“If you don’t like what this country is doing, you can always leave!” You’ve probably heard this line before. It’s become a popular refrain among conservatives, and was even said by Donald Trump this week in one of his tweet storms. The idea that everyone should fall in line or just leave the country if they can’t might sound good to some, but to me it’s more than just wrong: it’s un-American. Our country was founded on the idea of dissent, of people expressing their varying opinions and coming together to find common ground.
Let me clear about one thing: hearing everyone’s opinions is not always compromising or capitulating to the loudest voice in the room. It’s not about letting one side hold government procedures hostage because their ideas are not popular. Sometimes you hear people out and decide their opinion is not relevant or is problematic. Dissent is allowing everyone to be heard, and for using those ideas to form better ones. Dissent is also the bedrock of a healthy government and a fundamental tool of democracy.
Having healthy dissent and allowing all opinions to be heard is what our founding fathers wanted. How do I know this? Well, we don’t have the parliamentary system that is popular among many Western democracies: The United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and France all have them. Parliamentary systems can be effective in getting things done because the prime minister and his cabinet are always from the same party. Imagine how much politicians would get done if the president was always from the same party as the House and Senate. While there are opposing forces in a parliamentary system, their power is more muted because they are always in the minority. Imagine how much a president could accomplish if everyone with any power was essentially on his side. Since this is almost never the case in the United States, dissent is baked into our democracy.
Most importantly, dissent is about always asking our country to do better by its citizens and always be striving for improvement. How can we know what is not working if everyone always agrees with the people in charge? A diversity in population also helps create a diversity of opinion. We have never been a nation whose identity is singular; instead, Americans have forged a unique set of identities that are separate but also somehow merge together. I remember as a kid learning about how some people felt that “melting pot” was no longer an accurate metaphor for the United States. Our country was a “stew pot:” everything comes together in form one, but also retains its own separate form and identity. This rings true in my ideal version of what the United States is.
So really, it’s the people who want dissenters gone who should consider packing up and leaving. Their vision of our country is more in line with a European parliament than our American democracy.