After it became clear that Donald Trump would become president on the night of 8 November 2016, Democrats and related leftists began organizing a California secession campaign. The idea has lengthy roots, but gained massive steam when the election dust settled. By now, about a third of Californians, mostly Democrats, support the idea. And a group is beginning to gather signatures to put an advisory referendum on the ballot in 2018. But why would anyone oppose it?
Libertarians, of course, almost always support self-determination and secession down to the individual. They key is freedom of association (or disassociation). We are predisposed to support this idea vociferously, but it also has the advantage of reducing the amount of left-statists we have to contend with. A majority, albeit not all, of libertarians seem to at least sympathize with the right more, even if they oppose both parties and do not vote. Having fewer Democrats to fight with seems a lot better when we only have to deal with Republicans.
Republicans, meanwhile, have a strong incentive to support this. California used to be reliably Republican, but flipped what appears to be permanently in 1992 and hasnt elected a statewide Republican since 2006. This past election was a particularly harsh shutout 62-32 by a margin of nearly 4.3 million votes. There are questions regarding the possibility of noncitizens voting, but even if not the case, Republicans basically wrote off the state as a total loss. And the new primary system which prevented any Republican from making the Senate general election likely also depressed turnout. With Donald Trump losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million, California played a significant role in that. If California were not a state, but an independent country, Trump would have won the popular vote by nearly a million. And then on top of all this, Democrats control both senators and have a +24 advantage in Congress thanks to the Golden State. Eliminating that would certainly help the Grand Old Party pass its agenda.
Finally, Democrats now have lost two elections due to the Electoral College, likely a brilliant idea, but understandably causes them anguish. Why should left have to continually “suffer” under the yoke of the right? If California were to go its own way, it would be one of the largest economies in the world, rivaling many world powers. It would likely become a left-wing paradise that puts Canada and Scandinavia to shame. Why would they ever want to stay? Plus, those who live in the other 49 states would now have a place to move to where they would not have to share power with those dastardly Republicans.
To be clear, why would anyone in the country oppose this? For one, there is already a precedent that secession leaves a bad taste, but if it were amicable and mutually approved, it could happen. Additionally, there is much integration between the rest of the US and California. Would there be a border? Or would there be freedom of movement? How would this affect both economies? California is indeed a large part of the American economy, especially in agriculture. Losing it would add friction to the food trade, but likely it would continue between the two countries. The powers that be like predictability and centralization. They would not want to see California separated because that reduces power. Furthermore, what if this move sets off other secession movements and causes the US to break apart. Libertarians might support this, and most people probably should, but that would create a lot of instability and uncertainty, which most people do not want to experience.
As noted, a group has already begun gathering signatures to put a nonbinding referendum on the ballot in 2018 to see if Californians would like to leave. Even if passed, it is not fully clear if or how it would happen. Likely, the state legislature would then have to approve secession and make notice to Congress. Congress would then have to agree as well. There is some legal precedent, particularly after the Civil War, that secession is unconstitutional and the union was meant to be perpetual. The understanding of the Founders and early leaders suggests otherwise, and there is no clear prohibition on a state leaving. If Congress wanted to play it safe, a constitutional amendment would need to be passed to let California go, or create a mechanism for secession. This, of course, would require 38 sets of state legislatures to sign off on it, a tall order these days.
If it did pass and California was headed for exodus, a lot would change. Politics in the US would be substantially rebalanced to the right. On top of that, it is quite likely that conservatives in California would flee to the US and liberals in the US would make for a great western migration, both further perpetuating partisan purity in the two countries. While troubling to some, this is probably a better result for all. How can 330 million people be governed by the same entity? Why should Democrats and Republicans trade opportunity every eight years to rule over each other, while libertarians and others beg for scraps? It is high time for all of us to move closer to self rule and cease this destructive conflict once and for all.