It’s amazing how long-lasting some phrases can be!
“America, love it or leave it,” was a refrain I recall hearing, frequently, in the 1960s and 70s. Staunch supporters of the government’s efforts to defeat Communism in Southeast Asia hurled those words at anyone who dared protest the Vietnam military action that our nation was engaged in.
However, the slogan dated back to the McCarthy era of the 1940s and 50s. Then the words were thrown at anyone suspected of being a Communist sympathizer. The same words thrived when the Ku Klux Klan claimed them in an effort to squash the Civil Rights movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s. The KKK’s intent was for Black Americans to “return” to someplace, any place, on the continent of Africa.
How durable are those words?
In fact, “America, love it or leave it” has been immortalized in country songs and endures as bumper stickers.
In an NPR interview, July 19, President Donald Trump told Ari Shapiro, “If you’re not happy in the U.S., if you’re complaining all the time, very simply, you can leave. You can leave right now.”
Those words certainly reflect the “America, love it or leave it” sentiment.
Plus, in an earlier tweet, the President suggested that four freshman Congressional representatives — Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — should “go back” to the “crime infested places” they came from. He questioned their ability to “love our country” and suggested that they had no right to make suggestions on ways to improve our nation. Of the four, only Omar, who is a naturalized citizen, was born outside the United States. Presumably, the suggestion that the representatives return home, meant they should return to their ancestors’ nations of origin. That could be problematic since a little under two percent of our nation’s population is actually native to this land. The rest of us — 98-plus percent — trace our ancestry to other nations. Agreed, I am being a tad absurd, here. Naturally, I do not really believe the administration intends that all people whose ancestors came to the United States from other nations should pack up and leave. However, it begs the question: Who decides which U.S. citizens must go “home”?
What appears to be clear is that the current administration shows a serious lack of support for dissent. In fact, it appears the administration will not tolerate any criticism or even accept any suggestions and to remedy the problem has advocated that complainers leave our country. Such inability to listen and to self-evaluate is contrary to the very premise our founding fathers initiated this country on. The Revolutionary rebels — whom we hold as heroes — broke from England and King George, not only because of taxation without representation, but also over the right to freely and publicly criticize the King.
Vital to our nation’s founding was the right to dissent.
Anything less than the full right for citizens to publicly disagree with their leaders felt like a return to a monarchical form of government. — a type of government our founding fathers despised. Although, despite our founders intense fear of slipping back into dictatorial rule, in 1798, when the threat of war with France loomed, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts.
The Alien Acts, “...raised the residency requirements for citizenship from 5 to 14 years, authorized the President to deport aliens and permitted their arrest, imprisonment, and deportation during wartime.” -Wikipedia.
The Sedition Act provided fines and jail penalties for anyone who: “...shall write, print, utter or publish . . . false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress . . . or the President . . . with intent to defame . . . or to bring them . . . into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them . . . the hatred of the good people of the United States.” -Summarized by the Independent Institute, April 1, 2002.
According to Wikipedia, “The Sedition Act resulted in the prosecution and conviction of many Jeffersonian newspaper owners who disagreed with the government. The acts were denounced by Democratic-Republicans and ultimately helped them to victory in the 1800 election, when Thomas Jefferson defeated the incumbent, President Adams.” (Adams was a staunch Federalist.)
It would appear that the voters, in 1800, clearly recalled life under King George’s rule and thus selected Jefferson over Adams.
“Once in office, Jefferson pardoned those convicted under the Sedition Act and Congress repaid the fines collected, with interest.”
Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans believed, and rightly so, “...that the power to suppress constitutional freedoms would be used inevitably to quash political opposition.”
(Above information from Independent Institute, a think tank based in Oakland, California.)
Beyond the absurdity of suggesting U.S. citizens go home — this is their home — looms the danger of suppressing dissent. When dissent is quashed, censorship reigns. If we permit our leaders to stifle our voices, to shame us into silence, and thus to censor us, and to censor our media, then those leaders can reign ungoverned by our input.
A government that does not listen and answer to its people is an alarming prospect.
It is our diversity and our ability to dissent that enhances our capacity to improve our nation. That is the very blood that courses through America’s veins. That is what makes America great! We must shun censorship. We, the people, are the government and we must speak. After all, Congress and the President are our employees!
We are the ones in charge. We need to keep it that way.
As for the phrase, “America love it or leave it,” it is time to retire the hackneyed slogan. We should not be threatening to toss folks out of our great nation just because they criticize our government. In fact, let us revive an older phrase: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
(Note: Although this saying has often been attributed to Voltaire, it was actually from “The Life of Voltaire,” a biography, written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, published in 1903. Hall meant it to represent Voltaire’s belief in the necessity of free speech.)