The talk of Calexit right now might seem still at the level of fringe grumbling, but one in three Californians support it, and the first stage has been OK’d for the 2018 ballot. The Civil War demonstrated that secession is impossible without cooperation of the national government. What if such cooperation were provided? In fact, what if the national government were the primary impetus? Keep in mind that Trump has already threatened to defund Berkeley over rioters closing down Milo’s speech, and California over its sanctuary status.
Why would Trump want California to secede? With Trump, it is always wise to look for the pettiest, stupidest, and most spiteful explanation available. Trump’s loss of the popular vote is clearly eating him, and with California out of the picture, he can honestly say he is governing a country where he won the majority of the popular vote.
There is also the Russian vote. The leader of the Calexit movement has been linked to Russia. He even lives there. So a powerful covert Trump constituency is already pushing this. We should keep in mind that from Russia’s perspective, Trump is in part payback for Yeltsin, who oversaw the disintegration of what had been the Soviet Union, and even some of what had been Russia before that. Russian interference in our election is trivial compared to our intervention in Yeltsin’s.
It would be very hard to let California secede, or to push it to, without the cooperation of the Republican Party, however, Why would they do it? Trump is already at record disapproval for a new President. The Republicans can see that this is their big and probably their last chance to gut entitlements. They’re going to go for it. Actually gutting Obamacare will be politically costly, but they’re committed to that too. Given those two things, can they retain power in two years? Maybe. The map does favor them. In four years? If the country is still democratic at all, they will be in very bad shape, not because of demographics, but because their President and their own actions will be deeply unpopular.
What happens if you take California out of the picture?
Trump’s electoral victory would have been 306 to 177, almost 2 to 1.
Clinton could have won every swing state and still lost.
The Republican 247 to 188 majority in the House – a margin of 29 – becomes 233 to 150 – a margin of 42.
The picture is even worse if Oregon and Washington go too, and they, particularly Washington, have also been openly feuding with Trump.
How could this happen?
Gov. Brown is going to seek $182 million is federal emergency aid for flooding. The media itself is saying Trump’s approval is in doubt, because he has already threatened to defund California. And we already saw in the aftermath of Sandy that Republicans will play petty politics with emergency relief.
Of course, $182 million is well under 1% of California’s budget. Denying that would not actually be devastating to the state. But Oroville is not out of the woods. In case you hadn’t heard, yesterday local authorities announced that the Oroville dam, the highest in the nation, was likely to break and evacuated the area. Luckily, the dam did not break, but it has been weakened and it looks like another solid week of rain starting Wednesday. If, God forbid, the dam goes, the bill skyrockets. Luckily, most have already been evacuated and hopefully will stay that way. As well as Oroville, two of the three large towns in the area – Yuba City and Marysville – and several smaller ones would be mostly destroyed (the third large town, Chico, is North of the dam). Now we’re well into the billions.
What if Trump refuses to pay for that?
The optics are horrible, of course. Not as bad as Katrina, because people will not be abandoned in the ruins, and most have gotten out in time. But Bush did not deny relief to New Orleans either. Trump’s tolerance for bad optics is spectacular though. The bitter irony is that the three counties that would be most affected by failure of the Oroville dam – Butte, Sutter, and Yuba – all went for Trump. These may be Californians, but they are white rural Californians, largely farmers. Trump supporters all over the country will see themselves in these people. Will Trump care? Does he ever?
I have heard many Californians snort at the threats of defunding, saying we contribute more to federal coffers than we receive. This is true, but that linkage is not automatic. You must make it. Just because Trump cuts off federal dollars for one purpose or another does not remove your legal obligation to pay your income tax.
If Trump starts defunding – especially if he refuses to fund emergency recovery in a spectacular case like a dam failure, but under any circumstances – will people start refusing to pay their federal income taxes? I bet so. Not everyone, of course, but significant numbers. Will they also refuse to pay state? A lot less philosophically defensible under the circumstances, but it will be easier to get away with refusing federal taxes if you don’t file at all. Will the state continue to cooperate with the feds by sharing information? There are many ways things can go from here, but if people start refusing to pay taxes in significant numbers because the federal government is discriminating against California and denying it needed emergency aid, we have already moved a considerable way towards national disintegration.
It would also have to end up in court. The Supreme Court would have to decide that people still have to pay federal income tax even if the federal government is withholding money to punish the state for not using state resources to enforce federal law, a constitutional right. I think the court would choose to compel allocation of the money, but I don’t know if they constitutionally can. Spending is clearly out of their purview.
We are now in completely uncharted territory. Keep in mind what losing California would do for Republican electoral prospects. And it may not be just California. The Pacific Northwest is also being very defiant of Trump. They could go too. More good blue riddance.
Of course, the Republicans would rather not do it over a dam breaking over rural whites. Defunding Berkeley sounded a lot more fun. There are many ways the defunding threat could play out. Emergency aid is a good opportunity, because Trump could just veto the bill, the Republicans don’t have to refuse to pass it. Of course, the Democrats should rightly pressure them to override the veto, but that would mean civil war in their party. Who knows what they would do?
Also, once secession seems likely, the big sort will go into overdrive. Conservatives or those for whom secession is just too scary will flee to the United States. Liberals and Progressive will flee to California to avoid being condemned to a purely red America. More people will come to California than leave it because that flow will be coming from the whole country. That flow will skew young and educated. and It will skew non-white, though it will probably be difficult for most of the poor to come. This will leave rump America worse off, with an older and somewhat less educated population.
Of course, the logistics of secession seem impossible. The infrastructure, the legal systems, the communications, the companies, all are integrated across the country. Would California inherit 10% of the national debt? Of the military? Will it inherit part of America’s international role and treaty obligations? Can it generate a viable national government quickly? (The US will want to keep Silicon Valley, but the Valley probably would rather stay with California, particularly if Seattle comes too. It’s easy to say don’t give them a choice, but it is hard to take by force an industry whose power is largely brain power and established network effects. You would disrupt the networks and have a hard time corralling the brains).The whole thing is inconceivable. Yet, the disintegration of the Soviet Union was as well, a few years before it occurred. Russia may enjoy showing us what is possible in this area, as we showed it to them.
Personally, I would bet on secession becoming a serious topic of discussion, but not happening. Big business does not want this, and they have a way of getting what they want. But I bet against Trump becoming President too.