Deep breath, California. I know the news is bad, but remember: We have strength in numbers. We’re the sixth largest economy in the world. We’re 12 percent of the U.S. population. We provide the rest of the country with a good portion of its agriculture, energy and technology. That size and economic clout give us some leverage when it comes to pushing back against whatever legislative insanity starts spewing forth from a Trump-led Washington, D.C., over the next four years.
Let’s start with immigration. In California, many so-called “illegal” immigrants already have driver’s licenses, pay into the state-run health care exchanges and hold licenses to practice law or medicine. By some estimates, undocumented immigrants contribute as much as $8 billion annually to California’s economy. If President Trump tries to make good on his promises of mass deportations, you can bet Sacramento will find as many loopholes and legal challenges as it can to keep this vital segment of our workforce from leaving the state. “The whole pension system would collapse if we didn’t have a bunch of young people coming into this country and into this state,” Gov. Jerry Brown told the Sacramento Bee earlier this year. “They’re not all coming from here. They’re coming from other places.”
Then there’s the matter of religious freedom. Thanks to the First Amendment, there’s little Trump can do short of another constitutional amendment to prevent anyone residing in America from practicing his or her religion. He could try to make good on his threat to ban Muslims from entering the country — some legal experts even believe such a ban could be constitutional — but more progressive state courts could entertain challenges to any such ban, especially if it affected political refugees already living in America, according to the National Constitution Center’s Lyle Denniston. California, as one of the most religiously and ethnically diverse states in the country, could lead the charge in fighting such battles.
Trump has said that he opposes marriage equality and other LGBTQ rights but also indicated that he believes issues such as gay marriage and transgender bathroom access should be left to the states to decide. We’ll take it — and our LGBTQ communities and political allies have the know-how and the clout to help prevent rollbacks of gay rights in other states.
When it comes to energy policy, California has long led the way and can continue to do so. Our state was the first to adopt more stringent vehicle emissions standards — and our market dominance, coupled with support from other states, helped force the auto industry to implement those new standards nationwide. We’ll get one-third of our energy from renewable sources by 2020, and the businesses providing it here will continue rolling it out to the rest of the country, with or without help from the federal government. Even our former Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is on the renewables bandwagon. “A clean energy future is a wise investment, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either wrong, or lying,” he wrote in a December 2015 Facebook post.
When it comes to Trump’s avowed goal to repeal Obamacare, California lawmakers hold less sway; the Affordable Care Act is federal law, and Trump and a GOP-controlled Congress have the power to revoke it. But Obamacare’s success in states like California, where 1.4 million have signed up through Covered California, could make full repeal a tougher sell — though skyrocketing premiums are a problem that state-run insurance exchanges need to address soon.
Finally, let’s talk minimum wage. California currently has the nation’s second-highest, at $10 per hour; by 2022, barring any new legislation from other states, it will become the nation’s highest at $15 per hour. That bodes well for our state’s ability to continue attracting new workers and growing its economy under a Trump presidency — especially given that he and his fellow right-wing knuckleheads will likely block any attempts to raise the minimum wage at the federal level. Experts at the Economic Policy Institute and elsewhere have argued for years that minimum-wage increases are long overdue and will stimulate the economy far more than they will stifle job growth.
California can’t be a panacea against Trumpism. Bigotry and misogyny will continue to assert their toxic effects on our national discourse. A conservative Supreme Court may very well roll back women’s reproductive rights half a century. Our foreign policy is likely to be an incoherent shambles, heavily swayed by the financial interests of Trump’s private business ventures.
But we can’t give in to despair and cynicism. Now more than ever, California has to lead by example and show the rest of America what our future can look like. We have the most diverse population, the most cutting-edge technologies, the most forward-thinking musical and visual artists — not to mention politicians who preach tolerance and common sense over divisiveness and fear. We may not be perfect, but we’re a hell of a lot better off than those living in the small-minded nation our new commander in chief wants to recast in his image.