Could Donald Trump be the straw that broke the Union's back? Could he cause the "left coast" of America (perhaps Canada too) to secede?
Across the Pacific Northwest there's been a movement to create a new country, Cascadia, out of a union of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The idea has been around quite a while going back to Thomas Jefferson who, in 1813, wrote of "a great, free and independent empire on that side of our continent."
While the idea isn't widely discussed among British Columbians, a poll in 2005 found that support for secession in B.C. approached 40 per cent. After being pushed around by the federal and Alberta governments on bitumen pipelines and an armada of supertankers, I expect that number would be a good deal higher today.
What unites these jurisdictions? Just about everything. We're all a bit left of centre. We share common industries - fishing, forestry, mining, and a lot of high tech. We're also rich in clean alternative energy resources including wind, tidal, hydro-electric and thermal-electricity. And, best of all, we also seem genuinely fond of each other, more so perhaps than our fondness for other parts of our respective countries.
Bit by bit it seems that Trump is driving a wedge between the Left Coast and the rest of America. Bear in mind that most of what Trump has up his sleeve hasn't even started yet.
However secession may not spring from Cascadia. It could be sparked by California moving to take its leave.
Drawing inspiration from breakaway groups in Europe, organizations like the “Yes California” movement and the California National Party want to peaceably, legally transform the West Coast of the United States into a “pragmatic progressive” paradise. From one angle, California nationalism, and this particular expression of it, makes perfect sense. Despite marked divides between its northern and southern halves, the Golden State has always nourished its own identity. That stamp was apparent even when Californians played a leading role in fueling all-American patriotism, from the early days of the space program to the closing days of the Ronald Reagan administration.
But now California’s cultural and political leanings have begun to shift away from most of the rest of the country. At a time when only five states in the union boast both Democratic governors and majorities in the state legislature, California is the last place in America where the political left rules unimpeded over a society and an economy large enough to prosper as a nation.
From climate law to immigration law (or the lack thereof), California’s elected Democrats see themselves rightly as the strongest center of opposition to American conservatives and to Trump alike, and the one with the deepest popular legitimacy.
California secessionists also understand that there are fewer practical hurdles, compared with other parts of the country, to parting ways with the USA. A smaller or more parochial corner of America would never contemplate secession, if only because the achievement of such willful idiosyncrasy would come at the cost of isolation and obscurity.
For California, however — approximately the sixth-largest economy in the world — independence wouldn’t necessarily bring economic hardship. Perennial worries about entertainment and tech flight to states dangling incentives might spike in the early days of a new California Republic. But citizens won’t blink at the inevitable higher subsidies lawmakers and a Democratic governor will be quick to offer those anchor industries. And the other pillars of California’s economy — tourism and agriculture — can’t be relocated by skittish investors.
Trump has become a burr under the Left Coast's saddle. He recently vowed to retaliate against US municipalities that chose to become "sanctuary cities" threatening to withhold federal funds. That has caused cities in California as well as Oregon and Washington to defy the Giant Orange Bloat. Imagine Trump penalizing California, the state that literally pours tax dollars into Washington's treasury. What could possibly go wrong?
Today, Trump's press secretary, Spicer, warned that Trump intends to use federal criminal powers to crack down on recreational marijuana use even in states such as (coincidentally of course) Washington, Oregon and California that have legalized weed. Already Washington's governor, Jay Inslee, and the state attorney general have vowed to resist any efforts by Trump to "undermine the will of the voters in Washington state."
A lot of British Columbians have about had their fill of being pushed around by the rest of Canada and it seems that West Coast America is coming to the same point with Washington.
It's still a very long shot but there's no sign that the discontent will do anything but worsen with Trump's rampages and Trudeau's indifference. Stranger things have happened.
BTW - for a humourous discussion of an American secession check out Chuck Thompson's "Better Off Without' Em."