‘After watching last night’s debate,” said California governor Gavin Newsom, “this signing can’t come too soon.” Newsom is referring to Assembly Bill 3121, which he signed into law last Wednesday. He was, apparently, deeply repelled by Trump’s “refusal” to denounce white-supremacist groups, even though the president has done just that on multiple occasions. Thus Newsom felt compelled to counter Trump’s rhetoric with a divisive, controversial, and unpopular proposal: reparations. As we’ll see, this is not the first time Newsom has used flashy progressivism to attract attention to himself — or away from his failures.
Assembly Bill 3121 will get the ball rolling for California on the issue of reparations for the state’s African-American citizens, especially those who have descended from slaves. It establishes a task force of nine, a majority of whom will be appointed by Newsom, to investigate the cause of racial discrimination — de jure and de facto — and to advise on possible remedies, both financial and educational. Of the nine members, one must be an academic with civil-rights expertise; and two must be from “major civil society and reparations organizations that have historically championed the cause of reparatory justice”; all shall be drawn, of course, “from diverse backgrounds.” Using the “administrative, technical and legal assistance of the Department of Justice,” the task force will have the power to “hold hearings and sit and act at any time and location in California” and “request the attendance and testimony of witnesses.”
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D., San Diego), one of the bill’s sponsors, described the legislation as “groundbreaking” over a Zoom call with members of the California Black Caucus and the Chicano Caucus. “California has come to terms with many of issues, but it has yet to come to terms with its role in slavery,” Weber said. “AB 3121 is groundbreaking for the United States, to basically say this state is going to deal with the issue of reparations, and we’ll make a difference as the result of that.”
What is pitiful about this task force — and Newsom’s leadership on the issue of reparations — is that it seeks to investigate and amend the state’s institutions, which are drenched in progressivism and whose policies have in fact hurt minorities, not helped them. But rather than govern well and correct past mistakes, Newsom and Co. focus their energies on virtue signaling. They thus distance themselves from responsibility for their failures, shift blame to abstractions such as “systemic racism,” and still cynically appeal to minorities. It is a tragedy outlined in Joel Kotkin’s recent National Review magazine cover story, “Blue Today, Bluer Tomorrow.”
“Progressives,” Kotkin writes, “have demonstrated monumental incompetence in addressing everything from social equity to education, culture, and energy policy. Even in postmodern America, failure cannot forever be sold as success.”
He continues describing the difference between African Americans living in deeply progressive states, such as California, versus those who live in red or purple states:
African Americans, for example, generally do best, as compared with whites, in southern metro areas, led by Atlanta, McAllen (Texas), Raleigh, El Paso, Nashville, and Virginia Beach. The other best places are Sun Belt cities such as Phoenix and heartland areas such as Des Moines and Kansas City. Among the large metros, only the Washington, D.C., metro, which includes parts of Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia, and the Baltimore metro, with their large numbers of federal employees, make the top 20 for black progress.
Which areas of the country are worst for African Americans? “At the bottom,” Kotkin argues, “are mostly deep-blue metropolitan areas such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Chicago, and San Diego.” It just so happens that four of these worst cities, the least amenable to African-American economic growth, household ownership, and upward mobility, are located in the most progressive state in the union: California.
California’s “draconian anti-climate-change regime,” as Kotkin describes it, has negatively impacted working-class minorities. Before the pandemic, one in five Californians lived in poverty, while gas and electricity prices soared way above the national average. Kotkin observes that this “energy poverty has risen most among the minorities and the poor, particularly the heavily Latino working class.” Meanwhile, key industries for the working and middle classes — manufacturing, energy, and construction — have continued flounder. “Amid the wealth generated by the tech sector,” Kotkin writes, “85 percent of all California jobs have been in the low-paid service sector. California’s ability to create middle-income jobs ranks among the lowest in the country.”
Did this suffering benefit the environment? Will those bearing heavy economic costs see anything in return for their penury? According to Kotkin, nothing much has changed since the state’s mini Green New Deal. “California has accounted for only 5 percent of the nation’s greenhouse-gas reductions,” Kotkin states, and it “ranks a mediocre 40th in per capita greenhouse-gas reduction over the past decade.” Worse yet, California’s landmark environmental legislation may have had the opposite effect than what was intended. “State policies,” Kotkin claims, “may be increasing total emissions by pushing people and industries to states with less clement climates.”
Governor Newsom, however, still believes that failures — over which he presided — can in fact be sold to Californians forever. Failure in his state can be repackaged as a task force on reparations, or a ban on gas-powered vehicles. Why help the homeless population in San Francisco — 37 percent of whom are African American — and address skyrocketing rent and housing prices, when one can social-engineer utopia with the price of a woke task force, and reparations à la Ibram Kendi? Why help the homeless when one can simply blame Trump? Or, on the issue of the 2020 wildfires, which have now burned “well over 4 million acres,” why revamp forest-management and firefighting services when one can score progressive points by blaming climate change and Trump for the destruction?
Newsom’s diversion politics cannot hold for much longer. Something must give. People are leaving California in droves. Newsom’s “alliance of the rich and the dispossessed,” as Kotkin sees it, “may not prove sustainable.” But for the time being, Newsom will showcase his art of the diversion, as the AB 3121 Task Force is set to disband in July 2023. 2023, then, might be the perfect year for Newsom to launch his bid for president, should Trump win in November. While his “nation state” crumbles, Newsom would gladly pack his bags and flee for the White House. There, he would surely preside over another yet progressive disaster, marred by diversion and delusion.