There’s Nothing Progressive About Calexit
The real winners would be Republicans, the Alt-Right, and Russia.
Should California become an independent nation? Support for this so-called “Calexit” is growing: a third of Californians support independence, up from 12% in 2014. The pro-secession group Yes California has begun collecting signatures to put the issue directly to voters in 2018. Since November’s election, I’ve seen many liberal and progressive Californians fantasize about the idea on social media. They are mistaken: a successful Calexit would be a betrayal of progressive ideals.
As the state with the largest population, California has the most electoral votes: 55. Without California, the electoral map for Democrats would become more challenging. California also currently provides Congress with 2 Democratic senators and 38 Democratic representatives. Additionally, because it is safely blue in presidential elections, Californians often donate time and money to support campaigns in other states, such as in neighboring swing state Nevada. If Calexit supporters get their wish, that will end: foreign nationals are prohibited from donating in US elections, and it’s hard to imagine many people traveling to a different country to knock on doors for a foreign politician.
Secession would also have financial ramifications, as California is the world’s sixth largest economy (as Californians love to point out). The official Yes California website complains that “California has been subsidizing the other states at a loss of tens and sometimes hundreds of billions of dollars in a single fiscal year.” This is a fundamentally conservative argument, basically saying “those darn poors have mooched off of us for too long and ought to take care of themselves.”
Calexit would give a conservative US government an easy excuse to cut federal spending in areas like education and welfare. Are progressive Californians really comfortable with the idea of taking money from Pell Grants for poor kids in other states? If so, maybe they aren’t as progressive as they like to think.
Progressives aren’t the only fans of Calexit: it has received widespread support amongst the white nationalist community. In an informal poll in the (now-deleted) Reddit “r/alt-right” group, around 75% of commenters supported the idea. “Cut it off like a tumor and push it out to sea,” recommended one charming user. Another suggested that “California can take their commie legislation and 55 electoral votes straight to hell.”
The LA Times profiled a young white supremacist who gleefully endorses secession: “The remaining few of us who are white would white-flight ourselves out of here and join you guys in the rest of the country, and we could do our own thing and California could just pretty much devolve into cannibalism.” Is this the sort of company left-leaning Calexit supporters want to keep?
Additionally, Russia’s RT news site has published several pieces on Calexit, including a couple dating to before the election. In fact, the Russian government gave Calexit much of it’s earliest coverage, and it is unlikely that the idea would enjoy the support it has now if not for Putin’s patronage. The president of Yes California has long ties to Russia, and has already opened an unofficial embassy in Moscow.
There’s nothing new about Russia wanting the US to fall apart: one Russian professor has been predicting the breakup of the US for 20 years, and Russian state media has helped to publicize his work. Russia has backed separatist movements in places as far flung as Crimea, Puerto Rico, Scotland, and Catalonia… basically, they support separatists anywhere but Chechnya. The geopolitical logic behind this is obvious: Calexit would weaken the United States, and possibly lead to other states seceding.
Fighting For A Lost Cause
Calexit supporters argue that a state has the right to secede if the federal government is doing something they don’t like. This is not a new argument, it was the same reasoning that led to the bloodiest conflict in American history. Calexit supporters want to retroactively concede the Civil War to the Confederates.
For 150 years, “Lost Cause” Confederate apologists have claimed that secession was perfectly legal, and that the government fighting to keep them in the Union was a “War of Northern Aggression.” To argue for Calexit is to argue for the Confederacy. If Calexit is legal then Lincoln was a lawbreaking tyrant who really did trample on “states’ rights”. It is ironic that any liberal Californians seem to think secession is a legitimate or desirable action, given this sordid history.
So why do people support Calexit? The main reason it has been growing in popularity is because of an emotional reaction against Trump. Californians are embarrassed that the rest of the country elected an unqualified Republican celebrity… that’s our thing! But if the main beneficiaries of Calexit are Republicans, the alt-right, and Vladimir Putin, and the logic of secession empowers neo-Confederates, how can anyone who claims to be “progressive” support it?