California Secession is a Terrible Idea

As a Californian, the idea of seceding from the union can be tempting. We’re the world’s sixth largest economy, home to the country’s largest agriculture sector, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and a thriving economy, diverse in its people and its production. We also voted for Clinton over Trump by 30 points, with a couple more to Jill Stein for good measure. Our state has supermajority Democratic control at all levels of government, with no statewide Republican officials in office and a decimated GOP bench. And we are ground zero for the legal resistance to Trump on immigration, healthcare, drug policy and much else. Most importantly, Californians only get back 79 cents for every dollar we send to the federal government, only to see red states who take the most from the federal government using our money elect Republicans who hate California and see themselves as ill-used John Galts.

It’s hard to blame many Californians for wanting to cut the chain and free ourselves from the yoke of those who despise us while taking advantage of us. That’s why a movement has grown to gather signatures to place California secession on the state ballot. But it’s a terrible idea.

First, the question of secession was settled militarily at Appomattox. Second, legal secession would be incredibly destructive both to California’s economy and to that of the rest of the United States. Third, the other western states along the Colorado River would doubtless use water rights to squeeze California even drier than it already is in revenge.

But most importantly, California is the moral vanguard of the nation. We are the guarantor of the nation’s future, its primary innovator and its demographic harbinger. Our shining example provides hope to the rest of the country that a better, more tolerant, more progressive future is possible–that America can not only survive but thrive in a society that is socially libertine, environmentally friendly, economically progressive and racially diverse.

As America’s true moral center, we Californians also have an obligation to be the country’s leader. Instead of fleeing from the fight against Trump, it’s up to us to engage him in battle: refusing to carry out his cruel immigration policies, negating his attempts to ramp up the drug war, providing solace and aid to those seeking reproductive care, and much more. If his administration tries to defund us, it’s up to us to start cutting off the spigot of California money to Washington through organized non-payment of taxes.

The true role of the progressive is not to run fleeing from tyranny, but to serve as a shield for the defenseless. California and its 55 electoral votes must do likewise, protecting the rest of the country from the rampaging cruelty of Trump’s white nationalist base.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.