I have sometimes wondered how Edward Everett Hale’s mental map would have changed if he were writing his story today. He might well decide to make it a parable not about renouncing country but about embracing statelessness. I don’t mean forcible statelessness—when people are driven from their homeland. Those refugees would like nothing better than to have a state to call their own. Rather, Hale today might cast his eye on the voluntary statelessness of the affluent—of people who enjoy the benefits of one or more nation-states but give support and allegiance to none. For them, statelessness is a lifestyle option.
Read: The rise of the global elite
As analysts have documented, the globalized opt-out class is a large and expanding group. If they have territoriality, it is the Premier Club lounges at airports. The wealth they possess is sheltered “offshore.” They are bound to one another by mystic cords of tablet and smartphone. Their pedigree is mix-’n’-match international—maybe Hong Kong, Dragon School, Harvard, Blackstone—and their indigenous culture is the high-end eclecticism of FT Weekend. They qualify for Global Entry, which they need when moving from house to house. They buy nationalities and passports as flags of convenience. They are people without a country, and happy with their lot.
In his own way, Donald Trump is a member of this stateless class—not in terms of personal taste and private behavior, which would repel many other members, but in terms of outlook and consequence. He is American by birth, yet has paid more in taxes to other countries than he has to the U.S. Treasury (and not very much anywhere). His concept of America is empty of values, history, and law. In his lifetime he has committed himself to no public or private institution, no church, no party, no school; nor to any person as a friend, or to any idea as a conviction. His business ambitions preclude nothing and no one. No patch of earth is held to be sacred; geography is a figure of speech. While registering to vote in Florida, he sought to keep Washington, D.C., as his permanent address. He is incurious about what happens in his own land. Pandemic deaths in America do not interest him, much less move him. To give your life for your country is unimaginable: “What was in it for them?” he reportedly asked, among the soldiers’ graves at Arlington National Cemetery.
Two centuries ago, Philip Nolan’s judge had to go to great lengths to mete out a punishment of statelessness: condemning the defendant to live aboard a sailing ship, beyond sight of land, for the rest of his life. Today, statelessness can be achieved without moving an inch. Donald Trump, when he took his seat behind the Resolute Desk, became our first stateless president. A postpresidency spent touring his global properties would be a logical next step.
And unlike Philip Nolan, he will lash out. In “The Man Without a Country,” poor Nolan gives Danforth his Bible and asks him to open it after his death. On a scrap of paper, Danforth finds what Nolan hopes to have carved on a simple stone as his epitaph: “He loved his country as no other man has loved her; but no man deserved less at her hands.”