We have a fire season in California. It is as predictable as snow season in Cleveland Ohio, for example. With the climate emergency, it has gotten longer, and it has little to do with forest management. In fact, most of the fires this year have started in chaparral, or in urbanized spaces.
Let’s be honest, the Palisades in Los Angeles is not exactly the high Sierra with an old forest.
However, the president threatened to withdraw federal help (again.) Why? Well, there are several reasons. The first and most obvious is that Trump is activating the hate many in the American right feel for California. This did not start with Donald Trump. It’s quite old, and more than one in his base has said the US would do better without California.
So the threats are not novel, or new. There are people out there, in far-right land, that believe this. Why? California is not American enough and does not share the values of the rest of the country. Translation, especially since the government turned far more Democratic and diverse, the state is not white, or Christian enough. Never mind that the state looks like the rest of the country will in the coming generation. Ok, maybe not Iowa or North Dakota.
Some have even whispered (and Trump seems to believe this) that the state should leave the United States. This is not that rare in the true armpits of the internet. And if you have spent any time on social media, you have read this, perhaps from your crazy uncle. Who knows, there may be some crazy uncle that repeats this nonsense during Thanksgiving to the nods and sighs or the rest of the family. It is not the eggnog speaking. There are serious discussions of this very real issue in far-right land.
Then in 2016, we had what seemed to be a serious effort for California to leave the United States. That the organizer left for greener spaces in Moscow should be telling. However, the sentiment is not limited to a few fringe elements. The genius of hybrid warfare is that the Russians know us and our fracture points better than we.
And it’s gotten so bad that a few of us, as a joke, answer to these people, “throw us into that briar patch.”
The reality is that California, even with the federal help for fire fighting efforts, remains a donor state. It is also the fifth-largest global economy. So if the state left the Union, the rest of the nation would lose far more than it would gain. But the question still needs asking? Who benefits even in the mere talk?
At this point Russia.
The more we fight each other, the easier it becomes for Russia to come back. Trump is playing straight into that narrative. Whether he believes it (I think he does) or is just acting…Vladimir Putin is seeing his plan come to fruition. Even after the release of the Mueller report, the president (and the rest of the American right) keep playing these games.
Is California the same as Kansas? Of course not. There are cultural and regional differences. This also applies to different regions within states, as well as urban, suburban and rural spaces. However, for some in the mythology of the far right, California is simply not American any longer.
If the definition of what the United States and to be an American in the 1950s, conservative, white and Christian, the far right is correct. California is diverse, with many religions. This includes Catholicism, which is seen by many fundamentalist Christians as a cult. This goes back to the reformation and the religious wars that followed. These echoes remain barely under the surface. California is also proud of its Mexican traditions and recovering other traditions. It is not the land of Ronald Reagan or Pete Wilson any longer.
2018 was also the year the orange wall (Orange County for those not from California) fell. This also made republicans, even more, a party in danger of extinction in the state. To be fair, the second-largest electoral vote is the decline to state voters. In California, we actually have a far-right-wing American Independent Party, which is why those who know refer to independents as decline to state. It is a mouthful, but it is telling. What is even more telling is that Republicans are not the second-largest party, but more like the third, trending even lower.
So if you ever asked yourself why the American right does not like California…these are some of the reasons. And some in the American right would not mind if California became its own country. Let’s be clear. The state could make it as an independent country. It would upend politics in the rest of the country. In fact, it would ensure the dominance of Republicans in Washington for decades to come. That is assuming only the state left and was not quickly followed by others. Did I say Washington and Oregon? Perhaps Nevada and Arizona? How about other regions deciding to go their own way?
There are some true negatives to this. A continental empire needs two coasts to project power globally. Culturally there are regions that have more in common with each other, than the rest of the country. And the breakup of the United States will only benefit Russia.
Incidentally, Colonel Putin went through that process in 1989, and for him accelerating these divisions within the United States is just revenge. So when the president engages in those games, he is playing into Russian hands and hybrid warfare. Threatening not to help states that he hates, is just playing into Russia’s hands, and deepening internal divisions. We are in the midst of a cold civil war. This is but one more symptom.