The Man Without a Country

The Man Without a Country

Donald Trump was America’s first stateless president.

Residents of Palm Beach are not amused. There has long been speculation that Donald Trump intends to take up post-presidential residence at Mar-a-Lago, the waterfront club he owns in Florida. Neighbors now point to a 1993 deal whereby Trump, in return for permission to turn a private estate into a profit-making business, agreed that no club member would live on the premises for more than 21 days a year, or for more than seven consecutive days at a time. If the agreement is enforced, the former president may find himself shuttling forever among Trump Organization properties in the U.S., Scotland, Dubai, the Philippines, and elsewhere; perhaps even being put up from time to time in the settlement named for him on the Golan Heights. In the worst case, he might live like King Lear, serially testing the goodwill of his children.

The president’s predicament brings to mind the fate of Philip Nolan, the central character in one of the most popular American short stories ever written—a staple of school reading lists for a century, up until the 1960s, but now largely forgotten. “The Man Without a Country,” by Edward Everett Hale, was published in The Atlantic in the winter of 1863. It was a moment of national crisis: America was deep in civil war; Gettysburg had been fought that summer; soon after, Lincoln had given his famous address. Hale, a prominent Boston writer and minister—the grandnephew of the Revolutionary martyr Nathan Hale, and the nephew of Edward Everett, who gave the other speech at Gettysburg—conceived a patriotic tale to aid the Union cause.

In the story, the narrator has just received word of the death of Philip Nolan—“poor Nolan, as we all learned to call him”—an Army lieutenant and a decent man who, decades earlier, when Thomas Jefferson was president, had found himself caught up in some questionable business involving Aaron Burr. Upon being convicted by court-martial, Nolan had jumped up and cried, “D–n the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!”