The idea did not surface immediately following the 2016 election. Nor was it influenced solely by the election. What was happening didn’t seem real. It wasn’t so much denial as it was refusal to acknowledge. I latched onto #notmypresident as a formal statement, and I changed my Facebook profile photo to a black screenshot. I was in mourning.
My wife and I began a conscious process of winnowing our circle. There was unfriending and unfollowing. If anything, the election revealed. It revealed an America that likely has always existed, but which many of us chose to ignore, or underestimate. Within our extended family and our contacts lists, we had longed danced around political, cultural, and moral differences, given the benefit of the doubt, and made concessions in the spirit of convenience. With those differences more clearly revealed, we chose, as a couple, to separate from many people in our lives.
I have remained hopeful for our country. Whatever ugliness has emerged in the past two years, I believe our true spirit of opportunity, fairness, compassion, and brotherhood will eventually prevail. It is becoming increasingly and disturbingly possible that it will have to prevail in an almost military sense. It might have to conquer. And if it does, what will the aftermath look like?
Even with hope and faith, I feel compelled to approach our family’s future in a scientific and logistical manner. Eventually the pendulum should swing back – it always has, right? But what if it doesn’t? What if it dislodges and crashes down? What if new forces lock it in place? How much damage could they do, after all, in a single presidential term? Two terms? For the past two years, one answer has been repeated daily: A Lot.
I think it was when it became apparent that they were completely abandoning the truth that I really got scared. Rules are not permanent – nothing is. Everything we do together as human beings is based upon agreements. Basic agreements of freedom and justice seemed in peril. When the agreement that the Truth matters was abandoned by the Administration, it tripped an alarm.
What we needed, as a family, was a contingency plan.
When my son, now 20, was an infant, he developed Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia. At his four-month visit, his pediatrician didn’t like his coloring and ordered a blood test, which revealed a very low hematocrit level. His antibodies were eating his red blood cells. We rushed him to the hospital, where they fought to find a blood vessel to accept an IV line, thus beginning a multi-month process to correct the problem.
My first instinct was to ask, what caused it? One of the doctors gave me an answer that surprised me: We don’t care what caused it – we need to stop it. I think we often assume that we need to find a cause to fix a problem, when that’s not always the case. It might be a long-term strategy, but in the short term you need to get out of danger first. They gave him a series of blood transfusions to keep him safe. Eventually his blood started to behave correctly, he recovered, and it never came back. To this day, we don’t know what caused it, and just like the doctor that day, I don’t care what caused it.
We are in a triage situation in this country right now. It certainly seems alarmist to compare our country with 1930s Germany, but you know what? Sometimes alarms save lives. For myself, and my family, it does not seem unreasonable to design a contingency plan that will take us away from peril should it threaten immediacy. And then, perhaps, when the system starts to again behave correctly, we can reenter.
The prospect of convincing someone to change their mind, one way or the other, about Donald Trump seem so far-fetched at this point that it’s not worth considering. The facts are there – if anyone studied them objectively, they would have a hard time coming to a conclusion different from my own, but that is not what interests Trump supporters. I don’t think you can reason with someone who is either so completely duped by people that they trust who are untrustworthy, or who just wants to burn it all down.
So evasive action seems warranted at this point. Unfortunately, another lesson we learned when my son was in peril is that patients, or their representatives, must self-advocate. There might be time later, after the riots, to come back in and contribute to the rebuilding of our country. Or it might be easier to assess and contribute to the conflict from a safe distance. It’s become more acceptable to work remotely – perhaps this is a time to exercise citizenship remotely.
My wife and I have always longed to travel, especially to Europe. We went to London and Dublin for our 25thanniversary in 2017. She went to Paris with a friend the year before. So I suggested to her that we develop a contingency plan to move to a European country if things got really bad here. So we are recognizing that other places might not be better than here (although we suspect they are), but at least we will experience and explore places and cultures that are new to us.
One part of the contingency plan will be to define “really bad.” We’re already pushing that marker forward every day. The plan will have to be long-term – we’ll need a strategy for finding work, we might need to learn a language, we need to research the logistics of moving to another country. We don’t even know which country to move to, at this point. And then there’s the issue of our kids.
Our daughter, 23, married last year and lives in Utah. Our son, 20, is a Junior at Oregon State, and has a girlfriend of more than two years who also attends OSU. Our youngest son, 15, lives at home and has no desire to leave his high school before graduating. If we ever decide to activate the contingency plan, it might well be after he starts college. When I first brought this up with my wife, her immediate response was, “Well, they all have to come with us.”
Which I loved. I would never want to be so separated from them that I couldn’t see them within a day’s travel, and I’d rather have them all close enough visit with ground transportation. PLUS, if it’s bad enough that my wife and I have to leave, it would be criminal to not encourage them to leave as well. But now we’re talking about seven vocations or careers, not two. Now we’re talking about two more extended families. Complicated.
My daughter and her husband are renting a beach house in Oregon, near where we live, for the week of Thanksgiving. The seven of us will all be together for part of that time, to eat and laugh and watch movies and play cards and take walks on the rainy beach, and, at some point, to sit down around a table or a family room and discuss this contingency plan. We’ve hinted at this plan in individual conversations, but there’s a possibility that someone will feel blind-sided. The idea might derail at the station. I’m cautiously optimistic that the idea will be received and not rejected. No one has to commit to anything at this point. One of my fears it that it will be received by some and vigorously rejected by others, or even by one. I don’t want to cloud my presentation with any expectations, so I’m trying not to think of that.
But even if that happens, and we can’t negotiate a unanimous expatriation, maybe we can find some benefit in leaving a scout behind to give the “All Clear” signal, however much that might terrify me.
Of course, looming ahead of us, before Thanksgiving week, are the midterm elections. Regardless of what transpires, we’ll start the discussion, but the election outcomes will most certainly have an impact, most likely on the degree of urgency.