California history foreshadows modern politics

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


Who are the Golden State thinkers who have helped build a sophisticated case for the proudly unsophisticated presidential candidate? In the northern half of the state, there’s Victor Davis Hanson, the celebrated Hoover Institution classicist who has favorably described Trump as a “D-11 bulldozer blade” against a bankrupt Acela establishment, and Ron Unz, an idiosyncratic Bay Area political activist and entrepreneur who publishes the Unz Review, a Trump-friendly, highbrow online journal with a devoted following.

Curtis Yarvin, the software developer and founding blogger of “neoreactionary” thought—an anti-democratic ideology popular among a slice of Silicon Valley engineers—also lives in the Bay Area. Though Yarvin’s writings are more philosophical than political and he has never explicitly given Trump his stamp of approval, he is widely cited on the pro-Trump alt-right. In particular, he has been associated with Peter Thiel, the billionaire San Francisco author, entrepreneur, and lapsed libertarian granted a prime-time speaking slot at the GOP convention in Cleveland.

Venturing hundreds of miles down the Pacific Coast, past the Monterey Bay and across the San Gabriel Mountains, there’s Steve Sailer, a controversial, widely read right-wing blogger based in Los Angeles known for pioneering the concept of “human biodiversity”—another pillar of the alt-right—and Mickey Kaus, the former New Republic writer and author-turned-anti-immigration wonk who started boosting the eventual nominee on his data-heavy blog early in the primaries.

Finally, the Claremont Institute—a conservative think tank also headquartered in Los Angeles County—brings the most brainpower and organizational heft to the pro-Trump intellectual project. “Publius Decius Mus,” a pseudonymous writer for the Claremont Review of Books, made waves last month with a scorched-earth screed (“The Flight 93 Election”) in defense of the candidate and against the alleged impotence of New York-Washington conservative thought leaders in the face of the country’s relentless leftward march. The California publication followed up on this lengthy treatise with another piece, “After the Republic,” in which international relations scholar Angelo Codevilla pronounces the American democratic experiment dead and identifies the selection of a post-republican emperor as the sole remaining task for principled conservatives in 2016. A recently published list of pro-Trump intellectuals disproportionately consisted of signatories who were either Claremont scholars or alumni of Claremont Graduate University.

…The single most visible cause of this shift was mass immigration—or, alternatively, the failure of California Republicans to adapt to immigration—which produced a demographic transformation of the Golden State without parallel in the rest of the country. The California that elected Reagan its Governor was about 80 percent white and 12 percent Hispanic; today, those figures are 38 percent and 39 percent, respectively. In other words, California squeezed into forty years a transformation that is expected to take at least a century for America as a whole (if it takes place at all, given rates of assimilation and ethnic attrition) and which many Trump supporters clearly resent and fear. The only state with a comparable post-1970 experience is New York, which is historically more accustomed than the Golden State to absorbing large immigrant populations.

California turned bluer in the 1990s as immigration flows soared, but the explosion of ethnic diversity helped fuel spasms of populist reaction with a distinctively Trumpian hue. In 1992, in response to a perceived outbreak of political correctness on college campuses, the California State Legislature made national news by outlawing private colleges from banning constitutionally protected speech critical of minorities. In 1994, voters passed Proposition 187 by popular referendum, cutting access to welfare benefits and public schooling for unauthorized immigrants, and Proposition 184, imposing a draconian “three-strikes” criminal justice system. In 1996, in response to the perception that minorities were getting an unfair admissions advantage in the UC system, voters passed Proposition 209, banning affirmative action in public institutions. And in 1998, they passed Proposition 228, prohibiting Spanish-language instruction for immigrants at the state’s public schools. For America and much of the Western world, the 1990s were a period of end-of-history serenity. But if you focus on the Golden State, the decade offered a taste of the vituperative identity politics and nationalist resurgence now plainly visible across the West.

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