In the wake of Donald Trump’s victory we’ve seen some fantastic liberal meltdowns but none more delicious than that of Californians who now want to secede from the Union. A group calling itself the Yes California Independence Campaign has sprung up to promote a #Calexit, a deliberate takeoff of the UK’s #Brexit.
From the group’s website: “In the Spring of 2019, Californians will go to the polls in a historic vote to decide by referendum if California should exit the Union, a #Calexit vote. You will have this historic opportunity because the Yes California Independence Campaign will qualify a citizen’s initiative for the 2018 ballot that if passed would call for a special election for Californians to vote for or against the independence of California from the United States.”
The group lays out its nine-point case for why California should go its own way, including “peace and security,” “debt and taxes” and “immigration.” I think they forgot their tenth point which is that Donald Trump is now president elect. Though the group existed before November 8th, they clearly didn’t have much support until the reality of a Trump presidency hit them like a ton of bricks. Sounds like a bunch of sore losers taking their ball and going home.
After reading their nine points I think I can safely say that this is a movement of the center Left, which I guess means that they will not be painted as dangerous Neo-Confederates. Talk of secession is un-American—except when they do it.
Charles C. W. Cooke of the National Review stole a little bit of my thunder when he wrote that “California Needs Federalism, Not Secession.” According to Cooke: “Secession is one option, I suppose. Another is ‘federalism,’ and, unlike secession, it has the distinct advantage of being how the country was supposed to work in the first place. Because they understood how intellectually, politically, and economically diverse the colonies were, the founders invested relatively little power in the federal government. Indeed, they ensured by law that it could only do a few enumerated things, and they left the rest to the states.”
Amen to that brother!
The gist of Yes California’s complaints, I gather, is that their state is both burdened and constrained by the federal government. It demands a lot from them, particularly in terms of revenue. As one of the wealthier states, California is required to pay more into federal coffers than it receives in return. The website neglects to mention however that if California continues its spending habits it will eventually need a bailout and the situation will reverse itself. The rest of our states will be forced to pay through the nose for California, not the other way around. Still, they have a point—richer states don’t profit from our national wealth redistribution schemes. But does Yes California really understand the source of their frustrations? If the federal government were the scrawny institution that the framers intended it to be it wouldn’t devour so much of our wealth.
The federal government has grown accustomed to bullying and bribing the states to get its way. First, it stretches its enumerated powers beyond recognition so that now few people even ask if the federal government is authorized to do most of what it does. But we should ask. Is the federal government supposed to be tinkering in the agricultural sector, encouraging this crop and discouraging that one through subsidies? Where the heck is the National Endowment for the Arts in the Constitution? And so forth.
When, in those rare instances that the federal government acknowledges that an issue rightly belongs to the states, it nonetheless gets the policies it wants by withholding funds from the recalcitrant ones. Sure, the states can set whatever drinking age they want but if it’s lower than 21 they lose their federal highway funding. (Thanks, Ronald Reagan.) States can tell transgender high school students to use whichever bathroom they deem appropriate but they’ll lose federal aid to their schools if Barack Obama doesn’t like it.
If only we would tame this federal beast, California might be able to do its own thing within the very loose framework prescribed by the Constitution. It would have to work both ways of course. They would have to allow Georgians, Texans, and everyone else do their own thing too. It might mean that certain states would define marriage differently—the horror!—or that certain other states would adopt school curricula that Californians don’t like. But that’s how federalism works. States should be allowed to handle the state-level business—and when you think about it, it’s mostly state-level business.
But a return to federalism might not satisfy Yes California. After all, the first of their points, “Peace and Security,” argues that “Californians are sent off to fight in wars that often do more to perpetuate terrorism than to abate it.” Though there was a time when most of America’s fighting men wore the uniforms of their respective states, our Army and Navy have always been federal. Unlike a lot of our federal bureaucracy, the Constitution actually provides for this function. Yes California must be serious about independence if it can’t accept Californians in the US military.
As a non-Californian, I will just say that the decision is theirs to make. To me, secession is not a dirty word. It was the states that created the federal government, not the other way around. If a state wants out, who are we to bar the doors? The Union should not be like an abusive marriage in which the husband beats the wife harder if she tries to leave.
Yet there’s something controversial about saying that no state should be held captive because we once fought a gruesome war to do exactly that. The end result of that war was the abolition of slavery—which was a very good thing—but to say that that was always the goal is a gross oversimplification. We fought the Civil War to force eleven states to belong to a Union they no longer wished to be a part of. If we were to allow California to secede, we would be admitting that saving the Union—which was Lincoln’s stated reason for the war—wasn’t really that important. I’m okay with that. Saving the Union isn’t worth one death, never mind the nearly one million people who died as a result of our Civil War.
Though most people today, and particularly most people on the Left, would argue that the Civil War was worth every drop of blood that was spilt, there are more nuanced opinions. Author Chuck Thompson argues in his book “Better Off Without ’Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession” that the South has been more trouble than it’s worth. He’s glad of course that slavery was abolished but, with that danger no longer at hand, he doesn’t see what benefit the South provides. He argues that if southerners really want to “rise again” they should be told that it’s quite unnecessary. Just go. Thompson advocates for “a kind of no-fault divorce for nation-states: no hard feelings, just two adults who can’t quite make the relationship work, shaking hands and walking away.”
That’s where I am with California. If they decide that they don’t want us, that’s fine. I’m not too keen on them either. Imagine if California were a separate county and its citizens couldn’t just move to all the other Western states and screw them up? What if their teeming hordes of expensive illegal aliens were all their own problem? What if we could finally rid ourselves of Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and the 55 electoral votes California delivers to the Democratic candidate every four years? I shudder with delight just thinking about it.
It wouldn’t have to be an acrimonious breakup, of course. We could still trade with California and establish diplomatic relations. We could travel back and forth between the two countries just as easily as we travel to Canada and Mexico. But California would have to solve its own problems—and it has a lot of problems—on its own.
I don’t know if an independent California would work better for Californians but I can say with certainty that it would work better for the rest of us. As a non-Californian I have no vote in the matter but that doesn’t prevent me from having an opinion. In the words of Chuck Thompson, we’d be “better off without ’em.”