It’s now just a year since the inauguration. In that year no party, no lobby, no organization has been as formidable an adversary to the Washington of Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell as California has. None has both the will and the heft that California brings to this fight. None has been as determined.
“There should be no doubt that President Trump has officially declared war on California,” State Senate leader Kevin de León told The Guardian on January 4, referring to the Trump administration’s plans to prosecute medical- and recreational-marijuana outlets, to allow oil drilling off the California coast, and to intensify efforts to deport immigrants.
When California fights back, it matters. With over 39 million people, it is the nation’s most populous state and the world’s sixth-largest economy, and it has thrived in large part thanks to the immigration that produced its ethnically diverse population. No other state in the Union comes as close to being a model of an alternative to the fearful future that Washington now offers.
California’s resistance encompasses two interwoven strands. One is the determined fight, wherever possible, against the cruelty and inanity of an administration and a Republican congressional majority hell-bent on rolling back the programs and policies of enlightened self-interest enacted over the better part of a century under both Republican and Democratic administrations. The other is a defense of California’s progressive, if still imperfect, success as an exemplar for the nation and the world. The first would not be possible without the second.
California has always been hospitable to innovation and in-your-face independence. It legalized abortion seven years before Roe v. Wade (with a bill Ronald Reagan signed) and passed the nation’s first medical-marijuana law. California is the cradle of American environmentalism, born in large part from the selfish motive of preserving the health and beauty of the place—nationalism of a very high order—and, for more than a half-century, a major influence in national policy.
The most active public official in California’s opposition to the Trump-Republican agenda has been Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who’s given resistance to Washington a priority as high as normal state business, perhaps higher. Governor Jerry Brown’s selection of Becerra as attorney general (after the previous AG, Kamala Harris, was elected to the US Senate in 2016) is itself an indicator of the state’s intention to resist. The son of working-class Mexican immigrants, Becerra grew up in a one-room house in Sacramento, went on to Stanford University and Stanford Law School, and, most recently, served for 24 years in the US House of Representatives, where he once chaired the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.