Originally published by The New Yorker
I have been thinking lately about a letter that I received from President Barack Obama in the fall of 2011. In it, he offered me his congratulations and praised my determination, in terms that were deeply gratifying, if a little over the top—he told me that I “represent the promise of the American Dream.” Of course, it wasn’t a personal letter; the signature at the bottom was a facsimile. It was addressed to me with a salutation that I hadn’t received before: “Dear Fellow American.” That year, I was one of roughly six hundred and ninety thousand people to get this letter, along with Certificates of Naturalization from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service confirming that, as the President put it, “this great Nation is now your Nation.” Knowing that I was one of a huge, heterogeneous number of recipients—all of us from different places of origin, all of us making the same commitment—somehow made the letter feel more meaningful still.
The letter, which I keep in a black file box, along with such other precious family documents as birth certificates and hand-drawn Mother’s Day cards, reminded me that I had sworn an oath to the United States, and that I now shared in its privileges and responsibilities. America’s democratic principles and liberties were mine to uphold. The letter also enumerated the country’s core values: “Hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism.” It spoke of the sacrifices made by generations of immigrants who had come to the U.S. in the pursuit of a better future. Obama called it “the price and the promise of citizenship,” and concluded, “We embrace you as a new citizen of our land, and we welcome you to the American family.”
Seven years later, I can’t read this letter without getting emotional. This is partly because of the unabashedly stirring language, but it’s also because, in the past two years, I and many other Americans—whether naturalized or native-born—have felt that the price and the promise of citizenship are being upended. Tolerance? A conviction that America’s strength lies in its openness to those seeking a better life and their belief that they will find one here? The current President was elected on a platform of taking the country back, of shutting its doors, and in office he has made every effort to fulfill that pledge.
The goals and policies of President Trump—from the “Muslim ban” to the zero-tolerance policy at the country’s southern border—are intended to stigmatize foreigners, documented or otherwise. Students, tech engineers, and asylum seekers are all under the same suspicion of insidiously undermining the country—of taking rather than giving, of harming rather than helping. The President tweets about undocumented immigrants ready to “infest” or “invade” the nation, and anyone who takes offense at the suggestion that his words echo Nazi propaganda hasn’t looked at Nazi propaganda of late. Most recently, the Administration has established a task force charged with “denaturalizing” citizens who may have lied on their immigration applications, thereby undercutting every naturalized citizen’s expectation of permanence. It has also sought to require respondents to the 2020 census to note whether they are citizens; if this change is implemented, it will likely result in an undercount of immigrants, because many will be too frightened to declare their status.
Trump has yet to issue his own letter to new citizens, but he has recorded a welcome video that is played at naturalization ceremonies. When he speaks of the rights and responsibilities of joining the American family, he stresses that newcomers must assimilate to “our way of life” and do their part to keep the nation “safe, strong, and free.” He notes, “America is our home. We have no other.” The video was released a few days after Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced their intention to rescind daca, the protections put in place by Obama for “dreamers”—young people who, having been brought to the U.S. as minors by undocumented parents, have grown up here, knowing no other home.
The Trump Administration is plainly seeking to stoke hostility against immigrants pursuing the “promise of the American Dream”: to deter those who might seek to come to the U.S. and to instill disquiet and fear in those who are already here. Under this government, small children have been torn from their parents and placed in shelters or tent camps, and treating immigrants with cynical cruelty has become official policy. On the day that I mumbled my allegiance to the United States in a Brooklyn courthouse—surrounded by hundreds of other new citizens, all of us dressed in our best clothes—I never imagined that I might soon see such atrocities committed in my name.
Why did I, a native of Britain, become a U.S. citizen? I used to say that it was so that my son, who was born in this country thirteen years ago, wouldn’t easily be able to put an ocean between us. But my joke about being an overbearing mother now rings hollow, given the recent stories about desperate families being forcibly separated by the Trump Administration. I was lucky: I got to choose, and, ultimately, I elected to join the country I’d been living in for decades.
Before my naturalization, I would have thought it an affectation to call myself an immigrant, even though, according to a strict dictionary definition, I do qualify. I came to the United States thirty years ago, at the age of twenty-one, to work on a master’s degree. At the time, I thought that I would return to the United Kingdom when I graduated, a year and a half later. But I was offered an entry-level position at New York, and I took it. Except for a brief interlude working in London when I was in my mid-twenties, I have been in America ever since: an immigrant if not in original intention, then in accomplished fact.
Although I did not initially seek permanent residence, I didn’t think of myself as belonging to that other, unappealing category of resident foreigner: the expat. I wasn’t here to socialize with other Brits, to regard the locals with amused disdain, then scram when it suited me. I avoided the company of my countrymen and immersed myself in new friendships with New Yorkers. I found being away from England and the English liberating: an escape from low gray skies, clenched politeness, and the omnipresent consciousness of social class. My own background—lower-middle class, with an Oxford education—would get me only so far in Britain, or so the famous second-generation bylines in the London newspapers suggested to me at the time.
I loved New York City, with its aggression and its warmth and its volatility. It didn’t take me long to discover that it was entirely possible to become a New Yorker without also having to become an American: you just needed to cultivate a sense of direction and an attitude. When friends from England visited—envious of my adventure and my good fortune in having escaped—I took them downtown to see my favorite landmark, on the waterfront near the World Trade Center: a quotation from Walt Whitman’s poem “City of Ships” embedded, in gilded letters, in iron railings overlooking the marina. “City of the world! (for all races are here; / All the lands of the earth make contributions here;)” it read. “Proud and passionate city! Mettlesome, mad, extravagant city!” Whitman was an American discovery for me: I knew the British Victorians, with their fine-grained depictions of status and tradition, but not the New World idealism of their American counterparts. I felt included in Whitman’s ebullient embrace, and was cheered by the hope that I, too, could make my contribution.
As a college-educated white woman who spoke and wrote English, I didn’t share the struggles experienced by many immigrants. And my national origin was hardly an occupational hindrance. Indeed, it was remarkable to discover that my British accent was often a journalistic asset. This must be what it’s like to be beautiful, I thought: people can’t help responding positively to you, even though you’ve done nothing to deserve it. A friend’s five-year-old daughter once said that I had an “English accident,” which just about nails it.
I worked hard for long hours, but I was an editorial assistant, not a janitor. Though I had moments of being broke, I was never poor. I wasn’t huddled, and I already felt free. Thanks to the sponsorship of my bosses at New York, I was granted a work visa under the amusing category of “Alien of Extraordinary Ability.” With a designation like that, why would I want to change it? After a few years, I became eligible to apply for a green card, which grants you the right to live and work in the U.S. Five years after the card is issued, you can apply for citizenship. But, as someone who had plenty of privilege, I felt no sense of urgency to become naturalized. I could travel, work, and live without fear of reprisal. For this British writer living in New York in the nineteen-nineties, all that land-of-opportunity stuff was actually true.
My sense of freedom extended, I thought, to the freedom to choose not to become an American—to live here for as long as I wanted in a state of suspended commitment. I’m not a joiner by nature, and being uncommitted—to a country, to a cause—suited me. In becoming a journalist, I had leveraged a preference for observation over participation into a career. I couldn’t vote, but I told myself that there was a professional advantage in being technically nonpartisan.
Still, five years after getting my green card, in the summer of 2001, I printed out the application papers for naturalization, thinking that perhaps I ought to make a commitment now that I could. (Not that I had made many others: I was in my mid-thirties, and unmarried and childless.) Those papers were on my desk in my office at The New Yorker, in Times Square, on the morning of September 11th. In the months that followed, they remained there. The events of that day confirmed my love for my assaulted and wounded city. But as I walked through the emptied, reeking streets of SoHo, where I lived, or stood along the Hudson River with throngs of other stunned New Yorkers, watching emergency vehicles descend on Manhattan, I experienced a sliver of another sensation: the consciousness that I could escape. I had somewhere else to go, another country to turn to if it became too difficult to live in this one. And although I didn’t leave, acquiring citizenship was one more thing that I didn’t do.
In 2004, I married an American, and becoming a citizen started to make practical sense: it would make the logistical dimensions of our partnership easier. We had a child, and since he was eligible for two passports it seemed wise for me to have them both, too. My decision was not without a political element. On the night that Barack Obama was elected President, in 2008, my husband and I got our son, then three years old, out of bed and carried him into the celebratory streets outside our house, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The scene resembled Berlin in 1989. The elated crowds comprised people of all races. Car horns were honking and bus drivers were grinning, despite the traffic slowdown, all of us joyful that a spirit of inclusiveness and progressivism—a spirit that made us thrilled to call New York City home—seemed to be shared by the country at large. It pained me not to have been able to vote in that election, and as the next one approached I felt compelled to participate in the process.
At the same time, I was alarmed by the nationalistic rhetoric emanating from the Tea Party, the populist political movement that arose after Obama’s victory. In 2010, I wrote about Andrew Breitbart, the right-wing rabble-rouser and media entrepreneur, for this magazine. (He died two years later, from heart failure.) That spring, I followed Breitbart to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, where I witnessed crowds cheering Sarah Palin, the former Vice-Presidential candidate, as she urged her listeners to “take our country back.” Breitbart was charismatic and clever and frightening: he seemed most gleefully fulfilled when inciting his followers to pour vitriol on the mainstream media. While reporting the story, I never felt personally targeted as a foreigner, only as a snooty coastal leftist. Nevertheless, a seed of concern about my personal situation was planted. If nativists like Palin gained power, and started rewriting the immigration laws, would it remain relatively easy to convert my green card into a passport? Would I still have the option of choosing?
Around that time, my husband, George, also a writer, was experiencing his own sense of dislocation in New York, informed by his own international background and by his extensive writing about European culture in the early twentieth century. George was born in the U.S., and grew up mostly outside Washington, D.C., but as a small child he had lived in Chile, where his father was a diplomat. As an adult, he spent more than a decade living out of the country before returning to New York City, where we met. George is the son of a refugee: his father, who is Jewish, fled Vienna as a boy in 1938, ultimately settling in Boston. And though George shared my enthusiasm about the apparent social progress being made in Obama’s America, he discerned warning signs to which I was oblivious. When the Affordable Care Act was passed, in 2010, I was ecstatic, but George was terrified by the fact that not a single Republican senator had voted for the bill. In an e-mail, he wrote to me that the polarities in the U.S. were becoming entrenched and extreme, like Israel in the depths of its divisions, or like pre-Nazi Germany.
My husband’s example—that you could belong to a country while also profoundly questioning it; that you could convert without becoming a zealot—was another argument in favor of my taking citizenship. I didn’t need to become a jingoistic American; I could become a wary, critical one. That, among other reasons, was why I chose to take the Oath of Allegiance. I became an American, even if I often felt that it was a weird thing for me to become, with my funny accent and my British passport. Like I said, I mumbled the oath.
Once I’d done it, however, I found myself experiencing surges of patriotism, which were as unfamiliar and as authentic as the emergence of maternal love. When I climbed to the top of Fort Greene Park and stood under the monumental granite column honoring the thousands of Americans who had died in British prison ships moored in the East River during the Revolutionary War, I was proud to have moved over to the right side of that fight for liberty. I grew to love those parts of the American landscape with which, through my husband, I developed a deep familiarity. The train ride along the majestic banks of the Hudson River to the cool, still peaks of the Adirondacks always stirred in me a gratitude for the sense of spaciousness, physical and emotional, that becoming an American had granted me.
Becoming a citizen did not require me to conform to some narrow definition of what an American is; it proved that the definition of an American was expansive enough to include me. And when I witnessed new nativist rumblings in the country I felt a fresh sense of engagement, and of indignation. I used to say that I was just as American as Sarah Palin. (Now I would say that I am just as American as Donald Trump—or, certainly, as Melania Trump, who also arrived in America as a young woman.) Did I feel like an American? To paraphrase Gloria Steinem, this is what an American feels like. I was one. I am one. Like it or not.
By the time I became a citizen, I had lived in New York for more than two decades. Time and time again, my work gave me access to worlds I would otherwise never have entered, entertaining and moving and sometimes momentous. Standing in the back of a Waldorf-Astoria reception room at Gennifer Flowers’s 1992 press conference, taking notes as I listened to her surreptitiously recorded phone calls with a Presidential candidate named Bill Clinton? Check. Visiting Christie’s auction house, near Rockefeller Center, and poring over newly discovered letters by a vibrant teen-ager named Edith Wharton? Check.
In 2014, I reported on a new musical in development at the Public Theatre, implausibly based on the life of Alexander Hamilton. From the first day that I sat in a sweaty rehearsal space in the Flatiron district, scribbling down lyrics being delivered by the show’s creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda—I missed a few of the words in “As you can see I kept a record of every check in my checkered / history. Check it again against your list and see consistency”—it was clear that something astonishing was being made. Getting to write about “Hamilton”—which took as its subject the American experiment itself, as played out in the streets of Manhattan, and which daringly characterized immigrants and outsiders as the nation’s foundational strength—was a heady privilege. (And, if you were my friend, I told you to get advance tickets.) After the show opened on Broadway, and I heard audiences from all over the country applauding the line “Immigrants—we get the job done,” I felt included in that broad definition, just as I had felt included by Walt Whitman’s words on the Manhattan waterfront so many years earlier.
By then, I was no longer living in Manhattan, which felt increasingly wealthy and rarefied, a High Line writ large: narrow, crowded, and exquisitely curated. After meeting George, I’d moved to join him in Brooklyn—the borough of Whitman, who had worked there as a newspaperman while building his reputation as a poet. Sometimes I walked over to Ryerson Street, not far from where we lived, to gaze on the unmarked siding-covered house he was living in when “Leaves of Grass” was published. (In London, it would have had a blue plaque, at least.) In some ways, moving to Brooklyn was like moving to a new city—one with considerable charm but without the edgy glamour that had been so intoxicating when I first arrived in New York. Curiously, Manhattan itself had begun to feel oddly provincial to me: less risky, more homogeneous. Or maybe I was the one who was becoming more provincial, with my house on a tree-lined street, my friends from the playground, and my conversations about schools for our kids.
Having set up one kind of life, I started to think about what other kind I might be able to have. From our son’s earliest childhood, my husband and I had daydreamed about living in another country for a spell. We could broaden our own horizons, and our son could learn an additional language and develop a wider consciousness than he’d have by spending his entire childhood in brownstone Brooklyn. For a while, we fell in love with the idea of Trieste, that melancholy Italian city of departed grandeur and voluntary literary exile; we fantasized about trading our house in Fort Greene for an apartment on the Adriatic. We didn’t get far with the practicalities, but we were tempted by the lure of movement, and were fortunate enough to be able to actively entertain the idea. Writers can write anywhere, and my E.U. citizenship meant that we could easily transplant our family to dozens of countries.
And so, paradoxically, one of the final arguments for getting my American citizenship was so that I could leave. As a green-card holder, I had the right to work in the U.S. only as long as I stayed put. If I moved away, I’d effectively give up that right—and, if I wanted to return, I’d have to apply for another green card, as my husband’s spouse. And what if something happened to my marriage? It seemed ridiculous to think that, were I to spend a few years living overseas, I might forfeit the automatic right to move back to the place I had considered home for decades. Choosing to get my American passport was a way of giving myself yet more choices.
Now, in the summer of 2018, thirty years after arriving in New York with two duffel bags and a scholarship from N.Y.U., I am exercising my choice: I’m leaving, with a shipping container full of books and other possessions, with a career, and with a family. I am repatriating to the U.K., but I’ve been gone for so long that it hardly feels as if I am moving back. London is the city of my birth, but I was not brought up there, and have spent only a fraction of my adult life there. In London, I have no youthful history to reminisce about, and now when I walk its streets I wear the invisibility cloak of middle-aged womanhood. It will be peculiar to live in a place in which I have no past—or no sense of a past beyond an atavistic one. After George and I decided to look for a house in the borough of Camden, I had the uncanny experience of realizing that, nearly ninety years ago, when my father was a small child, he lived in a cramped Victorian flat less than a mile from where my family and I are now planning to make a new life. I suppose I am going back, in some sense larger than I yet know what to do with.
England hadn’t been high on the list of the foreign destinations that George and I originally compiled. Unlike some immigrants who cherish the thought of returning to their homeland later in life, I had no particular desire to go back to the U.K. In the first years after leaving, I used to say that I would return if something terrible happened, without any sense of what thing might be terrible enough to dislodge me. In the late nineties, my father had a heart attack, and underwent surgery, and though I increased the frequency of my visits I didn’t consider moving back in order to be closer to him and my mother. His health gradually declined further, while my life in New York became more and more rooted and consuming. For years, I continued to fly back and forth across the Atlantic, conscious that every goodbye might be the last. Then, one bleak winter morning in 2012, I awoke in Brooklyn to discover a string of missed-call notifications on my phone. “We lost him in the night,” my mother told me when I reached her. I got on a plane that day: twenty-four hours, or twenty-four years, too late. Among the consolations of my unexpected repatriation is the thought that I will be nearer to my mother, now in her late eighties—who let me go willingly all those years ago, as a good parent does, but who for three decades did not get a choice about being separated by an ocean from one of her children.
But England isn’t home. I will be a native immigrant to my own country, like a foster child returned to an unfamiliar birth mother. The streets of New York are layered with decades of memories that become more poignant as I prepare to leave. Here is Astor Place, where I first landed as a twenty-one-year-old in the steamy, turbulent summer of 1988, just days after a riot had broken out a few blocks away, in Tompkins Square Park. Here is Forty-second Street, where one evening, when I was in my mid-twenties, I left the Second Avenue offices of the magazine where I published my first cover stories, and strode, in high heels and a bright-red coat, toward Grand Central Terminal, gazing at the ridiculously glamorous vista: red tail-lights stretching to the Hudson River, crimson streaks in the crevasse of western sky between the skyscrapers. A Frank Sinatra moment, honestly. Here is the footpath along the West Side Highway where I walked late one evening in the summer of 2001, on a first date with the last man I loved before meeting my husband. I was almost thirty-five, excited at what the next few hours would bring, but weary, too, of the single life—of pausing on the waterfront in the arms of yet another man, of gazing downtown at the hulking, impassive Twin Towers and thinking, How many more times do I have to do this?
None, it turned out, for the most unthinkable of reasons. The catastrophe of September 11th—with nearly three thousand lives lost, and the geopolitical impact still reverberating—leaves the largest scar on the New York skyline that I have known. But I have lived in the city long enough to see many other places transformed and erased, including places that were the setting for the most indelible moments of my own life. A few years ago, St. Vincent’s Hospital, in the West Village, was shut down and sold to a real-estate developer, and during its demolition I stared up at its torn-off skin, scanning the building’s exposed innards for the consulting room where, in the summer of 2005, my ashen-faced husband and I were told by a pediatric cardiologist that our two-month-old son needed immediate heart surgery; we had to get him to a children’s intensive-care unit uptown, in an ambulance, without delay. How can a site like that—where all the luck that I had been blessed with in New York seemed to evaporate in an instant—disintegrate into brick dust and empty air? But it can; everything that we think is solid and secure can dissolve, collapse on its foundations, be replaced by something unimaginable.
When people ask me why I’m leaving New York, I give a variety of answers. Often, I just say that it’s time for a change, and that I would like to spend my adult life in more than one place. Much of the time, I’m excited by the thought of having a new city to discover and write about. I’m looking forward to having to cross only the English Channel, rather than the Atlantic, to get to the European mainland, so that I can visit places—Lisbon? Prague? Antwerp?—I traded for America all those years ago. I’m happily anticipating walking from Primrose Hill to Little Venice by following the towpath of the Regents Canal, a dreamy, peaceful back route through the city; swimming in the natural, tree-ringed bathing ponds of Hampstead Heath; and having a local pub again. After decades of being settled, I am exhilarated by this voluntary unsettling. I used to feel that getting to New York from my provincial English home town was an evolutionary leap as vast as that from fish to amphibian, and that I could do no more than flop, panting, on the shore. I hope that my move to London will reveal that I can evolve yet further.
Still, however much I assure myself that my choice is a bold one, it is also a retreat of sorts. The terrible thing—the unspecified, unimaginable thing that I used to say could dislodge me from America—finally happened, and not to me alone but to the country itself. I’m not leaving because of Trump, but I’m not not leaving because of him, either. The day after the 2016 election, George and I dropped our son off at school, and we walked in endless, shocked circles around the park at the end of our street. We saw friends, and embraced them with few words, in tears; it was as if everyone were in mourning. We could leave, George and I began to whisper to each other. Should we leave? When will we know whether we should or not? When might it be too late?
I’m not the only one: during the past year and a half, a trickle of foreign-born or foreign-partnered friends began to leave New York, and everyone I know who has a second passport, or has the right to get one, has begun to assess her options. Where would they work? Where might they live? For many people, the prospect of moving abroad is too daunting, either financially or pragmatically. (Yet how many friends, when I have told them of my plans, have replied that they wish they could do something similar? Almost everyone.) The fact that I can do my work from London made it an immeasurably easier prospect. And I’m keeping my American passport. I might come back. It’s packed up in the black file box—my carry-on luggage for the first one-way transatlantic plane ticket I’ve bought in thirty years, along with the birth certificates and President Obama’s letter of welcome.
It’s been a wrenching decision: we are leaving not just a country and a city and a home but also friends and close family, most of whom don’t have the options that we do. London is not a utopia: housing, in particular, is debilitatingly expensive for many of its residents. Similarly, I am under no illusions that the U.K. is a beacon of progressivism. This is a move from the fire into the frying pan at best. The Brexit vote, which took place five months before Trump’s election, was a harbinger and not an aberration, and has encouraged hostility toward perceived outsiders. A friend of mine who moved from Budapest to London as a child, more than half a century ago, tells me that he no longer feels British. And my British-born peers and I, having assumed that the freedom to live, study, and work in Europe belonged to us and to our children, have found ourselves and our offspring facing the imminent prospect of being stripped of European citizenship. Our loss is not remotely comparable to that of others elsewhere in the world—we haven’t lost Aleppo, seen our homes and nation turned to rubble—but it is a loss nevertheless. My son already has fewer choices than I had.
To my delight, my son was instantly receptive to the idea of moving to England. He loves spending time with his grandmother in the seaside town—with its tatty amusement arcades, plentiful ice-cream shops, and bracing sea air—that I was so desperate to escape when I was barely older than he is now. Still, he will miss Brooklyn, and our neighborhood, with its friendly, familiar faces and its abundance of basketball hoops. He’ll miss beloved members of his American family; visits are already planned.
I hope that by transplanting him I’m offering him the chance to understand a little better how large and variegated the world is. I’m giving him the opportunity to feel at home in two cultures—to come by that status, on the brink of adolescence, that both my husband and I came by with great effort in adulthood. I want him to feel comfortable moving among worlds, and different communities of people, at a moment in which cosmopolitanism is an endangered value. I hope that he’ll learn more about curiosity and tolerance, the ideals celebrated in my naturalization letter, by having his curiosity aroused by a new environment. He’ll certainly have the experience of discovering what it feels like to be tolerated—of being the outsider, the foreigner, the immigrant. He’ll miss his friends, but he’s an open-hearted, optimistic American: I trust that he’ll make new ones.
And he’ll be strengthened by the challenge of deciphering a new culture’s codes and finding his place in it. He won’t need to learn another language, but I await with interest his inevitable acquisition of London’s polyglot slang. He’ll get a different education, with Shakespeare and the Battle of the Somme in the curriculum to add to his knowledge of the Lenape and the American Constitution. Although there will surely be lectures at his school about knife crime—an increasing problem in London—there won’t be lockdown drills about what to do when a heavily armed gunman enters the building. On the afternoon of the Santa Fe massacre, three months after the Parkland massacre, my son told me that he was relieved we were moving to England, because there are no school shootings there.
There are other, practical considerations for rearing my teen-age son in the U.K. College tuition there is currently capped at about twelve thousand dollars—not cheap, unless you’re used to the tuitions of American private colleges, in which case, cheap. Brexit notwithstanding, London is a vibrantly multicultural city, far more so than it was when I left the country. The museums are free, the parks are beautiful. The Tube is remarkably efficient, especially if one has been worn down by the New York subway system. Despite the imposition of economic austerity by the Conservative government, there’s still a greater sense in England than in the United States of a commonweal—of a social fabric that, however frayed, is worth maintaining. The National Health Service may be stretched thin, but at least nobody in Britain is talking about taking the right to health coverage away from people with preëxisting conditions, because they haven’t lived “good lives.”
I hope that, in spite of the ugliness unleashed by Brexit and the ongoing chaos of its implementation, living in London will provide some relief from the sense of oppression that descended on the U.S. during the campaign of 2016, in which Donald Trump established an American rhetoric very different from the one I had aligned myself with, and which has only worsened since the election, as he continues to debase the office of the Presidency. Britain feels like a calmer place, if only because when you wake up in the morning there are still four or five hours to go before Trump starts tweeting. The difference between the political climate in the U.K. and in the U.S. these days feels like the difference between depression and psychosis. I’m opting for depression.
By moving to Europe, I’m not escaping from the realities of resurgent nationalism; in Hungary, Viktor Orbán has already built a wall to keep out refugees, and nationalist movements are thriving in France, Italy, and elsewhere. Nor does the influence of the President of the United States stop at the country’s borders. The question “Should we leave?” presupposes that there’s somewhere else to go, and in this shrunken world there really isn’t. We all live in a time as much as we live in a place, and this is a time when demagoguery and nativism, like sea levels, are everywhere on the rise. I’m getting out, but I’m not getting away.
And I’m not doing it lightly, or without a sober sense of my ties and responsibilities to a country in which so many of my dreams have been realized, even as so many of my hopes have lately been repudiated. I’m not absolving myself of my duty as an American to uphold the values that welcomed me here—pluralism and equality and tolerance—and that should be extended to other immigrants. You can bet I’ll be voting. I still hope one day to take my country back. ♦