Upfront: Hold the line

The myth of an all-liberal California: Why we may need the Electoral College now more than ever

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Many Californians are calling for a ‘Calexit’ from the rest of the country after Donald Trump’s win as the 45th president of the United States.

By Tom Gogola

You know it’s been an especially uncivil week for the United States of America when empowered white men arrive at the Petaluma Veteran’s Day Parade and unfurl Confederate flags while their winning candidate declares that anyone burning an American flag to protest his ascension to the presidency is committing treason.

But that’s just what happened on Friday when U.S. Congressman Jared Huffman was rolling through Petaluma with an Army vet during the parade and spotted the young men with their flags. Huffman took a photo of the flags and the men as one of the men glared menacingly at the congressmen. The story and photo made it to the Washington Post and Huffman told the paper that the country will likely see a lot more of these kinds of public displays as the election result plays out. That a leading national newspaper chose to highlight an incident in the North Bay to make the point about displays of white affliction served also as a warning call to California Democrats: Beware of a rising white-nationalist tide that lifts all GOP boats, even those currently docked along the blue-state Pacific coastline.

The arrival of open-carry Confederate flags in the North Bay was one of a few events and votes in recent days that served to throw serious shade at the myth of an all-liberal California post-election, despite its self-congratulatory outburst of “Calexit” posturing after the unfortunate result. For example, at press time, election officials were still counting votes to our south to see whether Orange County U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa would be returned to Congress—despite multiple predictions that the hard-line conservative would be swept out of office in the glorious Clintonian moment that did not materialize, either up-ticket or down. And the same state that defiantly pledged to “Calexit” after election day (playing off the June Brexit vote in Great Britain) also stood with the forces of law-and-order white nationalism when it voted to maintain its capital punishment regime in voting down Proposition 62. The all-liberal California voter instead supported Proposition 66, which limits appeals for death row inmates in order to kickstart the state-sanctioned killing of bad citizens. And it lets jailers decide how to execute the condemned if the state can’t figure it out. As Trump might say, I don’t care how you do it, just get ’em out of here on a stretcher.

The “Calexit” moment was joined by a chorus of outrage over the Electoral College, which is understandable given that twice in less than 20 years a Republican has won the presidency despite losing the popular vote to the Democrat. As of press time, Clinton leads in the popular vote tally by more than 1 million votes. And yet the Electoral College might come in very handy for Democrats one day soon.    

Fast-forward to November 2020 and consider the following scenario: Despite the dire warnings, in some quarters voters have warmed to the white nationalist administration, especially in rural and suburban California, where the president didn’t in the end deport half the state’s workforce. Trump is now campaigning with a renewed push to make good on his 2016 pledge to flip a few big-blue states red, and he might just pull it off. The not-normal has been fully normalized with the help of an agog and intimidated mainstream media eager to weaponize the Trumpian celebrity quotient into ratings—and the California Republican Party is on the rebound, with 1994’s disastrous anti-immigrant Prop 187 an ever-distant memory to voters. The state has a long-standing soft spot for the hypnotic appeal of Republican celebrity, and those voters fuel a narrow popular-vote victory for the incumbent president in the national tally. But, despite Republican gains in California, the Democratic challenger takes California’s 55 electoral votes and squeaks out a narrow Electoral College victory.

Possible? “You could easily redraw the map to show exactly that” in 2020, says Trent England,  director of the pro-electoral college organization Save Our States, as he highlights how the Trump movement has coaxed previously non-voting constituencies into the voting booth, “Which is the lesson of Trump,” England says. And he reminds us that it wasn’t long ago that the pollsters said Clinton might prevail in the electoral vote tally while Trump would take the popular vote. In that scenario, Trump would have no doubt made good on his rigged-election promise to not accept the outcome, but it’s also true that no outraged Democrat would call for the end of the Electoral College if it had delivered a better result for Clinton.

Fanning Dakota

On November 15, as a big anti-pipeline protest unfolded in San Francisco, Marin U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman and 20 other members of congress sent a letter to President Barack Obama offering suggestions and making demands on how to de-escalate rising tensions at the site of the hot-button Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.  

Highlighting that the fight to protect the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will bleed into the next administration, Huffman called on Obama and the United States Department of Justice to “urge the state of North Dakota to stand down from its escalation of the use of force,” which has included the arrest of journalist Amy Goodman and various attempts to shut down the free-assembly rights of protesters on the site, via the state’s National Guard.

Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva was a co-signer of the letter to Obama, which was sent to the president a day after the Army Corps of Engineers signaled its continued push to work with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as it works to make a decision on a proposed easement across native lands.

Grijalva blasted North Carolina, whose Republican leadership, at the urging of the corporate owners of the pipeline, deployed the National Guard to the protest site. In a statement co-written with Huffman, Grijalva noted that the function of the Guard is to provide assistance in the event of a natural disaster “not to help suppress our Constitutionally protected right to peacefully assemble.”  

“Its use in this way, and the escalating law enforcement and National Guard presence in response to unarmed demonstrations, betrays our values as a nation,” Grijalva added, and aids a private corporation whose pipeline threatens Native American burial and sacred sites, and clean drinking water.”

The letter to Obama calls on the president to send observers from the Department of Justice to keep tabs on the violent and disproportionate responses to legitimate protest—and to come out swinging against the proposed easement under consideration by the Army Corps.  

Huffman underscores in the letter that the battle in North Dakota may be a sign of what is to come under the white nationalist administration that comes to power on January 20. “In the coming months,” Huffman notes, “President-elect Trump—who has personally invested in this pipeline company—will undoubtedly signal an oil and gas industry takeover of the White House. This will be one of the many battles we must fight and we must stand together to protect the environment, sacred tribal lands, freedom of the press, and the right to peaceful assembly.” (Italics added to the Huffman quote to emphasize the unfolding, self-dealing spectacle in our midst.)—Tom Gogola

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