Should California secede from the United States?

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Gian Carlo Baldonado and Kylie Yamada

Pro: Gian Carlo Baldonado

California is a state with firm Democratic roots, and the election of Republican Donald Trump has led to a surge in interest in the state’s separation from the United States –– otherwise known as “Cal-exit.”

With over 25,000 followers on Facebook, today’s largest separatist movement is the Yes California Independence Campaign. The mission is simple: a peaceful transition to an independent California via an independence referendum.

Recent adoptions of the California Equal Pay Act, the Reproductive Fact Act, state-sponsored healthcare for undocumented children, and several environmental laws such as Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act suggest that the Golden State, with its Democratic-majority legislature, has turned far left in its political agenda.

In addition, California’s economic labor force, generating $2 trillion in GDP in 2015, renders it akin to a major global power with the sixth largest economy in the world, according to International Monetary Fund figures.

With the image of a more progressive California that has the economic capacity to support itself, the estrangement of values and the country’s overdependence on the state is just the tip of a clear conflict between California and the rest of the United States.

While the values of open-mindedness, tolerance, and diversity are often iterated as good reasons why California should leave the United States, fact-based evidence of the federal government’s abuse may lead most Californians to vote yes for independence.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, Californians paid $292,563,574,000 in federal tax in 2012. The California National Party, another campaign devoted to California’s nationhood, reports that the state’s federal tax is comparatively higher than what the state receives in federal funding.

“During [2012, California] received back approximately $0.78 for every dollar paid while states like Mississippi and Louisiana that constantly complain about ‘entitlements’ got more than $2 for every $1 they paid,” the California National Party wrote in a statement.

The campaign argues that the extra money other states receive comes from the $59 billion expenditure in California’s total federal tax solely for subsidizing other states. Meanwhile, a Bloomberg Government study reports another $57 billion in spending on the U.S. military.

According to a “Business Insider” report, the United States spends a total of $610 billion on its military compared to China’s $216 billion and Russia’s $84.5 billion expenditures. An independent California can spend the billions of dollars it currently spends subsidizing other states and the bloated U.S. military budget to build its own military.

Take for example Switzerland, which spends only 0.7 percent of its GDP on its military compared to the U.S.’s 4.2 percent spending, according to the World Bank data. If California were to follow Switzerland’s footsteps on defense budgeting, the Golden State only has to pay $14 billion for its military defense, significantly less than what the state currently pays the U.S. and less than one percent of California’s GDP.

Moreover, this low-spending projection on military combined with California’s trillion-dollar GDP provides an allowance for any margin of error, especially that California is a big coastal state compared to landlocked Switzerland, and allows the state to focus on other expenses like infrastructure, education and healthcare.

In addition to the federal government’s overdependence on the state, California also suffers from an outdated immigration system tailored for the other 49 states, and with a President-elect who has taken an anti-illegal immigrant stance, California’s immigrant-dependent economy is at stake.

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, the state is home to an estimated 2.6 million undocumented immigrants or six percent of the state’s total population. A University of Southern California research reports that these unauthorized immigrants, who are facing threats of deportation after Trump’s election, contribute as much as $130 billion (6.5 percent) of California’s GDP –– more than enough to finance the current and projected military spending of California.

An independent California would mean that the state would further be able to help its many immigrants become naturalized citizens and make its own immigration system that is consistent with its progressive, more immigrant-friendly values.

While it cannot be denied that the path to a constitutional secession would logistically take time, Cal-exit from the Union is nowhere unreasonable –– nor impossible –– in the near future.

Con: Kylie Yamada

South Carolina became the first state to secede from the United States on December 20, 1860. We all know how that turned out.

Over 150 years later, it seems that California has become the proponent of states’ rights. The result of the 2016 election was incredibly controversial as soon as it was called. Donald Trump won the electoral votes by a slim majority in many states — but not California, where Hillary Clinton won with two-thirds of the vote. As soon as Trump reached the needed 270 threshold in electoral votes, protests broke out at every UC campus, as well as some CSU campuses and in cities such as Oakland.

The UCs and CSU student bodies are already known for their emphasis on trigger warnings on potentially offensive material, as well as advocating for “safe spaces” on campus. Unfortunately, it seems that these entities intended for protecting students have instead blinded them to the reality of politics.

Some of those protestors took it even further by creating the hashtag #Calexit as well as a website yescalifornia.org dedicated to California becoming its own nation. Although there are economic reasons listed to secede, the majority of believers focus on the hope of keeping California’s ideals alive — diversity, acceptance, and a refusal to accept prejudice of any kind.

But how is abandoning the vast majority of Americans keeping our ideals live? Our response should not be to give up on the United States and leave it behind; instead, Democrats should work even harder to convince others of their causes.

Excluding just California and New York, the majority of the country voted Republican in local and national elections. It took Republicans six years to win back both chambers of the House after losing them in 2008; Democrats will have to wait and organize as well if they are to effect change.

California is powerful as a state; it has the greatest population, the largest economy, and the most Congressional representatives. As an independent nation, California would by necessity not be able to interfere much in the United States’s affairs. As a state, California has the right, and arguably an obligation, to assert the opinions of its citizens.

The United States relies on California economically, another point of contention for Calexiters. But it should be kept in mind that California relies on the United States as well; it currently receives around $300 billion in federal aid, the most of any state. If California seceded, its residents would lose all of the federal funding they currently receive, including Medicaid.

The US Common Sense, a group based in Stanford University, estimates that California’s debt is around $443 billion. Half a trillion dollars in debt isn’t as bad as several other countries, but California would have to account for several new programs it would have to fund as an independent nation, and several cities, including our very own Stockton, have already filed for bankruptcy — largely due to our unmanageable and unfunded pension liability. Think California is too big to fail? Think again.

Economically, California needs the United States just as much as the United States needs California.

In addition, over 30 percent of Californians did vote for Trump. Even if you don’t agree with them, a divided nation is not a good place for a new country to start out. Alternatively, some of the Trump voters (many of whom are farmers contributing to agriculture) could leave California, which would hurt the economy of a fledgling nation.

Additionally, the steps to secession are numerous and difficult. It’s against the Constitution to secede, and if California leaders wanted to leave the nation without another Civil War it would require passing a 28th Amendment which would need a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress. Neither Democrats nor Republicans would vote in favor it; Democrats need the blue stronghold of California and Republicans want to keep California’s huge economy in the U.S.

And if California refuses to remain in the Union? Americans get to experience a second Civil War — and this time, it’s likely there will be more than 600,000 casualties. In this polarized, partisan, political atmosphere, the last thing the United States needs is a literal Civil War.
Mark Twain once said, “Loyalty to the nation all the time; loyalty to the government when it deserves it.” People may not agree with Trump, but our response shouldn’t be to run away.