Reject and resist
On California’s moral obligation to oppose Donald Trump
On Jan. 20, the unthinkable became reality, with Donald Trump assuming power as the nation’s 45th president. This is a man who coarsened every aspect of the political debate during more than a year of campaigning, who befriended bigots of every stripe and perfected the art of shameless demagoguery—a man who gloried in his abilities to get the military to embrace torture and collective punishment, and who reveled in the violence his mob could inflict on political opponents, has assumed supreme power.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: It is a global calamity—an implosion of the ideals of the open society, and a gut-punch to what is left of the Enlightenment and the universalist political dream. Trump’s election puts the nuclear codes in the hands of a bully, a thug, a man with the personality of a barely adolescent teen and with the hubris to think that his brand of instinct-based politics can do no wrong. The potential for an irreparable disaster is vast. And, even if we avoid a nuclear cataclysm, Trump’s election and the totalitarian, explicitly racist culture he seeks to impose likely will see a vast corrosion of American soft power, as the democratic world turns its back in horror at the degraded spectacle of his presidency.
And so, in 2017, the global community stands at a moment of utter peril as the United States comes to be led by a team of generals, businessmen and hucksters, hostile to the principles of the United Nations, and as the global alliances—that, for all their fault, did end up avoiding direct conflicts between the great, nuclear-armed powers for 70 years—and trade agreements of the post-World War II era fade into obsolescence.
So much has changed, and so fast. Those October days, when Trump lost three debates in a row—not just lost, but was obliterated—when his sordid, creepy verbal sexual assault tape was dominating the news, and when respected pundits were predicting a blowout victory for Hillary Clinton, seem decades rather than mere months ago.
How do we in California—a state that voted overwhelmingly against Trump’s agenda, and that helped propel Clinton to her 3 million vote edge over Trump in the popular vote—resist Trumpism?
The answer is we must stand unified and uncompromising in our opposition: from the governor through to the Legislature and the attorney general; from the mayors and council members of our state’s great, cosmopolitan, multiethnic, multireligious cities to the regents, chancellors and presidents of our universities; from people in the streets and workers in their workplaces; we in California have a moral obligation to say no. And to say it again and again and again, as loudly and creatively as we can over the coming weeks, months and years.
We will not be cowed by Trump’s bullying tactics and his mob-rallying rhetoric that defines “the people” as those who support him and “enemies” as those who oppose him. We will not cooperate with federal attempts to deport millions, to unleash the full power of the state against workers fighting for a living wage, to deprive millions of health care, to unleash new arms races upon the world. We will not collaborate with morally repugnant policies such as the creation of registries of Muslim residents or the dismantling of vital environmental regulations. We will not stand silent in the face of systemic injustice—be it directed against Dream Act students on our campuses or Muslim families facing a stream of wrath directed at them from the presidential bully pulpit.
We are, in California—and, for that matter, in Oregon and Washington, too—in a strong position to resist this agenda every step of the way. We are populous, liberal states, with the political muscle to fight Trump in the courts; with the economic muscle to hold out against federal efforts to defund programs in states and cities that refuse cooperation with, say, massive roundups of immigrants; and with the cultural clout to showcase an alternative, more inclusive vision than that about to be peddled by the feds. We have a clutch of liberal billionaire entrepreneurs and technology investors who could, should they so choose, financially support school districts or universities that lose federal dollars for declaring that they will be “safe havens” or “sanctuaries” for immigrants.
None of this is meant to be pollyannaish. But it is meant to point out an obvious truth: that as much of the country turns its back on refugees, withdraws state protections from vulnerable groups—be they members of the LGBT community, or young women seeking access to abortions or other medical assistance—wages a de facto war on the environment and so on, California can and will continue to work aggressively to protect the integrity of its air, water and land, will welcome immigrants, and will continue to extend protections to minorities.
Because of this, ever more people will seek out states like California as havens in a hostile, backward-looking America. It’s entirely possible, as a result, that our state will see a fascinating political and cultural renaissance, that the horrors of Trumpism will actually propel California further leftward. It’s likely that our campuses will become as active as they were a half-century ago, and that our cities will see mass street protests.
The middle doesn’t drop out of powerful socio-economic systems very often. And, when it does, the results are terrifying—as witnessed in revolutionary Russia after October 1917, or in Germany as the Weimar Republic collapsed into Nazism. That is what has happened in the United States with Trump’s rise and now his assumption of the presidency. The old order, from the two main political parties, to the bipartisan foreign policy consensus, to the authority wielded by many establishment news outlets and the old federal bureaucratic structures—those that guided the United States during its hyperpower, internationalist decades—are now at the mercy of a Trump who is both crassly inward-looking and, at the same time, ruthlessly nationalistic.
The American Dream, as it was embodied in Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus,” carved into the Statue of Liberty, and as it was thought of and looked to as a source of inspiration throughout the 20th century, cannot co-exist with Trumpite politics and culture. If it is to survive, it is going to do so in states such as California—states that resist both the violence of Trumpism and also the shrunken sense of human possibility encoded in its political message. It is to states such as California that the heirs of Lazarus’ extraordinary vision will now have to look:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
It’s a huge responsibility, but also a great opportunity. When this moment of madness—as it must be, assuming that Trump doesn’t unleash a nuclear Armageddon—ends, the West Coast will be at the epicenter of the new country that will, over time, emerge. It will look different from the old country, less grandiose, less self-confident; it will, perhaps, end up somewhat like post-imperial Britain, as its population grapples with loss of status, loss of clout and loss of place in the world. This will, ultimately, be Trump’s sorry legacy: for no matter how militarily strong a country is, there is a limit to how much bluster and bullying the rest of the world will endure. America won’t be made “great again” under Trump; rather, its role on the world stage will shrink. As it does, California’s own role, its lure, its attractiveness as a place of tolerance in an age of intolerance, will, I believe, correspondingly rise.