Jeff and Denise Yeager are determined to leave the United States now that Donald Trump is president. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
“Make me an offer,” says Jeff Yeager with a sweep of his arm, taking in the sylvan Accokeek, Md., spread he’s putting on the market and is eager to unload. Because this man is getting out of Dodge. Leaving the United States. Escaping Donald J. Trump.
Yeager, a self-employed writer, and his wife plan to spend the coming year roaming the globe in search of a new home where they will live for four years. Or possibly eight.
“Trumping out,” Yeager calls it. Sort of like extended political camping.
“When the devastation of the election hit,” he says, “we thought, ‘Let’s just leave and travel, travel, travel and see where it takes us.’ ”
Remember all those celebrities who were going to quit the country if Trump was elected president? Samuel L. Jackson (bound for South Africa), Amy Schumer (Spain “or somewhere”) Lena Dunham (Vancouver) and Cher (Jupiter).
Perhaps you had a cousin who threatened to leave. A neighbor, too. And all those Facebook friends who offered posts of parting, invariably mentioning Canada, O, Canada, I could drink a case of you, so nice, so close.
Talk, talk, talk.
They all appear to be here still in our notably less United States. Not a one has followed the example of Lyndon Johnson press secretary Pierre Salinger, who famously said in 2000, “If George Bush is elected president, I will leave the country” — and then did, for France.
[Here’s why you won’t really move to Canada if Trump wins in November.]
In fact, finding people who are actually leaving is a challenge.
Many toying with the idea — who, mind you, have yet to make a decision — declined to speak on the record for fear, they said, of potentially enraging Trump supporters. One man wouldn’t give his name, instead choosing to be called “Martin” and communicating through a temporary and untraceable email account and cell number.
He did, however, send a multi-page manifesto of 30 indicators that could prompt him and his wife to change their country of residence. (He said he has “hundreds of friends” considering a similar move.) “Warning Indicators of When It’s Time to Flee a.k.a. Don’t wait until Kristallnacht” include the creation of “a national registry for Muslims or other vulnerable groups” and Washington “unilaterally withdrawing from free-trade agreements (as opposed to following amendment procedures within those agreements).”
The truth is, leaving the country for extended periods of time isn’t easy, especially if you have school-age children. Or aging parents. Or need to earn a living. Those sorts of things.
Many countries warmly welcome American visitors and their money. They’re somewhat less enchanted with Americans taking their citizens’ jobs. (Where have we heard this before?)
“It seems very sexy to move to Canada these days,” says immigration lawyer Elizabeth Wozniak of Halifax, Nova Scotia. “What’s not sexy is the amount of paper involved. We have a ridiculous amount of bureaucracy.”
[Americans, it’s actually quite hard to move to Canada]
Such obstacles are not stopping Yeager. The 58-year-old is a man of his Salingeresque word. Even as others face challenges entering the country after the president’s new travel ban, he is determined to depart. He and his wife, Denise, met with a real estate agent the Monday after the inauguration. Or, more important to the Yeagers, after the Women’s March on Washington, for which they hosted nine fellow demonstrators.
“Make me an offer,” pleads Yeager again, showing a visitor around the airy compound — a two-bedroom house with a separate office and a guest cottage — overlooking a creek and a mile and a half from the Potomac. Actually, he says it four times.
The Yeagers dwell in that special demographic of people who are able to leave. They have no children. They’ve paid off the mortgage. Denise, 65, retired as a health and physical education teacher at Prince George’s Community College and collects Social Security and a small pension. Jeff, who was a fundraiser and administrator of nonprofit groups until he quit to write in 2005, can work anywhere.
Also, he is famously, prodigiously and professionally thrifty, the self-proclaimed “Ultimate Cheapskate.”
Yeager has written four humorous books on the joys of thrift. He has appeared on the “Today” show more than 20 times and travels the country lecturing, a couple of times by bike. In a subversive twist, he makes money by preaching about not spending it.
Tall, earnest, with a Twainian stache, he believes that happiness has very little do with money. Also, that you can reuse anything. (He has a dozen uses for eggshells.) He amasses junk, uses five dusty computers because “they all do a little something, it’s just that not one of them does everything.” He and Denise plan to store, sell or trash most of their belongings.
The Yeagers live on less than $40,000 a year. When they travel, they spend $100 a day. Or less — less being a mantra. “I am violently opposed to debt,” Yeager says.
[Getting a big thrill out of being so cheap]
A die-hard liberal, he was long apolitical in his writing, but Trump’s election left him despondent and vocal. He received a sewer of “virtual vitriol” from his 3,500 Facebook followers.
“You’re just whining. You need to suck it up,” they told him. And more. Genial in manner and prose, Yeager wasn’t used to such venom and removed himself from the social-media platform in November.
“Listen, I’m a fourth-generation American. I come from the heartland, northwestern Ohio. I am a deeply disheartened, concerned individual,” he says, chatting in the sitting room that he remodeled. “I consider Trump a dangerous, unstable person.”
Jeff and Denise Yeager visited Ireland after the election and are also heading to Central America, the Far East and Eastern Europe in search of a new place to live out the Trump administration. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
After the election, the Yeagers spent a month in Ireland, their first visit. They liked it very much. So, Ireland is on the list of places to land.
“I’m committed to being out of the country for just as long as we can,” Yeager says. “I don’t see us coming back on a permanent basis.” That is, until Trump is out of the White House. “What we’re trying to escape is the disappointment of my homeland,” he adds.
When they’re abroad, the Yeagers use public transit, bike, crash in hostels, inexpensive hotels or with locals whom they find through couchsurfing.com. They don’t frequent restaurants much, preferring to cook wherever they happen to land. The Ultimate Cheapskate knows how to travel cheaply. And he’s been smart about saving.
Their next country-hunting adventure will be to Panama and Costa Rica. Spain and Portugal are on the list, also New Zealand and Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand. They love Eastern Europe, particularly Croatia and Poland, countries where Americans can live relatively inexpensively.
“I love the raw, real feel of a place that you can’t find with a lot of tourists there,” Yeager says. Would he consider Russia? He would like to ride the length of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, not in luxury, but like ordinary Russians with chickens. Denise is having no part of that. Otherwise, she’s game. “Many people tell us they wish they could do the same thing and leave,” she says.
They’re looking for countries that offer good health care, affordable housing, friendly people, limited paperwork. (So no Canada for them.)
“I’ve never felt this strongly, not even with Nixon,” Yeager says. Rather than seeing themselves as prodigal Americans, “we see ourselves as citizen ambassadors.” The goal is to represent a different, non-Trumpian America, their America, to the world.
Yeager finds that he’s happiest when “I can’t speak the language of the country where I am. I can’t possibly speak politics.” But, he adds emphatically, “We have no intention of giving up our U.S. citizenship.” They’re just giving up, for a while, on their residency.
So it’s urgent to find someone to rent or buy their home. “Make me an offer,” he says again.