Last week, one of the most powerful men in America, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, endorsed as a “great read” a Medium article entitled “The Great Lesson of California in America’s New Civil War.” The article, by Peter Leyden and Ruy Teixeira, is one entry in a lengthy four-part series called “California Is the Future,” and it posits that there is “no bipartisan path forward for America.” Leyden and Teixeira believe that there are two competing economic systems, classes, and cultures, and that one has to win while the other has to lose.
In other words, they think one-party rule is the path forward. America is locked in a version of a civil war — or, more precisely, the prelude to a civil war — and civil wars are resolved by domination:
America today has many parallels to America in the 1850s or America in the 1930s. Both of those decades ended with one side definitively winning, forming a political supermajority that restructured systems going forward to solve our problems once and for all. In the 1850s, we fought the Civil War, and the Republican Party won and then dominated American politics for 50 years. In the 1930s, the Democratic Party won and dominated American politics for roughly the same amount of time.
Most of the commentary has focused on Dorsey’s tweet (he later tried to backtrack), and his tweet certainly is notable. Does it reveal Twitter’s disdain for the GOP? Why would he be so reckless as to show his cards so clearly? It reaffirmed for conservatives that America’s lines of social-media communication are in (ideological) enemy hands.
Yet Dorsey’s endorsement is far less important than the substance of the article itself. If it’s correct, then the Trump administration represents the death rattle of the GOP. Generations of Democratic dominance loom. American polarization will yield to American unity under the progressive banner.
The heart of the argument rests on a combination of economics and demographics. In essence, it posits an equation: concern for inequality and climate change plus an increasingly diverse electorate equals Democratic victory and Republican collapse. It’s a version of the demographic-inevitability thesis that informed Teixeira’s much-discussed 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic Majority, and the triumphalist rhetoric after President Obama’s 2012 re-election: The “coalition of the ascendant” — black, Hispanic, and single-female voters — guaranteed a progressive future.
I would say, “then Trump happened,” but that’s far too shallow an analysis. Republican triumphs since Teixeira’s book have been so deep and wide that the Democratic party is at its lowest ebb in almost a century. It lost the Oval Office, the House, the Senate, most governorships, and most state houses. Only eight states are under unified Democratic control. By contrast, Republicans completely control 26 states. Republicans enjoy 17 veto-proof majorities, the Democrats only four.
Ironically enough, if you’re wondering why the Democratic majority hasn’t emerged — why the party’s coalition hasn’t ascended — you can blame, in part, California.
First, while demographic change is very real, it’s not happening everywhere at the same rate. In fact, a meaningful part of that change is hyper-concentrated in the Golden State. The numbers are amazing. It’s the most populous state in the nation and also one of the least white. America is 61 percent white, 18 percent Hispanic, and 12 percent black. California, by contrast, is 39 percent white, 38 percent Hispanic, 15 percent Asian, and 5 percent black. Moreover, one-fourth of the nation’s immigrant population lives in California. More than a quarter of California residents are immigrants, a number that almost doubles the national average.
Progressive ideological dominance accompanied by incompetence and authoritarianism is not a blueprint for unity.
Demographics undoubtedly affect politics, and in California the demographics are wildly different than they are in most of the country — with no realistic prospect that the rest of the country will grow to mirror California, not for generations (if ever). Interestingly, Texas’s demographics mirror California’s perhaps more than any other state. It’s 43 percent white, 38 percent Hispanic, 12 percent black, and 5 percent Asian — and it’s still the cornerstone of national GOP power.
Second, it turns out that California politics and policies are repellent to millions of Californians. Between 2007 and 2016 roughly 6 million California residents left the state. Only 5 million people moved to California from other American states. And where did a plurality of former Californians go?
When you break down the migration numbers even further, the results are fascinating. While California loses residents to most states, it enjoys net positive migration mainly from other blue states, most notably New York, Illinois, and New Jersey. This means that California’s population churn — immigration combined with domestic migration — pushes it farther down the progressive path.
Third, while Teixeira and Leyden point to California as a model for combatting inequality, it’s one of the most unequal states in the nation. The most prosperous parts of the state are not only undeniably beautiful, they’re also populated by a creative and entrepreneurial class that gives each place a distinctive intellectual energy. If you’re rich enough, parts of California are very, very nice places to live. If you’re not, housing prices will keep you out more effectively than the guards at any gated community.
The end result is inequality so great that the nation’s tech titans happen to live in the poverty capital of America. According to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, nearly one out of five state residents is poor.
Finally, California’s progressive supermajority has led to a spate of petty authoritarianism that most Americans reject. I’ve written extensively about how California is seceding from the Constitution. The state has taken direct aim at the First Amendment rights of its pro-life citizens, implemented confiscatory gun-control policies, regulated pronoun usage, and repeatedly attempted to restrict religious liberty. All too often California progressives have demonstrated that “California values” are incompatible with the Bill of Rights.
Teixeira and Leyden’s article was published weeks before the so-called “Cal 3” initiative announced that it had collected more than 600,000 signatures to put the break-up of the state on California’s November ballot. The longshot proposal would create three new states — North California, South California, and California — and its proponents promise that it would solve persistent problems created by “failing school systems, high taxes, deteriorating infrastructure and strained government.”
Progressive ideological dominance accompanied by incompetence and authoritarianism is not a blueprint for unity. California is blessed with immense natural beauty, considerable natural resources, and a near-perfect climate. It’s no surprise that so many millions of Americans would want to live in the state. It’s stunning that so many want to leave.
California is carving out a distinctive path. But if California progressives try to remake, say, Tennessee in their own image, they’ll find that resistance is fierce. American federalism can encompass progressive and conservative enclaves. American polarization reinforces and hardens those bubbles. Teixera and Leyden believe that one side is destined to dominate. Perhaps. But there’s a different option: We could be destined to go our separate ways.