President-elect Donald Trump hasn’t even been sworn in yet and he’s already the worst president in American history. He’s appointed multiple climate change deniers to his cabinet. He’s threatened to cut off federal funding to sanctuary cities like San Francisco. His secretary of education doesn’t believe in science. He attacks private citizens with late-night tweet storms.
Is it time to talk about California leaving the union?
California is squarely in the President-elect’s crosshairs after we voted 2-to-1 for Hillary Clinton over Trump. He will fight our efforts to combat climate change. He wants to repeal Obamacare, threatening the health coverage of 1.3 million Californians, and he has vowed to deport an undetermined number of our 2.4 million undocumented immigrants. His impending trade wars could decimate Silicon Valley’s supply chains, and his attorney general is ready to punish our fast-growing marijuana industry.
As the sixth-largest economy in the world, California would do just fine on its own. We have Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the best wine in the country, Lake Tahoe, Disneyland, the nation’s entire artichoke supply, Yosemite and Tom Hanks. The list goes on.
We pay the United States between $14 billion and $16 billion more per year in taxes than they give back to us. For scale, California’s 2016-17 state expenditures will be about $122 billion — the equivalent of approximately 12 percent of our state budget.
This is why a group of activists, the Yes California campaign, is gathering signatures to put an independence measure on the 2018 state ballot. They created their own political party, the California National Party, which is “dedicated to liberating California from a union that is no longer reflective of our values.” The campaign staged protests in Sacramento after the November election and has gained the support of public figures, such as state Assemblymember Evan Low and several big-name tech entrepreneurs.
Their proposed measure asks, “Should California become a free, sovereign, and independent country?” and it would delete the section of the state constitution that says California is an inseparable part of the United States. If approved, the state would hold a special election in the spring of 2019 for a vote on independence.
Even if it passes, that’s only half the battle: The rest of the U.S. will have to let us leave.
To say this is unlikely is an understatement. In 1860, 11 southern states declared their independence from the union, and we know how that turned out — 850,000 Americans died, and the effort failed.
There is no provision in the U.S. Constitution allowing for secession. In theory, California could propose a constitutional amendment, which would require two-thirds approval of both the House and Senate, along with the blessing of 38 states. Even with a GOP-controlled Congress and 25 Republican-controlled state houses, this just isn’t going to happen. Because why would they let Disneyland go? And Yosemite? And all the artichokes? It’s a nonstarter.
Would it make sense financially? The Golden State would certainly be poorer as an independent country, since the startup costs would be enormous. California would need to create its own system of government, with a new department of state, new embassies and treaties, new trade policies, our own currency and our own military. We would need to start our own Social Security from scratch.
And let’s be honest: If #Calexit happens, the country would be totally screwed without us. We will be abandoning the U.S. to permanent right-wing control, as our state is one of the most important strongholds against total GOP domination of the U.S. government. And I, for one, am very happy that our California congressional delegation, including Senator-elect Kamala Harris, is fighting for our values in Washington. I have family all over the country, and I love them too much to feed them to the elephants.
But here’s the most important reason why it’s a bad idea: California independence won’t make Trump a better president. It won’t reverse his terrifying stance on climate change. It won’t stop him from tweeting about immigrants and Rosie O’Donnell. And it won’t make anyone in California better off, because Trump’s shortcomings transcend international boundaries. We can do more good from within the union than outside it, providing a critical American counterweight to any Trump administration atrocities.
So let’s stick around, shall we? And be a thorn in his side every step of the way.
This is the first of many columns I’ll be writing about what the incoming administration is doing to affect California and what we can do to fight back. I hope you find it as interesting to read it as I do to write it.
Alix Rosenthal is a municipal attorney, nasty woman and former member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee. She mentors and trains women to run for political office.