My Way or I’ll Hit The Highway … North!

Decades back, there was a popular retort leveled at people who found fault with this country:   “America: Love it or Leave It.”   The phrase isn’t used much anymore, but the whining of disgruntled citizens continues.  In this primary election cycle, the tables seem to have turned.  Those who feel unbearably angry now are threatening to leave the United States and settle elsewhere  in the event that the presidential election results are not to their liking.     

Remember when Alec Baldwin swore he would move overseas if George W. Bush ended up in the White House?  It was a big news item at the time, but nothing came of it, even though plenty of Americans were more than willing to help the actor pack.    Instead, Baldwin landed the leading role in a new sitcom called 30 Rock, from which he likely raked in an annual salary many times more than I earned in my entire working career.  Yes, indeed, life must have been intolerable for Alec under a Republican administration!!

Now that Donald Trump is running for president, the homegrown threats to emigrate to a more palatable environment have accelerated exponentially.  Die-hards by the droves, I’m told, have commenced to industriously Google the subject, particularly as it relates to gaining entry into Canada.   A stranger I encountered in a salad queue aboard a recent cruise to the Caribbean told me in no uncertain terms that “if Trump is elected, I’m outta here!” Perhaps he was scouting island destinations. 

Of course it’s all talk.  And even if the defectors were willing to, say, embrace our neighbor to the north, the reverse is not necessarily the case.  Still, it’s easier to make promises if they are subject to being overruled by regulations and other mitigating circumstances. When my younger daughter was little, she used to balk at our parental decisions and threaten to throw herself under a bus.  “That’ll make you sorry!” she would warn, ignoring the fact that it would, for sure, make her even sorrier. 

But let’s just pretend that Trump  -- or whoever else alarms voters sufficiently -- is, indeed, the GOP nominee and, despite the odds, is elected our next president. Fearing the unspeakable, those who vowed to quit our shores in that eventuality would have only a couple of months before the inauguration to settle their affairs and leave behind the country  they once loved.  Wallowing in disenchantment, they would stand for the last time amid the soon-to-be alien scenery, anticipating Armageddon in America as soon as The Donald places his (small?) hand on the bible. 

Resignedly, they might bray about making the sacrifice on principle, for the sake of their children’s future.  They might explain how, in conscience, they could not live with the people’s wrong-headed choice.  They might wonder aloud what America is coming to, and pity those who must endure its decline.    And they would likely expect their shocked friends to simultaneously admire their courage and mourn the ugly prospect of their departure -- even though Canada is not really all that far away. 

But for disillusioned naysayers who threaten to pack up and leave, there’s something important they should know that might, through no fault of their own, pull their fat out of the fire of conviction and spare them the inconvenience of  principled martyrdom. 

I don’t know how to say this diplomatically, but Canada doesn’t really want them.  And neither do the other nations of the world.  The would-be émigrés may have championed porous borders and illegal immigration for America sympathetically, but it doesn’t work that way elsewhere. Nor would they be able to overstay a restricted visa and remain under the radar in another country.   The fact is that the legal immigration policies of other lands are far lengthier, intimidating and strictly enforced than our own. 

 To begin with, nobody in our neighbor nation to the north would take seriously a “political refugee from the United States.”  Too many millions of Canadians –including Ted Cruz – have left that country and traveled south with the intention of seeking a more promising future, regardless of politics.    Nor does being a hard-working, upstanding citizen here automatically translate into being welcomed elsewhere.  Canada, for instance, may be lenient in admitting immigrants from the former British Empire, but America bolted that alliance over 240 years ago.

Perhaps these disaffected souls anticipate that the massive influx of Syrian and other Arab refugees into places  like Germany,  France,  and Greece  is a sign of encouragement for their own hegira.  Well, possibly it might help if they donned dishdashas, or abayas  and  attempted to cross foreign borders with the un-vetted masses.      

Unfortunately, there’s no “easy” way to quit the States for good and gain citizenship somewhere else.  All desirable venues, including Canada, have restrictive, bureaucratic immigration laws.  There is often a “point” system and a long wait -- by which time, incidentally, the offending American politician might be out of office! 

 And forget Denmark, which this year voted to seize the assets of asylum seekers above $1,400 to help cover their expenses.    On top of that, the worldwide job market for non-citizens doesn’t look all that rosy.  Canada has a policy that discourages giving a job to an “outsider” unless it cannot be filled by a Canadian citizen. Peter Jennings, for example, may have moved to the United States from Canada and become a highly-paid news anchor.  But that good fortune is less likely to happen going in the other direction. 

I speak from experience.   Over 40 years ago, the Detroit-based computer company employing my husband offered him a promotion as the Toronto branch manager.  It sounded like a fine opportunity for him, as well as for our young family to experience another “culture.”   The corporation went to great lengths to prove that he had unique qualifications unmatched by any Canadian citizens who had applied for the position. 

Official papers in hand, we arrived at the Canadian border crossing on a bitterly cold February night, figuring it would take only minutes to present our credentials and be on our way.   Instead, we were detained in a cramped immigration building for a couple of hours, while two peevish staff members leafed through a monstrous book in an effort  to  find the  “official title”  that most accurately fitted my husband’s  job description.  Outside, our three kids were asleep on bunks in our small motorhome, where the temperature had by then plunged below freezing.  On the last lap of our journey, we drove with the camper’s stove gas jets burning full blast.  That was probably illegal, but at least we weren’t.  

We spent two interesting years in Canada, where, as “landed immigrants,” we were  required to pay income taxes (50% at the time),  but  did  not have the right to vote. While I was there, I paid nothing -- except $5 for  a pair of crutches --  to have a foot operation, which had to be redone when I returned to the States. 

If would-be American émigrés are upset with election results, perhaps they should consider that being disenfranchised is far worse.  Our system of democratic elections cannot satisfy all the people all the time.  But being an American citizen is a distinct privilege coveted by millions around the globe.    Anyone who would seek to abandon it based on the election of a president for a four-year term is an unappreciative, petulant fool.