In Howard Fineman's book, The Thirteen American Arguments - Enduring Debates that Define and Inspire Our Country, he explores why we have and need public debate in this country. I offer a few excerpts.
"We aim high, which makes our failures dramatic - which spurs arguments about them. No one can see the contrast or feel the pain of it more sharply than African-Americans, who, as slaves, literally built the Capitol in which laws were enacted to keep them in chains. But it was also in that very building where other, later laws were enacted to bring them to full personhood. Cornel West, the Princeton professor, captured the duality that fosters argument, and change. "To accept your country without betraying it," he wrote, "you must love it for that which shows what it might become. America - this monument to the genius of ordinary man and women, this place where hope becomes capacity, this long, halting turn of the 'no' into the 'yes' - needs citizens who love it enough to re-imagine and remake it." So we try, fitfully, and argue about how to remove the burden that history gave to us all."
We are quite a blend. There are the Native Americans, the Spanish explorers, and various colonial frames that existed for up to 180 years before the convention in Philadelphia. Then, we began moving west, each group looking for their own Promised Land. "The paradoxical result was more friction, and more numerous arguments, as the proponents of each fresh utopia worked themselves into a lather of unquestioned righteousness in the wilderness. Since they never had to look at the world through someone else's eyes, they were all the more uncompromising about their own."
He says we have to "prove that argument is strength, not weakness, and that freedom and security can live together."
We do that "by making sure that people know they have a chance to be heard. The American way breeds unsettling conflict, but argument is what leads to consent, and consent is what leads to legitimacy. People accept outcomes that they deplore, because they think the process gives their point of view a chance."
"As long as we argue, there is hope, and as long as there is hope, we will argue. In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville saw genius in this. "To take a hand in the regulation of society," he said, was our "biggest concern and, so to speak, the only pleasure an American knows." This "ceaseless agitation," he wrote, creates an "all-pervading and restless activity, a superabundant force, and an energy which is inseparable from it and which may, however unfavorable circumstances may be, produce wonders. These," he concluded," are the true advantages of democracy."