The media is awash in speculation about the trade wars president-elect Donald Trump may wage or about the ill-defined anti-ISIS campaign he may or may not pursue, but the one conflict the incoming chief executive and his supporters seem sure to engage is a war against California.
The Golden State not only went overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, but it’s success as the world’s sixth largest economy, its preeminent position on the cutting edge of technology and popular culture and its conduct as a productively multi-ethnic polity also stand as a daily refutation to all the Trumpistas’ darkest fulminations about American decline. The fear that gnaws at Trump and his Republican enablers is the possibility that America doesn’t need to “be great again;” it just needs to be more like California.
It’s the blind animosity toward Sacramento’s example of successful progressive and multi-ethnic government that lies behind the bitter sentiments such as this one recently expressed on a nationally popular right-wing website: “I would love to see Trump and the Congress break California,” the commentator wrote. “Easy to do, start with eliminating the state income tax deduction for federal taxes to hit their rich supporters, then eliminate the mortgage interest rate deduction to hit their property owning class. Then give subsidies to any tech companies that move to the rust belt, and through (sic) in a lot of copyright loosening on video products, just to piss off the film industry. Those few should destroy Cali’s economy pretty effectively. Why should the GOP care? They’ll never vote for the GOP again, so wreck the place.”
Though the Trump people and their Republican allies may dress up their proposals in less nakedly punitive rhetoric, the animating spirit is, at root, the same. In fact, if you examine the items at the top of the new administration’s agenda and that of the congressional GOP, what you find are initiatives with a disproportionately harsh impact on California. Each is, in its own way, just another front in a general war on Sacramento.
Take, for example, topic one: repeal of the Affordable Care Act. According to the federal Department of Health and Human Services, “The data show that the uninsured rate in California has fallen by 54% since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted in 2010, translating into 3,826,000 Californians gaining coverage. And, in addition to residents who would otherwise be uninsured, millions more Californians with employer, Medicaid, individual market, or Medicare coverage have also benefited from new protections as a result of the law.”
In fact, money made available under the ACA currently provides $20 billion for the state’s Medi-Cal program. Even if the fractious Republican congressional delegation can come up with a substitute for the ACA—a doubtful proposition since a majority of GOP lawmakers don’t really believe the federal government should even be involved in healthcare—tens of millions of Californians are going to suffer in the interim. Some will die; others will be forced to stand by and watch helplessly as loved ones suffer—collateral casualties in an ideological assault on their state.
Similarly, Trump’s protectionist trade policies would devastate California’s economy. NAFTA and China are the great Satan’s at the center of his mercantile demonology. Both have benefited California more than they have any other state. Since NAFTA’s passage, Mexico has become Sacramento’s largest international trading partner with the bilateral exchange of goods and services now topping $60 billion annually. The U.S. Commerce Department estimates that more than one in four California manufacturing jobs depend on exports to Mexico, and computers and transportation equipment—high value items produced for high wages—now account for 32% of all the Golden State’s sales south of the border.
In Mexico, NAFTA has sped the growth of a consuming middle class, which now provides a market for $24 billion worth of California exports, 14.2% of the states total foreign trade. Should Trump walk away from NAFTA or provoke a trade war with Mexico, the consequences for California would be catastrophic.
So, too, would commercial conflict with China. No state would suffer more from such strife than California. Sacramento sells $14.3 billion a year directly into the Chinese market and $143.6 billion in Chinese goods are shipped into California. Altogether, Sino-Sacramento trade provides employment for more than 30,000 California workers. Fully 60% of the containers moving through the Port of Los Angeles come from China, and California’s manufacturing sector, which is nation’s largest and accounts for 10% of the nation’s industrial output, is centered on high value products like computers, aerospace and chemicals, most of which have supply chains that stretch back to China.
The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the busiest shipping points in the United States with 36% of the nation’s foreign container trade moving through their docks. Together they generate more than $200 billion in annual economic activity for California and employ more than 600,000 people most of them at middle- and upper-middle class wages. The ports’ biggest customer? China, by far.
But where Californians see prosperity, team Trump sees profiteering. UC Riverside economist Peter Navarro, who heads the incoming chief executive’s National Trade Council, has alleged that California “gets an advantage by simply facilitating the flow of illegally subsidized (Chinese) goods in the country. We are unique in that we are the gateway for the disease and people make money off of that.”
Then there’s the foundation of Trump’s political fortunes, his promise to “build a wall” along the Mexican border—and to make the Mexicans pay for it—while deporting millions of undocumented immigrants. As a practical matter, of course, he isn’t going to be able to make good on either one of those promises.
Reuters recently reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection estimates that adding 413 miles of border fencing (cheaper than Trump’s promised concrete wall) to the southern border would cost $11.37 billion. Doing the same along the northern border with Canada would require 452 miles of new fencing at a cost of $3.3 billion. There’s no money for that, let alone the astronomically larger bill for the president-elect’s promised wall.
Similarly, people actually involved in immigration enforcement point out that even Trump’s revised plan to initially deport “only” 3 million gang members, drug dealers and criminals supposedly in the country illegally is, according to former U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Sandberg, “impossible, period.” First of all, as the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute calculates, there are only about 820,000 undocumented immigrants with criminal records that make them deportable.
Even so, as Sandberg told Politico, the problem of expense would remain insurmountable. “At an average cost of $12,213 for each deportation, according to ICE, 2 million deportations would add up to more than $24.4 billion over four years.” The agency’s entire annual budget is just $19.4 billion. Nor could the immigration courts, whose 295 judges currently have a backlog of more than 526,000 cases, handle anything like the Trump-envisioned volume.
On the surface, those realities would seem to shield California, more than one in four of whose residents—about 10 million—is an immigrant, an estimated 27% of them without papers. Just for the sake of perspective, about 10% of Los Angeles County’s population is undocumented. One out of every five of our children — most of them citizens — have at least one parent without legal documentation. Statewide, 16% of children have an undocumented parent. In the Inland Empire 8% of the adults are undocumented immigrants, and 14% of all children have a parent without papers. Nearly half of the undocumented adults have been in this country for more than a decade and among those who head a household 17% are established enough to have become homeowners.
If Trump really feels compelled to make at least some gesture toward making good on his xenophobic campaign pledges, the only way to do so would be to revive widespread workplace and, even, school raids, discredited practices that scoop up disproportionate numbers of law-abiding, hard- working immigrants and would fall with particular force on California. “The criminal population is more resource-intensive to deport,” said former ICE director Sandberg. “It is much harder to find a serious gang member or a convicted felon because these people are generally adept at hiding in the communities.”
One of the things that makes California’s immigrants vulnerable to scatter-shot federal enforcement is their successful integration into the state’s economy. Nationwide, economic policy scholars estimate, 28% of all so-called main-street, mom and pop businesses now are operated by immigrants. In Los Angeles, that figure is an astounding 61%. California’s foreign-born residents also are more likely to be in the civilian labor force than U.S.-born residents by a 66% to 62% margin. California’s vital agricultural sector—the nation’s largest—employs 325,000 immigrants, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fully 85% of those workers are without papers.
Trump also has vowed to cut off federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities,” like Los Angeles and San Francisco that formally decline to cooperate with federal immigration officers on deportations. Similarly, California Republican Representatives Duncan Hunter and Tom McClintock have introduced legislation—HR 6534—that would cut off any federal funding for colleges and universities, like the UC’s and state colleges—that have declared they will not cooperate in deportations. (Somehow, the ghost of Prop 187 is going to haunt the Golden State’s rump Republican Party for all eternity.)
South LA Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer put the situation squarely and correctly in remarks to his legislative colleagues in Sacramento this week, “We in California,” he said, “face a hard, cold reality that reflects both unprecedented uncertainty and conceivably a looming, long and ferocious and hard-fought legal war with bloodshed stretching from the Golden State to Washington D.C. The reason: Trump.”
The president-elect may not be able to make America great again—whatever that means—but he certainly can make it more divided and contentious.