Is it immoral to move to another country right now?


Seen on a walk around my Brooklyn neighborhood

The other day, in the wake of the news of Comey’s firing, I posted the following on Facebook:

It sparked a fire storm of comments.

Several fellow parents wrote in to say that since the election they’d gotten their children passports and renewed their own, to which I replied:


What are we waiting for? I think it’s time to really talk about this, not just half-jokingly say “Canada here I come,” or to spend 30 minutes looking at Costa Rica real estate online.

What is our game plan?

“It’s not that bad…yet”

I have one set of friends who have gone on a scouting trip to a foreign country to consider possibly relocating there. Their verdict: They could imagine living there, if it came to it, which they define as “having to flee Nazi Germany.” But what if there’s never that crystal clear moment? What if we really are like frogs in boiling water, gradually acclimating to something and telling ourselves it’s not “that bad”…yet?

This impulse to GET THE FUCK OUT was the first thing that hit me the morning of November 9, 2016, when I wrote,

I’m sad this morning, as though something has died, and I’m also pissed and full of steely resolve. This man will not get his mitts on my daughter. FUCK THAT. I will leave this country.

I still have that visceral, maternal urge, to get away.

More intellectually, I also believe that in today’s world, where life and work are more fluid and location-flexible than ever before, it doesn’t make sense to stay and raise my child in such a violent country as this, let alone one with a pussy-grabbing madman at the helm.

I am in no way excited to uproot my family, to move away from everyone we know and love, and start life somewhere far away. I have some close relatives in Amsterdam, which makes that destination more appealing than others. Otherwise, we’d be starting from scratch. But even Amsterdam — it’s an ocean away from my parents, my in-laws, 95% of my relatives, my dearest friends. I’m in no rush to disrupt our lives that way.

Maybe it’s time to accept, though, that our lives have already been disrupted. Are we holding onto something that’s already gone?

The ethics of fleeing

Back on Facebook, a friend of mine from childhood challenged me: “I’m not really sure what upper-middle-class white professionals have to flee from, though?” He went on to say, “If you flee, then you’re just leaving the people who are subject to the violence and bigotry to deal with it on their own.”

Another friend, a woman I know from my public media days, wrote the following:

To me it becomes a collective responsibility to stay and fight, and a moral issue. Jews who had money could flee Germany, and many did. Those who had no money were screwed, and they died for it. We can’t abandon those who don’t have the means to get the hell out of the country.

She went on to say:

Don’t get me wrong — just last night I was musing on how much I wish we lived closer to Canada, and part of me fantasizes a lot about getting a job overseas, or at least about moving back to Vermont, which would not be a nuclear target. But it still bothers me that those who say ‘Fuck it, I’m out of here’ are the ones with the means to do so.

This argument hits me hard. But if I really push it to its farthest point: Does my family’s suffering (by staying) ease the suffering of a family without the means to leave?


Now, Jordan and I staying to fight for a better country might ease that other family’s suffering. But is our primary obligation to that family and the thousands of other families with fewer resources than ours, or to ourselves, and to our daughter?

And if we left, what’s to say that we couldn’t do worlds of good for others who are suffering both in the U.S. and all over the world? We couldn’t vote in U.S. elections if we became foreign citizens, but we could still donate money, still create media to change people’s minds and galvanize action, still help.

Do we deserve happiness, if others can’t have it?

These are muddy ethical waters. Or maybe you disagree. Maybe you think it’s crystal clear. I’d like to know.

Privileged and personal

It’s undoubtedly a mark of privilege to be able to leave. It’s also a mark of privilege, in my mind, to assume that staying is safe for you simply because you’re upper-middle-class. To assume that you and your family will remain unscathed.

Says who?

My friend Russell Max Simon wrote some very searching and intelligent blog posts on these very issues, which I encourage you to check out if these questions seize you as strongly as they seize me.

One point he makes is that one true mark of a dictatorship is that the state dominates or eliminates people’s personal lives. Continuing to have a personal life separate and apart from the daily horrors of our so-called president (he is not and will never be my president) is an act of defiance. (This relates back to my struggling with whether personal writing matters right now.) (Answer: It does.)

What do you think?

Is it unpatriotic to move to another country right now?

Does patriotism matter?

If you moved, where would you go — and why?


5 thoughts on “Is it immoral to move to another country right now?

  1. I have thought about this, every bit of it, just like this. And I have lots to share wit you, but I won’t do it online because, well, my personal life feels threatened. Yeah, that says a lot.


  2. I lived alone in Belgium for 2.5 years in the 1990s and traveled to 17 countries regularly as a consultant to multi-national companies. I had to learn the social and business etiquette as well as the statutory, labor, and tax laws/demands for each of the countries. This was the gift of a lifetime as I was able to ultimately understand what I appreciate most about the US culture and, conversely, what we could greatly improve. The latter is easy. Europeans are much more able to carve out and appreciate personal/family time and they do not worry about health care. They have great affordable health care that does not influence where they work or how long they work or if they need to keep a job they do not like. The thing I most appreciated from afar about my country and the USA culture was that 1) we approach all challenges (big and small) with the attitude that we can fix it and we can make it better, and 2) each person can play a role in great change. This simply is not the prevailing attitude of populations in other countries (albeit the range of optimism/pessimism certainly varies from place to place). Sometimes we are wrong – but in general we move forward in a climate of “can-do” instead of “can’t do” (where one has to battle the negative forces of tradition continually). I could easily live in Europe – but I would miss family/friends/culture and the knowledge that I can be and have been in the past part of massive movements of change. So, it is in this backdrop that I say – “Do not flee! Stay and make small and large change – and do not let the politicians temporarily at the helm (?) make you forget your importance in the effort to ensure that the diverse and rich and energetic things in this country remain intact!”


    • Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. You obviously come to this with very relevant experience and it’s genuinely interesting (and heartening) to hear why you’re glad to be in the U.S. at this point. I guess the thing is, without personally experiencing other cultures, I can’t choose the U.S. for myself as an active choice versus a default one. I honestly don’t know what’s right. On the one hand, I feel like I’m not seriously considering a move, at all. On the other hand, I feel foolish and like I’m kidding myself to think it’s ok to stay.

      This was a very interesting read related to all this in the NYT today:


  3. Pingback: Just another morning in America | Having it Alt

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