Achieving our Country (California Nation)

The days since the election have brought with them a torrent of self-criticism from the left, from the not so left, and from the never-was-left wings of the Democratic Party. Everybody accusing everybody else of the loss. The white working class was not given its due. There was too much attention paid to identity politics. Not enough attention was given to foreign policy concerns, or any concerns other than Trump’s vulgarity and panoply of hatreds. And on and on. In my humble opinion all of that is perhaps necessary venting but, ultimately, just so much noise.

The election posed a choice between two visions of what America is and/or could be. On the one hand was the claim that the more perfect union, which is presented as the very reason for the Constitution, is achieved by increasing and expanding the community of those who would receive the Blessings of Liberty, and be of those that the promotion of the general Welfare would impact. On this claim Justice is open to be claimed by all who reside in this country; domestic tranquility is a right of all; and the people who are being commonly defended are of every race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, immigration status, and ability. On this side of the argument, in broad terms, achieving our country means welcoming the stranger, caring for the resident, understanding that “citizens” are individuals who treat one another as bearers of the relevant kind of responsibility (as Jeffrey Stout has argued), and not only those who bear the relevant documents.

On the other hand was the claim that the protections and benefits of the US were to be narrow; that the more perfect union of the Constitution’s framers was to be limited to some randomly assigned group of folks who were here at a certain point in history (the undesignated object of “again”). The expansion of these benefits, protections, and opportunities to women, blacks, hispanics, Jews, other minorities has diluted America’s “greatness.” In order to achieve our country we must exclude those who are not white and Christian.

Fortunately, a majority of eligible voters (which does not include all citizens in the definition I used above), by approximately two million votes (as of today), embraced the expansive vision of America, and the expansive interpretation of the framers. Two million voters chose to continue to try to make sure that the “promissory note” of the unalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and Happiness was no longer returned marked “insufficient funds.”

Donald Trump and his narrow vision of this country won because of all the ways that our electoral system is undemocratic. While losing the popular vote by a larger margin than any candidate in recent memory, he gained razor thin margins in “battleground” states which gave him enough electors to frustrate the popular vote.

However, writing from America’s heartland, in Los Angeles, I can say that his vision for America is fading rapidly. The Coastal vision, which is America’s core vision, is far more vibrant, far more just, and looks like America’s future.

California is today the most liberal state in the country. All statewide offices are held by Democrats. Both chambers of the state legislature have comfortable Democratic majorities. We just elected our first Black and our first Indian Senator. As a state we just passed ballot propositions legislating criminal justice reform, extending taxes to support education and other public services. The city of Los Angeles passed bond measures (to be paid back by homeowners) to make serious progress in the fight against homelessness. We passed a sales tax to improve public transportation.

Yet, it was not always so. California used to be the cutting edge of conservative and racist politics. From the anti-Chinese laws in the nineteenth century, to the Concentration Camps at Manzanar where Japanese-Americans were relocated during WWII. The Zoot Suit riots in Los Angeles—a week of rioting by white sailors and soldiers targeting Mexican-Americans and then African-Americans while the authorities (the police and the army) didn’t intervene to protect the civilians.  Anaheim’s history of being a KKK stonghold, with the KKK having once held a majority on the city council. The racist history of the LAPD which surfaced during the Watts rebellion, the Ramparts police scandal, the Rodney King beating and subsequent unrest, Mark Fuhrman’s racist testimony during the OJ Simpson trial, and the ongoing killing of black and brown men and women.

More recently, California passed anti-immigrant laws, anti-gay marriage amendment to the State Constitution. California started the tax revolt in Prop 13 which cripples public education and many other state services to this day.

The past three decades, however, have seen a growth in organizing and progressive political advocacy. The California of Ronald Reagan is no longer. Los Angeles is the most diverse city in the world. Yet, here, where one might expect the backlash, where diversity is an everyday occurrence, actually intergroup and interfaith solidarity and amity are the more common way. While there are ongoing crises (police shootings of unarmed black and brown men, antiMuslim threats and hate crimes) the reactions are usually based in interracial and interfaith coalitions. In the wake of the election of Donald Trump, the mayors and city councils of Los Angeles and San Francisco pledged to be sanctuary cities. Perhaps more significantly given the above history, LAPD Chief Beck said that he would not have LA Police do the work of immigration police. The Governor and the State Legislature{} issued statements that they would not let a Trump administration roll back the rights of the residents of California.

This state of affairs, in which the most diverse state in the country is also the most liberal has led Robert Reich to crown California the capital of liberal America. It also provides economic benefit. As Reich points out, while California has “among the nation’s highest taxes, especially on the wealthy; toughest regulations, particularly when it comes to the environment; most ambitious healthcare system, that insures more than 12 million poor Californians, in partnership with Medicaid; and high wages… California leads the nation in the rate of economic growth — more than twice the national average.” California has the sixth largest economy in the world. Meanwhile Texas and Kansas which have exactly the opposite profile in terms of taxes and regulations (and in regards to Kansas, diversity. Kansas is 87% white.) are among the worst in the US in economic growth (Kansas is the worst).

Moving forward, we have to take into account that those of us who believe in expanding the vision of a more perfect union are winning the argument. When we fight for low wage workers in Los Angeles and San Francisco, we also fight for low wage workers in the rust belt. However, we don’t lose sight of the fact that justice is not just a living wage. It is also equal rights and opportunities for everybody. California has been the vanguard for many things in this country—some good and some bad. Now more than ever we have to be the vanguard of the righteous America that we have been working and struggling to achieve for the past several decades. We must continue to move forward, while we resist the Trumpians at our borders. We must call out to the rest of the country saying: this is the path of the righteous.

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