In Policy and Practice, California Is Showing Up Our President
California’s resistance to Donald Trump is unusual in this age of hot social media and cable television news. Our state, usually caricatured as the home of glitz, is tackling Trump in a thoughtful and policy-oriented manner that is opposite the style of the blowhard president.
That’s clear from the action and words of a couple of California politicians dealing with matters of great complexity. One is Gov. Jerry Brown, the other is Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
A three-day Global Climate Action in San Francisco last week, put together by Brown, wouldn’t have held Trump’s attention for more than the minute needed for him to heap scorn on the event. Nor would Trump, one of the world’s great global warming deniers, have boarded an electric-powered ferryboat to sign eight bills promoting the use of non-polluting vehicles on streets and highways, as Brown did. The governor, I bet, read them all and thought about their implications. As John Myers wrote in the Los Angeles Times, not “many elected officials so quickly shift from policy to philosophy and spirituality when discussing environmental danger.”
Personally, I’ve always thought the glitz label applied to only a small part of California. My career spent covering crime and politics—occasionally intertwined—immersed me in a much grittier California, but one led by people who often showed great vision.
The visionaries, of course, needed a push by demonstrations and marches—against the Vietnam War, police brutality and other evils and for immigrants, better schools and women’s rights.
The demonstration tradition continued with the California-based resistance to Trump. The resistance was loud and fiery in its early days. Women and men, young and old, protested Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, and his threat to national abortion rights, which have long been part of California law. Social media crackled. Television news homed in.
I see a change. Now, the tone of the protest is more like that of the climate summit—wonky and detail-oriented. On immigration, lawyers fight Trump with complex briefs, with courtrooms more than the streets as their battlegrounds. Quiet logic has become important as California grapples with climate change, immigration, overcrowded prisons and the homelessness that is spreading throughout the state. Cable news, always restless, has gone elsewhere.
I thought of this when I watched a video of Garcetti’s speech Sept. 7 to the Cleveland City Club, part of a three-day swing through Ohio as he tried out his embryonic 2020 presidential campaign in a key Midwestern state.
The words were deceptively mild but added up to a thorough takedown of the president and his policies.
He began with immigration and the story of his maternal great-grandmother, “a young woman named Fanny Shane who fled the Russian empire and came [to the United States] with nothing more than $20 in her pocket and the address of her brother in Dayton, [Ohio]. She found work as a dressmaker and she fell in love with a handsome tailor from nearby Columbus … who was a refugee as well.”
His paternal grandfather came from Mexico, brought here as an infant during the Mexican Revolution. Eventually, he volunteered for the Army. “As a veteran, he got his citizenship,” Garcetti said. His grandfather then became a barber.
“The driving optimism of my ancestors represent everything about America I love,” said Garcetti.
He talked of “their belief that they could pick up and go to this huge unknown land … where people spoke a language that was unknown to them. …”
Garcetti’s stories of his immigrant relatives went directly to the heart of the Trump administration’s campaign against immigrants, although he did not utter the president’s name.
His great-grandmother came here to join a relative, with little money and no English language skills. The Trump White House wants to restrict such family reunifications. His grandfather became a citizen after service in the Army. This is another classification being limited by the Trump administration, the Military Times reported July 5. Rejection of veteran requests for citizenship doubled from 10 percent to 20 percent under Trump, the paper said.
“I want a Washington that works for us … that unites us and invites all of us to the table, that reminds us we each belong in this country, that we won’t leave anyone behind,” Garcetti said. “I want a Washington that stops attacking the First Amendment. I want a Washington that doesn’t talk tough about law and order while defunding local police and making law enforcement public enemies’ No. 1. I want a Washington that doesn’t roll back clean air rules.”
And finally, Garcetti said, he wants an end to “the politics of today, subtracting our prosperity and dividing our people.”
California has a history of dealing with complex problems with innovative measures. At the climate summit, Gov. Brown paid tribute to his predecessors. He said he “stood on the shoulders of other people” who won approval of measures to control air pollution in the 1960s and ’70s. One of them was then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, who signed two powerful environmental laws, the Environmental Quality Act and the legislation creating the California Air Resources Board.
“We’ve developed the institutional capacity and the bureaucratic understanding to combat pollution and carbon emissions, ” Brown said. “So we are positioned well to deal with the problem.” And if Washington lags, Brown said, “we will launch our own damn satellite to figure out where the pollution is.”
In the past, some of the pioneering California innovations fell flat. For example, the proposal to replace huge hospitals for the mentally ill with community clinics was never implemented, and as a result many of those who struggle with mental illness are homeless and camped on streets throughout California.
Yet the spirit of innovation persists. It’s a politics of complexity rather than a politics of rabble-rousing simplicity, much more suitable for this era than anything advocated by Trump.