Update 1/6/2019: Since the writing of this piece, it was revealed that Toronto’s tech sector created more jobs than the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle and Washington, D.C., combined in 2017. This is in large part due to Canada’s policies on skilled immigration and social services.
Amber pinpoints eerily glowed on the snow-capped mountain peaks in the distance and towering residential buildings buzzed with activity as their inhabitants were settling in for the night or getting ready to go out, the lights of the city around them dancing in the floor to ceiling windows. We were getting ready to do the latter, but as we did, there was an important topic to finish discussing.
“Why would you stay in America anymore?” was the question that started it. “You could lose your healthcare at any time, kids are getting shot in schools, the government doesn’t listen to the people, and you have Nazis marching in the streets. What’s going on down there?”
It’s a lofty responsibility to defend one’s nation abroad, and this task is further complicated by my skeptical audience. None of them are native Canadians. They are fellow immigrants who once left their countries for opportunities abroad. One left specifically thanks to Brexit. Many followed their jobs as they were threatened to be shipped to other nations. All of them got ahead of the curve and used their talents to get quickly admitted to their new home.
And talking about your country is like talking about your kid in some ways. No kid is perfect but you want to defend his best assets, a task that becomes very complicated if said kid is serving time for armed robbery, building a meth lab in his basement, and is a suspect in a human trafficking case. Those are not things you can casually gloss over after mentioning his past as an honor roll student and how well he did in the school play without a few suspicious stares shot your way.
The obvious questions of how can the world’s wealthiest country have a healthcare system responsible for helping drive millions of its most vulnerable citizens into financial ruin, a social safety net with more holes than a sieve, the then-recent Parkland shooting and the reaction to it from the American right — also figured prominently in the conversation.
In what sane country is a group which says it needs guns to one day kill public servants who they deem “tyrannical” and encourages its members to stockpile high-powered weapons for that exact purpose, not considered a dangerous hazard by the nation’s leadership? Why are there so many unhinged conspiracy theorists so concerned with being able to gun down their fellow citizens on a whim that they claim sinister forces are staging the murder of kids in classrooms for the express purpose of confiscating their weapons?
How do you even respond to this? I explained that these reactions are from the fringe and that half of all weapons in America are owned by just 3% of the population. That we’ve been very suddenly and temporarily hijacked by our most paranoid, bigoted, and morally bankrupt voices. That we have an issue with gerrymandering and voter suppression allowing our least qualified politicians to pick their voters and a system which allows someone to lose the popular vote and still win the presidency. But while concluding that almost two-thirds of the nation are aghast, marching to return the country to sanity as quickly as possible, I couldn’t shake the general feeling of unease.
Here I was, a citizen of a superpower that shaped the last 70 years of history, explaining to foreigners how we’ve gone off the rails, and assuring myself just as much as I was trying to assure them that Americans are on the job and trying to fix these problems. But this crowd was tough. They’ve heard the same thing before in their own countries, shortly before their leaders took an even deeper plunge in the wrong direction, and they were understandably concerned. They asked if maybe it would be wise for me to at least temporarily take my talents up north and wait it out until I saw real, sustainable change for the better.
The Great White North Puts Out The Welcome Mat
Basically, their argument presented Canada as a safer, saner America with better healthcare and the metric system. And as I listened, I realized that I heard similar pitches from someone else: the Canadian government. For the last year and a half, they’ve been making overtures to the more progressive techies, researchers, and creative workers in the United States, and changing the points system used to dole out permanent residency cards to give these Americans a leg up in their famously stringent immigration program.
What started as nervous jokes suddenly turned very serious when the words “President-Elect Trump” hit global headlines, and Canadians have been on board, welcoming the “coastal elites” to join them, especially those living on the West Coast. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has even aimed a charm offensive at America’s powerhouse tech sector, promoting Canadian startups as future partners, and selling his country as a great place to run one’s tech company in contrast to the overcrowded and overpriced Silicon Valley.
In the meantime, the government is busy wooing science and technology experts around the world — unhappy with Brexit, angry nationalism, and lost, gridlocked politicians unable and unwilling to solve pressing problems in their home countries — to its universities and research labs with significant success. Buoyed by the security that comes from lacking a raging culture war inside its borders, Canada is trying to play the long game and become a top destination for creative artists and STEM professionals.
By capitalizing on the political similarities between Canadians and West Coast Americans, Trudeau found an attentive audience, although so far, he’s primarily received polite interest followed by very little action. But that’s to be expected when dealing with a nation that’s used to thinking of itself as the ultimate destination rather than just another big global market. Very few Americans are willing to simply pack their bags and leave, myself included.
This is why applications for Canadian citizenship and job applications from Americans are up by only a small tick, almost indistinguishable from historical patterns. Again, this makes sense. Americans are a very optimistic bunch who already enjoy one of the finest standards of living in the world. Things have to get really, really bad before they start leaving in droves as frustration with the system turns into an admission of defeat and a one-way ticket to another country, even one where culture shock would be practically nonexistent.
And the reason my audience in Canada brought all this up wasn’t because they felt like picking on the American in the room, but because they were genuinely concerned for my well-being after watching the news on a regular basis and seeing the world’s richest country tearing itself apart from self-inflicted wounds. Can you imagine foreigners worried for Americans’ future even a few years ago, asking about their lives with concerned frowns, citing mass shootings, constant xenophobic rhetoric, a leader aimlessly careening towards authoritarianism, and rabid public discourse they can see on prime time TV? We look utterly insane to other nations right now.
You can practically hear the Cult of MAGA seething. “Fine, get the hell out of our country if you don’t like it, you libtarded snowflakes! You’re gonna be real surprised when you find out other countries actually enforce immigration laws and kick your useless, lazy asses to the curb!” But as with many of their fantasies, they couldn’t be more wrong. Emigrants looking to escape Trump’s America will be quite welcome in many other nations, statistically speaking, and Canada seems to be positioning itself to vacuum up as many of them as possible, at least with a liberal government hoping to reform its immigration system to be at least somewhat more open than it has been historically.
While Red America would love Blue America and all of its inhabitants to leave, the numbers show that the aftermath would be disastrous. Blue counties account for 64% of the nation’s GDP. Pushing out anyone who’s not sufficiently loyal to The Donald and his followers would crater two-thirds of our economic firepower based on global trade, high tech, medicine, R&D, and education, and an even higher percentage of the national tax base.
Hold on a minute, you may object. Didn’t you once note that carving the nation by who won what county is far too simplistic? Not every scientist, techie, teacher, or engineer leans Democratic, so how would you possibly arrive at such broad conclusions from macro reports?
Well, we actually have a decent breakdown of political affiliation by industry and can see that nearly three-quarters of each of these fields lean blue. Every area of expertise which other nations are also interested in nurturing within their borders, such as science, software and electrical engineering, medicine, research, and education, has between 71% and 80% of its workers advocating more liberal positions. In fact, anything outside of sales, finance, a handful of medical specialties, and fossil fuels can be relied on to have a liberal majority.
If all these people the right insists are anti-American traitors packed up and headed elsewhere, we’d be looking at a more than a $2 trillion reduction in tax receipts, our GDP falling from first place to third (well behind China’s) and having a hard time rising as its fastest growing industries have been shipped overseas. Given its cultural and geographic proximity, Canada could be the primary beneficiary, with other open-minded nations in the Anglosphere potentially seeing huge boosts as well.
Meanwhile, there would be financial carnage across Red America. Despite their claims of being the most financially sound and responsible states and counties, they’re the recipients of the most federal aid used to cover numerous budget shortfalls, often masking their fiscal problems and allowing them to artificially lower taxes. In Montana, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky, nearly 4 out of every 10 dollars of state revenue comes from D.C. and is financed by borrowing, as well as surpluses from more independent blue states with higher tax rates.
Likewise, when measuring the human development index, a shorthand way to quantify access to healthy food, medicine, education, and state of basic infrastructure, far too many red counties score either poorly or borderline mediocre. Most blue counties, however, tend to rank either right near the top of the scale or at the very top. Because these are urban hubs for trade and education, its residents have more access to all of those benefits and vote for them to be a priority, even if it means paying more taxes or taking on more debt. They’ll use the boost in their GDP to finance any shortfalls.
Likewise, we have statistics showing that the Deep South also has a serious debt problem, with counties where large percentages of the population have at least some debt in collections, meaning they’re currently more than three months behind on their bills. While the median amount outstanding doesn’t seem catastrophic at $1,450, keep in mind that a 2016 study found that nearly half of Americans couldn’t afford a surprise bill of $400 or more, and almost 8 in 10 live paycheck to paycheck, with the number rising every year — so we may be seeing the very real consequences of this shortfall.
While one could argue that with more than half the population gone and modern industries hollowed out, there would be massive demand for new jobs that Red America could now take. But that’s not exactly the case because there’s often a massive skills gap between the currently red-leaning and blue-leaning professions exacerbated by resistance to job training programs in Red America, threats of slashing budgets for existing retraining, and employers refusing to take matters into their own hands while not paying competitive wages or training new employees.
This is in part why workforce participation keeps falling while unemployment has shrunk, a problem that Obama was unable to solve, and one that Trump believes is best addressed simply by demanding that more people work, even as jobs for them are drying up. But, to put it bluntly, many modern industries require specialized training and education that won’t be completed quickly because there’s simply too much educational ground to cover and either no one willing to help workers cover it, or the workers themselves have little to no interest in investing their time and effort in the process.
Under our hypothetical Blue Exodus, America would have to turn back into a manufacturing economy instead of a high tech R&D powerhouse. The end result would likely resemble a mix between China, India, and Russia, but with far more mature sectors, much slower population growth, very little, if any, immigration, and extremely stiff overseas competition in modernization efforts, meaning much slower economic gains year over year, if there are any.
Japan learned the same lessons over the last two decades, freezing itself in time. Red America without its blue counterparts would be doomed to repeat the same mistakes. With few, if any, real workers protections, no mechanisms against corporate overconsolidation, the same badly performing healthcare system, and a total disregard for environmental protection will mean a race to the bottom when it comes to wages, and a shrinking, sicker population — which will force the economy to eventually contract.
Consider that while immigrants actually adapted to changes in the job market faster than the natives and, according to IRS statistics, earn us a net economic profit, many white rural Americans often dealt with rising unemployment in their counties by finding disabilities to claim. The vast majority of them are stalwart GOP loyalists and would gladly help push out those who are, as we’ve just seen, actively subsidizing their aid. And with the Trump administration eager to cut them off and require they work in jobs that no longer exist where they live, their situation will go from very bad to much, much worse unless they manage to adapt to changing economic conditions far faster than they ever have or had to, and create new job markets out of thin air.
In short, the point here is that Red America will be very disappointed should they get their wish of deporting immigrants and anyone more liberal than them. Mathematically, they simply can’t go it alone, and Blue America doesn’t want to go it alone either because that would require a wholesale rebuilding of the agricultural industry with armies of robots at great expense, and even more, outsourcing to manufacture necessary hardware components, vehicles, and machinery. But if it was only as simple as reviewing the data, we wouldn’t be having this unpleasant discussion. The problem is that far too many in Red America could not be less interested in working with Blue America.
Divided We Fall
Normally, this is the part where we all come together and talk about how hard it is for people on both sides and use a lot of passive voice to avoid placing any blame or responsibility. But the sad fact is that Red America did much of this to itself. They voted for politicians who promised impossible things and actively made their lives worse, then blamed the other side of the aisle, happy to help feed them a steady diet of blame-shifting outrage and chipping away at their basic sense of empathy and shared identity with the rest of the nation until there seems to be virtually nothing left anymore.
Over the last several decades, as their fortunes soured, they responded by the political and fiscal equivalent of driving an ice pick into their frontal lobes and now, goaded on by sociopaths and profiteers, are driving it in deeper as their best-laid plans fail again or incite outrage from the rest of the nation. At this point, there isn’t a stated principle of conservatism they haven’t blatantly flaunted and extolled in the same day, seemingly incapable of realizing what they just did even when it’s played back to them.
The same people who promoted Pizzagate closed ranks around Roy Moore, or as I like to call him, D.A. Bad Touch, an actual alleged child molester, simply because he was a Republican. Those decrying the loss of morals and basic character of the presidency under Clinton are happy to claim that a thrice-married adulterer who allegedly cheated on his wife with porn stars is a man of God and all his sins are forgiven. And those who say that America needs to come together as one to move forward into a better future start their action plan with ideas for swiftly deporting and punishing anyone who catches their ire as a prerequisite for this national unification.
Since the early 1990s, the Republican Party and its favorite media outlets have been fiendishly busy delegitimizing and demonizing their opposition as anti-American extremists. Moderates and liberals became not fellow citizens with different opinions who may be open to conservative policies amended to address their concerns in implementation, but cartoonishly evil traitors who didn’t love their country. The word “liberal” became a pejorative and anyone criticizing the GOP agenda was now an enemy of the republic.
In return for their efforts, the Republicans received a loyal block of voters convinced that; there’s constantly a conspiracy against them, that voting for anyone other than a GOP candidate was betraying their country, that there was no need to debate in good faith or bother to take any of the other side’s arguments seriously because there were all malevolent villains, and every idea they had was either part of yet another nefarious anti-American plot, or dangerous ignorance of jobless moochers. All democracy experts say that accepting your critics and political opposition as necessary equals is the key to maintaining democratic governance. The Republican Party has long decided against that, and it’s only now beginning to truly sink in for the rest of us.
The wholesale rejection of facts and embrace of conspiracy theories on the right makes it very difficult, if not impossible to agree on a common reality, much less a common vision with Red America. Fueled by a news ecosystem that spends its days teaching them to hate their fellow citizens with incessant fearmongering, people who call themselves patriots are itching for a chance to turn on Blue America with guns, and cheering Putin and Trump as saviors of the republic, saying they’re fine with any collusion between the two if it did happen since the alternative of a more liberal leader would be downright apocalyptic by comparison because [insert choice conspiracy theory here]. To quote David Rothkopf, they are threatened by what they don’t understand, and what they don’t understand is almost everything.
While we may have felt sorry for them at first and understood that maybe this is just how they’re dealing with having the rug pulled out from under them by modernity, automation, and in some cases predatory capitalism, and happy to listen how we could help, at some point, it starts getting very, very difficult to stay empathetic while being showered in verbal manure. How can you help someone whose entire identity is now consumed by how much he hates you, the modern world, and anyone younger, with a “weird last name,” or just darker skin? How hard do you fight for someone who refuses to help himself and is desperate to see you fail as well?
It’s impossible to understate how important this November is for the future of America and the effects its outcome will have. Should the GOP hold on to all branches of government, any semblance of self-control they may have exhibited will be lost because once again, they will pay no price for discarding everything this country once used to represent and project to the world. They will feel even more empowered to keep lashing out at their real and imagined enemies with even more ferocity and vomit exponentially more bile on social media while confidently starting even more wars abroad.
As a result, tens of millions of Americans already feeling hated solely because they wanted to keep up with the future and to uphold others’ equality in the eyes of the law, something they thought their country prided itself on, will be even more alienated. And if this keeps up, many of them may become more interested in looking for a new home abroad, knowing they no longer have a voice or a place in their home country. Thanks to their education and focus on fields that aren’t being automated away, they’ll have options. Those who either don’t care if they leave or actively want them to, won’t.
Of course, we should note that many other nations in the Anglosphere can’t possibly take in all of Blue America so the hypothetical scenario of a sudden Blue Exodus wouldn’t actually happen. Canada’s population is smaller than that of California. New Zealand’s is half of the NYC metro area. They would never be able to accommodate tens of millions of people and their families at once, no matter how skilled and desirable those people may be. Instead, such a mass migration would start as a trickle and accelerate to a constant flow over the years. We would hardly notice it at first, but its effects would be felt in just a few years as skilled worker shortages become endemic. The damage will be done slowly and steadily instead of suddenly and catastrophically, but it will be done.
The resulting brain drain could deprive the United States of those capable of fixing its problems and willing to do it, already armed with proposals and solutions. This is exactly what happened in Eastern Europe as the Soviet Union collapsed. As some of its most capable and adaptable citizens were dismissed or pushed out, they instead made their mark across Western Europe and America. Meanwhile, Russia fell into its kleptocratic stasis while millions of Russians shrugged and said they couldn’t blame those leaving for their choice and figured they might do the same if they had the resources.
You see, the issue at hand isn’t something as trivial as liberal vs. conservative or Democratic vs. Republican. It’s really not even past vs. the future. It’s a collection of Americans who make up roughly two-thirds of the population vs. a government that cannot be trusted to make sane, rational, sober choices about very real problems while attacking imaginary ones, like Don Quixote wildly tilting at windmills and anyone who tries to snap them out of it. It’s about preventing the lunatics from running the asylum, making a mockery of every value associated with America across the world, and running the country like gleeful mustache-twirling saboteurs instead of public servants.
What kind of sane government overlooks every signal to the contrary to pass tax cuts that will plunge us $1.5 trillion into debt with very little appreciable benefit? What kind of sober thinkers believe that the answer to stopping school shootings is to give everyone a gun and turn schools into war zones where every tense moment or confrontation can now involve deadly, efficient weapons? What sort of rational leadership tries to goad another nation into a nuclear war? What kind of policy experts decry the waste of soldiers’ blood and national treasure in wars of choice driven by decades of fear to change regimes in global hotspots, then hire one of the architects of this approach to be the lead advisers on dealing with them?
So what do you do when you no longer feel that your government will defend you, stand up for you, listen to you, and actively encourages other citizens to view you with suspicion at best and open, rabid contempt at worst? Would you want to stay somewhere your fellow countrymen are glued to a channel demonizing you all day, wield political power in no way proportionate to either their numbers or economic contributions, and are all too happy to explain why their votes should have more weight than yours based on the logic that using a true popular vote means they wouldn’t be able to maintain their grip on power over the people they revile?
If sanity doesn’t prevail and rational candidates willing to work towards bipartisan solutions to real problems facing America are left in the political dust, a whole lot of Americans may find themselves having to answer that question. And as we already saw, the results of that migration will not be pretty. History is most unkind to nations that lose their sense of common identity and are willing to purge its most mobile, connected, and youngest generations out in the name of stubborn, dogmatic ideological purity. Just consider what happened to much of the Eastern Bloc. These nations are not role models. They’re warnings.
Update 05/25/2018: Since this piece was originally written, the Trump administration has proposed canceling the International Entrepreneur Rule, which allows foreign entrepreneurs to start businesses in the United States. While it tries to punt the issue to Congress, is provides no timelines or guidance as to what it believes the legislation should look like, placing potentially billions of dollars worth of economic projects and thousands of jobs in legal limbo.
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