If California was a country, it would be the fifth largest economy in the world. It is the global hub for both entertainment and technology, while also providing a majority of the nation’s people food (as opposed to corn for cattle)—a third of all vegetables, and two-thirds of all fruits and nuts. Oh, and the wine is pretty good too.
It’s also at the forefront of our nation’s demographic transformation, and is aggressively enacting progressive legislation. Naturally, that pits it directly against impeached president Donald Trump and everything his party stands for. Indeed, California has effectively cancelled the state’s GOP, and registered Republicans are almost half that of registered Democrats—around 23%. The state’s U.S. House delegation is 45-6 (with no gerrymandering goosing the numbers). The California Assembly is 61-18 Democratic. The state Senate is 29-10 Democratic. Now, fed up with Trump’s national incompetence, California Gov. Gavin Newsom basically declared independence, announcing it would go its own way on responding to COVID-19.
Yet that Democratic dominance in-state projects poorly on the national scale. Both chambers of Congress are heavily weighed to favor rural, white, and conservative interests. California has two senators. So does Wyoming. You know what has more people than Wyoming? Well, 116 counties. Sixteen of them in California.
States representing just 17% of the population can elect 50 senators and the majority—all because of random borders on a map. (This is also why the filibuster makes it impossible to enact any progressive agenda and must be eliminated.) Those are all rural, white, unrepresentative states, yet the system props up this (justifiably) dying slice of America.
Despite the Democratic majority in the House, the chamber is heavily gerrymandered by Republicans, giving them far more power than they would be entitled to in a fully representative body. And, thanks to the Electoral College, a vote for president in Wyoming is worth more than a vote for president in California. So much for “one person, one vote.”
The nation has eroded California and its citizens of its rightful political power, yet California is a key driver of the nation’s economy. And it is California’s commitment to diversity, entrepreneurship, environmental stewardship, education, and other key progressive priorities that have catapulted the state among the global economic elite.
California has a larger economy than that of India, the United Kingdom, and France. It’s not too far behind Germany for that number four spot.
So it was probably long overdue when California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on MSNBC that California was a “nation state” that would bypass the nonfunctional federal response to procure protective equipment for itself, and then “export” what it could to other states that needed it.
In a way, Newsom put California in charge of the federal response. Sure, it would look out for itself first, but with an eye to helping out the state’s neighbors in need. And given the success California has had in combatting COVID-19 (knocking furiously on wood), that might happen sooner, rather than later.
Indeed, while California has 20,000 cases and has suffered nearly 600 dead during the pandemic, those numbers are shockingly good given that California is 12% of the nation’s population. Second-place Texas is half its size. On a per capita basis, California is 29th in cases, and more objectively, since it doesn’t depend on the uneven scale of testing amongst the states, it ranks 31st in deaths—despite being an early hotspot, hosting the second most-dense city in the country (San Francisco), as well as being home to three of the 10 largest cities in the country (none of which are San Francisco).
It’s way too early to declare victory, even though California was the first to shut down. (The SF Bay Area shut down even before that!) But it has proven that leaning on science, medical experts, and trusting non-conservative media can literally save lives. Competent progressive governance matters.
Trump has been chaffing at California’s independence for years, trying to undermine everything from its ability to set its own fuel efficiency standards for cars, to its sanctuary state status for immigrants, to its robust marijuana economy, to its law requiring all presidential candidates to release their tax returns. For its part, California has returned the favor, suing the federal government at least 62 times.
Yet despite those efforts, expect California to carve out more exceptions for itself, like with the fuel efficiency standards. Its economic might and reach is just too strong. For example, laws protecting gig workers (and needlessly and recklessly harming freelancers) have become a national model. The state’s new internet privacy law is a de facto national law, given the concentration of internet behemoths based in California.
My personal dream? Stop waiting on Washington to deliver single-payer healthcare. California can lead the way. It is the fifth largest economy, after all! We could call it Blue Care, and once established in-state, it could open its doors to other states. Washington, Oregon, Hawaii would be the second wave. Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, New Jersey, and New England wouldn’t be far behind.
Combined, that would approach 130 million Americans, or about 40% of the entire population of the United States. Instead of letting Wyoming block better health care for all Americans, let California use its market heft to create an alternative, and show the rest of the country how it is done.
If people want to keep voting for their junk insurance plans in Nebraska, so be it. But nothing will move the needle in a Senate heavily tilted in favor of hostile, old, rural conservatives, like having California lead its own healthcare revolution.
Yes, it’s a fantasy. No, I don’t know of any efforts to make it a reality. But why not?
Newsom is right. California is a city state, with the economic heft, all on its own, of a global super power. The state is taking control of its own pandemic supplies. Kissing up to Trump gets you nowhere. He is an incompetent buffoon, and has broken the federal government. Even if it wanted to help, it cannot.
And even deeper than that, the national Republican Party is so hell-bent on subverting democracy for its ends, that heightened resistance might suddenly be in the cards. “One conflict, however, encompasses all others, and could galvanize Californians into new ways of thinking about their state and its relationship to Washington,” wrote Francis Wilkinson in this must-read Bloomberg piece. “The GOP war on democracy is inspired by a drive for racial and cultural supremacy that jeopardizes the democratic aspirations and human rights of California’s multiracial citizenry.”
Call this an opening salvo, or maybe a warning shot. Trump and the GOP won’t heed it, of course. But it’ll be fair warning, before California (and other blue-state allies) go on the offensive.