California Secede? Never(ish).

Flag of California, the Bear Flag

Perhaps we should’ve mentioned that while we didn’t see a single confederate flag in California, we did spot approximately 10,000 Bear Flags. And they wave as something like a flag of the Trump “resistance.”

California, today the world’s sixth largest economy, has been raising eyebrows for seeming to live up to the “Republic” title on its flag in the age of President Trump. Jerry Brown has become a foil to the president, racking up billion-dollar surpluses in the state budget while traveling the globe advocating for solutions to climate change, as if he were president of California, not just governor.

As Trump visits this week to view prototypes of his proposed border wall and raise campaign money, you can expect the rhetoric to warm up.

But really — lecturing the state about the illegality of secession? The US Attorney General thought they had it coming. And maybe they do — or rather, maybe it’s a conversation worth having.

“There is no secession. Federal law is the supreme law of the land. I would invite any doubters to go to Gettysburg or to the tombstones of John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln. This matter has been settled,” Jeff Sessions said.

For his part, Brown called Sessions “a fellow coming from Alabama talking to us about secession and protecting human and civil rights.”

Let’s be fair. California has officially flirted with secession, repeatedly. Last year saw the launch of Cal-Exit, a secessionist petition drive. And just two months ago “New California” was proposed, a state to be comprised of the rural counties and separated from the mother state like West Virginia was from Virginia.

But the spirit of secession is more compelling than the legal maneuvers. The value of being a Californian seems to be encroaching on the value of being an American.

Exhibit A: the ubiquitous Bear Flags.

The flag of California can be found on hats, shirts, billboards, and tattoos in seemingly every neighborhood in Southern California. It’s a call-back, remembering a short-lived revolution in which Mexicans and Americans attempted to wrests control of the territory from the central Mexican government. Plus, it has a bear. And it says “Republic of California.”

Basically, it’s a very cool as state flags go. And it almost exactly represents what Californians — and many other Americans — want in the age of Trump. Independence. Strength. And not the same flag Trump supporters drape themselves in. (We didn’t conduct a count of Bear Flags vs. Stars and Stripes, but Old Glory certainly was not a clear winner, if a winner at all.)

An identity comparably important to one’s nationality is a key ingredient in separation and sometimes war. See our previous discussion of the similarities between the Catalonian independence movement in the confederacy.

For discussion’s sake, let’s say that this talk of secession and all the Bear Flag waving are symptomatic of a rising Californian identity. Why the state-triotism?

We wish there were more reasons than race, but race seems to be enough. California has been a majority-minority state for close to two decades, a generation. Before Reagan and Nixon, California was home to a series of immigrant waves, from the arrival of Spanish missionaries to the gold rush to the Hollywood boom. It has always been a destination for immigrants from across the world and, frankly, a draw for Americans from other states.

Pure demographics tell us there are few richer targets for Trump’s ICE raids than California— and virtually no place where those raids would be less welcome.

“California isn’t trying to leave the Union. It’s resisting federal demands that the state play a role in seizing and expelling undocumented migrants who have made their way there. So secession isn’t an apt historical comparison. The Fugitive Slave Act is,” tweeted Princeton history professor Kevin Kruse.

For those who don’t recall, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act required slaves captured in the North to be returned to their owners. Just as some modern sanctuary cities — and in California’s case, a sanctuary state — have forbidden municipal services from cooperating in raids of immigrants, some northern municipalities refused to cooperate in the return of former slaves.

Another eerie similarity to the pre-Civil War period is the talk of secession, not just by fringe groups, but by politicians at the highest levels jockeying for rhetorical points. Secession was a threat throughout early American history, by state’s north and south. But the talk became bolder, and started coming consistently from the same quarters in the years just preceding hostilities.

So, is California contemplating a dear John letter to Uncle Sam? Maybe not. But then again maybe it’s thinking of staging one of those heart-to-heart discussions that precede the filing of papers.

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