Since the election, the West Coast has been abuzz with talk of breaking away from Donald Trump’s America – a Calexit, or a linking of the nation’s most populous state with Oregon, Washington and British Columbia to form a Cascadia by the sea.
It’s a fantasy, of course, fueled by Trump’s drubbing on the West Coast, where he got less than 10 percent of the vote in some cities. But it would also be a monumental mistake for the most prosperous and progressive part of the United States to even consider abandoning a country that could be dominated by the old Confederacy.
A better idea is to reach out across a yawning class divide. People in the West could listen to their fellow Americans in the old industrial heartland. And people in struggling towns could learn something from the workable policies of the left coast. Difficult as that conversation may be, it could start with some white-on-white dialogue.
In the fast-hardening concrete of postelection analysis, the presidential vote was seen as a “whitelash,” as Van Jones called it, against Barack Obama’s presidency. No doubt, race played a big part in Trump’s Electoral College win. But on Nov. 8, heavily white cities – particularly in the West – rejected Trump by huge margins.
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In Portland, Oregon, often called the whitest city in America, Trump pulled barely 17 percent of the vote in the county covering most of the metro area, and even less in the city proper. In Seattle, which is nearly 70 percent white, Trump is on track to get only 8 percent of the vote – a historic low for a major party nominee. Denver, which is 63 percent white, didn’t even give Trump 1 in 5 votes. And in San Francisco, with a black population of 6 percent, Trump finished in single digits.
This fortress of the forward-looking is not all white, certainly; California, after all, has no ethnic majority. But for the sake of preventing a certain clueless conventional wisdom from taking hold, let’s consider the other white people.
And yes, some of these voters are too precious and self-involved. They have their six-figure jobs at Facebook or Amazon, Google or the Gates Foundation. Youngstown, Ohio, is – what? – a foreign place, or like that town in “The Office.”
This West Coast majority cares about climate change, tech and trade. They care about where their food comes from and want family-friendly policies that don’t knock women out of their career trajectories. They aren’t afraid of raising taxes to make their cities more livable – in fact, they just raised taxes to build new infrastructure. They don’t think lunatics should be able to buy assault rifles. And their issues were completely forgotten in the presidential campaign.
“We’re a nation state,” said Gavin Newsom, California’s lieutenant governor, after the election. “In so many ways we are America. But we’re just ahead of the curve.”
California, which went Democratic by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio and is one big reason Hillary Clinton will win the popular tally by well over 1 million votes, feels particularly left out. People in the state are beating drums to the spectral rhythms of the old Bear Flag Revolt, which briefly produced an independent California Republic in 1846.
Instead, California should leverage its political clout – with almost 1 in 8 members of the House hailing from the Golden State – to stop Trump’s backward ideas.
The biggest lesson from the West Coast is about job and wage growth. Trump wants to return to the 19th century of dirty energy. But coal’s biggest enemy is cheap natural gas, not environmental regulation. No sane company wants to build a new coal-fired electrical plant.
In September, 42 percent of all new jobs created in the country were in California. At the same time, Oregon posted a job creation rate that was double the national average. And earlier this year, Washington state was ranked No. 1 for combined job and wage growth.
Yes, wage growth. The West Coast has consistently voted to make minimum wage a livable wage – something opposed by Republicans in the capital. But even better jobs are there for the making in infrastructure.
Trump claims he'll put people to work building roads, bridges and airports, while lowering taxes on the rich. He can no more make Flint tap water into Trump wine. But there is a simple solution, adopted on Election Day throughout the West Coast: targeted tax increases. Voters approved of them because the money will be dedicated to new infrastructure – expanded and ambitious light rail systems in Seattle and Los Angeles, for example. No burger flipping there.
It was absurd and unpatriotic when Texans talked of secession rather than be led by Barack Obama. Apparently, they couldn’t handle all the job growth that came with his historic presidency. It’s equally absurd for Californians to talk of taking their Macs and walking out after Trump’s barbarians move into the White House. The United States, without the innovative West Coast, would be a yesterday country.