Attorney General Jeff Sessions, heretofore content to mutter darkly about sanctuary cities on Fox News, last week announced he was bringing suit against California for its laws protecting unauthorized immigrants, attacking them as a form of “nullification” and “secession,” a strange insult coming from a proud states’ rights advocate and supporter of the Lost Cause’s last gasps.
Though conservatives are supposed to favor tough immigration laws, it’s not at all clear that they favor targeting immigrants as the Trump administration has with its family-sundering ICE troopers. But they may be OK with targeting California, for which conservatives have had a hate on for years.
The conservative habit of hating on Cali comes and goes. On the one hand, Berkeley has been a right-wing swear word since Reagan ran the state in the 1960s, and who can forget Jeane Kirkpatrick denouncing “the San Francisco Democrats” at the 1984 GOP Convention?
Conservatives did cool it during the disastrous reigns of Republican governors Pete Wilson and proto-Trump Arnold Schwarzenegger — but then Californians rebelled and kicked a lot of Republicans out of office, so conservatives’ rage returned to full boil, and they’ve taken to calling the place a “failed state.”
You might think that’s an unfair rap to hang on the largest economy in the nation (and the sixth largest in the world!), with famous natural and cultural beauties that are seen by tens of millions of tourists every year. But they’re committed to it nonetheless.
Even before Sessions’s announcement, the right-wing world had been churning out slurs like Jennifer Van Laar’s “California: Further Proof That Liberal Policies Ruin Everything They Touch” at RedState. Van Laar cited Kerry Jackson’s Los Angeles Times column calling “liberal California” the “poverty capital of America” — an example of the familiar right-wing trope in which the author pretends to care that some blue jurisdiction has, along with a robust business environment and general prosperity, a lot of poor people — a concern such writers never express about the wealth disparities in, say, Alabama.
The presence of poors, however, was just Van Laar’s MacGuffin for a jeremiad attacking the left coast for its “No-Strings-Attached Welfare,” “Land-use Regulations,” “Energy Regulation,” and — the greatest horror of all! — “Minimum Wage Hikes,” for which Van Laar claimed “the implications…are already known” to be negative without providing a citation, perhaps because she knew many sources say the opposite.
Conservatives also like to point out that homeless people, whom the larger California cities tolerate instead of trying to starve them to death, as redder jurisdictions do, aren’t able to maintain middle-class sanitary standards, leading to Fox News headlines like “‘National disgrace’: Community fights back as California overrun by homelessness, human waste, needles” and James Woods tweets like “People say to hell with #California, as if we deserve the needles-and-feces strewn streets gifted us by liberal #Democrats,” etc. You can imagine the effect of such reports on Republicans from Big Suburb, Missouri.
When Sessions threatened California, some conservatives directly endorsed his action. “Jeff Sessions Calls Out California’s Elected Leaders In A Take-No-Prisoners Speech,” wrote RedState. “Well, the federales have arrived!” cheered Rush Limbaugh, who interpreted Sessions’s announcement to mean, “We’re not asking you to violate whatever stupid liberal value set you’ve got. We’ll do it. But not if you get in the way, we’re gonna take you out.”
But in general, conservative rage was not directed so much toward the immigrants as at California for being so unapologetically liberal as to welcome Mexicans into its state.
“California Democrats Ready to War Again to Keep Their Slaves,” snarled iPatriot’s Dustin Koellhoffer. “The fools think they are America’s ‘economic engine’ when they have become America’s toilet.” Haw, guess he follows Fox News (or James Woods)! If Koellhoffer hasn’t won your heart with that, here he is on “the ‘brown people race’ [which] includes Mexicans, Hispanics, and Moslems who are all Caucasians, but who all want to destroy Christian America…an aptly named race because they are all as full of sh*t as the Democrats when it comes to truth, justice, and righteousness.” I’m amazed Trump hasn’t hired this guy.
Conservative Book Club ran a poll, “Should California Be Punished For Flouting Immigration Laws?” on a page featuring the California flag turned red with a hammer and sickle in the upper left corner.
Others just sat around the campfire and told their neighbors that they’d heard tell that Cal-i-for-ni-ay was a horrible place where no decent folk would want to live nohow.
At Townhall, Jeff Crouere claimed the state — I remind you, the economic powerhouse of the nation — was “an economic and cultural disaster” because it had “114,000 homeless people” (the state’s total population is 39.5 million), and “even a sizable portion of the film industry has moved from Hollywood to other states offering tax incentives and a better business climate,” a news flash from the 1990s.
Crouere’s other proof points were similarly relevant. Like many of the brethren, he dwelt at length on the undocumented immigrant who accidentally killed Kate Steinle, as if he were more representative of that population than, say, migrant workers or kitchen employees.
When U.S. News & World Report published a McKinsey ranking of states that put California at No. 32 overall and last for “quality of life” — a metric based, McKinsey said, on “natural environment” and “social environment,” by which standard No. 1 state was, get this, North Dakota — the brethren reacted with all the schadenfreude you’d expect.
A few conservative writers, perhaps worried that their readers might have actually been to California, took the trouble to put their complaints in the future or conditional tense. “While the economy is doing well at the current time, experts predict the recent uptick will not last because of high taxation rates and onerous regulations on businesses,” fudged Newsmax.
Former Republican congressman Allen West wrote, “Yes, California’s economy, as per the report, is still #4 in the Country, but for how long?” (Bonus West quote: “California is not just exporting raisins, walnuts, and wine. It is also exporting the failed philosophy of progressive socialism.”)
But most didn’t bother to qualify their remarks.
“One way to measure quality life is whether residents can even afford to have a roof over their heads, and by that standard, California is failing,” wrote Fox News, showing a picture of a woman living under a bridge.
“Liberalism Has Finally Gone Too Far in California…State’s Beyond Repair,” gibbered Conservative Tribune’s William Haupt III: “When they euphonize Prop 13 next election, this will be the holocaust of methodic genocide.… This will nail the coffin shut on the goose that laid the golden egg, as the few remaining entrepreneurs and tax-paying elites abandon California to escape the calamity of the liberal morgue…” etc.
“California has become a hellhole,” claimed Lynn Woolley of WB Daily. “Taxes are high. Los Angeles and other major cities are filled with homeless people who take bowel movements on public property that tourists are warned to avoid.”
One reason for all this misrepresentation is that it’s Trump time in the Republic, and all conservatives now follow the Leader in lying unashamedly about their enemies.
But I think there’s another reason why they beat up on California. Red states are notorious for immiserating their own citizens by blocking minimum wage hikes, demanding stingier Medicaid standards, making it easier for citizens to get killed with guns, etc.
It is fair to assume these right-wing governments expect their citizens to put up with this, not only because they are deranged by Republican hate- and fearmongering, but also because, being impoverished and insulated, these citizens have no experience of the different, less painful ways of life lived elsewhere, whether in Western Europe or in blue states here at home, and so know no better and have nothing with which to compare their treatment.
It may be that California’s obvious and well-publicized wealth and advancement is embarrassing to conservatives who want their voters to believe that the apex of human freedom and achievement is found in Fritters, Alabama, or Gopher Prairie, S.D. So they must tell their constituents that California is dirty, full of feces and Mexicans and in a state of collapse, and altogether a place they would hate to live.
Also, as Sessions’s suit shows, this administration is not shy about using its power, in immigration policy as well as in the environment and other areas, to make California more like the typical red state, thus making their portrayal come true.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 12, 2018