I won’t be going back home to Canada, no matter who wins the election.
If any of you native-born Americans want to decamp to the Great White North after Nov. 8, I am happy to give you a field guide, but you will be on your own. I came to the United States because of a presidential election, and it would be unmannerly to depart because of one.
In 2008, I was living in my home town of Vancouver, B.C., often working for U.S. companies in my role as an author and television producer. When Barack Obama won not just the White House, but the imagination of the civilized world with his message of hope and change, our street in Vancouver had a party. Other neighborhoods in Canada and around the world did the same, unleashing a massive cheer for the USA after the dark and bloody eight years preceding this momentous event.
And my wife and I decided, in the euphoric aftermath of Obama’s election, to become part of that hope and change by moving to the United States. My wife is a U.S. citizen, and our daughter was a year away from entering kindergarten, so it seemed like the perfect time to head south and east, and move into the same Brooklyn neighborhood as my best friend and business partner, with whom I had joked about this dream without ever fully believing that it would be possible. Hope had begot change already.
So, there I was, getting my green card in Montreal in March 2010. The immigration officer who approved my application talked to me about my work and my love of hockey. She told me that she was learning French by reading a book on hockey, “Hockey: La Fierté d’un Peuple.” I told her that I had written that book. Destiny, it seemed, was also in play.
Indeed, it had been in play for a long time, ever since my father’s family immigrated to North America from Ireland. They had wanted to go to the United States, where they had family, but circumstances sent them to Canada, which was, as they say, good to them. Still, our family vacations would inevitably take us to California to see relatives, and to where my father dreamed of migrating to open a business. My mother would always back out at the last minute. I don’t know why, and by the time I was ready to fulfill my father’s dream, Alzheimer’s had robbed her of the capacity to tell me.
So we came to New York City. We were welcomed on Day 1 by our neighbors - the mother, African American; the father, white - who invited us from our moving van right into their house for a glass of wine. My daughter met their daughter and so, a best friend. America the Beautiful.
And so it went. The generosity of this country, the warmth of its spirit, its belief that the impossible dream could become possible sustained us as we made our way. To be sure, there was turbulence, but none so severe that gave us pause to say: Hmm, maybe we should go back to the Old Country.
Because we come from Canada, it’s hard to tell us from natural-born American citizens. We can speak with strangers and friends alike who don’t know or have forgotten that we come from the land up north. And even though, as the great white arch demarcating the border between Canada and the United States at Blaine, Wash., declares on its wall, we are both “Children of a Common Mother,” we have found that our American sibling can sometimes confound.
While we appreciate that there are sometimes excellent reasons for wanting to leave your home country and move to another with an electoral outcome being one of those reasons (I mean, I did it), we have plunged into the spirit of our adopted country and so we, too, empowered ourselves with clairvoyance. It is through that lens that we can see some of the blemishes of our chosen homeland in a more forgiving light.
And with such enlightenment, we believe the Founding Fathers didn’t understand the Second Amendment to triumph over all the others; that people who want to come to the United States by means legal or not generally do not want to abandon all they hold dear and uproot themselves and their families to create criminal mayhem, so we need better doors, not more walls; that while life is indeed precious, perhaps we should devote more energy to enhancing the lives of our fellow citizens already with us, so that children don’t go to bed hungry, and women and men are helped, not punished, when making tough life decisions; and that the first or second or third recourse of the police in dealing with a human being, either in distress or at a traffic stop, should not be to kill them. We’re pretty sure the Founding Fathers would be with us on that one.
And we’re certain that they’d be with us in thinking that Obama, the man whose election moved us to move, will be judged by history as a great president, who had vision and imagination and decency, and what he failed to do was not the result of his flaws or of an imperfect democracy, but because people opposed to him had contrary views about to whom our democracy belongs. But that’s why we have term limits. So someone else gets a chance to make their American Dream into public policy.
Which brings me to the reason people have invoked my homeland as a destination should Earth reverse on its axis and Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election. Indeed, we view him in the great tradition of American con artists, and history may judge him as just that, a colorful (and yes, add in whichever pejorative you choose and I will agree) character who supercharged a moment with his own brand of regime change, which, I believe the majority will reject as not the kind of democracy in which they wish to live. When we looked at his plan, such as it is, the idea of democracy as the Founding Fathers envisioned would be, under Trump, a lot like the European society that they had chosen to reject: King Donald, dispatching armies to quash foreign lands, while collecting taxes and paying none.
You might wonder why Canada, in the event of a Trump presidential victory, wouldn’t be more appealing for us with the progressive and enlightened Justin Trudeau as prime minister, and I have asked myself that, too. The answer is that while Canada gave birth to me, the United States has given me more fuller expression as a person - given me a kind of intellectual and emotional liberty, and so I want to stay to do my part to make her union more perfect. Especially should we be under a president who challenges the rights and liberties we hold sacred as citizens.
So, I made my choice on Oct. 26 in Federal Plaza in New York City, when I had my application for U.S. citizenship approved during an interview process that was marked from the security guard at the door to the immigration officer who dealt with my case by courtesy, respect and great civility. Everyone knew the momentous deed being done, and they made me feel welcome - and valued. I will be sworn in as an American too late to vote on Nov. 8, but I don’t mind. I have voted already by staying here, at home, in the best possible way you can do that on Election Day.
McKinley, with his best Brooklyn pal David Gibson, most recently created the six-part series “Finding Jesus” for CNN, and the companion book.