Many have threatened it, but Gary Belis is doing it. The 64 year-old New Yorker is leaving the country now that Donald Trump is president.
At the very moment Trump raises his hand to be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, Belis will be international air space, on a one-way ticket to New Zealand to start a new chapter in his life. Unlike snowy New York, it will be summer in New Zealand, but Belis said he chose his destination for its location alone.
“It is as far away as I can get from Donald Trump,” he said. His departure date of January 19th, the day before the inauguration, wasn’t a coincidence, either. “I do not want to be here for one minute of his presidency.” After Belis’ flight crosses the International Date Line, he will land in New Zealand on Saturday, January 21st. “I literally will have erased January 20th from my life.”
In a way, Belis’ carefully choreographed ex-pat journey began nearly 30 years ago, when he wrote a review of Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal, for Fortune Magazine when he worked as a publicist there. Trump fired off a letter to the magazine describing Belis’ “stupidity” and “deep seated prejudice” in great detail. Trump demanded that Belis’ be fired, which he wasn’t, and said the magazine’s slim size that month could only be the result of a terrible publicist.
“The letter has been on my wall for 30 years, it is a badge of honor,” Belis said.
Belis, who is a Democrat and Hillary Clinton supporter, said the Trump that campaigned for president in 2016 was the same man who wrote that letter — thin-skinned, vindictive, and eerily in tune with about half of America.
In September of 2016, as Belis prepared to go to North Carolina to volunteer for the Democrats, he added an escape clause into a lease for a summer rental in 2017. “There’s just one last thing," he told his realtor. "If Donald Trump is elected president, then this contract is null and void and I get my deposit back.” Belis said he and his realtor had a good laugh, but the escape clause was added and he exercised it shortly after Election Day.
“There is something going on in the American political system that I find repugnant and I’m not sure I want to stick around to see how much further it goes,” he said.
Belis wasn’t the only American apparently interested in leaving the country after Trump’s victory. On Election Night, Google searches in the United State spiked for “move to Canada,” “move to Australia,” and “move to New Zealand.” The Canadian immigration website crashed as incoming traffic overwhelmed it.
Rob Calabrese, in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, said he was flooded with inquiries from the U.S. after he launched the CBIfDonaldTrumpWins.com website to encourage Americans to head North to the small island if Trump won the election. “Of the people who choose to give me a reason for asking, a lot of people site Donald Trump specifically,” Calabrese said. “Or else the general direction the country is going in.”
Calabrese said he wasn’t aware of any Americans moving to Cape Breton since the election, but he mostly chalked that up to Canada’s immigration requirements, which he called “arduous.” He added that the island has “tremendous opportunities” for anyone who goes there, though.
Like Calabrese, Cleveland realtor Al Stesek used the election anxiety to market his services. He bought a billboard by the highway that said, “Leaving the country if Trump or Hillary wins? We’ll get your house sold!” Stesek said he hasn’t heard of anyone really leaving the country, either, but he calls the billboard “a home run smash hit” after having his best year on record.
“It was worth every penny and then some,” he said. “And I’m going to give all the credit to Trump, since he is a real estate broker.”
For the one guy who really did leave the country, Gary Belis said the response from most of his friends has be “Gee I wish I could do it, too,” he said.
For now, his only plans include a cruise, which he describes as a “tasting menu,” and at least six months of seeing where the south wind takes him. “By then, I will either have done my sulking and say it’s time to come back and join the fight, or it will be like Casablanca,” he said. “Just like Humphrey Bogart, I’m kind of disillusioned.” He’s purchased the domain “GaryInExile.com” just in case he stays a while.
Ironically, the one thing that could bring Belis back to the states sooner rather than later is Medicare, which does not apply outside of the U.S., but apparently does apply in nearby American Samoa. Luckily for Belis, though, Trump has promised not to touch Medicare in his presidency.
Just like the rest of us, Belis can’t predict how Trump’s first 100 days will go.
“I'll be interested in reading about it from the others side of the world.” But the one thing that won’t change is his citizenship. “I'll be an ex-pat,” he said. “But I was born an American and will die an American.”