Viewpoints

Joe Mathews: Donald Trump is America’s problem, not California’s

Kern County residents Melody Jackson, 54, and her husband, James, 65, are strong supporters of Donald Trump.
Kern County residents Melody Jackson, 54, and her husband, James, 65, are strong supporters of Donald Trump. Los Angeles Times

Sorry, America, but we Californians are not going to stop Donald Trump for you. To believe otherwise is to misunderstand us.

I can see how you got your hopes up. Polls show at least three out of every four of us don’t like him. Republican strategists are working to prevent him from getting the delegates he needs in our June presidential primary to secure the party’s nomination. An immigrant group declared him “persona non grata,” while cities have discussed denying him permits for rallies because he incites crowds.

Trump stands against almost everything that our state now represents. Our culture is built on diversity and integration; he divides and race-baits. Mexico is our top export market; he slanders Mexicans. We’re devoted to science; he spews discredited nonsense about vaccines. Our industries – technology, entertainment – are built around trade; he wants to start a trade war.

So why aren’t we up in arms?

Because Californians have little time to be up in arms about anything. That’s especially true for politics, which takes place in a country, if not a planet, different from our own. It’s also pretty rich of Americans – who hold the most important presidential contests in tiny states and grant our big population only two senators – to expect Californians to save them.

In other words, Trump is your problem, America, not ours. As Gov. Jerry Brown joked recently: “If Trump were ever elected, we’d have to build a wall around California to defend ourselves from the rest of this country.”

Fortunately, a Trump presidency is still a long shot. More than 70 percent of us can’t do anything to stop him anyway. Only registered Republicans can vote in the GOP primary. And no matter how Californians vote in June, will Trump really go away? Isn’t he just another chronic condition, like diabetes, that we have to manage?

In other contexts, like public health, California knows how to stop small things; we’ll ban foie gras or plastic bags in the blink of an eye. But Trump is too big to fit our infrastructure of prohibition. Maybe he’ll set himself on fire, and we could throw our anti-smoking laws at him. Or maybe the California Environmental Quality Act could be twisted to stall his noxious campaign past the primary date.

Stopping Trump also bumps up against California’s historic tolerance of bad celebrity behavior and over-the-top hucksterism. Trump sells crummy casinos and bogus “university” classes, just as Hollywood sells formulaic sequels as must-see events. Our sales excesses compromise us when we get moralistic.

If we were serious about stopping Trump, we’d have already rallied Silicon Valley to the cause. These days, difficult California problems – taxes, cancer, etc. – are typically thrown in the lap of Sean Parker, the former Facebook president. And if Twitter’s rules against “behavior that harasses, intimidates or uses fear to silence another user’s voice” were seriously enforced, Trump’s account would have been suspended long ago.

Heck, if our fervently anti-Trump Legislature wanted to act, it could pass a law declaring that California businesses don’t have to serve hatemongers. Such a move would offer a rejoinder to states that permit discrimination against gays. Call it a reverse North Carolina.

But California isn’t serious about stopping Trump. And he would just use such opposition to portray himself as a victim. Which is why, as California enters the campaign spotlight, our best strategy may be to ignore Trump as best we can.

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

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