Can “California Progressivism” survive the Trump Administration?

David Kersten
David Kersten is president of the Kersten Institute for Governance and Public Policy (www.kersteninstitute.org). Kersten is also an adjunct professor of public finance and economics at the University of San Francisco.

There is nothing more controversial in California politics than President Donald J. Trump, the Trump Administration and the manifestation of all its politics and rhetoric. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) has worked to elevate himself in the national media by criticizing all things Donald Trump, and Donald Trump has done his best to aggravate the political challenges faced by Governor Newsom and the California Democrats.  

Governor Newsom recently said that Republicans who support the policies of the Trump Administration will end up in the “dustbin of history,” drawing a parallel to California politics in the early 1990s when then-Governor Pete Wilson backed Prop. 187, which was approved by voters but then invalidated by the courts.  

To the average voter or periodic political observer, this all might appear to be nothing more than the typical political bickering and jawboning that the media thrives on and the public is largely turned off by.  

But I believe there are much more significant political forces at work here and that California Democrats view Donald J. Trump as a threat to “California progressivism” and their own political wellbeing.  

After all, now in his third year of office, President Trump has managed to shake the very foundation of “progressivism” as a political ideology by taking on its key supporters, and more importantly, the progressive policies that form the foundation “progressivism” both in California and nationwide.  

President Trump has demonstrated a willingness to challenge, and even publicly distain, most of the progressive “sacred cows” of the welfare state, over taxation, over regulation, banning of fossil fuels at whatever the cost, the minimum wage, open borders, and single-payer health care.  

In short, President Trump has started a war against the “progressive” ideology itself, and the capitol of “progressivism” is none other than the State of California, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi resides, and most, not all, of these “progressive” policies originated and have continued to advance, largely unchecked.  

By starting this “war on progressivism” and the “progressive state,” President Trump set off a firestorm of resistance, and continuing war, from not only the progressive quarters who cherish all these “progressive” policies, but more importantly, the special interests and political stakeholders who have continued to benefit from all of these “progressive” policies.  

Prior to Donald Trump assuming office most of these “progressive” priorities had very few vocal and powerful detractors in California politics, apart from a deteriorating Republican Party and a diminishing group of right-leaning think tanks and columnists who speak out against perceived failures of “progressive” policies.  

But when Donald Trump declared “war on progressivism” he breathed new life into conservative forces everywhere, particularly to the decaying California Republican Party and conservative movement in California.   

To be fair, President Trump did not officially declare war, but anyone knows who has ever challenged a progressive policy in a significant way, challenging a progressive policy in a substantive or aggressive manner is in effect a declaration of war against “progressivism” itself because dissent is generally not tolerated.  

While the California Republican Party has continued to suffer electorally under President Trump, this lack of electoral success (i.e. legislative offices) masks the huge revitalization potential that Trump has handed Republicans and conservatives in California.  

But I see the political winds gradually shifting against “progressivism” in California, and that is what appears to have so many California “progressives” rattled, particularly their donor class and the special interests who wrap themselves in the cloak of the progressive agenda for political cover as well as financial gain.    

As unpopular to some as it may be to say publicly, I believe President Trump is actually winning the war on “progressivism” and this emerging development will continue to have a huge impact on California politics for the years to come.  

In short, if Donald Trump wins the public relations campaign against “progressivism” and the “progressive agenda” nationally, and in 2020 national election—where does that leave the most powerful California exponents of “progressivism,” most notably Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) and Governor Gavin Newsom (D)?  

This is a huge deal, and the potential for wholesale political change cannot be underestimated both in California politics, as well as nationwide.  

Regardless of what you think of “progressivism” and the “progressive agenda,” the challenges presented by President Trump cannot be understated and should be taken seriously by all, particularly the political ramifications in California.  

In closing, the biblical City of Jericho comes to mind which was thought to have been impenetrable due to its high walls in about 1400 B.C.  But a challenge came when the Israelites marched around the walls with the Ark of the Covenant once every day for six days.  

On the seventh day, the Israelites marched seven times around the walls, then the priests blew their ram’s horns, the Israelites raised a great shout, and the walls of the city fell.  

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