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Stop Your Talk of a Calexit. A U.S. Without California Is a Way Worse, and More Dangerous, Place.

Brexit is a disaster. Why would this be any different?


Last night, as the once-unthinkable spectre of a Donald Trump presidency became unavoidably real, the hashtag #Calexit began trending on Twitter. Venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar vowed to fund a campaign to secede and form a separate nation, known as New California. Today, a San Diego–based group called Yes California held a rally at the capitol in Sacramento to promote a campaign that would have the state seceding by 2020 (a plan in the works before election night). In this new reality, in which America’s about to be led by the human embodiment of its worst tendencies, the natural reaction is to want no part of it. “We'll just take our avocados and legal weed and go,” tweeted one. It’s a feeling shared by lots of people—but one that’s supremely misguided. 

“We’re all really freaked out by what happened. It’s terrifying,” says Supervisor (and state senator–elect) Scott Wiener. “But we would be abandoning a lot of people around the country if California were to try to secede, even assuming we were able to do that. Millions of marginalized people around the U.S. would be worse off if California were to leave the country.” California’s reliably Democratic 55 electoral votes: gone. Elected reps like Nancy Pelosi, who have steered untold millions of federal dollars to local coffers: out. Progressive leadership on everything from gay marriage to environmental policy: obsolete. Serious question: Who wants to live in a world where the most powerful country in the world ceases to be influenced by forward-looking Californians?

There’s also this practical point: If you want an America that doesn’t elect leaders like Trump, the best way to bring it about is to stick around and vote—in local races, state races, national races. And if President Trump comes for the Mexicans, comes for the Muslims, comes for our civil rights or the freedom of the press, don’t you want Pelosi and Senator-elect Kamala Harris right there in the Capitol, giving him hell?

Somewhat perversely, Pishevar seems to be arguing for both fight and flight simultaneously. “While working on California Republic referendum we must also begin working on midterm 2018 elections now,” he tweeted today. “We must win back House & Senate.” How a fledgling republic is supposed to rationalize interfering in the affairs of the nation it’s trying to leave is a head-scratcher. (An email to Pishevar asking how he reconciles this hasn’t yet been returned.) 

As for whether secession would even work, the law’s pretty clear: You can’t do it. When Texas made noises about withdrawing from the Union after Obama’s reelection, the White House calmly directed the petitioners’ attention to a Supreme Court decision after the Civil War. “The Constitution, in all its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union composed of indestructible States,” the justices wrote in Texas v. White in 1879, finding that Texas, or any other state, has no right to secede. Brexit, should anyone need reminding, ain’t going so well.

At root, points out San Francisco State political science professor Jason McDaniel, liberal populism comes from the same place as movements like Brexit and Trumpism. “Those who support Trump and those who support Calexit, it’s a similar response to a threatened group identity,” he says. “It’s, ‘We’re this group and we’re being threatened—aaaarrgggh!' It’s not rational; it’s an expression of identity.” Think of Calexit—and its unfortunate little sibling, Caleavefornia—as a reactionary response to Trump’s reactionary response, says McDaniel: “Calexit is saying, ‘We’re California and we’re better than them.’” 

But that’s a huge fallacy. “Just as Trump instinctively defines people who are not white as people who are not American, the Calexit people are instinctively trying to do the same thing,” says McDaniel. “They’re trying to define California absent the United States. And that’s not possible either.”



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