California Forum

From now on, USA, it’s California first

Protesters in San Francisco rally in January against President Donald Trump’s move to tighten the nation’s immigration controls.
Protesters in San Francisco rally in January against President Donald Trump’s move to tighten the nation’s immigration controls. AP

Dear America,

I suppose I should wish you happy birthday. But I’m just not feeling it.

You and I, the United States and California, used to be close – “indivisible” was your word and “inseparable” was mine. Sure, we had differences – I’ve always been a little out there – but California was proudly part of America, and you tolerated our excesses for our mutual glory.

Everyone is entitled to a mid-life crisis. But you are having an especially nasty meltdown. You’ve turned against everything you used to love: immigrants, trade, international alliances, voting rights, women’s rights, science, national parks, and treating people with respect.

But today, I look at you and feel like I’m an entirely different place, with different values, even different realities. Who is responsible for our problems?

It’s really not me. It’s you. While I’m the almond-producing state, you’re the one that has gone nuts.

Everyone is entitled to a mid-life crisis, even 18th-century republics. But you are having an especially nasty meltdown. You’ve turned against everything you used to love: immigrants, trade, international alliances, voting rights, women’s rights, science, national parks, and treating people with respect.

These days, you’re constantly freaking out. And the government you installed in Washington – a government my voters opposed by historic margins – is trying to take away people’s health care, make it harder to vote, roll back environmental regulations, restart the failed drug war, and pick fights with our friends, like Mexico, Canada, Germany, Sweden, and South Korea.

Your crazy nonsense is pretty bad. Even worse is the way you keep trying to justify your crack-up as just a natural reaction to what you say is my awfulness. In your narrative, I’m too coastal, too elite, too rich, too educated, too Hollywood, too tech, too globalist, too uninterested in the pain of the rest of the country, and thus too out of touch with you. And so you’ve had to go stone-cold crazy to get my attention.

That thesis of yours is – how do I put this? – exactly what the cows drop in Tulare pastures after a good feed.

I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but my people and I know the pain of poverty (I have the nation’s highest rate), economic dislocation (just look back at my 1990s recession and 2000s housing crisis), and drug abuse (the opioid crisis is here, thanks).

So the fact that you keep projecting your outrageous behavior onto me tells me that you’ve taken leave of your senses. I’m also worried that you’re going get me nuked by North Korea.

Going forward, our relationship can’t be the same.

Now, I’m not going to march out the door and become my own country, like the #Calexit movement proposed. You are still my country, and I’m not surrendering you.

But I do need to put some distance and boundaries between you and me.

This spring, a small group of Californians filed a ballot initiative that might give me some space. The initiative, called “California’s Future: A Path to Independence,” has a separatist bent – it takes “inseparable” out of the California constitution’s line about California being part of the U.S. But it’s agnostic on the idea of California leaving the Union.

“America, whatever” is its attitude; “California first,” is its policy. The initiative sets up a commission empowered to expand California’s autonomy while “buffering Californians… against chaos, dysfunction, and uncertainty at the federal level.”

“California [must] take stock of the leverage it has over the United States, and to use this leverage to negotiate for ever-greater autonomy,” the measure says. For example, my people should seek changes to budgeting policy so that I’m not paying more in taxes than I’m getting back in services, or subsidizing your constant wars.

My people are just as American as yours. On July 4, I’ll still host barbecues and parades for tens of millions of your citizens. Back east of the Sierra, I hope your fireworks are bigger than ever, and that your people will stand extra close.

Maybe all the explosions will wake you the hell up.

Independently yours,

California

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square. He can be contacted at joe@zocalopublicsquare.org.

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