Is California Becoming Premodern?
Victor Davis Hanson, More than 2 million Californians were recently left without power after the state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric — which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year — preemptively shut down transmission lines in fear that they might spark fires during periods of high autumn winds. Consumers blame the state for not cleaning up dead trees and brush, along with the utility companies for not updating their ossified equipment. The power companies in turn fault the state for so over-regulating utilities that they had no resources to modernize their grids. Californians know that having tens of thousands of homeless in their major cities is untenable. In some places, municipal sidewalks have become open sewers of garbage, used needles, rodents and infectious diseases. Yet no one dares question progressive orthodoxy by enforcing drug and vagrancy laws, moving the homeless out of cities to suburban or rural facilities, or increasing the number of mental hospitals. Taxpayers in California, whose basket of sales, gasoline and income taxes is the highest in the nation, quietly seethe while immobile on antiquated freeways that are crowded, dangerous and under nonstop makeshift repair. Gas prices of $4 to $5 a gallon — the result of high taxes, hyper-regulation and green mandates — add insult to the injury of stalled commuters. Gas tax increases ostensibly intended to fund freeway expansion and repair continue to be diverted to the state’s failing high-speed rail project. Residents shrug that the state’s public schools are among the weakest in the nation, often ranking in the bottom quadrant in standardized test scores. Elites publicly oppose charter schools but often put their own kids in private academies. Californians know that to venture into a typical municipal emergency room is to descend into a modern Dante’s Inferno. Medical facilities are overcrowded. They can be as unpleasant as they are bankrupting to the vanishing middle class that must face exorbitant charges to bring in an injured or sick child. No one would dare to connect the crumbling infrastructure, poor schools and failing public health care with the non-enforcement of immigration laws, which has led to a massive influx of undocumented immigrants from the poorest regions of the world, who often arrive without fluency in English or a high-school education. Stores are occasionally hit by swarming looters. Such Wild West criminals know how to keep their thefts under $950, ensuring that such “misdemeanors” do not warrant police attention. California’s permissive laws have decriminalized thefts and break-ins. The result is that San Francisco now has the highest property crime rate per capita in the nation. Has California become premodern? Millions of fed-up middle-class taxpayers have fled the state. Their presence as a stabilizing influence is sorely missed. About one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients live in California. Millions of poor newcomers require enormously expensive state health, housing, education, legal and law-enforcement services. California is now a one-party state. Democrats have supermajorities in both houses of the legislature. Only seven of the state’s 53 congressional seats are held by Republicans. The result is that there is no credible check on a mostly coastal majority. Huge global wealth in high-tech, finance, trade and academia poured into the coastal corridor, creating a new nobility with unprecedented riches. Unfortunately, the new aristocracy adopted mindsets antithetical to the general welfare of Californians living outside their coastal enclaves. The nobodies have struggled to buy high-priced gas, pay exorbitant power bills and deal with shoddy infrastructure — all of which resulted from the policies of the distant somebodies. California’s three most powerful politicians — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Gov. Gavin Newsom — are all multimillionaires. Their lives, homes and privileges bear no resemblance to those of other Californians living with the consequences of their misguided policies and agendas. The state’s elite took revolving-door entries and exits for granted. They assumed that California was so naturally rich, beautiful and well-endowed that there would always be thousands of newcomers who would queue up for the weather, the shore, the mountains and the hip culture. Yet California is nearing the logical limits of progressive adventurism in policy and politics. Residents carefully plan long highway trips as if they were ancient explorers charting dangerous routes. Tourists warily enter downtown Los Angeles or San Francisco as if visiting a politically unstable nation. Insatiable state tax collectors and agencies are viewed by the public as if they were corrupt officials of Third World countries seeking bribes. Californians flip their switches unsure of whether the lights will go on. Many are careful about what they say, terrified of progressive thought police who seem more worried about critics than criminals. Our resolute ancestors took a century to turn a wilderness into California. Our irresolute generation in just a decade or two has been turning California into a wilderness.