Of the myriad of responses I receive to opinions expressed in my weekly column, which now number about 250 over more than four years, the most frequent coming from those who disagree is the tired, old refrain, “love it or leave it.”
Actually, that’s not completely true. Those are the most frequent criticisms from people who have the courage to include their name. Many responses, especially the most negative, are sent anonymously. One such critic recently emailed me to tell me how lame my opinions are. I thought the definition of lameness might well include criticisms offered anonymously.
But the old “love it or leave it” refrain comes my way often.
One reader told me that if I want to criticize Wyoming, I should just pack up and head to “liberal-loving California.” A recent letter was more inviting. It said I could “move to any of the other 49 states without even having to apply for a green card.”
“Wyoming. Love it or leave it.” In other words, get with the program. This is Wyoming. This is our “home on the range, where never is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day.”
Where have we heard that before? Oh yeah. I remember. It was during the Vietnam War. Thousands of our best young men were dying needlessly and without purpose in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Hundreds of thousands of Americans protested. They were told, “This is America. Love it or leave it.”
In a Huffington Post story of a pastor introducing GOP Presidential candidate Rick Santorum and inviting those who don’t love a Christians-only nation to leave, writer Michael Sigman said, “ The origin of ‘America Love It or Leave It’ is murky. It was popularized by gossip guru and Joseph McCarthy sympathizer Walter Winchell, who, among other abuses of power, helped keep entertainer, activist, and national treasure Josephine Baker out of the country we're all free to love.”
Ernest Tubb, the Texas Troubadour, sang a country song advising those who opposed to war where they could take their anti-war sentiments.
“It's kinda hard to understand when you read about a man
That's talkin' 'bout love and knockin' the place he was born;
If things don't go their way, they could always move away;
That's what democracy means anyway.
It's America, love it or leave it.”
That slogan became the rallying cry of the pro-war crowd, which became smaller every week as the Pentagon announced the latest body-bag count. The slogan incited violence against Americans using their First Amendment rights protesting the war. Within a week of the killing of four student protesters at Kent State, hundreds of New York construction workers waded into a crowd of protesters brandishing clubs and shouting, “American, love it or leave it.”
It seemed odd to me even then that those who supported the war in Vietnam, claiming soldiers were dying for our rights, were killing and maiming those who were exercising perhaps the most precious of those rights.
The other pronounced criticism I receive when calling out those in Wyoming who support discrimination is that I have ignored the progress we’ve made. Interestingly, those who feel progress is a substitute for moving immediately to non-discrimination are generally older, Christian, heterosexual males with thin, pink skin. They are the ones who make certain the “progress” is glacial. And they like it that way.
So, if you think differently and are willing to express your views and sign your name to the opinion, you can’t be “one of us.” The implication is that there is nothing that needs changing in Wyoming, all is well. Opened eyes and minds know better.
Maybe I missed something in ninth grade civics, but it seems to me a democracy provides a place to both love it and criticize it. Lands where criticism is not allowed are not democracies. “Wyoming. Love it or leave it?” It’s easier for me to imagine slogans like, “North Korea, love it or leave it.”