Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Remedial Civics

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, September 13, 2016 --  

Pledging to flee to Canada in the event of a Trump victory is a betrayal of democratic values.

"It makes me want to move to Canada," quipped Senator Lindsay Graham in response to performances by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in a recent candidate forum.1 Clearly, Senator Graham is unlikely to follow through with his hyperbolic statement. Yet his pledge to move is hardly unusual amongst America's coastal elites.

Since Trump began getting traction in the Republican primaries, a steady stream of celebrities have said they would move to abroad should Trump become president, including Barbara Streisand, Miley Cyrus, Whoopi Goldberg, Al Sharpton, Amy Schumer and Samuel Jackson.2 Similar plans to leave the country in the event of a Clinton victory are less common. This is probably because Trump's base of supporters is concentrated amongst rural and working class voters who are less mobile, less internationally-oriented, less able to afford a move, and more committed to their American identity.

But as Senator Graham proves, it's not just loony leftist celebrities threatening to leave -- discussions of Trump's candidacy amongst American's coastal urbanites are often peppered with such pledges. And while it is unlikely that many people will make good on these rhetorical promises, that doesn't make them any less unsettling.

Threatening to abandon your country if a political candidate you don't like is elected is the antithesis of both patriotism and democratic values. If you believe in democracy, you must accept that your preferred candidate won't always win the election. When a bad leader is elected, the proper response is not to abandon the country, but to convince fellow voters that they made the wrong choice and ensure that he or she gets voted out when the next election comes around. That's just how democracy works.

Yes, there are extreme cases where leaving the country for political reasons is the right decision. Repression in Russia, pogroms in the former Yugoslavia and today's Syria provide ample justification for leaving those countries. But similar conditions simply do not exist in the United States, and even in the event of a Trump victory, are unlikely to exist any time soon.

An American president is not a dictator. The power of the presidency is limited by Congress, the Supreme Court, and a constitution that reserves much power for state governments. While a Trump presidency could do plenty of damage, unless a nuclear war is triggered there are few acts of a Trump administration that couldn't be undone by his successor. America's democratic institutions are strong enough to withstand even a populist demagogue like Trump.

Given America's 240 years of experience with elections, you'd think that its electorate would understand this without a remedial civics lesson. Instead, coastal elites are behaving like newbies to the concept of democracy. Recall back in 2013 when Egyptians abandoned their democratic experiment because of the unpopularity of their first elected president, Mohamed Morsi. Street violence and a military coup were welcomed by rejoicing crowds of Egyptians. Rather than simply waiting a few years to vote Morsi out of office, today's Egypt suffers under the thumb of a military dictatorship with no freedom of speech or assembly -- something that cannot be easily undone. This was an unbelievably bad move.

Clearly, the vast majority of people saying they will move to Canada if Trump wins won't really do so. No matter how serious they sound, it's almost always empty rhetoric. But this rhetoric is still counterproductive and not in keeping with American values. America's founding revolutionaries fought with their lives to secure a democratic future for the country, and ensure that elections would be the means for disposing of bad leaders. When the revolution was won, it was the defeated royalists who left for Canada, not the supporters of democracy.

Are the liberal ideals of America's coastal elites really so inviolable that a setback in a single election is worth abandoning their native land and its democratic process? If so, then perhaps their ideals aren't quite as liberal as they think.


1. New York Daily News, Lindsey Graham: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Were Both So unappealing at Commander-in-Chief Forum 'it makes me want to move to Canada' , September 8, 2016

2. Opposing Views, Celebrities Who Pledged To Leave America If Trump Wins, September 7, 2016