On the morning 19 months ago when Donald Trump descended the escalator in his glitzy Manhattan tower, waving to onlookers who lined the rails, many Americans knew little about him beyond that he was very rich and had a thing for firing people on a reality television show.
No one can plausibly say they knew that the man who launched his candidacy that day would be elected the nation’s 45th president. As Trump prepares to take the oath of office Friday, many Americans still can’t quite believe that a presidency that still seems almost bizarrely improbable becomes a reality on Friday.
“I thought it was a joke. He’d run, he’d lose early and he’d be out,” said Christopher Thoms-Bauer, 20, a bookkeeper and college student from Bayonne, New Jersey, who originally backed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s Republican candidacy.
Then, Thoms-Bauer recalled, came the night in November when he joined friends in a diner after a New Jersey Devils hockey game and watched, stunned, as Trump eked out wins in key states.
“Having this realization that he was really going to become president was really just a surreal moment,” said Thoms-Bauer, who gave his write-in vote to Evan McMullin, a former CIA agent who ran as a conservative alternative to Trump. “It still doesn’t make sense.”
For all the country’s political divisions, plenty of people on both sides of the aisle share that disbelief.
“I thought there was no way he could win,” said Crissy Bayless, a Rhode Island photographer who on Thursday tweeted a picture of the Statue of Liberty holding her face in her hands, despairing over Trump’s imminent inauguration.
“How am I feeling? Wow.. disgusted. nauseous and honestly like I’m in a nightmare,” Bayless, 38, wrote in a conversation via email.
When Barack Obama won the White House in 2008, the election of the nation’s first black president felt to many like one of the most improbable moments in the nation’s political history. The idea of the election of a white billionaire born of privilege feels implausible to many in very different ways — and that may say as much about the country as it does about Trump.
When Trump announced his candidacy, Kayla Coursey recognized him as the developer who had tried and failed to build a golf course she’d opposed in her hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. She recalled him as stubborn and resistant to pressure from local residents and officials. That, she said made his candidacy for president feel like a joke. Trump’s election felt downright surreal, she said.
In the weeks since, “there was always the hope that things will somehow magically become better. However, now we know (Friday) at noon we’re going to be welcoming President Trump, which is surreal in and of itself,” said Coursey, a college student in Roanoke, Virginia.
David Sawyers, a 42-year-old truck unloader from Grindstone, Pennsylvania, who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary before voting for Trump, said the big crowds that turned out for the candidate’s rallies convinced him the billionaire could win. But he never felt certain, not when he recalled how Al Gore had won the popular vote in 2000, but lost the presidency to George W. Bush.
“You follow history,” said Sawyers, who’s happy with the outcome, “and there are some points where you definitely know history is being made and tomorrow is one of those times.”
Sawyers will be working during Friday’s inauguration, so he plans to record it and watch it later. But others said they remain so stunned by Trump’s election it will be best if they turn away.
Tyler Wilcox, a 23-year-old musician in Riverton, Utah, has been dreading inauguration day. He lists his location on Twitter as “Not My President” and is planning to avoid all coverage of the ceremonies.
“I just feel like it’s, I guess you can say, the beginning of the end,” he said.
And Coursey, who identifies as “queer” and is deeply worried by the threat she believes Trump’s administration poses to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, said she would avoid joining other students in the dorm television lounge to watch the inauguration.
“I’m concerned that I’d be just a crying mess in the corner, or that somebody would say something and I wouldn’t hold my tongue or I’d end up getting in some kind of a physical argument,” she said.
Instead, Coursey said, she plans to search for a recording of Trump’s speech once its over, when she can watch it in private That way, she figures, she can pause it in uncomfortable moments when the presidency she never imagined becomes a little too real.
Associated Press writer Matt Sedensky in New York, Samantha Shotzbarger in Phoenix and Michael Sisak in Philadelphia contributed to this story. Geller reported from New York.
When a South Carolina congressman shouted “You lie!” during a speech by President Barack Obama in 2009, House members rebuked him for violating norms of civility. After this year’s presidential campaign, the idea that people were once troubled by the outburst seems almost quaint.
Civility in politics has been declining for years, both a cause and symptom of a changing culture where anonymous verbal assaults are fired freely across the internet, and cable TV routinely broadcasts words once banned from the airwaves. But Donald Trump’s presidential run took name-calling and mockery — things that voters long said they detested in their candidates — and normalized them into a winning political strategy.
Now Trump, the president-elect, is calling for unity in words that draw attention precisely because they sound so unlike Trump, the candidate. But many question whether it is possible to reverse the campaign’s damage to political discourse and its ripples out to the way Americans speak to and about each other.
“There’s plenty of blame to go around on this subject, but I think in this particular election that an embrace of Donald Trump was an embrace of incivility and vulgarity and insults and bullying, and unfortunately we saw very little public repudiation of that from any Trump supporters,” said Mark DeMoss, an Atlanta public relations executive and conservative Republican whose clients are mostly Christian religious organizations.
DeMoss, who abandoned a campaign called the Civility Project in early 2011 after only three members of Congress would sign a pledge to act respectfully, watched the degradation of political speech for years. Then Trump’s campaign, he and other longtime observers say, stomped well past what was thought to be acceptable.
“We can all point to incidents in campaigns across history, but I think this one probably does represent a new place in terms of incivility,” said James Mullen, president of Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, which awards a prize each year for civility in public life.
“What worries me the most is we’re becoming almost numb,” Mullen said.
When Allegheny — which first polled Americans about political civility in 2010 — did so again in October, researchers noted a “disturbing” decline in those rejecting insults in politics. The number who disapprove of political comments about someone’s race or ethnicity declined from 89 percent to 69 percent. The number who said it was unacceptable to shout over a debate opponent fell from 86 percent to 65 percent.
Many observers blame Trump, who called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” tarred his adversaries as “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hillary” and complained that a TV journalist’s dogged questioning was just a sign she had “blood coming out of her wherever.” He said all of those things, not on long-forgotten tapes, but in front of millions of voters.
At Trump’s rallies, supporters followed suit, chanting “Lock Her Up!” about Clinton and wearing T-shirts with the slogan, “Trump That Bitch!”
In some ways, Trump’s rhetoric is an outgrowth of cultural and political shifts.
A generation before the internet, political backers were leaving fliers attacking rivals on voters’ windshields in the dark and blanketing neighborhoods with anonymous direct mailings. Social media made it possible for ordinary people to disparage political enemies widely with no risk, saying things they might previously have told only their close friends.
“Into that world comes a candidate who uses Twitter as a primary mode of communication,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies political communication. “He lives in a world in which this stuff is being trafficked back and forth, and that normalizes this kind of discourse for you as a candidate.”
But with their words, Trump, Clinton and other politicians set the tone for a much larger conversation.
Nearly 2,000 teachers surveyed by the Southern Poverty Law Center this spring reported that the campaign’s scorching words were having a “profoundly negative impact” on their students. More than half said they had seen an increase in bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose race, religion or nationality had been targeted by political rhetoric.
The survey did not identify any candidates. But teachers singled out Trump in more than 1,000 comments, while fewer than 200 combined named Clinton, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
In recent years, teachers mindful of bullying and taunts on social media have worked to make schools places of mutual respect, said Maureen Costello, director of the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project.
“What made this year really different is that it broke through that protective moat,” Costello said. The political rhetoric was “so ubiquitous and so saturated the culture that you couldn’t keep it out of schools. Kids are sponges.”
When Beth Ferris, a middle school teacher in Yucca Valley, California, told students on Election Day that history would be made one way or the other, one of her students said, “Yeah, she (Clinton) should be in jail!” At a nearby high school, vandals painted “Trump 2016,” on a wall and covered the word “Girls” on a bathroom door with a vulgarity.
“I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Ferris said.
On the day after the election, teacher Dee Burek said fifth and sixth graders in her Allentown, New Jersey, middle school asked how Trump had become the Republican nominee. She recalled his insults of opponents in debates and how they stuck.
“The kids just kind of looked at me and said, ‘But that doesn’t make any sense. That’s bullying,'” she said. “If these middle schoolers can see that, I think there’s hope.”
Adults, who heard the candidates out and voted, have conflicted feelings.
“There were some things that were said about Hillary, that she should just go to jail and she should be hung, they make it sound so — it can’t be that bad,” said Byron Dopkins, an accountant in River Falls, Wisconsin, who voted for Trump. “What makes it worse (for) the public is that we can’t have conversations with friends who are on the other side of the aisle without it getting nasty.”
Still, Dopkins said one of the reasons he voted for Trump is that he is a “straight talker.”
But that talk feeds a public conversation that leaves Melinda St. Clair, an Episcopal priest in Billings, Montana, who voted for Clinton, deeply troubled.
“I don’t use the term ‘civil discourse.’ I don’t think there is any,” St. Clair said.
“I don’t think we’re listening to God. I don’t think we’re listening to each other. I think we’re just hearing what makes us feel good at the moment and shouting it at the top of our lungs.”
The blast, powered by at least 40 sticks of dynamite, ripped into the stillness before dawn.
A few more hours and Sunday school classrooms at The Temple on Atlanta’s Peachtree Street would have been filled with 600 children. The synagogue was spared blood, but the explosion on that morning in 1958 rocked a Jewish congregation whose backing of the civil rights movement had long sown fears of retaliation.
Its members, badly shaken, found their first bit of solace when the rabbi posted the title of his next sermon on a signboard streetside: “And none shall make them afraid,” it read.
As members of a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, begin searching for a route forward after the massacre of their pastor and eight others, history provides far too many examples for them to follow — from Atlanta to Birmingham and points beyond, where hate turned our most sacred institutions into crime scenes.
Recovery may not be a choice. But those who’ve worked to rebuild congregations recall it as wrenching, even as it inspired a deepened search for affirmation.
“Even until this day … we still have armed security at the door,” says Pardeek Kaleka, whose father was one of six people killed by a gunman who burst into a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012. “I don’t think there’s ever going to be closure, but we’re healing.”
But that search for healing, despite its pain, can serve to unite, Kaleka and others say.
“The sanctuary was packed that Friday night” immediately after the synagogue bombing in Atlanta, recalls Alvin Sugarman, a college student at the time who years later became the reform congregation’s rabbi. “The silent majority came out of the woodwork. …It became a healing thing, instead of a breach. It brought the decent people of the community together.”
Probably no faith community in the U.S. has suffered greater violence than African-American churches, targeted by decades of burning and bombings. Even years afterward, their experience shows how an attack on a place considered sacred can inflict the deepest of scars.
Members of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, had to rebuild both the congregation’s structure and psyche after a bomb planted by Ku Klux Klansmen ripped apart the building and killed four black girls gathered for Sunday worship on Sept. 15, 1963.
The city already was known as “Bombingham” because of a series of racist bombings going back years. But the bloody specter of children dying in church shocked the nation.
“If these cruel and tragic events can only awaken that city and state — if they can only awaken this entire nation — to a realization of the folly of racial injustice and hatred and violence, then it is not too late for all concerned to unite in steps toward peaceful progress before more lives are lost,” President John F. Kennedy said.
The victims buried, members turned to repairing damage that included cracks throughout the structure. Donors gave more than $300,000 to restore the church. Today, light from a memorial window donated by the people of Wales still casts a blue glow over the sanctuary’s upper balcony.
The repairs were long completed by the time the Rev. Arthur Price arrived as pastor 13 years ago. But memories were still fresh among members who were there the day the bomb went off.
“I think no one really gets over that,” says Price. “Every day you think about your friends. Every day you think about your loved ones. Every day you think about what happened in your place of security and sanctity.”
The church has become one of Alabama’s leading tourist attractions. Strangers often attend worship; some even show up at intimate Bible or prayer meetings like the one being held at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church when a young white man allegedly intent on harming blacks opened fire.
At 16th Street, even now, members remain a bit on edge.
“If someone comes in with a backpack and leaves a backpack, you know, eyebrows begin to raise,” Price says.
In Wisconsin, Kaleka recalls sitting with about 100 other congregants in a bowling alley across the street from the temple on the day of the shooting, waiting for police to confirm the names of the victims. The temple remained closed for weeks as police teams and congregants unrelated to those killed worked to remove the blood-soaked carpets and scrubbed stains from the walls. The assailant, a white supremacist, committed suicide immediately after the attack.
Framed photos of those killed were hung in the temple’s entryway soon after the shooting. But Kaleka said the temple’s trustees chose to take them down in 2013.
“They removed them because they felt like they gave too much of a feeling of what had happened and people wanted to move on,” Kaleka says. “But I think we have to build a foundation on the lives that were lost.”
One bullet remains lodged in the frame of the doorway entering the great hall, Kaleka says.
“We left that there, and it goes with our mantra — Snatam Kaur— we are one.”
Mourning was not enough for Kaleka. He joined with a former white supremacist, Arno Michaelis, to create Serve2Unite, a community group that works to counter violence with peace. They visit local schools, where Michaelis describes his former life of hate and Kaleka explains how that sort of hatred led to pointless bloodshed.
Soon, Kaleka hopes to take what he has learned to South Carolina, to talk with the families of those killed.
“That wound will never ever go away,” he says. “But what you can do is build around that wound. Because you always remember that it’s there.”
In Atlanta, the weeks after the 1958 bombing brought hundreds of envelopes filled with dollar bills and notes of concern from around the country, despite the congregation’s announcement that the building was fully insured.
“People just wanted to show they cared,” says Janice Rothschild Blumberg, whose husband, Jacob, served as rabbi of The Temple.
Their son, Bill Rothschild, says that the Charleston shooting reminded him of how comparatively lucky his congregation had been. Finding a way forward from such horror seems unimaginable, he says.
But Melissa Fay Green, whose book “The Temple Bombing” chronicled the Atlanta attack, says the role public support played in reassuring congregants then leaves her hopeful Charleston worshippers might eventually find comfort from those near and far.
“I do believe that in their grief that people will feel the country is grieving with them, that we respect you, we identify with you, we are part of you,” she says, “that this outrage has been committed against all of us.”
Associated Press writers Dana Ferguson in Madison, Wisconsin, Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, and Carrie Antlfinger in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
The World Health Organization bungled efforts to halt the spread of Ebola in West Africa, an internal report revealed Friday, as President Barack Obama named a trusted political adviser to take control of America’s frenzied response to the epidemic.
The stepped-up scrutiny of the international response came as U.S. officials rushed to cut off potential routes of infection from three cases in Texas, reaching a cruise ship in the Caribbean and multiple domestic airline flights. Republican lawmakers and the Obama administration debated the value of restricting travelers from entering the U.S. from countries where the outbreak began, without a resolution.
But with Secretary of State John Kerry renewing pleas for a “collective, global response” to a disease that has already killed more than 4,500 people in Africa, the WHO draft report pointed to serious errors by an agency designated as the international community’s leader in coordinating response to outbreaks of disease.
The document — a timeline of the outbreak — found that WHO, an arm of the United Nations, missed chances to prevent Ebola from spreading soon after it was first diagnosed in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea last spring, blaming factors including incompetent staff and a lack of information. Its own experts failed to grasp that traditional infectious disease containment methods wouldn’t work in a region with porous borders and broken health systems, the report found.
“Nearly everyone involved in the outbreak response failed to see some fairly plain writing on the wall,” WHO said in the report, obtained by The Associated Press. “A perfect storm was brewing, ready to burst open in full force.”
The agency’s own bureaucracy was part of the problem, the report found. It pointed out that the heads of its country offices in Africa are “politically motivated appointments” made by the WHO regional director for Africa, Dr. Luis Sambo, who does not answer to the agency’s chief in Geneva, Dr. Margaret Chan.
After WHO declared Ebola an international health emergency in August, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stepped in and had the United Nations take overall responsibility for fighting and eliminating the virus, among other things setting up an emergency response mission based in Ghana.
Dr. Peter Piot, the co-discoverer of the Ebola virus, agreed that WHO acted far too slowly.
“It’s the regional office in Africa that’s the front line,” said Piot, interviewed at his office in London. “And they didn’t do anything. That office is really not competent.”
WHO declined to comment on the document, which was not issued publicly, and said that Chan would be unavailable for an interview with the AP. She did tell Bloomberg News that she “was not fully informed of the evolution of the outbreak. We responded, but our response may not have matched the scale of the outbreak and the complexity of the outbreak.”
Meanwhile, Obama moved to step up the U.S. response to the disease, naming Ron Klain, a former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, as the administration’s point man on Ebola.
Klain is a longtime Democratic operative who also served as a top aide to Vice President Al Gore. He does not have any medical or public health expertise. But the White House said he would serve as “Ebola response coordinator,” suggesting his key role will be to synchronize the actions of many government agencies in combatting the disease.
“This is much broader than a medical response,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, citing Klain’s experience in the private as well as public sector and his relationships with Congress.
“All of that means he is the right person for the job, and the right person to make sure we are integrating the interagency response to this significant challenge,” he said.
Republican lawmakers continued pushing the administration Friday to consider restricting travel to the U.S. from the three Ebola-stricken West African countries. But despite Obama’s statement Thursday that he was not “philosophically opposed” to such a ban, Earnest affirmed the White House’s resistance to such a move.
Republican Mike Leavitt, a former health secretary under President George W. Bush, said Friday that he sees “lots of problems” with such a ban. While it may seem like a good idea, Bush administration officials who considered it to contain bird flu concluded that it would not work, while raising a host of difficult questions about who would be allowed to travel.
Other nations have taken steps to prevent travelers from the affected areas from crossing their borders. The Central American nation of Belize announced that it would immediately stop issuing visas to people from West African countries where Ebola had spread.
U.S. officials continued their efforts to contain the fallout from the nation’s first reported case of Ebola, Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian traveler who died last week at a Dallas hospital. To augment federal resources available in Dallas, the Obama administration said it was supporting or designating a White House liaison as well as a coordinator from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be stationed in the city.
Officials said they were working to remove a hospital worker — who had handled an Ebola lab specimen — from a Caribbean cruise ship, although she had gone 19 days without showing any sign of the infection. The Carnival Cruise Lines ship was headed back to its home port of Galveston, Texas, on Friday after failing to get clearance to dock in Cozumel, Mexico, and officials in Belize would not allow the woman to leave the ship.
The lab worker and her spouse were in isolation and she is “not deemed to be a risk to any guests or crew,” a cruise line spokeswoman said.
Doctors at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland said that a Dallas nurse, Nina Pham, brought there for Ebola treatment was very tired but resting comfortably Friday in fair condition.
“We fully intend to have this patient walk out of this hospital,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said.
Another nurse to contract Ebola, Amber Vinson, was being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Her uncle and family spokesman, Lawrence Vinson, said in a statement Thursday night that she was stable.
“She followed all of the protocols necessary when treating a patient in Dallas, and right now, she’s trusting in her doctors and nurses as she is now the patient,” he said.
His statement was released by Vinson’s alma mater, Kent State University, where three of her relatives work. The school said those employees, who have been asked to remain off campus for three weeks, work in administrative areas and have little contact with students.
Concerns persisted about people who might have been in contact with her during a recent trip between Texas and Ohio. Police said Vinson stayed at the home of her mother and stepfather in Tallmadge, northeast of Akron, and the home has been cordoned off with yellow tape. Eight individuals in northeast Ohio were under quarantine, health officials said.
Frontier Airlines said it would contact passengers on seven flights, including two that carried Vinson and others afterward that used the same plane.
Despite the stepped up attention to disease, though, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim warned Friday that officials in many countries were focused too much on their own borders.
“I still don’t think that the world has understood what the possible downside risk is not just to the west African economy but to the global economy. And we are still losing the battle,” he said.
Adam Geller reported from New York. Other AP writers who contributed to this story include Angela Charlton in Paris; Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Jessica Gresko, Lara Jakes and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington; David Dishneau in Frederick, Maryland; Ann Sanner in Columbus, Ohio; Michelle Chapman in New York; and Patrick Jones in Belize City.
Inside the long-awaited package, six pages of government paperwork dryly affirmed Carol Tapanila’s anxious request. But when Tapanila slipped the contents from the brown envelope, she saw there was something more.
“We the people….” declared the script inside her U.S. passport — now with four holes punched through it from cover to cover. Her departure from life as an American was stamped final on the same page: “Bearer Expatriated Self.”
With the envelope’s arrival, Tapanila, a native of upstate New York who has lived in Canada since 1969, joined a largely overlooked surge of Americans rejecting what is, to millions, a highly sought prize: U.S. citizenship. Last year, the U.S. government reported a record 2,999 people renounced citizenship or terminated permanent residency; most are widely assumed to be driven by a desire to avoid paying taxes on hidden wealth.
The reality, though, is more complicated. The government’s pursuit of tax evaders among Americans living abroad is indeed driving the jump in abandoned citizenship, experts say. But renouncers — whose ranks have swelled more than five-fold from a decade ago — often contradict the stereotype of the financial scoundrel. Many are from very ordinary economic circumstances.
Some call themselves “accidental Americans,” who recall little of life in the U.S., but long ago happened to be born in it. Others say they renounced because of politics, family or personal identity. Some say signing away citizenship was a huge relief. Others recall being sickened by the decision.
At the U.S. consulate in Geneva, “I talked to a man who explained to me that I could never, ever get my nationality back,” says Donna-Lane Nelson, whose Boston accent lingers though she’s lived in Switzerland 24 years. “It felt like a divorce. It felt like a death. I took the second oath and I left the consulate and I threw up.”
When Americans do hear about compatriots rejecting citizenship, it’s more often people keeping their U.S. citizenship and dropping that of another country.
Last year, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz acknowledged the Canadian citizenship he was born to, but said he would renounce it. In 2012, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, saying she was “100 percent committed to our United States Constitution,” announced she was giving up Swiss citizenship gained through marriage.
One of the few times rejected U.S. citizenship has gotten significant ink was Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin’s 2011 decision to turn in his American passport after moving to Singapore. Saverin likely avoided millions of dollars in taxes by doing so shortly before Facebook’s initial stock offering.
Other wealthy Americans also have relinquished U.S. citizenship. Denise Rich, the ex-wife of pardoned trader Marc Rich, expatriated in 2012 and lives in London. Last fall, singer Tina Turner, a resident of Switzerland since 1995, relinquished her U.S. passport.
But Saverin’s decision, in particular, hit a political nerve, along with scandals surrounding UBS and Credit Suisse, which were caught matching wealthy Americans with offshore accounts.
In recent years, federal officials have stepped up pursuit of potential tax evaders, using the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act which requires that Americans overseas report assets to the IRS or pay stiff penalties. Those trying to comply complain of costly fees for accountants and lawyers, having to report the income of non-American spouses, and decisions by some European banks to close accounts of U.S. citizens or deny them loans.
But some of those surrendering citizenship say their reasons are as much about life as about taxes, particularly since the U.S. government does not tax Americans abroad on their first $96,600 in yearly income.
Decisions to renounce “are driven by a whole range of emotional considerations. … You’ve got anger, you’ve got fear, you’ve got a strong sense of indignation,” said John Richardson, a Toronto lawyer who advises people on expatriation. “For many of these people, this is not a tax issue at all.”
Even some who acknowledge tax worries say decisions to renounce are far more complicated than a simple desire to avoid paying.
Peter Dunn, born in Chicago and raised in Alaska, moved to Canada to pursue a graduate degree in theology. He met his wife, Catherine, and they made Toronto home when her work as one of the owners of an aviation maintenance firm made her the breadwinner.
Dunn remained an American. But he was alarmed by a change in U.S. law requiring those with more than $2 million in assets to pay an exit tax if they gave up citizenship. He didn’t have $2 million. But his wife was doing well enough that he imagined one day they could get there. The idea of the U.S. government taxing his Canadian wife’s money didn’t seem right.
“When I learned about that, I decided that to protect my wife, I better expatriate,” he says.
Corine Mauch arrived at the same decision by a different route. Mauch was born a U.S. citizen to Swiss parents who were college students in Iowa. They lived in the U.S. until she was 5, then again for two more years before she turned 11. Mauch maintained dual citizenship even after she was elected to Zurich’s city council. But when she became mayor, she reconsidered.
During the last American presidential election, “I asked myself ‘Where do I feel at home?’ And the answer is clear: In Zurich and in Switzerland. My attachment to America is limited to my very early youth,” Mauch said. Double taxation was “not the crucial factor for my decision. But I will not miss the U.S. tax bureaucracy either.”
Taxes play little or no role in other decisions.
Norman Heinrichs-Gale’s parents were missionaries from Washington state who raised him in Asia and the Middle East. In 1986, he traveled to Austria with his American wife, and they found work at a conference center in an alpine valley town of 6,000. The jobs were supposed to last a year. But the couple stayed, sending their children to local schools.
On yearly trips to the U.S. he felt increasingly like a stranger. “I never forget going into a grocery store and just being stunned by my choice of cereals,” Heinrichs-Gale says. “I was stunned by just the pace of life compared to what we have here, stunned by the extremes of wealth and poverty that I encountered.”
There wasn’t one single thing that pushed him away. But his children wanted to attend Austrian colleges and he and his wife wanted to vote in the country they considered home. The family was tired of renewing visas and work permits. And so they signed documents giving up U.S. citizenship. Now, one of the last vestiges of American culture in their home is watching Seattle Seahawks games online.
Sports played the central role in Quincy Davis III’s decision. Davis, raised in Los Angeles and Mobile, Ala., played professional basketball in Europe after three years as Tulane University’s leading scorer. By 2011, he was home studying to become a firefighter when he was offered a spot on a Taiwanese pro squad. He’s since helped lead the Pure Youth Construction team to two championships.
When the team’s owner suggested last year that he join Taiwan’s national team, Davis says he found little motivation to keep his U.S. citizenship.
“When you think about who I am as a black guy in the U.S., I didn’t have opportunities,” he says. “You get discriminated against over there in the South. Here everyone is so nice. They invite you into their homes, they’re so hospitable. … There’s no crime, no guns. I can’t help but love this place.”
Many others cutting their U.S. ties say tax laws drive decisions that have nothing to do with secreting wealth.
“I wish I were wealthy,” said Nelson, who says she takes in about $50,000 a year from pensions and earnings from publishing an online journal covering credit union news.
Nelson has vivid memories of growing up in the U.S. Even after moving to Europe, she continued sending five to 10 emails a week to members of Congress, opposing the Iraq war and the Patriot Act. After 15 years, she acquired Swiss citizenship so she could vote. But she began considering expatriation only in 2010 after a banker told her that, because of new U.S. financial reporting laws, it was closing the accounts of many Americans and a mistake as minor as an overdraft could mean the same for hers.
“How would my clients pay me?” says Nelson, who is 71 and also an author of mystery novels. “Where does my Social Security get deposited? Where does my pension get deposited?”
The jump in renunciations reflects evolving views about national identity, said Nancy L. Green, an American professor at the L’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. When the U.S. got its start, citizenship was defined by “perpetual allegiance” — the British notion of nationality as a birthright that could never be changed.
American colonists rejected that to justify becoming citizens of a newly independent country. But changeable citizenship wasn’t widely embraced until the mass immigration of the late 1800s, says Green, a historian of migration and expatriation.
Even then, U.S. artists and writers who moved to Europe in the 1920s were criticized, suspected of trying to avoid taxes. Until the 1960s, U.S. citizenship remained a privilege the government could take away on certain grounds. It’s only since then that U.S. citizenship has come to be viewed as belonging to an individual, who could keep — or surrender it — by choice.
But Carol Tapanila’s life in Canada has tested that redefinition.
Six years after Tapanila’s husband lost his job at a Boeing factory in Washington state and they moved to Canada for work, the couple became citizens of their new country. She says U.S. consular officials told her that, by swearing allegiance to Canada, she might well have lost her American citizenship.
After retiring from a job as an administrative assistant at an oil company in Calgary, Tapanila began putting $125 a month into a special savings account for her developmentally disabled son, matched by the Canadian government. In her will, she authorized creation of a trust fund to draw on retirement savings and other assets to provide for her son, who is now 40, after her death.
Tapanila says she didn’t know she was required to file U.S. tax returns until 2007, when her daughter raised the subject. Her troubles were compounded by her decision to apply for a U.S. passport after a border officer told her she should have one. She has since spent $42,000 on fees for lawyers and accountants and paid about $2,000 in U.S. taxes, including on funds in her son’s disability savings account.
In 2012 she turned in the passport, renouncing U.S. citizenship to protect money saved for her retirement and her son. Tapanila, 70, has tried and failed to renounce U.S. citizenship on his behalf, saying officials told her such a decision must be made by the individual alone.
“You know, we are not rich people and we are not tax evaders and we are not traitors and I’m more than tired of being labeled that way,” Tapanila says.
“I’m sorry that I’ve given my son this burden and I can do nothing about it … I thought we had some rights to go wherever we wanted to go and some choices we could make in our lives. I thought that was democracy. Apparently, I’ve got it all wrong.”
AP writer Peter Enav in Taipei contributed to this report. Adam Geller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/adgeller .