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California as “occupied territory”


In a week that saw many amusing Trump-related quotes (one of my favorites is, “I have never seen him eat a vegetable,” cited by “a person close to the President,” according to CNN), the best has got to be when Trump’s domestic policy czar, called California “occupied territory.”

I’m sure Joe Grogan meant it as a punchline. But it’s a loaded term. The best-known so-called “occupied territories” in the world are the West Bank and Golan Heights, Palestinian territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war from, respectively, Jordan and Syria. So it’s ironic that Grogan, whose boss is Trump, would use “occupied territory” to describe California when Trump himself favors no homeland for the Palestinian people and is entirely supportive of the West Bank and the Golan remaining occupied by Israel.

Well, in any event, we Californians take Grogan’s remark as a point of pride. If there is a war in the U.S., between the forces of Republican reaction and ignorance, on the one hand, and the progressive forces of enlightened secular humanism, on the other, then California is certainly a bastion of the latter.

Grogan’s comment, though, reveals something of the inner thinking of the Trump cult and its followers. Most U.S. presidents throughout history sought to portray the various States as equal parts of the mosaic of America. Lincoln went to war with the southern states, not because he viewed them as “occupied territory” but because of his insistence that America not be partitioned. Lincoln was a Republican, but his party has sadly become one that seeks to divide the country, not unite it.

When did this unholy era of Republican meddling in our unity begin? A convenient marker was the 1964 presidential campaign of the Republican nominee, Barry Goldwater, who said in a magazine interview, “Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the eastern seaboard and let it float out to sea.” Goldwater was a western conservative, from Arizona: he was expressing the Republican resentment of the Democratic, liberal, multicultural, multiethnic and well-educated East Coast (read: New York City). And he expressed it in particularly violent form: “saw off” implies a bloody, non-consensual physical assault. This same martial tone infects Grogan’s comment: if a “territory” is “occupied,” then it must be in the possession of enemies. Republicans no longer compete against Democrats in the realm of ideas; no, they simply declare Democrats (and thus more than half the country) the enemy, and make plans to “re-occupy” territories they have lost.

Google “Trump” and “enemies” and you get more than 51 million hits. The sheer quantity of individuals, groups and organizations he has defined as his personal enemies (and, therefore, in his authoritarian fantasy, the “enemies” of America) is far too long for me to list. It includes, obviously, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the news media, Adam Schiff, Californians, everyone involved in his Impeachment, the government’s own intelligence agencies, many of Trump’s own appointees (John Bolton, John Kelly), the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Mitt Romney, the women he sexually molested and their attorneys, transgendered people, and scientists who affirm climate change, among many others. In fact, it’s easier to describe who his enemies aren’t: the only people Trump hasn’t declared war on are conservative Republican neo-fascists who line up to sing his praises (Devin Nunes is my favorite example, because his nose is the brownest).

Viewed from his perspective of paranoia and rage, then, Trump’s attitude towards California is perfectly understandable. We’re the bluest state in the union: not a single statewide job of any importance is held by Republicans. Both houses of the state legislature are solidly blue by veto-proof majorities. Our governor, Gavin Newsom—one of Trump’s favorite targets, who is on his own launching pad toward the presidency—is governing with an eye on everything Trump denies: climate change and global warming, increasing voter registration, supporting unions and the working class, protecting a woman’s right to choose, welcoming migrants. When Trump looks at California, he feels a disturbing mixture of emotions: jealousy, vengeance, anger, frustration. How could anyone loathe him and his party as much as these ignorant, willful Californians?

Thank God for California. Our state motto is Eureka! “I have found it!”, the phrase Archimedes supposedly uttered when he discovered a method of determining the purity of gold. Why did Californians adopt this for their motto? Because they found what Americans had been seeking for hundreds of years in their relentless drive westward: freedom, liberty, a land of unbounded opportunity (and physical gorgeousness). This sense of limitless possibility always has informed Californians; it’s what makes us liberal (because liberalism holds out the hope of progress for everyone, not just the privileged few). It’s what infuriates Trump, whose world-view is a zero-sum game: the more the “common man” progresses, the more his billionaire class and his own family have to lose. “The personal is political,” student activists in the 1960s used to declare, meaning that women, Blacks, gays, the handicapped, young people and other disenfranchised groups were entitled to full participation in our American democracy. Trump has perverted that to mean: politics is about nothing other than promoting Trump’s own interests. Everyone and everything else can be damned.

So here we are, in California, “occupied territory” to the tyrant in the White House. And we reply: Mister President, what are you going to do about it? Send in the troops? You can’t even safely travel to San Francisco or Los Angeles or Sacramento without massive street protests to let you know how loathed you are. “Occupied territory”? Hell, yes. And starting in 2021, we’re going to occupy Washington. D.C. too, and then you’ll see how History treats those on the losing side of wars they themselves started.

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