California is the Trump administration’s most formidable adversary, not only on matters of immigration, but on damn near everything. No other entity—not the Democratic Party, not the tech industry, surely not the civil liberties lobby—has the will, the resources, and the power California brings to the fight. Others have the will, certainly, but not California’s clout.
There’s no mystery to the clout. California is immense, a state of 40 million, home to an economy that is the world’s sixth-largest. But the will? Has the home state of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan truly become so overwhelmingly progressive?
It clearly has. What was remarkable about California’s performance in last November’s election wasn’t merely that it went for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a margin of four million votes; that’s partly just a testament to the state’s size. What was remarkable was that the share of its voters who cast ballots for Clinton—61.5 percent—was greater than any other state’s.
And this is hardly the only metric that spotlights California as the nation’s most progressive state. California is one of just six states that have a Democratic governor and Democrats in control of both houses of the legislature (California Democrats actually hold two-thirds of the seats in each house). No Republican has been elected to a statewide office (there are ten of them, counting the two U.S. senators) since 2006. In 2012 and again in 2016, state voters have approved ballot measures that made the nation’s most progressive state income tax even more progressive.
Californians know the state’s demographics explain a lot of this change, but only a relative few can tell you what the forces were, and are, that translated the rising number of Latinos and Asians into progressive political power. Both California and Texas, for instance, are 39 percent Latino, but in California, the nation’s most strategically savvy labor movement politically socialized and mobilized the Latino community as Tammany once did the Irish, while Texas, all but devoid of a labor movement, has seen no such development. California’s fast-growing Asian communities, which constitute nearly 15 percent of the state’s population, have moved left in recent decades, with more than 70 percent of their vote going to Democrats in recent elections. Add the Latinos and Asians to the state’s African American population and the large number of white liberals in the state’s metropolitan centers, and California’s newfound status as the nation’s leftmost state should come as no mystery. Indeed, among the world’s six largest economies—the United States, China, Germany, Britain, France, and the Golden State—California’s citizenry and elected leaders are clearly the most progressive.
And they have the wherewithal, along with the will, to fight the Trump administration on climate change, social insurance, immigrant rights, and much else.
Thousands of Californians are already working to do the one thing that would alter federal policy: Cow Republican members of Congress to heed the better angels of their nature (that is, oppose Trump’s immigration crackdown, Ryan’s gutting of health coverage, and the thousand other unnatural shocks the GOP is promoting), and defeat them come 2018. Of the seven California GOP House members whose districts Clinton carried last November, two come from Central Valley districts that are home to hundreds of thousands of Medicaid recipients. Four hail from Orange County, including Darrell Issa, who eked out the narrowest of victories last November, winning by a scant 1,600 votes. Fully aware of the approaching political storm, Issa has called for a special prosecutor to investigate Trump’s Russian connections, and said he’s not committed to voting for Ryan’s bill.
Middle-class white liberals, a mobilized Latino community, left-moving Asian Americans, a powerful environmental community, a uniquely vibrant union movement, a tech sector willing to fund at least some anti-Trump campaigns, women coming forth as candidates, properly enraged millennials, and some deft political leaders—these are the pillars of the California resistance. Together, they form Trump’s most potent opponent.