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PARIS—In the grim shade of France’s Monument to the Dead, 200 members of the Democratic Party here mustered to commemorate the Fourth of July with scorching speeches against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to abolish a woman’s right to an abortion back home.
“I’d call [Republican Supreme Court Justice Brett] Kavanaugh a cunt, but he lacks the warmth and depth,” American expatriate Sarah Humphries of Wisconsin proudly informs a cluster of perplexed French families out for a stroll.
America’s veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz says the Independence Day rally and rhetoric hosted by Democrats Abroad in front of a cenotaph on Place du Trocadéro wins the Grand Prix in cognitive expatriate dissonance.
“This is so unnecessary, and on a day that’s a celebration, not a commiseration,” Luntz says. “Whoever made the decision to stage a demonstration supporting a woman’s right to choose with a memorial to the dead as the visual backdrop was not thinking.”
That would be Danielle Follett, chairwoman of Democrats Abroad France, who defers all comment on the highly visible anomaly to Allison Isambert, who’s toting a placard that proclaims, “My Pussy My Choice.”
“The location doesn’t upset me in the least,” says Isambert, a dual-national citizen, Paris tour guide, and one of the U.S. government’s officially estimated 9 million American expatriates.
“Oh yes, we’re angry,” says Follett, who says she holds American, Canadian and French passports. “Women are going to die. Gathering at the Monument to the Dead is very appropriate.”
Democrats Abroad France communications director Amy Porter says the Supreme Court’s recent divisive decisions on healthcare, voting rights, environmental policy and gunfire have steeled both Democrat and Republican expats against twice-impeached former President Donald Trump’s prevailing MAGA mob.
Patricia Boudiak is one of the counterinsurgents. The dual-national French-American has lived abroad for 42 of her 67 years. “I don’t recognize America anymore,” Boudiak says at the Fourth of July picnic. The self-exiled New Yorker gets misty-eyed. “I shudder at the whispers of a second Civil War,” she adds, “but I sure feel more secure with a second passport.”
Azatuhi Ayrikyan says she isn’t so fortunate. “I arrived in America as a political refugee from Russia,” the 38-year-old expat in Paris explains. “I’m used to running away from civil wars. This time I have to stay and fight for the only passport I currently have.”
The looming Balkanization of America agonizes Follett. She’s expecting the 2022 midterm elections and the 2024 presidential race to be ruthless, with Republicans sabotaging voting rights, leaving her group powerless to counterattack with absentee ballots. As Follett tells it, the only weapon her foreign legion has is convincing the estimated 200,000 Americans in France eligible to vote to cast a ballot. “Only 7 percent of them did in 2020,” she says.
“We’ve had hundreds of newly surfaced expats over the past few weeks sign up to vote and volunteer to help us remove MAGA from power,” Porter adds hopefully. “I want to believe we’re experiencing a sea change in how all expats envision America.”
Yet critics grouse it’s policymaking as usual back in the U.S., where expats remain an amorphous constituency with zero political viability. Lumped together, the 9 million American citizens who live abroad would be sandwiched between Michigan and New Jersey as the 11th largest state by population. The widespread expat dream of Congress passing legislation that would allow the group to elect its own senators and representatives—which is how it works for French citizens abroad—remains an anathema beneath the Capitol dome.
“Not one Democrat or Republican senator or congressman gives a shit about American expats,” says a senior Democratic National Committee strategist in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he fears blowback from Democratic politicians. “America is coast-to-coast paved with elected officials suspicious and insolent towards any citizen who’s checked out of the U.S. They’re apprehensive about anyone who decided to leave America.”
The nearly 50-year veteran of Washington politics says the domestic base of both parties simply doesn’t trust an expat’s patriotism. “Supporting them won’t win you votes,” he explains.
Records indicate the climate was different when Americans first started to expatriate in the 1830s. The expats back then were eager to return home. Historian David McCullough says there was no reason for them to think otherwise. “They did not see themselves as refugees or self-imposed exiles from an unacceptable homeland,” McCullough says.
“It is a queer feeling to find oneself a foreigner,” New-York Mirror Paris correspondent Nathaniel Parker-Willis told his readers in an 1833 Fourth of July dispatch.
The environment changed around 1861, when the Civil War was raging on and the Union needed soldiers. Men who avoided the battlefield by going abroad were pejoratively baptized as “skedaddlers.” The press demonized the expats, and President Abraham Lincoln made every last one of them pay for it by introducing the first personal income tax.
The Revenue Acts of 1862 and 1864 slapped a 5 percent levy on income earned by “a citizen of the United States residing abroad.” Congress and the Internal Revenue Service continued to further monetize expats, giving the U.S. to this day the distinction of being the only developed nation in the world to tax citizens who neither live nor work in the country of their birth.
“Expats increase tax revenues,” the DNC strategist bluntly explains. “Congress will never cut off 160 years of guaranteed and criminally enforceable cash flow,” albeit the U.S. did vote in favor of a 2011 UN Security Council resolution that condemned the 3 percent income tax war-torn Eritrea imposed on citizens who fled their country’s dictatorial turmoil.
Although there are no hard numbers, Porter, a dual-national who’s lived in France for more than 30 years, believes a substantial number of Americans who expatriated during the Trump-Biden years are not going home. Moreover, the expat grapevine suggests a significant number of them are now actively seeking dual-nationality to fully avoid America’s MAGA mayhem.
Skedaddling remains a pricey endeavor. Shortly after 9/11, Congress obliged foreign banks under threat of prosecution to compare every expat monetary transaction against Homeland Security terrorist and fiscal crime watchlists, compelling American citizens abroad to file a costly and cumbersome annual accounting of their assets with the IRS.
“Trying to end Civil War tax laws has for decades supercharged both Democrats and Republicans overseas,” Porter says. “That changed for us the moment Trump was elected, and now, with these horrible Supreme Court decisions, reversing the decay of personal freedom in America is as significant as the tax issue.”
Abroad or at home, Follett says she won’t give up the ship. “I can’t say if I’ll ever move back to America,” she muses to the sound of Independence Day revelers munching on BBQ ribs and pulled pork sliders beneath red, white and blue bunting. “But I am American. It’s in our blood to fight for what’s right. Wherever.”