That’s been a popular rallying cry of Conservatives well for over half-a-century.
Its peak of popularity came during the late 1960s and early 1970s when Americans divided sharply over the Vietnam war. That, and its kissin’ cousin My country, wrong or right, were common retorts to war protestors. But over the years it’s also been hurled at progressives who have advocated everything from civil rights to renewable energy.
Last year, Michael Sigman offered a brief rundown of some of the phrase’s most iconic usage over the years. Journalist Walter Winchell first popularized it in his defense of Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt. Country music legends Merle Haggard and Ernest Tubb sprinkled it into their lyrics; Tubb even made it the title of a song. New York City construction workers shouted it during their violent riot against anti-war protestors in in 1970, just four days after the Kent State massacre. Today there’s even a Facebook page called AMERICA LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT (all-CAPS).
I’m proud to say it only has about half as many likes as my modest Public Professor FB page.
Like most successful slogans, the logic is pretty straightforward: America isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty damned good, and maybe even the best thing going. There’s certainly a lot to be proud of, and as a fellow American you should be loyal to our government of, by, and for the people. Because being patriotic means having faith in our democracy, and so it’s unpatriotic of you to defy our nation’s laws. If fact, overt criticism and open defiance or our laws is nothing less than a broadside against the very constitutional system that produced them. So shut the fuck up or get the fuck out, you spoiled malcontent.
All of that, summed up neatly as America: Love it or leave it!
But oh, the irony.
Now it’s far-right Conservatives who are so very hostile to our democratic laws. In fact, they’re so hostile that they aren’t just symbolically attacking our constitutional system of national government, they’re literally attacking it, actually driving it to its knees.
Apoplectic over the Affordable Care Act, which was passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the President, and sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court, it is the far right wing that has engineered a substantial crippling of the federal government.
Indeed, it’s no longer “those long haired, hippie-type pinko fags,” to quote Charlie Daniels.
Rather, it is Conservatives who are now protesting; it is Conservatives who are criticizing; it is Conservatives who are marching; and it is Conservatives who are attacking the foundations of our constitutional government by shutting it down as part of their effort to overturn a democratic law.
Now that is irony.
And of course the easiest thing for progressives and liberals everywhere would be to seize upon that irony and co-opt the phrase for themselves. To smugly turn the invective around and target those who once fired it at them.
Shout at a Tea Party protestor: America! Love it or Leave it!
Send an email to a politician like Ted Cruz: America! Love it or Leave it!
Call in to a Conservative talk show host: America! Love it or Leave it!
Create a rival Facebook page supporting ObamaCare called America! Love it or Leave it!. Though maybe without all-CAPS for the Liberal version.
Because America, Love it or Leave it! is just as a horrible sentiment now as it was then. It’s caustic, it’s provincial, it’s xenophobic, and it’s anti-intellectual. In the end, it is a childish rhetorical device easily punctured by the obvious comeback:
No. I’m staying, and I’m working very hard to make America a better place. It is a great place in many ways, but it’s not perfect, because nothing is, and I’m doing my best to improve it.
And that is the most patriotic thing someone can ever do.
So for those of us who shake our heads and sigh with exasperation at the millions of people who hate “ObamaCare” but acutally love most everything in the ACA (Jimmy Kimmel called it “kinda the opposite of a chicken mcnugget”), our task is not to mock them, but to patiently educate them.
And as for those people who really do understand the ACA but oppose it for whatever reason, we must respect that they, in their own way, are trying to improve the nation, and respectfully disagree.
But the assholes on Capitol Hill shutting down our constitutional government?
Yeah, they need to shut the fuck up or get the fuck out, those spoiled malcontents.