I do not mean to speak ill of the dead. Howard Zinn has a well-deserved place in the hearts of all liberals. However, the aphorism refered to in the title is an unfortunate legacy of that good man, because it is patently untrue. Worse, I believe it has a corrupting influence on the liberal mindset.
Don't get me wrong, dissent can be a form of patriotism. Under the right circumstances, it can even be a very high order of patriotism. But dissent is not the highest form of patriotism.
The highest form of patriotism, as I see it, is to do something for your country that is against your self-interest, narrowly understood, based on the belief that you are acting in the best interest of your country.
Such acts of patriotism include giving one's money or time to a cause they believe will improve the country, risking one's life for one's country, and, yes, speaking truth to power, particularly when doing so puts ones life, livelihood or freedom at risk.
It is very understandable why Zinn would have said this. For much of his lengthy career, it was not safe to dissent. People who dissented faced blacklisting, prison, beatings and even murder just for speaking up for basic civil and human rights. In that context it is completely understandable that Zinn would be proud of being a strong dissenting voice.
But what makes it a corrosive idea for the contemporary liberal is that dissent, largely thanks to heroic acts of the past, is something we are able to do freely in this country today, generally, though not always, without severe consequences. And it is certain, dissenting against the Democratic party on this website is not and has never been an act of heroism.
And so the idea that everytime one complains against the President on this website
(at no personal cost and generally receiving at least as much warm and encouraging praise as criticism) one is engaged in "the highest form of patriotism," is a corrupting belief. What makes it so corrupting, is that for your typical liberal, dissenting is like slipping into a comfortable pair of shoes or a warm bubble bath. In today's environment, Zinn might as well have told us that chocolate or masturbation was the highest form of patriotism. Coupling instant gratification with the belief that one is engaged in a heroic activity is a recipe for the worst sort of self-justifying lazy solipsism.
Of course it is your right to complain about whomever you want. Just don't kid yourself you are doing your patriotic duty.