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It’s More Than Resistance to Trump

Posted on | April 19, 2018 | Comments Off on It’s More Than Resistance to Trump

I once interviewed a candidate for a junior professorship who explained her ability to churn out research as, “I can drill a one inch hole to the center of the earth faster than anyone.” How utterly unlike my style and technique, I thought. I wander and explore. I graze and synthesize. That’s happening now.

Several weeks ago, I started to write a piece—maybe an op-ed—about California politics. This initial intent may be morphing into something larger, longer, maybe more academic.

The national press, in particular, has styled California as the home of resistance to all things Trump. It is. At last count Atty. General Javier Bacerra has sued the Trump Administration 27 times, and the state is employing high powered legal talent to push back against the President and U.S. Atty. General Jeff Sessions. And the state has a lot to push back with. As Gov. Jerry Brown jibed to Sessions, “we’re going to be in court a lot longer than you are going to be in office.”

California Counter-Narrative

But as the pitchman on television says, “wait; there’s more.” California will resist long and hard, and on many fronts, but focusing only on resistance misses the point. I believe California is creating a counter-narrative: a vastly different idea about what our nation should be and how it should be governed.

It’s relatively straightforward to demonstrate the state’s alternative path in policy direction: in education, the environment, immigration, incarceration, and the right to vote, for example. California’s policies in these areas—including differences with the previous Democratic administration—were in place before Trump was president or even a candidate.

More difficult—and the reason that this project has become an exploration rather than a one inch hole to the center of the earth—is describing how the structures of political power and participation have changed, and why California may be breaking a path for the country.

Crossroads of Dreaming and Doing

The answer I’m exploring lies at the crossroads of doing and dreaming. There has always been a California Dream. It’s been a different dream over time, but there has always been something special about the state: a saga, a story we tell ourselves and others that is ultimately connected to how we govern ourselves. In a recent interview, Brown admonished readers to be loyal to the “idea” of California.

Iterations of that idea have driven the state. Historian Victor Silverman notes that, “California was not discovered; it was invented.” If we drill down, we will find that the current political struggles with the Trump administration are just regressive fights, and the interesting edge of politics are the struggles within the state about how to move forward. It is not whether people should have a guarantee of health care, for example, but whether the state should embrace a single payer plan, and if so how. It is not about whether Dreamers should stay, but how to best create a comprehensive approach to immigration reform and what a state can do when the national government has so dramatically failed to create workable immigration policy.

In its recent public policy directions, California extends the three historic interlocking themes that Silverman describes that I believe put the state on the leading edge of America:
• How people interact with the environment: the climate, land, water, creatures.
• How conflicts between people with vastly different power resources are resolved.
• How dreams are met and disappointments dealt with.

In future posts, I will write more about this work in process, and I’ll ask your comments and advice.


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Charles Taylor Kerchner is an Emeritus Professor and Senior Research Fellow at Claremont Graduate University. My daily musings appear in the blog. The archives of my EdWeek blog are available via link under the 'On California' head. Some of my photography can be seen by clicking on 'Gallery.' And numerous links to academic work and other research and commentary can be found by clicking on 'Projects.'


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