Conservatives confidently predicted disaster, declaring that the state was committing “economic suicide.” You might think that the failure of that disaster to materialize, especially combined with the way California has outperformed states like Kansas and North Carolina that turned hard right while it was turning left, might induce them to reconsider their worldview. That is, you might think that if you haven’t been paying any attention to the right-wing mind-set.
What is happening instead, of course, is that the usual suspects are trying to portray California as a terrible place — beset by violent crime and rampant disease — in sheer denial of reality. And they have seized on the issue of homelessness, which is, to be fair, a genuine problem. Furthermore, it’s a problem brought on by bad policy — not high taxes or excessively generous social programs, but the runaway NIMBYism that has prevented California from building remotely enough new housing to accommodate its rising population.
The striking thing about the right’s new focus on homelessness, however, is that it’s hard to detect any concern about the plight of the homeless themselves. Instead, it’s all about the discomfort and alleged threat the homeless create for the affluent.
Which brings me to Trump’s war on California.
The attempt to kill the state’s emissions rules makes a kind of twisted sense given Trump’s policy priorities. His administration is clearly dedicated to the cause of making America polluted again, and in particular to ensuring that the planet cooks as quickly as possible. California is such a big player that it can effectively block part of that agenda, as shown by the willingness of automakers to abide by its emissions rules. Hence the attempt to strip away that power, never mind past rhetoric about states’ rights.
Declaring the homeless an environmental threat, however, aside from being almost surreal coming from an administration that in general loves pollution, is pure nonsense. It can be understood only as an attempt both to punish an anti-Trump state and to blacken its reputation.
What should you take away from Trump’s war on California?
First, it’s yet another illustration of the intellectual imperviousness of the modern right, which never, ever lets awkward facts disturb its preconceptions.
More ominously, the apparent weaponization of the Environmental Protection Agency is more evidence that Trump — whose party fundamentally doesn’t believe in democracy — is following the modern authoritarian playbook, in which every institution is corrupted, every function of government is perverted into a tool for rewarding friends and punishing enemies.
It’s an ugly story, and it’s scary, too.
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