Thinking of Jumping Ship? Not So Fast…
After November 3, the United States faces a serious crisis.
Not a constitutional one… or civil war… or anything having to do with boring old COVID-19.
Instead, the country faces a crisis of depopulation – folks fleeing Uncle Sam because their guy didn’t win the election.
At least, that’s what you might be led to think…
In a recent interview with an Australian tabloid, rock legend Bruce Springsteen said, “If Trump is reelected… I’ll see you on the next plane [to Australia].”
Fellow musician John Legend said that if Trump wins, “you’d have to think about going somewhere that is a true democracy, that has respect for the rule of law and human rights.”
Rocker Tommy Lee of ’80s hair band Mötley Crüe said that in the event of a Trump victory, “I’m out of here.”
Canada’s National Post newspaper wrote that some of the 800,000 Canadians living south of the border view the prospect of going back home (rather than four more years of Donald Trump) as either “a parachute, a very real possibility, or an honest-to-God plan of action.”
And it’s not only one side of the aisle… Even President Trump got into it, joking at a rally in Georgia a few weeks ago, “Maybe I’ll have to leave the country? I don’t know,” if he loses to Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
There’s a grain of truth in every joke – especially for people who, like Trump, have no filter. (Where might Trump go? More on that below…)
And it’s not just celebrities who are talking about leaving Uncle Sam behind if their guy doesn’t take the White House. A widely discussed New York Times opinion piece from September 30 asked Will You Leave the Country if Trump Is Re-elected?
From the article…
… all summer long I’ve been hearing the refrain — friends who swear they’ll move to Canada. To New Zealand. To Argentina. To almost any place but here, if Donald Trump somehow wins again.
I have resisted this line of thinking, for many reasons. For one, I’m reluctant to surrender my country to Trumpists. … For another, leaving the country has felt to me like an option available only to people of privilege, people who have the money to pull up stakes and start life over. And finally, could I ever love another country as much as I have loved America, on its best days?
I’ve lived in nine countries and moved internationally upwards of two dozen times… because it’s exciting and fascinating to experience different cultures and countries.
So I’ve left the country – whatever country that may be – lots of times… and for a lot of reasons, it’s not easy. And the “I’m leaving if [insert name of presidential candidate you can’t stomach] wins” sentiment makes me feel like how I’d regard a 10-year-old who wants to be an astronaut, or a sparkle-spewing unicorn for Christmas… Dream on, you cute little thing. But a middle-aged opinion-piece writer doesn’t have the excuse of naïve, innocent youth.
Don’t Forget Your Papers
For those who think they can just pick up and leave the United States… well, first of all, they need a passport. That excludes 58% of the American population.
Rock stars presumably all have passports. But a lot of the regular folks who declare that they’re headed for political self-exile – like our Confederate flag-waving Uncle Jed or that high school Facebook friend-not-friend who posts Trump memes – probably don’t. (If they apply now, it will take around two to three months before they receive it, due to coronavirus closures of passport offices.)
Even if you have a passport, though, don’t start curtain shopping for your new place in Bangkok, Buenos Aires, or Brisbane, because news flash… in the age of COVID-19, no one wants anyone (regardless of would-be political refugee status) from the United States – viewed by much of the world as a super-spreader event masquerading as a country – crossing their borders.
The near-unanimous global perception that the American government has made a historic mess of its management of the coronavirus has dramatically debased the value of an American passport. A year ago, an American passport could get you visa-free entry into 184 countries. Today, according to a recent tally by U.S. News and World Report, it will yield the welcome mat in just 50 countries. That’s up from 29 countries a few months ago. (It doesn’t help that the favorability of the United States on the global stage has plummeted, according to Pew Research.)
And a lot of those potentially open doors (keep in mind, many countries require visitors to quarantine and/or a negative COVID-19 test result upon arrival) probably aren’t on Tommy Lee’s or Uncle Jed’s bucket list. But sufficiently motivated Americans right now can go to a country in the midst of dictator-ending political upheaval (Belarus)… someplace where they can have the opportunity to track down a down-on-his-luck but e-mail-savvy prince (Nigeria)… or a hotspot with a higher murder rate than even Baltimore (El Salvador).
(Sadly for Mr. Springsteen, Down Under isn’t an option… “Australia’s borders are closed,” the country’s health department website declares, to anyone except citizens and residents. Unless born-in-the-U.S.A.-Bruce happens to have an Aussie passport in his jean’s back pocket – or a wife there – he’s out of luck.)
Also on the approved list – a country more likely to be on the most-wanted list of the average passport-carrying American – is my current home of Ireland. Just last week, Ireland reverted back to a hard-core, zombie-apocalypse coronavirus lockdown… Only essential businesses are open, no travel beyond a five-kilometer radius, and (the ultimate sign of crisis in Ireland) pubs are closed. (Guinness just isn’t the same from a can in your fridge.) But the country has inexplicably kept its borders open to the Yanks.
As a whole, the European Union prohibits U.S. people from entering (the U.S. bars people coming from Europe, too). But the EU allows each member country to tweak the rules for its own purposes. The loophole is – which the EU doesn’t seem to mind – once you’re in the EU, getting from one country to the next is like giving candy to a baby.
But just because you can visit a country, doesn’t mean you’re allowed to live there. Just like the U.S. makes it difficult – and increasingly so – for foreigners to move to the U.S., Americans can’t just pick up and move to whatever country they please. Visas, residency permits, and immigration rules are a thing. Most countries require you to have a reason to be there, such as a job (“I don’t like the president of my country” isn’t a valid reason).
Or, you could get a second passport, which is a good insurance policy against being stuck in the wrong place when a pandemic hits – as well as if your home country zigs when you zag.
But getting a second passport isn’t quick or easy (or cheap). The ones you can buy easily – some Caribbean islands will sell you one for around $100,000 – might not get you what you want. Spain or Portugal require you to buy real estate or make other investments to the tune of around $500,000 – which will get you residency and, in time, citizenship. But in any case, passports take months… and may not open the right doors anyway.
But let’s assume that you have the desire, means, and ability to leave America, and live somewhere else. You’re undaunted by potential language barriers (maybe you’re part of the one-quarter of Americans who can speak a second language). You’ve figured out what to do about your car back home, and the place you live, and you’re biting the bullet on your cable contract.
Then there’s the actual process of moving – packing up everything you own into boxes, sending some of it far away on a ship, putting some of it in storage – which is expensive, stressful, and unpleasant. One recent survey (conducted on behalf of a moving company, but entirely valid in my experience) discovered that polled Americans found moving houses to be more stressful than going through a divorce, getting married, or having children.
And that was for domestic moves, which is sixth-grade soccer compared to the World Cup challenges of crossing borders. (Moves are especially bad news if you use a bad moving company, like I did when I came to Ireland.)
So you finally arrive… and that’s where the real challenge begins. Where do you live? How do the kids get to school? Who do you call to have your garbage picked up? How do you get car insurance? Which electricity company do you choose? You can’t get a SIM card unless you have a bank account, and you can’t get a bank account until you have an address, and you can’t get an address until you get immigration approval… The Catch-22 puzzles of moving – even (or maybe, especially) to a developed country that’s supposedly well-organized, with a smooth-functioning bureaucracy – are endless.
And meanwhile… as long as you keep your American citizenship (getting rid of it is a whole other expensive, time-consuming, difficult process), you still have to pay taxes to Uncle Sam – even to that horrible president that you left the country to avoid. The U.S. is one of two countries – it’s in the good company of Eritrea – that legally obligates its citizens to pay taxes on global income (that is, wherever it’s earned), rather than based on residency, like most of the civilized world. That means that wherever you are, Uncle Sam gets his cut (as does the government of where you’re living now, of course).
There are some foreign tax allowances – for example, the first $107,600 (in 2020) in income earned abroad is excluded from U.S. taxes. But I’ve lived most of my adult life outside the United States, and it adds up… The amount I’ve paid to Uncle Sam in taxes on a day-in-country basis – that is, if my taxes were “rent” for the time that I’m actually on American soil – are probably around as much as a sunrise water villa with a pool bungalow room at the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa at the Maldives. (What makes it worse is that when I’m in the U.S., I spend most of my time in either Columbus, Ohio… Phoenix, Arizona… or Baltimore, Maryland… which are fine places but not nearly as nice as the Four Seasons.)
Given all the challenges, how many would-be presidential election refugees will actually leave the United States? If history is any guide, probably not very many. There’s a long tradition of narcissistic, attention-craving celebrities claiming they’re one election away from leaving home – and they haven’t.
There’s singer Miley Cyrus, who said in May 2016, “I am moving if he’s president.” That summer, performer Cher said, “I’m moving to Jupiter” if Trump becomes president. Actor Samuel L. Jackson claimed, “If that [guy] becomes president, I’m moving my black ass to South Africa.” (Did any of them leave?… You know the answer.)
Then there’s the question of where Trump might go, if he makes good on his threat/promise to leave America if he loses. He’s not popular in much of the world. But as political risk media company GZERO explains, “There are many world leaders who have gotten a lot out of his presidency – in ideological support or specific policies” and who therefore might be excited to roll out their red carpet.
The short list of national leaders who like Trump, GZERO explains, includes those of Brazil, Poland, Hungary, Israel, India, and (of course) Russia. Maybe add Turkey, North Korea, and Syria, and other countries that don’t have extradition treaties with the U.S. (and which clear the Trumpian “shithole country” bar).
More likely? Bruce, Tommy, and John, plus Donald, will stay home… win or lose.
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Executive Editor, American Consequences
With the Editorial Staff
October 30, 2020