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From an Angry Reader:

Prof. Hanson:

First, as an aggressive moderate, I believe any talk of California secession is simply a waste of time and idiotic.  But saying “California” supports secession is equally absurd.  One third of the population reflects nothing close to a majority, not to mention the small poll sampling, and it does not compare to Virginia in 1860, where fewer than 2,000 people voted for Lincoln (as a historian, I’m sure you know Lincoln wasn’t even on the ballot in South Carolina).  This secessionist garbage is not close to getting on the ballot yet, but, of course, if there is sufficient funding, anything can hit the ballot.

Further, as I live in Silicon Valley (and I am aware you are at the Hoover Institution), the majority here do not believe that these tech companies are “a world unto their own.”  Quite the opposite, they believe that they are part of the world, with a powerful global view that great companies throughout our history have held.  My office sits between Oracle and Electronic Arts, and, frankly, I find the population of these organizations essentially the same as those who populated the Engineering Quad at my college 35-40 years ago.

More locally, I live in Redwood City, and to say it is “mostly poor” is abundantly absurd.  Go to downtown Redwood City for dinner.  Before, drive through Redwood Shores and anywhere west of El Camino.  I’ve had people knock on the door of my 3+2 home and offer to pay me over $1.3 million in cash for it without even coming in the door.  Yes, there are some lower income areas, but even the majority of those are safe and filled with good, hard-working people.

Finally, please do not compare any state in this country to a Confederate state.  Texas’s secessionist movement would have been a more comparable example, but still not even close.  Nothing now compares to those troubled times, even with our current divisions.  As the namesake of a Sergeant in the Union Army who was at Appomattox and saw his dead brother go by on a stretcher three days before the signing of the surrender of Lee’s forces, let me say these comparisons are apples to bullets.

Wardell Loveland

Redwood City

Victor Davis Hanson’s Reply:

Dear Somewhat Angry Reader Wardell Loveland,

First, I did not write that all of California supports secession, but was careful to qualify with terms such as “Calexit supporters” or “some California officials” and “liberal California,” at least enough so to note that the entire state does not advocate such nonsense. Unfortunately, you never refute my arguments, which reviewed all sorts of neo-Confederate ideas from federal nullification to sanctuary cities to Calexit to a King Cotton like economy. Incidentally, even “one third” of California represents 13 million people, a number which would make it the fifth largest state in the union.

“A world unto their own” refers to Big Tech’s public progressive facade and its private embrace of outsourcing, offshoring, and, yes, a “global view” that I am not sure is either what companies quite held in the past or is of reassurance to Americans in this age of borderless globalization, in which it is hard to calibrate sometimes what exactly are multinational affinities. When programmers in Silicon Valley currently cannot afford housing it makes no sense for tech companies to lobby for greater numbers of immigrant computer people. That is certainly a “global view” but to many it reflects a “world unto their own” blinkered self-absorption.

In any case, such worries resonated in the last election and perhaps explain the implosion of the Democratic base by those who felt globalization was a problem not the solution and benefitted inordinately global elites, particularly those in high tech, law, finance, and government at the perceived expense of the hinterland.

Comparing the poverty of Redwood City to nearby tony Atherton is not “absurd” but true. Of course, gentrification spikes housing prices as those forced out of Menlo Park seek enclaves in Redwood City and East Palo Alto, but to walk through much of Redwood City is not the same experience as doing the same a few miles away in Menlo Park and Palo Alto and you of course must know that. The per capita income of Atherton, referenced in the essay, is about $144,000; that of Woodside is $125,000. Compare that to next-door Redwood City at $42,000. That seems to substantiate my point in a way your anecdotes sadly do not.

You seem confused about the nature of poverty when you state of areas of Redwood City that “even the majority of those are safe and filled with good, hard-working people” as if that proves that they are not poor in comparison to those living a few thousand yards away. Being poor and hard-working as well as good are not antithetical concepts as you seem to imply. My larger point again was that like the Old South, California is a society of two rather than three classes, with a ruling elite that seems to prefer a lifestyle and culture not conducive to the prosperity of a middle class, especially in terms of affordable highways, good highways, and competitive schools.

Your letter fails for two reasons. One, you fail to note that I early on noted the differences between a modern state and the Old South (“Of course, this is 2017, not 1860, and California is super-liberal, not an antebellum slave-owning society.”); two, you did not refute any of my points about infrastructure (written before the Oroville dam catastrophe), the state’s high taxes and poor services, the effect of boutique environmentalism upon the working classes, and the strange paradox a high basket of taxes combined with the nation’s near last infrastructure and schools.

I am a great, great grandson of a Union soldier from Missouri and my own uncle and namesake died on Okinawa with the 6th Marine Division, so I do not need lectures about family lineages. The point of the essay was not to caricature California, but to warn of the dangers of nullifying federal laws, talking of secession, withholding federal revenues, and gravitating to an antebellum culture of a small class on top with a service class on the bottom. We know where that eventually leads.

Sincerely, Victor Davis Hanson

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