Calexit started trending as a hashtag election night: unhappy Californians pushing the idea of seceding from the union. Donald Trump’s victory was fueled in large part by the frustration and resentment of voters in the “flyover” states, folks who feel like they aren’t participating in the prosperity of booming coastal states. They wanted to take back their country from a candidate who put them in a “basket of deplorables.” In Ohio and Michigan, voters think Californians and New Yorkers look down on them, so they stuck it to the liberal elites. Now those elites, West Coast division, are talking about taking their ball and going home.
Let’s inject some political reality into the Calexit meme-fest. Amending the Constitution — the minimum step required for a state to secede — is a tough trick. Getting a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate, as well as ratification by 38 states, will never happen.
Democrats would oppose it. California is so deep blue now that it contributed nearly 3 million votes toward Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory in the popular vote. Our state sends 39 Democrats and only 14 Republicans to Congress, along with two Democratic senators. If we create a new Bear Republic, Democrats will become the permanent minority party in the Remaining States of America. You think our political allies on the East Coast want that?
Even our political adversaries might oppose it. California contributes a lot of money to the national treasury. According to the most recent figures from the California Institute for Federal Policy Research, for every tax dollar Californians pay into the federal budget, we get back 79 cents in spending. I don’t think the red states would let America’s piggy bank waddle away without a fight.
Speaking of fights, is secession really the best idea for a state that just passed some of the strictest gun-control laws in the nation? Ever notice how many people in Arizona and Nevada are packing? Civil wars tend to follow secessions, and I don’t like our chances.
I know, I know, Calexit isn’t exactly a serious political proposal, it’s a symbol of alienation and horror at Trump’s election. But the answer to a divisive politician is not creating more division. It isn’t moving away from our fellow Americans.
After all, more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. That doesn’t make his election illegitimate — he won by the clear rules of the game — but it’s a reminder that most of the nation shares our values and will be allies in the long, hard policy battles to come. These will be far more challenging than tweeting to a hashtag, but they may actually change things for the better.
So when the street protests die down and #Calexit goes the way of #YOLO, I suggest Californians study the tea party.
That movement began when one party, the Democrats, captured the presidency, the House and the Senate. It started as a ferocious grassroots reaction against the (very laudable) Obamacare proposal. Unlike the Occupy movement, which so disdained traditional politics that it faded into a historical footnote, tea partiers recruited candidates, set up local chapters and turned out enough voters to retake the House in 2010. When this didn’t deliver immediate policy results, the tea party stayed in the game. Moderating and working with the GOP establishment, they helped take back the Senate in 2014 and now control the dominant faction in the House. With Trump’s narrow win, they are poised to fulfill their essential goal of overturning the Affordable Care Act.
Though dismantling the ACA would be a massive step backward for our nation, it provides a model of how to move forward in a real political revolution. The red states of Texas, Wyoming and Alabama didn’t try to secede in 2008. Their leaders were patient; they shaped a message that resonated outside their borders. Those in blue states in 2016 need to do the same thing, identifying and supporting a new generation of leaders who can defeat Trumpism by focusing on the values we still share with Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and yes, Texas, Wyoming, and Alabama. Don’t indulge in a fantasy about dividing the United States, get serious about reuniting them.
Thad Kousser is professor and department chair in the political science department at UC San Diego.
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