Some Say U.S. No Longer Feels Like Home


Nov. 10, 2004 -- -- Leora Dowling and her husband thought returning from deep in "red" America to her native New England would make them feel more comfortable, more like the people around them shared their values. Since the election, she's been contemplating another move. To Italy.

"After the election, my husband and I asked ourselves, 'How could our country be heading backward? How could so many people miss or choose to ignore the obvious failures of the Bush administration?'" the former Florida resident said.

President Bush pledged that one priority for his second term would be to heal the wounds that a bitter election -- in which groups not formally connected to each candidate ran attack ads focused on character, not issues -- seems to have opened for many Americans.

Dowling, a college professor who lives with her husband in Vermont, is not alone in feeling that the wounds cannot be healed, or at least that Bush is not the man to do it.

For Dowling, as for others who spoke with, though the immediate anger may be focused on the president -- whether because of the war in Iraq, his stance on same-sex weddings, what they say is his blurring of the line between church and state, or his championing of the Patriot Act -- there is a broader concern. They say they feel the United States is changing in ways they do not like, and they feel powerless to stop it.

"We were leaving anyhow, mostly because we want to start a family and we don't feel our children can get a decent education in the United States," said Brian Sinicki, of Laramie, Wyo.

He said America's schools fail children by not teaching subjects like philosophy and civics, subjects that he said would give Americans not only a deeper understanding of the world, but an appreciation for why they should be more actively involved in the political process, not only voting but staying informed.

He also criticized the media, and television in particular, for the way news is covered.

"Television I think has single-handedly destroyed the level of political discourse," he said. "When I talk to people about politics, they're either radically misinformed or they wouldn't know how to define the terms that they use."

Sinicki, who has been job hunting in his wife's native France, doesn't blame Bush for what he believes is happening in America, but he doesn't believe Bush will change things for the better, either.

"All these things were going on before Bush got elected," he said. "But I also think they got worse since Bush got elected. He's a symptom of the problem and he's making it worse."

Like Sinicki, Dowling didn't start thinking about moving abroad last week, but she said her concern was more about the role Bush's religious beliefs seem to play in his governing, and the role of religion in American society -- what she called "aggressive Christianity."

"There is this aggressive morality that seems to me to have nothing to do with Christianity," she said. "Our fathers were mostly Unitarians, not at all holy rollers."

She also said it feels like there has been a closing of the American mind.

"I can't understand when in our nation's history being an intellectual, having a questioning, curious mind, wanting to travel, became bad," she said. "I don't understand when it became stigmatized."

She said Italy appeals to her because it is a country that holds secular values, with a "mind your own business" attitude to religion and an acceptance of the fallibility of its government.

"I do love my country and it hurts me very deeply to see what's happening here, to see us so far off course," she said. "But I've met a lot of evangelicals and they believe it deeply. They'd rather vote for fetuses and against gay people, rather than voting against war, with thousands dead, against guns, which we know kill people. When you're talking about deeply held religious beliefs, you're out of luck."

While for some people who said they are investigating the possibility of leaving the country, the difficulty of finding work overseas could keep them in the United States, for those who operate Web-based businesses, that is not a problem.

One such person, Kelly Ann Thomas of Houston, said she has put her house on the market and a real estate agent has been showing her properties in a Central American country. She said she did not want to say exactly where, because her agent told her he received 45 calls in one day from Americans looking to move to the same location.

She has been concerned since Bush took office in 2001, she said. She started buying gold and investing in euros, because she and her husband were worried about a "significant stock market collapse."

Much of her anger at the president is related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which she believes were being planned by the administration months before Sept. 11, 2001. But her opinion of former Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry isn't much better.

"I can no longer in good conscience support a nation that believes it is OK to lie to start wars," she said. "I will not live in a country where dumb and dumber are my two choices for president. I'm taking my assets out of the country and moving to Central America, where ironically, I will have more freedom to live my life without interference from a corrupt government. My husband and I will leave within four months."

For Cindy Sproul, though, leaving the country -- if she does go -- will be a business decision, though one that is based on politics. Or it could become a matter of life or death.

She operates an Internet business,, a gay and lesbian wedding registry and directory of gay-friendly professionals.

The business has been successful -- she said the site has 4,700 vendors advertising there, and most of the businesses are not owned by straight people -- but a combination of factors has made her feel unwelcome in her own country.

"With the ban on gay marriage passing in so many states and the conservative agenda President Bush is taking, it doesn't feel safe in the U.S. any more," she said. "We are expecting that next year Bush will try to push the Federal Marriage Amendment Act through Congress again."

Actually, she said she has been worried about safety since receiving her first death threat, two weeks after starting the company. The threats have not stopped coming, she said, though she relocated to another city, and then had to relocate again within the new city.

She said her Web site already does a lot of business with Canadians and Canadian companies, and she feels Canada is more tolerant than the United States right now. But she said her decision will be made on business terms.

"We're small business owners, so everything relies on the business aspects," she said.