Saturday’s extraordinary protest marches notwithstanding, California greets President Donald Trump with a fresh eye and high hopes that he will soon earn the benefit of the doubt.
But it’s not for nothing that Golden State Democrats have spent the past three months girding for chaos.
We extended health insurance to millions under the Affordable Care Act. Trump and the Republican Congress have vowed to dismantle it and replace it with – well, they haven’t yet said what.
We are the sixth largest player in the global economy. Trump has vowed to end the North American Free Trade Agreement and bashed China and Mexico, major trading partners.
Immigrant labor and diversity are woven into our cultural and economic fabric, from the fields of the Central Valley to the startups of Silicon Valley. Thirty percent of our workers are immigrants; an estimated 1 in 10 is undocumented.
Trump ran on a promise to wall off the Mexican border, and reiterated his intent in his “buy American, hire American” inaugural address. His aides have said Americans can expect revived workplace raids and dramatically lowered thresholds for detaining and deporting the undocumented – approaches that worsen crime, sow division and tear families apart, as California learned the hard way years ago.
Scientists view global warming as an existential and man-made threat. Our policy reflects that. Trump has called it a Chinese hoax, and stacked his Cabinet picks with fossil fuel industry executives and their allies. His team didn’t wait for him to finish his inaugural address before posting a call for lighter restrictions on greenhouse gases on the White House website.
In many areas, including abortion rights, gun control, civil rights, marijuana legalization and labor standards, the administration’s views appear to be at odds with California’s. Only with the state’s rural interests, a big part of the 31.6 percent Trump vote here, does there appear to be immediate hope for common ground.
Californians can hope that Republicans such as Reps. Jeff Denham, Devin Nunes, a Trump transition team member, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, all from the Central Valley, will intercede for the state that sent them to Congress. They must know how unwise it would be to ease air pollution standards and crack down on immigrant labor.
They should remind Trump – and their caucus – that a quarter of the nation’s food comes out of California. Virtually all of the state’s farmworkers are immigrants, and roughly half are estimated to be undocumented.
One Californian in 3 is on Medi-Cal, largely because of the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, and the proportions are far higher in rural areas. The agricultural swath from San Joaquin to Kern counties has 400,000 people who, thanks to Obamacare, are insured.
Whatever their obligations to their party, California Republicans such as McCarthy, Denham and Nunes have a duty to advocate for Californians. Otherwise, California may have to familiarize itself with a new battle cry: states’ rights.
Leaders here have laid some groundwork. Thanks to Gov. Jerry Brown’s forward thinking, California’s financial house has at least a semblance of order. We have the benefit of long Washington experience in incoming state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, whom Brown tapped. And Brown has made it clear that sub-national climate deals he has cut, such as in China, aren’t going to fall prey to Trump’s bluster.
Thanks to Democratic leadership in the Legislature, the state will have former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s law firm as backup. That legal help will count if Trump seeks to roll back environmental, health and civil rights.
Already there are signs that Trump plans to open federal land here to drilling. And his choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has hinted he’ll end California’s long-standing authority to set its own auto emissions standards. Those tailpipe restrictions have been making air cleaner here for 50 years.
California could end up being to Trump what Texas was to Obama, suing the federal government more than 40 times during the last administration. Fine, but we should be judicious about courting trouble.
When possible, we must enlist other states to stand with us. We understand, for example, that Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, opposes marijuana legalization. This editorial board opposed the legalization initiative, Proposition 64.
But legalization is a reality here and in 25 other states, in one form or another. The new administration should open the way for serious study of it, and alter bank laws to allow proceeds to be deposited. If they don’t, California shouldn’t fight that battle alone.
Meanwhile, our tone should remain calm. And our minds should stay open. The president has promised infrastructure; that’s critical in this state. He has promised to empower rural Americans. Inland California could use such empowerment.
And Trump critics here should ask themselves how much chest thumping makes strategic sense over the long term. Saturday’s marches, which drew staggering crowds in cities throughout the state and around the planet, were democracy at its best, and sent an unmistakeable message. And we understand the need to reassure those who feel fear.
But too many red lines, and California will start to look like a bulls-eye. Better to be shunned and left to go about our business than to be targeted.
We are a big state, too big to fail without taking the nation down with us. And we are exceptional, as the saying goes.
But it’s time to be smart and pick our shots. Here in the fortress, it could be a very long four years.