Friday, October 27, 2006

Love it or leave it

There were bumper stickers when I was a kid, around the end of the Vietnam War, I think it was, that said a variation of “America: Love it or leave it”.

Even as a kid I thought the bumper stickers weren’t just banal, but utterly absurd. Aimed squarely at critics of a Republican president waging an increasingly unpopular war (sound familiar?), the bumper stickers suggested that those who didn’t agree with the regime of the time should leave the country.

Criticism is not hatred. This would seem pretty obvious, but then as now whenever people criticise America or the current government they risk being accused of hating the country.

I believed, and still do, that criticism is a basic human right. It’s something all free societies protect as an essential component of free speech. Criticising something doesn’t automatically mean the critic hates the thing being criticised. On the contrary, criticising is often just another aspect of love.

Which brings me back to criticising America. In my case, and that of most others I know, criticism of America is based squarely on a love of our country, but a love tinged with deep disappointment with the way America is now. For me, some of my disappointment comes along with a kind of hurt, a “how DARE they do that to my country!” attitude.

However, it’s equally true that these days I criticise the same things I always have, even when I lived in America. I have no patience with religion-based bigotry, for example, and have always been critical of the US Republican Party’s unholy alliance with far right “Christians”, joining with them in trying to force particular fundamentalist religious views on everyone else. I’ve always criticised those with power using it to exploit or, at least, not helping to lift up those without power. And I’ve always been critical of businesses that put greed at the top of their agenda.

Criticism offered by both the left and the right is readily available in virtually every communication medium there is. This is as it should be. No matter how loony some criticism may seem (and there’s a lot of it out there that could be called by that name), we shouldn’t automatically assume that the critic is motivated by hate or disloyalty.

All of which is personally important to me because I’m now moving back into normal blogging mode, and that means there will be criticism sometimes, especially with the imminent American elections.

So, feel free to disagree with me. Challenge my assumptions and conclusions. Offer alternatives. Add more to my argument if you agree. But don’t dare assume that I hate anything, because I don’t harbour hate (except for fried liver, but that’s another matter).

Despite the preposterous assumptions of those bumper stickers, it’s possible for Americans to love it AND leave it. There are plenty of us expats out there who are living proof of that fact.

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