4 Years Away

Will Forrest
8 min readDec 19, 2016

Like so many others, I had followed the 2016 presidential election of the United States with morbid curiosity and like a ghastly pileup on the interstate, it was impossible to ignore, even though deep down you knew you probably shouldn’t pay too much attention to it. Both parties were determined to nominate two staggeringly unlikeable human beings, and while this is usually the case every four years in American politics, one got the sense 2016 had reached a new milestone in presenting the voters (at least reasonable ones) with the most cretinous candidates available. I had assumed, however, Hillary Clinton would appear to be the lesser of two evils and would win the election handily. Almost every poll I found backed up this assertion. Donald Trump’s nomination seemed like the last dying gasp for a party headed the way of the dinosaurs, intended more for comedic and entertainment purposes than for actually trying to win.

Of course, as we all know, the world was turned upside down and the unthinkable happened, as the former reality TV star with a breathtakingly shallow understanding of policy and human decency was elected. I remember after first seeing the news I laughed, but upon reflection I realized it wasn’t because I was actually amused. It was one of those laughs that your brain forces out when seeing something so absurd and scary because it isn’t sure what the appropriate emotional response is. It simply felt better to take in the election with some humor and just treat it like a big joke so you wouldn’t have to worry about a possible brain aneurysm. Unfortunately, this joke was real and now endowed with the most powerful position any person can realistically possess in the modern world.

As reality set in over the next few days, I struggled with an overwhelming sense of foreboding and I began to feel sick and depressed. In my younger days and in college I had focused on history and political philosophy and I always had a macabre fascination in studying things such as the rise of authoritarianism, the failures of democracy, and Hitler’s Germany. Basically any subject that detailed the sometimes self-destructive and irrational nature of humanity and its relationship with government I found irresistible. It had been a few years since I had read a tome centered around the topic, but apparently all that seemingly-purposeless past learning that had been stored in the dusty, unused attic of my memory was being instinctively reactivated due to Trump’s election. The similarities were too striking to be easily dismissed. While I think it’s an exaggeration to proclaim without doubt that Trump is the next Hitler, Mao, or Stalin, I also believe it would be a mistake to try and bury your head in the sand and say it’s not possible here. Considering democracies have elected despots in the past and potentially have done so again, I think it’s fair to surmise in America today that the system could potentially be broken, especially when an alarming percentage of the electorate is unabashedly uninformed. I’m not the only one to make this connection and the signs of it are there, as many academics and pundits with more distinct learning than I’ve attained have pointed out. It is perfectly rational to be fearful in this uncertain environment and I don’t really want to be around if and when western society begins to fall apart.

Thus, we get to the crux of why I’m writing this in the first place. Even though I am a fairly wealthy white male and likely to benefit economically from a Republican-controlled government, I do not feel comfortable staying in this country. Speaking as a quasi-serious student of history, the economic and social circumstances that led to Trump’s rise to power, his own demagoguery and seeming lack of empathy, the inciting of racial and minority discrimination, and the xenophobia and brutish nature of some his staunch supporters set off a loud and ringing alarm bell for me — and should for you too. I honestly feel concerned for those who aren’t as privileged and spoiled as I am, and I feel a little guilty that I have the opportunity and a career which allows to me to make this decision freely, while so many others don’t have this ability — especially those who are likely to be affected much more negatively than I would be.

I hope that I’m overreacting to these potential dangers of a Trump presidency and it isn’t as malevolent as I anticipate.

I hope for the very best for those who can’t or don’t want to leave.

I wish I was as brave as those staying to fight tooth and nail to change the extremely frustrating political environment they’re likely going to encounter.

To be fair to myself, I don’t have much of an attachment to being an American in the first place. I’ll always love my friends and family here, and I do understand I’m lucky to have not been born in, say, North Korea. But I don’t have any emotional stirrings when the “Star Spangled Banner” is played. America is my home because I was born here, but as I’ve become an adult I find myself disagreeing more and more with its culture, history, and institutions. Regardless if Trump ends up doing irreversible damage to our democracy or not, it’s important to keep in mind that his very election is emblematic of the worst parts of American culture. By electing Trump, Americans have essentially said they value rampant greed, superficiality, confrontation, and selfishness. High ideals such as compassion, integrity, and international cooperation? Not important any more; all that matters is the bottom line here in America. However, it is a moral fact that human rights and dignity exist independent of what nation-state you belong to and this should not be ignored while America fattens its pockets at the behest of other nations, which is the grim reality behind a lot of this country’s history and perhaps the present yet again. We are all connected, globalism is the future, and the election of Trump is a step back toward the tribal, sordid, and shameful past of our country.

Even though it’s probably coming off as the opposite, I want to be clear that my motivation for leaving the country isn’t that I’m some whiny liberal who is completely insensitive to perspectives which don’t completely agree with my own. I have no allegiance to the Democratic party or liberalism in general and if I were forced to define my own political philosophy I would say I tend to lean on the libertarian end of things, but it varies on an issue-by-issue basis. If you voted for Trump and are somehow able to read (just kidding!) I do want to say that I’m not totally intolerant of your kind, but I also don’t understand how anyone can watch him speak for even five minutes and think “oh yeah, this is what a president should be like.” I suppose a Trump worldview makes a little more sense if you thought Clinton was somehow worse or if you thought the establishment needed drastic change. Indeed, the political system absolutely needs to be tinkered with and the professional politicians and lobbyists need to to feel some political backlash. Ultimately, I believe Trump is a sociopathic con artist solely focused on self-aggrandizement and is exactly the opposite of an agent for positive change, but that’s just my opinion and I could very well be wrong. There are a wide variety of possible outcomes. As a poker player, though, I have to weigh the percentages and make the best decision for me and that points me in the direction of leaving this country.

I’ve also longed to be purely nomadic again for a while now, and apparently it takes a apocalyptic political event for me to get motivated to shape my life in a more appealing way. Deep down, I know I was not meant to live in only one place, mildly enjoying only a small slice of life. I was meant to roam and adapt and have an ever-changing horizon. Before moving and semi-settling here in South Florida, I travelled the tournament poker circuit non-stop for a year and half, playing in Canada, Europe, and all over the United States. I loved that lifestyle — and would have loved to keep my life that way — but I ended up succumbing to an overwhelming desire to be a part of normal society again and ingratiate myself to a community. With Trump’s election, however, I’ve become sort of disillusioned with being a citizen of America and that craving for normalcy I once had seems, in retrospect, misguided. It’s time to leave and follow my true passion: learning about the world.

Things with my nomad life will be a little different this time. Poker will not be as big a focus, although I do plan to play online a good amount since I have to fund these adventures somehow. I want to get much more out of my comfort zone, be more extraverted and befriend interesting people, not just poker players. I want to immerse myself in culture, explore alternative lifestyles, and learn new languages. Most importantly, I want to write and give back something to the world. As a poker player, I’m used to making decisions that solely benefit myself: my purpose in my career is to extract as much money from my opponent as I can with no empathy involved. While I’ve never really felt guilty about this (and still don’t), I do feel like there’s an altruistic part of my personality that needs to be developed further. It’s not much, but I feel like if I can even slightly educate or inspire anyone through writing about my travels, politics, and philosophy, I’ll feel a little more fulfilled in my life. I’m not a bad or particularly selfish person, but if you look at it in a negative sense all I’ve really done with my life is to take money from people. I’d like to have more of a positive impact on the world besides the daily niceties.

That journey is the point of this blog. I plan to spend the next four years of my life away from America, experiencing the breadth of the world and its possibilities, further developing myself and my life philosophy, and resolving to find a way to make the world a better place. I don’t have a concrete plan. Ideally, I’d like to spend time in 50 countries as a juxtaposition to the 50 states of America, but I don’t know where the road will take me. Despite my previous disparaging of America, there is a chance I’ll give up and go home a huge hypocrite, desperate for the warm, comforting embrace of the familiar. I could have health issues, as I’m type 1 diabetic and it’s going to be an interesting challenge getting the medications I need. But, hopefully, I can achieve something and — if my home hasn’t been ground to nuclear dust — I look forward to coming back a more learned and worldly person, ready to participate in our polarized society in a more meaningful way.