like the president that we have. I can’t even call him the president that has been willing to destroy our country for money and power,” said Cher. Yup, that’s a fair characterization. But so patriotic!
Jane Fonda was at the Sundance edition of the Women Hate Trump demonstrations. She single-handedly demonstrated how dissent could be unpatriotic during her Hanoi Jane moment, emulating World Ward II traitors —dissenters?--Axis Sally and Tokyo Rose, when she broadcast a North Vietnam sponsored message to our troops designed to demoralize them. Remember? She ended that broadcast with..
But now, despite the bombs, despite the crimes being created–being committed against them by Richard Nixon, these people own their own land, build their own schools–the children learning, literacy–illiteracy is being wiped out, there is no more prostitution as there was during the time when this was a French colony. In other words, the people have taken power into their own hands, and they are controlling their own lives. And after 4,000 years of struggling against nature and foreign invaders–and the last 25 years, prior to the revolution, of struggling against French colonialism–I don’t think that the people of Vietnam are about to compromise in any way, shape or form about the freedom and independence of their country, and I think Richard Nixon would do well to read Vietnamese history, particularly their poetry, and particularly the poetry written by Ho Chi Minh.
The rest of that trip included such patriotic gestures–Dissent! Dissent!—as posing on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun used to shoot down American pilots, and saying that the Viet Cong torturing captured Americans was “understandable.”
Yes, dissent and protest is a core American right, and like any right, they can be exercised responsibly or irresponsibly. Irresponsible dissent is not patriotic, much less “the highest form of patriotism.” Sorry, Fake Thomas Jefferson. Dishonest dissent is not patriotic, nor is ignorant dissent, or hateful dissent.
Or stupid dissent, which is what the NFL kneelers were engaging in.
Those who seek to make their neighbors similarly stupid by proclaiming the false assertion that “Dissent is Patriotic” do not signal their virtue, as they intend.
They reveal their civic incompetence.