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Calexit: In Response to Trump

By Rachel Higson
30 Nov 2016

Since last week’s presidential election, over half the nation has been in a state of disappointment, shock, and even mourning. They have coped with this upset in a variety of ways: coping on their own, taking to the streets in protest, and threatening to move to Canada. One small but loud movement in California even calls for its state’s secession from the union. Defeated by the outcome of the election, some members of this blue state have lost faith in the nation. The Yes California Independence Campaign promotes the passing of a referendum that would declare California as an independent nation in a vote. The initiative has come to be known as the “Calexit” vote. The “Yes California” website brags, “As the sixth largest economy in the world, California is more economically powerful than France and has a population larger than Poland. Point by point, California compares and competes with countries, not just the 49 other states.”

Though on the website, “Yes California” asserts that the United Kingdom made a mistake in passing their “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union, Calexit’s condemning of the U.K. referendum and its negative national and international effects seems too hypocritical to ignore. Even in promoting their cause, the founders of the movement have associated Trump and Brexit to Calexit. The “Yes California” Twitter account posted, “They said Donald Trump wouldn’t happen. They said #Brexit wouldn’t happen. What’re you going to say if they tell you #Calexit won’t happen?” The tweet is meant to assure people that anything is possible, a much-needed sentiment for the movement since as the New York Times explains, California’s “exit would require two-thirds approval of both the House and Senate in Washington, along with the blessing of 38 state legislatures,” a daunting and practically impossible challenge. Obviously the Calexit movement does not align with Trump, since he is the main reason that the movement is gaining momentum. Yet Calexit’s association with the U.K. and Trump’s nationalistic, conservative campaigns may not be in its best interest.

Brexit and Calexit have more in common than just their names, seeming too comparable for the Calexit movement to denounce the U.K.’s decision. Brexit was a push toward independence with their slogan “Take Back Control,” reminiscent of Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again.” Yet the Calexit campaign does not perceive the initiative as an isolating and divisive forsaking of the nation; rather, it advertises the split as an opportunity to positively contribute to a global conversation. For example, the movement claims that California, “as a global leader in environmental issues,” would “be able to negotiate treaties to not only reduce the human impact on our climate but also help build global resource sustainability.”

The New York Times explains how the U.K.’s fear of losing control over its economic policies has “spawned an entire genre of urban legends over the years, called ‘Euromyths,’ rumors that “usually feature some aspect of classically British culture that is supposedly under threat.” Similar to the Brexit movement’s economic insecurities, Calexit supporters believe that the United States is not responsive to the state’s needs and thus unworthy of California’s contribution to the U.S.’s economy. Having lost faith in the elected national representation, Californians want more control over responses to their needs.

The movement argues that secession will benefit Californians because they will be able to determine their own regulations for immigration, save money on defense, channel their funds into health care and the restoration of the public school system, and reduce the likelihood of terrorist strikes because Californians are only targeted due to being “part of the United States and are guilty by association.”

Since leaving the EU, the U.K. has become a radioactive source of international trade, reflected in the degradation of its currency, which “has dropped 14% against the dollar and 13% versus the euro.” Calexit’s most dangerous assumption is that California will immediately be granted access to global communities, yet leaving one community does not immediately assure entrance into another. In fact, it displays a sort of toxic unpredictability.

Calexit supporters have complained about the state’s associations with the U.S., implying that it damages California’s potential relations and makes it a target for terrorism; however, the U.S. has much more long-established clout and history in the global market from which California benefits. With whom would a nation rather remain in good standing–California or the United States? China, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and the rest of the United States’ international trading partners may not want to risk their economic ties with the U.S. and invest in a trading relationship with a new country. Even if the United States was not one of its strongest trading partners, the European Union would certainly not be sympathetic to and open for business with post-Calexit California.

Calexit Californians are attempting to distinguish themselves from the country with a sense of exclusive superiority over the rest of the nation’s political decisions. Yet the nation itself is divided over this election: Nate Cohn, a New York Times election analyst, projects Hillary to win the popular vote by a margin of 2.2 million votes, the highest total number of popular votes for any candidate in history aside from President Obama in 2008 and 2012. Calexit assumes that all of California is Democratic, yet 33% of the state voted for Trump in this election. Seceding may establish a Democratic majority, but tensions and difference in political opinions would not disappear. Calexit presents an extreme form of gerrymandering, a political tactic that the Washington Post describes as “drawing political boundaries to give your party a numeric advantage over an opposing party.” Perhaps instead of quitting on the nation, Calexit supporters should focus their efforts and funding on working within and changing the corrupt system.

The New York Times refers to this tendency of seeking out politically like-minded groups as “clustering,” attributing discrepancies in representation—like the 2016 presidential election—to this kind of mentality: “All those Democrats gravitating to blue strongholds like New York and California get the party no more Senate seats than Republicans get from Idaho and from Wyoming, a state with a population of about 580,000, slightly more than Fresno, Calif.” Calexit is precisely the opposite response to defeating the clustering dilemma.

We cannot keep narrowing our communities in order to remain comfortable in our political beliefs. That’s just not realistic, and it’s simply the easy way out. As a movement that prides itself on having “the most diverse state in the United States,” California should not relinquish its voice in the national conversation. As a Californian myself, I implore members of my home state to not shy away from political difference, economic frustration, and social injustice, but rather stay and confront it.

Hailing from Irvine, California, Rachel Higson graduated from DePauw with an English Writing major and Art History minor. She loves skateboarding, snowboarding, and hiking. At DePauw, she ran on DePauw's cross country team, volunteered at Central Elementary, was a WGRE DJ, and tutored at the Writing Center.
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