Pushing California Adrift
By CRISTIAN ZARAGOZA | June 28, 2017
Although California remains very much intertwined with broader U.S. culture, recent events are provoking an increasingly adversarial relationship between the state and federal government. Increasing tension between the Golden State and the White House has prompted some to deem these differences as irreconcilable. Electoral outcomes, President Donald Trump and his administration’s interactions with foreign institutions, and discord over domestic policies depict a clash with Californian values.
Misaligned policies and values have spurred the most enraged to propose a 'Calexit' movement. The most recent, ardent support for increased California sovereignty was concentrated in the wake of President Trump’s electoral college win. Only a sparse 33.2 percent of Californians voted for the sitting president, while 61.5 percent for then Secretary Hillary Clinton. This outcome fueled the Calexit movements and its ideas to surge into mainstream political discourse. Not as impassioned and as historically driven as existing secessionist movements, like those in Catalonia or Scotland, the California secessionist movement relies on policy driven grievances that do not negate the region’s connection with the nation. The most prominent current California secessionist movement, Yes California, calls for a split on the basis of representation, taxation, the environment, and broader domestic policy. Although the organization does bring up substantial points, its leaders have betrayed Californians through tying the organization with the Kremlin. Nonetheless, there remains significant grievances that increasingly and legitimately alienate Californian values and stifles its voters’ voices.
California’s underrepresentation in the electoral college represents the most foundational grievance for the state’s qualms against the federal government. Although the state does have the most votes in the electoral college, the 55 votes given to represent 37,254,503 Californians is disproportionately low. Especially when compared to a smaller state like Wyoming, which has three electoral college votes for its 563,767. Dividing the electoral college votes per capita between states gives Wyoming voters a 3.6 to 1 advantage in access to representation. This disproportionate representation in the college stifles Californian voters and their voices. This is not an attack on the overall system of the college and its design to protect against mob rule, but the college should more proportionally reflect the voices and influence of California to solve this grievance. Of course, no single state ought to have the immense power to unilaterally sway an election, but no voter ought to be denied their equal say in the running of their government.
Domestically, California collides with the current administration’s stance on immigration policy. Under the Obama administration, Department of Homeland Security’s ICE deported a record 2.7 million undocumented immigrants. The deportations were intended to target and remove convicted criminals and deviant threats. Over 80% of deportees had criminal activity or repeated misdemeanors on their record.
This position is sound and as politically neutral as one can get in the immigration politics. This sort of policy accurately reflects the values of a state where diversity remains a hallmark of its identity. The state and its residents do not see their own neighbors as a threat to the community.
However, the current administration’s focus has drifted away from this neutral ground. Instead, it is pursuing a contentious position and actively detaining and deporting immigrants without criminal records. Through his January 25th executive order, President Trump the handed Department of Homeland Security a tool to expedite the deportation process by bypassing legal court proceedings.
Although it is too early to know the impact of the executive order and its consequential policy changes, it has created widespread anxiety in the immigrant community. With its own, often neglected history of anti-immigrant fervor, a more progressive California seeks to avoid replaying this history by again allowing the innocent among the immigrant community to fall under attack.
An April vote by the California state senate passed a bill that will protect integrated and law-abiding undocumented community members from removal. This signals the state’s lawmakers leaning towards a ‘sanctuary state’ status that replicates existing policies in cities throughout the state. This has spurred contention between the values of the state’s residents and the federal government. If the President continues to pursue such callous policies, he will further foster alienation between his administration and the residents of California.
In the international arena, California is taking steps to distance itself from the current administrations detrimental environmental policy decisions. On June 1st, Trump announced that he would remove the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, which was formalized and signed on by the U.S. in 2015. In doing so, the U.S. joins only Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries to completely reject the accord. All other of the world’s countries have at least partially agreed to the essentially non-binding pledge. Trump justifies the move as a fulfillment of his campaign promise to put America and her workers first. However, this move is only detrimental to Americans and the world. In leaving the accord, the U.S. loses its former legitimacy in its efforts to preserve the natural world. It is a spiteful move that through deregulation prioritizes the status quo of the current energy industry that pumps pollutants into our environment and population at an unconscionable rate. This position on the environment strongly conflicts with California’s values as a region that prides itself in its legacy of environmental stewardship and vision for a more sustainable, green future in the energy industry.
California and its leaders reject the administration’s regressive and immensely damaging position on addressing climate change. California joined former New York Mayor Bloomberg’s Climate Alliance that unites 143 American cities and 12 states in a movement to uphold and pursue the tenants of the accords. However, California is taking it a step further and seeking a leadership role in environmental politics and its associated industry. In an effort to remind the international arena of its leadership and progressive attitude on the environment, California is wielding its influence as the world’s 6th largest economy and the home to the world’s tech giants to create partnerships with foreign entities like China. On June 3rd, California’s Gov. Brown met with Chinese officials which included President Xi. In the meetings, Gov. Brown is creating trade relations between the two parties that will empower green technologies and its industry. This signals that for Californians, Trump’s America first policy contradicts and ignores the prospects of Californian’s economic and environmental future. Thus, California grows increasingly distant from the current administration’s policies and seeks to assert itself more individually in the international arena.
Although no disagreement listed is enough to warrant a legitimate and true split from the Union, the people of California do deserve to have their voices heard. A change to the electoral system must be made that more equally represents Californian voters. If no changes are made, electoral outcomes, like the election of Trump, will continue to produce policies that alienate Californians. These differences can still very much be reconciled, but they must be addressed. Ignoring them will only create more tension around the grievances and potentially stoke a more popular secessionist movement.