The unpatriotic fallacy of: ‘If you don’t like it, leave!’
Whenever there is protest or critique against public figures or policy, I see widespread vitriol from political leaders, news outlets, and of course in countless Facebook memes. And, very often, in the letters to the editor and “You Said It” entries in this very newspaper.
After the bustling and spirited Women’s March here in Grand Junction, another spate of angry letters to the editor surfaced. Other letters have lambasted any criticism of Donald Trump’s incipient presidency. And, just this weekend, protesters at airports resisting the president’s immigration executive order (carrying a strong stench of the horrors of FDR-ordered Japanese internment camps in the 1940s) have been met with another round of anger from conservative media — and from the president himself.
The indignation takes many forms, but always contains one obligatory admonition: “If you don’t like it, then get out!”
The response is actually a specific logical fallacy called “ergo decedo,” or the Traitorous Critic Fallacy: assuming a critic is ungrateful of certain values and customs (and thereby a traitor), attacking that “ungratefulness” as the underlying reason for the criticism rather than addressing the criticism itself, and suggesting that the critic should stay away from the issue altogether, typically by leaving the group.
So, the response is bad logic itself. But, more importantly, the principle is inherently unpatriotic.
Protest and dissent aren’t just important to our democracy, they have played irreplaceable roles in its birth and evolution. And while we may look back adoringly on these “noble” dissenters, the truth is that they were rather unpopular at the time they were protesting.
A list of now-admired protests and dissenters that people hated at the time:
Boston Tea Party, 1773. The Sons of Liberty dumped tea into Boston Harbor to protest a monarchy-supported monopoly a massive corporate tax break. But George Washington himself voiced his disapproval of “their conduct in destroying the (t)ea.” Washington believed private property to be sacrosanct and believed the perpetrators should provide compensation for the damages. Many Americans also viewed the Boston Tea Party as an act of vandalism by radicals rather than a heroic patriotic undertaking.
Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1912-1920. A majority of the American public thought the National Women’s Party marches in front of the White House were “disrespectful.” Police routinely broke these marches up “in the interest of public safety.”
Susan B. Anthony. Anthony was put on trial and sentenced for the crime of voting in 1873. The public ridiculed Anthony as an “old maid,” hell-bent on upsetting the “traditional authority” of men.
Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1968. In 1964, 63 percent of Americans thought civil rights leaders pushed “too fast,” 57 percent said civil rights protesters were “violent,” and 58 percent said protesters “hurt their own cause.”
“Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama, March 1965. In a Harris survey taken just after marchers were beaten on television by state troopers at the Edmund Pettis Bridge, only 46 percent of white respondents, and only 48 percent of respondents overall, sided with the civil rights groups compared with the state of Alabama.
Martin Luther King Jr. King was subject to FBI surveillance and covert operations from 1955 until his death in 1968. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was personally hostile toward King, believing he was influenced by communists.
Protest and dissent are why Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize. They’re why Muhammad Ali is known as “the Greatest” for much more than just the “Thrilla in Manilla. ” They’re why we all know what “the 1 percent” is. They’re why you know the backup quarterback for the 49ers. And they’re why you have an opinion, I would wager, as to #WhatLivesMatter.
During the first days of the Trump presidency, there has been forceful criticism of protest from the top levels down. Locally, I guarantee anyone identifying as a progressive has been told at least once to “leave” if they didn’t like the way things were. (I have.) And, despite the ongoing suggestion to “love it or leave it,” I don’t think dissenters — or Grand Valley progressives — are going anywhere.
Those who choose to protest love their country enough to hold it to high standards: standards expressed very plainly in the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address, and other integral texts. And they are only doing as President Theodore Roosevelt encouraged: “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”