LONDON: Even before Super Tuesday on Mar. 1, I was seeing comments on Facebook and Twitter from various people swearing that if Donald Trump, or Ted Cruz or Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, were to become president, they would move overseas—or to Canada. But the day after those results, Google announced that “How do I move to Canada?” searches from the U.S. had reached a record high—with Google Trends showing that around midnight EST that evening searches spiked by 1,000%. The last record high for that search was when George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004—and President Obama’s election and re-election evenings also created high percentages of similar searches.
While for some it may give comfort to contemplate being an expat (that’s, of course, before getting into the weeds of visa applications and immigration issues, which can cause more stress than a politician’s scaremongering comments), I, for one, think moving away from the U.S. just because the candidate you supported did not win, or that the candidate you loathe has now become president, is one of the worst decisions you can make.
I have been an expat now for 18 years, in both London and in Warsaw. I didn’t leave the U.S. because my electoral dreams had gone awry (though I had worked in Washington for several years for CNN and saw the political process firsthand), but because I was going to graduate school in London. Being overseas was exciting, but I also missed some aspects of the Washington—and U.S.— political scene and I felt like I was no longer a part of the conversation.
If there was something I felt particularly strongly about, I couldn’t march on The Mall in Washington or hold up protest signs outside a government agency or a business of ill repute. It seemed like my elected officials didn’t give a hoot hearing from me about some gripe I had (though I am still a registered voter and pay taxes in Michigan) because I was far away in Europe and I wasn’t living on a daily basis with the issue I was writing in to complain about.
When you are an expat, you can be involved in the political process thanks to organizations like Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad (as well as being able to write to your Federal and State representatives), but your voice seems more of a distant echo than that of a surging voice of discontent.
Something you also soon learn as an expat is that you are on the front lines of the foreign policy decisions the U.S. government makes. So therefore, you become not only a spokesperson for your country (whether you agree with the decisions or not) but also a sounding board for people who want to have it out with an American—anyone will do—over U.S. policies in Russia, China, Syria, wherever. “It’s definitely tiresome being treated as the official U.S. representative/kicking post in every social situation,” an Alabaman friend of mine who, like me, is a journalist in London, wrote to me on Facebook. “I lost count of the times I said I am not the U.S. ambassador, the president…or even a resident. In the past month at least a dozen social gatherings included someone asking me, in a slightly accusatory way, ‘Trump?! Seriously?’ In some respects I understand it, but I don’t enter every drinks gathering with Brits saying: ‘Y’all might leave the EU?! What?’”
So even if you can’t stand whoever is president, you as an expat American (proud or not, patriotic or not) more often than not feel a sense of duty to defend the U.S. At the time of the Iraq war I was told by a taxi driver that “you should be ashamed of yourself” even though the U.K. was involved in the ground invasion as well—as if I personally rode in on a tank victoriously occupying Baghdad. Even though I have been against many foreign policy decisions my government has made, I stood up for my country. Because at the end of the day, no matter who is president, that is only for a finite amount of time; no matter how long I am an expat, I will always be an American.
So for those who have already packed their bags and are ready to be out the door if Mr. Trump or Ms. Clinton or Mr. Sanders or Mr. Cruz gets elected, I would urge caution. Go overseas to be an expat because you want to—for a job, for school, for a spouse/partner, for the glorious and enriching experience it brings to your life. Don’t go overseas—or to Canada—because you have given up on the electoral process, because that just means whoever you didn’t want to win has, in a sense, won.