The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The case for fleeing Trump’s America

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Even before President Trump tried to keep people from crossing the border into America — or started ordering critics to leave the country if they don’t love America — I was on a plane, running from America. Flying nonstop aboard Air France Flight 1041 from New York’s JFK to Paris on the evening of Jan. 18, 2017, 48 hours before Donald Trump was to be inaugurated as the country’s 45th president. An old, retired black American woman, on the run. Following in the footsteps of renegade African Americans who had started running to the City of Light 100 years ago, looking to escape the darkness of American racism.

I still can’t believe it. I had vowed during the 2016 presidential campaign to “leave America if Trump is elected!” But never for a minute did I think I would have to make good on the promise. Yet here I am, 3,600 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, holed up in a tiny studio in one of Paris’s more fashionable neighborhoods, waiting out the Trump madness.

What has absolutely stunned me is I am still waiting — almost three years later.

I really thought Trump would have been tossed out by now because the American people would not stand for a president who appeared to have colluded with a foreign enemy after it was proved that Russia tampered with our election. Nor did I think Americans would stand by and watch its president order what amounted to the kidnapping of immigrant children at the Mexican border.

But I was wrong. Now what I know for sure, almost a full presidential first term into my American sit-out, is the Trump presidency has been worse than anything I could have ever imagined. I may not be able to come home again any time soon.

Because I cannot, will not, live in a country headed by a man who lies with every wretched breath and tweet he makes. Who routinely insults people who look like me. Who thinks nothing of throwing even once-trusted advisers under a runaway bus. Who lacks judgment and moral decency and human compassion. Nor will I live under a president who continues to play a divisive race card, betting he can get reelected running on the politics and the pathology of hate. No, I am not having any of it.

The decision to leave your native land is major, invariably transformative and therefore never made lightly or impulsively. Why would anyone want to leave the shores of the American empire in the first place — the one place people are still scrambling to get to, looking to get their talents rewarded in the land of opportunity? I had certainly gotten mine as a black baby boomer whose race and gender were the blessed and highly favored demographics in the revolutionary days of my youth. The Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Affirmative Action, Title IX, Roe v. Wade.

These were the breakthrough legal and social victories of the ’60s and ’70s that led to new opportunities for people like me, resulting in my success in two satisfying careers: media and real estate. One brought visibility, the other brought money.

Yet I knew if Donald Trump was elected president, my country would no longer be the land of opportunity. Worse, it would no longer feel like home. I knew I would just feel scared. All of my instinctive hard-drive circuits were on red alert, warning of danger, telling me to run!

Trump has conflated any criticism of him with not loving America. And if you don’t love America, he has said repeatedly, “You can leave!” Well, I have always loved the idea of America. And loved America’s enormous capacity to keep striving to reach its own ideal, loved its propensity to continually move politically and socially upward, attempting to make good on the pledge to be “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

This is what propelled the anti-slavery abolition era, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the sexual revolution and the calls for criminal justice reform. This, to me, is what made America great. Not perfect, but more often than not, trying to get there. With Americans of every race and persuasion fighting in the movements to achieve and uphold the ideals promised in a democracy.

So no, I did not leave America because I did not love my country. I left because I knew what my country was about to become under Donald Trump. Under Trump, I knew all bets would be called off on the promise. And that was frightening. Also frightening is that the country seems to have now lost its way, as well as its resolve, in removing the abomination that threatens its democracy. Will it be able to repudiate Trump next year when the current Democratic contenders seem to just be cannibalizing one another rather than joining forces to defeat a common opponent?

Now I find myself asking: What exactly are blacks and other people of color supposed to love about America at this juncture in our history? This same question was raised by such black American artists and free thinkers as Josephine Baker, W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright and James Baldwin, all of whom left America and headed to Paris, a city that has historically revered black arts and culture and respected black humanity. “One day I realized I was living in a country where I was afraid to be black … so I left. I felt liberated in Paris,” Josephine Baker said after she made her run in 1925.

The old hydra of American racism, of white-supremacist thinking, has raised its schizophrenic, ugly head again, whipping the country backward, spiraling downward, heading into an abyss of lost freedoms and unkept promises. I have to honestly say I do not love my country right in through here. It has become abusive psychologically and spiritually, with the American president as overseer cracking the abuser’s whip.

Which meant I had to run, and so I bolted for Paris where I knew people in the black American expatriate community (yes, there still is one) and I would have a place to stay while I wait. I had helped to beat back the abusive hydra as a young activist during the turbulent ’60s, but am no longer up for the new fights being waged against an old monster. At 72, I am too old, too tired.

Time for younger, energized new guards like the “Squad,” as four new congresswomen of color call themselves, to grab the baton and keep running forward, keep fighting. So this old black lady who is waiting it out across an old ocean can come home again. Hopefully sooner, rather than before it is too late.