My fellow Californians,
The results are in. A native-born Californian woman of color, Kamala Harris, has been chosen to serve as the next vice president of the United States. A former vice president and six-term Senator from the tiny state of Delaware has been selected as the next U.S. president. The current presidential administration is scheduled to end on January 20, 2021.
However, anyone following the presidential race knows how easily things could have gone the other way. Fewer than 100,000 votes in Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Georgia are all that separate us from four more years of rule by a minority party that has been actively hostile to Californians and our interests.
In ICI’s election-day statement, we said we were prepared for any outcome in the presidential race.
I cannot overstate, however, how dire a second term of the current administration would have been. As we have seen in former democracies like Turkey, Hungary, and Poland, it is in their second term when authoritarian populist regimes like the current one take more significant measures to dismantle democracy and the rule of law. Indeed, a continuation of the current administration would have necessitated, at the very least, that California start acting like a completely independent country.
And perhaps Californians would have pulled together to make it happen: controlling our borders to stop Covid and illegal guns, finding a way to keep Californians’ federal tax dollars from leaving the state, gaining de-facto control over federal water projects and fire-prone federal forest lands, and partnering with allies in like-minded states to broker a re-negotiation of federal power.
But perhaps not. We might have found ordinary Californians threatened by armed, pro-administration right-wing groups, and seen our own police do nothing to stop them. We might have seen the administration withhold our own tax dollars and water to gain concessions from our state government—with the administration’s own appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court allowing it to continue. We might have seen more towns destroyed by fires started on mis-managed federal lands, and no federal disaster money for the survivors. And when we attempted to seek redress in Congress, we might have found our “blue” allies were more interested in an indefinite continuation of the American Experiment, whatever the consequences. What democracy we had within California would become irrelevant in the face of the death of both democracy and the rule of law at the federal level.
The good news is that, today, by the thinnest of vote margins, we do not live in that reality.
The bad news is, all the factors that allowed this administration to come to power still exist. In 2024, the U.S. Senate and Electoral College will almost certainly be even more skewed in favor of one party—a party that has shown little interest in holding its own leaders accountable when they defy democratic norms or the rule of law. State governments will likely continue to gerrymander House seats. The U.S. Supreme Court is controlled 6-3 by a faction that has been consistently hostile towards voting rights. The grim fact underlying it all is that many Americans are perfectly fine with this state of affairs—more Americans voted to re-elect the current president than voted for him in 2016.
What Californians really have now is four years of breathing room. We may not get more than that!
We need to convince Californians that California independence is not only feasible, but a good deal for all Californians, from the Imperial Valley in the south, to the Cascades in the north.
We need to convince Americans that there is nothing to fear from re-negotiating the current system of government, and that even allowing the United States to peacefully separate into multiple countries would be no scarier than having more Canadas and Mexicos on the North American continent.
We need our state government to be ready to take over the role of the federal government wherever it is needed. At the very least, this will look like a set of contingency plans: What if the federal government shuts down? What if the federal gas tax expires? What if the Affordable Care Act is struck down by the courts?
And, at the federal level, we should use every opportunity to carve out more autonomy for California. If court reform is on the table, we should ask for California to have its own federal circuit court. If climate change is on the table, states should have an absolute right to impose higher standards. If tax reform is on the table, we should ask that states be allowed to collect federal taxes on behalf of their residents. If health care reform is on the table, we should ask that states be allowed more autonomy over federal health care dollars collected from their own residents. If the federal government shuts down, we should ask for federal water projects or federal land in California to be transferred to state or local government before our House members vote to reopen it.
This approach doesn’t mean that we should thwart the next administration where they have common goals with California (especially in addressing the climate emergency). Merely that Californians should not be so dependent on the federal government next time we find ourselves governed by an undependable administration. If we want democracy to survive in California, we must build a California that is united enough to stand up to the next would-be authoritarian U.S. president, and strong enough to weather the breakdown and eventual collapse of the federal system.
Because in America, it can happen here. It did happen here. There is every reason to believe it will happen again.
My fellow Californians, we may not be so lucky next time. The next four years will be crucial to California’s future, and having a well-staffed, well-funded pro-independence think tank to light the way will make all the difference. Please help in whatever way you can.
Independent California Institute