(photo: Tristan Collinsworth of Santa Rosa, right with about 250 demonstrators)
by Paul Payne, The Press Democrat, November 12, 2016
Lynn Woolsey was hopeful going into Tuesday’s historic election that America was about to pick the first woman as president.
Most polls showed Hillary Clinton had a solid lead. In liberal bastions of California it seemed unfathomable that voters would go for Donald Trump — a political novice whose inflammatory comments on the campaign trail seemed to overshadow his appeal to a wide segment of the electorate.
As election results started rolling in, however, Woolsey, a liberal North Coast congresswoman for 20 years, realized she was wrong. Her eyes welled with tears at the thought of such a polarizing figure occupying the Oval Office.
“I am just so sad for our country that people would choose a reality TV star over someone who could actually do the job,” said the Petaluma Democrat, who was first elected in 1992, the so-called Year of the Woman in politics.
Just as Trump’s election electrified millions of his supporters nationwide, the reality of a Trump White House elicited disappointment, dread and disgust among many in Sonoma County and across much of California. Here, voters threw overwhelming support behind Clinton while also electing the first black woman to the U.S. Senate in 20 years and legalizing marijuana — a sharp contrast to the nation’s pivot right Tuesday. Golden State residents also agreed to tax cigarettes, free nonviolent offenders from prison and uphold a ban on plastic grocery bags.
In doing so, California has emerged as a political outlier, cementing its progressive values while striking a defiant tone against the billionaire businessman elected as the 45th president. Among other things, Trump has touted campaign promises to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, roll back environmental protections, appoint conservative justices to control the Supreme Court and repeal and replace Obamacare, perhaps affecting some 20 million Americans.
California’s political gulf with the rest of the country is most striking along the left-leaning coast, including Sonoma County, where 70 percent of voters chose Clinton over Trump. In San Francisco, Clinton’s margin was 85 percent, and the best Trump did in the Bay Area was in Solano County, where he earned just over 32 percent of the vote.
In the election’s aftermath, anti-Trump demonstrators have taken to city streets across the nation in nightly marches. In downtown Santa Rosa last week, protesters carried signs reading, “Love Trumps Hate,” and “Not my president.” Others waved U.S. and Mexico flags in protest of Trump’s call for wide-scale deportations and a border wall with Mexico.
“Donald Trump instills so much fear in people,” said Tristan Collinsworth, a 22-year-old Sonoma State University student and Santa Rosa resident who stood outside City Hall with a sign that said “Reject Hate.” She is concerned about a rollback in civil rights for people of color, as well as for gay and transgender citizens.
“I feel deep sadness and a really intense fear that I did not feel the day before the election,” she said. “I’m afraid that under him our progress will come to a standstill.”
At a women’s political club meeting last week that had been planned as a Clinton victory party, crestfallen members instead denounced the president-elect and vowed to defeat him in four years.
“We cannot pull back,” Susan Moore, founder of the No Name Women’s Group, told a crowd of about 300 members gathered in Santa Rosa. “We have to notch it up. We have to say, ‘We’re it.’ ”
As liberals wrestled with raw, Election Day emotions, many worried about what a Trump presidency could mean. In his first 100 days in office, Trump has promised to tear up President Barack Obama’s executive actions to combat climate change, repeal or significantly amend the Affordable Care Act and launch his controversial plans to curb illegal immigration.
With Republicans running Congress, there is little to stop him.
Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said the state is evaluating options to block the most contentious proposals through policy and budget maneuvers or court challenges. The state’s top two legislators, Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, issued a defiant statement Wednesday outlining that approach.
“While Donald Trump may have won the presidency, he hasn’t changed our values,” the statement read. “We will lead the resistance to any effort that would shred our social fabric or our Constitution.”
“The threat to California’s progress and the undercutting of our values is real and that is why the Legislature is going to do whatever it has to do to ensure we don’t go backwards under a Trump administration,” said McGuire. “I think there are going to be some rough days ahead.”
Rise in nationalism
Trump ran on a platform that touted an “America First” foreign policy and rejuvenation of struggling communities through the return of jobs and industries that have disappeared over decades of globalization. But that popular message has given rise to a more visible nationalism, and perhaps fueled a spike in racially tinged harassment and hate incidents, according to experts.
The troubling reports include a recorded confrontation on BART this week in which a woman verbally accosted another passenger, calling her a “stalker from the Middle East” and threatening, “Trump might deport you.” A video of the incident had attracted 4 million views on Facebook by Saturday.
A day after the election, on a wall in Durham, North Carolina, someone painted the message, “Black lives don’t matter and neither does your votes,” CNN reported. At a school in Florida, vandals posted signs reading “white” and “colored” above campus drinking fountains in an apparent throwback to Jim Crow days. And in Philadelphia, “Sieg Heil 2016” and “Trump” — with a swastika in place of the T in Trump — were spray-painted on a building’s glass window, police said.
“Since the election, we’ve seen a big uptick in incidents of vandalism, threats, intimidation spurred by the rhetoric surrounding Mr. Trump’s election,” Richard Cohen, president of the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, told the newspaper USA Today.
Sebastopol resident Todd McMechen links such behavior to the teasing he said his biracial son got for his curly hair a few weeks before the election. The flooring store manager and activist said he worries about a rise in bullying and abuse of gays, women and minorities as Trump takes office.
“The Ku Klux Klan is going to have a rally to celebrate his election,” said McMechen, who attended a candlelight vigil following Trump’s election in Sebastopol’s town square. “That’s never happened for any president I can remember.”
Jesús Guzmán, an activist with Sonoma County’s North Bay Organizing Project, said the election’s boisterous outcome has struck fear in the hearts of many immigrant families.
Chief among the concerns is the action Trump could take to undo Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program allowing undocumented people who arrived as minors to remain in the country. Such a rollback could affect more than 1.5 million young adults, including about 4,000 in Sonoma County.
In a cruel twist, participants were required to share personal information such as their addresses that now could be used against them. Guzmán said some are already packing so they won’t be caught off guard.
“It’s a very real threat,” said Guzmán, who came from Mexico with his farmworker parents when he was 1 and went on to graduate from Sonoma State University. “That information could be very dangerous in the hands of the wrong president. Clearly, it seems imminent under Trump.”
However, the administration could be stymied by the state’s progressive policies limiting law enforcement’s obligation to cooperate with federal authorities. Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2013 Trust Act has been successful at reducing the number of deportations, Guzmán said.
“So there’s both this fear and a lot of hope that at least in California, we’re seeing things in terms of inclusivity,” Guzmán said. “There’s hope that California can lead by example.”
Still, Trump’s agenda is expected to directly challenge if not undermine many other local and state priorities, including the development of renewable energy and moves to address climate change and tighten gun control.
As a candidate, Trump vowed to cancel U.S. involvement in the Paris Agreement on global warming. As president-elect he has tapped a climate-change denier to lead his transition at the Environmental Protection Agency. Also, he is expected to increase domestic coal and oil mining and weaken or kill Obama’s Clean Power Plan meant to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants.
It represents a U-turn for most on the North Coast, which has led the state and nation in conservation and alternative energy innovation.
As she toured a state-of-the-art energy generation and storage facility in Sonoma last week, Ann Hancock, executive director of the Santa Rosa-based The Climate Center, lamented the future under Trump.
“This obviously is a huge setback,” Hancock said. “Trump has said (human-caused) climate change is a hoax. This is not the person we want to take bold steps to reduce our climate footprint.”
Rep. Jared Huffman, a San Rafael Democrat who succeeded Woolsey in 2013, said Trump’s proposals could have “seismic impacts on virtually every issue I work on.”
But just whether he can deliver on the sweeping threats is unclear.
Huffman was skeptical of Trump’s ability to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal brokered by the United States and signed by China, Russia and European countries. And he said the Paris Agreement on climate change wouldn’t simply stop “just because Trump doesn’t like it.”
Americans won’t countenance abruptly pulling the rug out from under people on Obamacare, he said. Similarly, it’s going to be difficult for his administration to institute mass deportations.
It remains to be seen if Trump backs off some of his incendiary campaign rhetoric and allows his pragmatic, deal-making side to take over.
“The reality of trying to deliver on some of these sweeping populist promises is going to be very challenging, as it should be,” Huffman said. “Many of these are truly dumb ideas.”
As a weakened Democratic Party does its own soul searching, local activists are looking ahead to the 2018 mid-term elections, hoping to find a viable alternative to oppose Trump and mobilize an awakened electorate. Political observers say if Trump fails to make good on promises to bring jobs or lower health care costs, blue-collar workers who came out in droves to support him could return to the Democrats.
Short of that, Californians who voted for Clinton can take comfort in living in a progressive state with an economy that’s the sixth-largest in the world. Federal moves that threaten that prosperity and the state’s values must be challenged, elected leaders said.
“We will have no other choice but to fight if the rhetoric from President-elect Donald Trump turns into policy proposals,” McGuire said. “California leaders must be proactive to ensure that the progress we’ve achieved over the past seven years isn’t erased.”
Staff Writer Angela Hart contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ppayne.