One thing I am thankful for this year, and every other year, is my unbelievably good fortune to have been born in the United States.
I have no idea whether this is the Greatest Country on Earth—I have only spent about two weeks of my life outside our borders—but it has treated me well enough thus far, and I have no immediate plans to leave.
This is not an especially controversial sentiment most of the time. However, if the headlines of the last week are to be believed, not quite as many of my fellow Americans share this view as I might have thought.
In light of Barack Obama’s re-election as president, good citizens from all 50 of our states united have filed petitions, through the White House website, to peacefully withdraw from the American republic. As of this writing, petitions from seven states have amassed at least 25,000 cyber signatures apiece—the amount required for an official White House review.
We need not worry ourselves too much about this curious outbreak of contrarian civics. It exists within the wonderful anonymity of the Internet—people “sign” only with their first name and last initial. We have no way of knowing how many of these documents are serious, and anyway, secession is fantastically illegal.
In this discussion, secession itself is a red herring. No serious political figure has uttered the “S” word, and we should not expect it in the near future. (Texas’s governor, Rick Perry, broached the subject in 2009, but his standing as a serious person is very much in doubt.)
The attitude undergirding the more genuine elements of this grieved movement is the one that repeats every four years—namely, the premise that a country ruled by the candidate you did not support is a country not worth living in.
Surely we all know what we’re talking about here. There was an enormous amount of bluster during the 2004 campaign, for instance, by people who vowed to relocate to Canada, Europe or elsewhere should President George W. Bush be re-elected. Four years back, Tina Fey cheekily said she would be “leaving Earth” in the event of a Vice President Sarah Palin. Rush Limbaugh, for his part, picked Costa Rica as his destination should Congress pass the Affordable Care Act in 2010.
The underlying sentiment in all these instances, naturally, is patriotism. These are people who love their country so much that they will flee at the first sign of trouble.
In football, the term for this is “fair weather fan.”
To an extent, we should appreciate the freedom to abandon a free country (individually, that is) as one of the great American contradictions, in the way that the right to burn the national flag is represented by the flag itself. And don’t even get us started about how the words “all men are created equal” were written by a man who owned more than 200 human beings.
Yet I cannot help but view these would-be rebels as a gaggle of shortsighted, freeloading cretins.
One has every right not to love one’s country. However, to proclaim that one does—as most Americans do—carries an implicit promise that, as with a husband or wife, one will stand by said country through thick and thin, the good times and the bad. Love means never having a mistress country on the side.
Meanwhile, we can take comfort in the fact that, with few exceptions, these shortsighted, freeloading cretins are also liars and cowards.
Hardly anybody who pledged to run for the exits should Bush/Obama prevail actually did. It was all a bluff—a blowing off of steam, rather than any kind of serious threat.
But that doesn’t make it any less excusable, because it completely overlooks what is so great about America in the first place, which is that if you do not like the present state of affairs, you have the right and the power to try to change it.
Secession—or the mere threat of it—is a lazy evasion of one’s responsibilities in a free society. It amounts to opting out of the system, rather than engaging with it. There is something acutely contemptible about the whole business, and those who do not even have the decency to mean what they say should do us all a favor and knock it off.