By the time this column is published, only 63 days will separate Americans from the official date of the 2020 Presidential Election.
It does not take a USC degree to understand that Americans have endured a year unprecedented in modern United States history. Not long ago, in January, many feared that our nation was on the brink of a catastrophic war against Iran. One month after that, President Donald Trump was acquitted on two impeachment charges after a sham of a trial was organized by feckless Republican partisans in the U.S. Senate. Soon afterwards, the coronavirus spread across the world and the United States. An absence of effective leadership in the White House in the wake of the pandemic has led to over 180,000 lives cut short and 22 million jobs lost. I have yet to even touch upon the wave of civil rights demonstrations not seen since the 1960s.
So, it might come as a surprise to many that in light of these developments, this column will focus exclusively on the state of California. An initial aversion to this decision is acceptable. I understand the concern— why focus on tree-hugging yogis or juice-cleansing TikTok stars when it truly feels as though the fate of our country is at stake in November?
Well, the reason is this: Despite what people outside the state tend to believe, California is not simply the land of botox and Kardashians. We do not all pledge our allegiance to veganism, nor do we consider hemp bras standard dress-code.
My point here is not to deride these caricatures and stereotypes. Like any other Californian, I enjoy the occasional episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” In addition, I consider veganism to be, in many respects, patriotic.
What I am trying to say is that, to the surprise of many Americans, California is a state with real people — more people than any other state in the union, in fact — and in my humble, unfailingly unerring opinion, the hopes, dreams and aspirations of our country rest in California. Allow me to make the case.
As previously mentioned, California is the most populous state in the nation, boasting almost 40 million residents. California is also the most productive state in America, with a GSP so large that the state alone qualifies as the world’s fifth largest economy. To put this in perspective, California’s $3.2 trillion economy is larger than the economies of both the United Kingdom and India.
Despite these distinctions, the nationalization of our common political identity — an outcome of New York City and Washington D.C. media outlets saturating our news feeds — has led to the absence of a meaningful spotlight on California. What is lost amid California stereotypes and barbs against bleeding-heart liberalism is the fact that California’s issues are the nation’s issues.
Consider criminal justice reform, a topic one cannot discuss without noting the fact that California is home to the world’s largest prison system and the country’s largest prosecutorial office. In the same vein, the vicious consequences of climate change have also become readily apparent for Californians. As forests and homes burn and smoke fills the air, the need to confront our environmental failures head on becomes not just a vague liberal rallying-cry, but an urgent necessity— a matter of life and death.
For much of the country, these issues — and other hot-button topics such as poverty and homelessness — are abstract. They are used as political talking points by unqualified cable news pundits and self-proclaimed experts, but nowhere in the country are these issues more acute than in California. Here, homelessness is not just a dog whistle used by Republicans to scare white suburban housewives; it is a real complex problem that people are desperately trying to remedy.
Now, before my point is skewed, I want to make something abundantly clear. I have no intention of falsely painting California as some type of hellscape — that is Fox News’ job. If it is not already obvious enough, I think California is the greatest state in our country. I do not hope to bring attention to the issues facing this state because I think California is fundamentally bad; on the contrary, I want to bring attention to the challenges facing California because I think this state is fundamentally good.
California is the most diverse state in the nation, home to more immigrants than any other state in America. California is home to the city whose images and films have inspired our collective imagination — Los Angeles — the region whose technology has forever changed the way the world operates — Silicon Valley — and the fields that produce one-fourth of the food on our country’s tables — the Central Valley.
California must be paid attention to because the state provides us with insights into where the country is, where it is going and what it should aspire to achieve. No state leads like California does, and no state stands up to the current administration like California does.
As California goes, so does the nation, and this column will go with it.
Stuart Carson is a senior writing about California politics. He is also one of the deputy diversity & inclusion directors for the Daily Trojan. His column, “Carson on California,” runs every other Wednesday.