It may be the Pacific Ocean in California that bothers MAGA Republicans most

Feb 20th, 2024 | By | Category: In Brief
Michael Seward, Man with Mask, 2024.

COUNTERWEIGHTS EDITORS, GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2024. According to a Leger survey of US adults for the Los Angeles Times released last week, “48% of Republicans polled believe California is ‘not really American.’” As broadly summarized by Leger Executive Vice President Christian Bourque, “if you are a more conservative American, you basically do not like California.”

As further explained by a clip on the KTLA TV website : “Two-thirds of Republicans also said the state’s impact on the country has been a net negative, reflecting large-scale criticism of California and liberal policies … by conservative politicians and media.”

“Meet Cindy, a Sociology major, graduating from UC Berkeley class of 2022!”

(It might be worth noting as well that California with some 39 million people is still the most populous State of the Union at the moment, followed by Texas at not quite 31 million, Florida about 23 million, and New York State not quite 20 million.)

On the other hand, even if you are just a more progressive Canadian chances are that in February 2024 you will like California — and especially Northern California, and especially again the almost exotic San Francisco Bay Area, anchored by the legendary City of San Francisco (where so many left their hearts long ago in the 1960s and 1970s).

Circumnavigating the northern region of the seriously beautiful Bay Area geography

Just to begin our brief meditation here, the overarching theme of our visit with our growing tech support staff in the Golden State this year was summarized by our resident tour guide : Grim reports about the 21st century demise of the 1960s flower-child metropolis are just fake news.

Or as The Economist explained in a virtually coterminous February 12, 2024 article : “How San Francisco staged a surprising comeback … Forget the controversy. America’s tech capital is building the future.”

Most recently, we watched the Bay Area future building for a week in early February 2024, just north (and west) of Berkeley, across the water from San Francisco.

We went all the way into the City of San Francisco on a Saturday via the Bay bridge. We paused for a brief visit to the old military base on Treasure Island, halfway across the bridge and now home to increasing numbers of almost-giant condo towers.

We subsequently visited the dramatic new “Transbay Transit Center (officially the Salesforce Transit Center for sponsorship purposes)” in the City of San Francisco itself, just south (and east?) of Mission Street, running all the way from Beale Street to 2nd Street. Then we spent some further intriguing time at the Presidio — “a park and former US [and earlier Spanish and then Mexican] Army post on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula.”

Michael Seward, Coming Home to Roost. 2024. Acrylic. 16” x 20”.

After a quick drive by the gates of the gated community where Nancy Pelosi apparently lives (not so safe after all, alas), and a final visit to Baker Beach, on the Pacific Ocean just west and south of the Golden Gate bridge, we returned to Albany, CA just north (and west) of Berkeley in the East Bay area.

First we drove across the famed Golden Gate bridge for a quick sojourn through Marin County and the North Bay area. And from there we went back across the Richmond–San Rafael Bridge to our ultimate East Bay destination.

In the end we more or less circumnavigated at least the northern region of the seriously beautiful geography of the Bay Area.

America’s tech capital in the 21st century

More or less half of Republicans back east (in one sense or another) just do not get it — and this seems true in spades for Donald Trump. But destiny is in the air in this 21st century Northern California focused on the compelling physical geography of the Bay Area.

The Transbay Transit Center (“officially the Salesforce Transit Center”) in San Francisco today — with garden walkway on fourth/top floor.

The place has a moderate climate (well usually …) — never too cold, never too hot. In early 2024 it is almost literally oozing material wealth and economic success. There were no obvious signs of even as much street poverty and homeless syndrome as in some parts of Greater Toronto, on at least the routes we took or places we got out and walked around, in and out of the old San Francisco downtown.

This kind of America’s-tech-capital California Dreaming is indeed one very serious destiny of the American dream. And, whatever finally happens on November 5, 2024, nothing Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans can do is going to change this in any fundamental way.

So … what is the new America that California does have a handle on — and that the o-so-many MAGA Republicans believe is “not really American”?

Cultural diversity in California’s new America

Aerial shot down Columbus Avenue in North Beach neighbourhood of San Francisco, August 1974.

To start with, it is certainly more culturally diverse or multi-cultural than the old WASP-dominated America of the Atlantic coast and the Midwest.

(If not really of the 10 states back in the old southeast which still have the highest % Black or African American communities : Mississippi – 39.08% “Black Population” ; Louisiana – 34.23% ; Georgia – 31.4% ; Maryland – 31.27% ; Alabama – 26.23% ; South Carolina – 26.04% ; Delaware – 22.44% ; North Carolina – 21.8% ; and Virginia – 20.57%.)

In fact the current Black or African American population of California is only 6.5%, compared to a growing US-wide average of 14.4%. (And in the East Bay small city of Albany, CA, just north and west of Berkeley — named after Albany, NY — the African American population is even below the state-wide average at a mere 3.5%.)

The Black community in the Bay Area today is no less visible for all that — especially in such East Bay places as Richmond and Oakland, but also in and around Albany and Berkeley and in the City of San Francisco that is now America’s tech capital. And the scene has its subtleties.

Michael Seward, Anti-Portrait. 2024. Acrylic. 24”sq.

One of our casual East Bay observations at an outdoor coffee shop near a public school complex was of a middle-aged white mother or other guardian of a not quite teenage black son.

Perhaps his father is black, perhaps he’s adopted, perhaps assorted other possibilities, but a clear enough parental and even maternal relationship seemed evident from politely over-hearing their conversation. It was hard for we mere anglophone Canadians to judge the depths of the talk between mother and son, however, because they were speaking German.

The new Asian side to the American Dream

Albany, CA also has 6.7% “two or more races” and 10.2% “Hispanic or Latino of any race.”

But the real depths of its contemporary diversity (and that of the larger Bay Area) are Asian — a diverse term in its own right, from East Asian to South Asian to Southeast Asian and beyond.

According to what are probably already somewhat dusty numbers, Albany, CA today is only 54.6% “White” and 31.2% “Asian.”

Part of this is of course America’s tech industry which has long had some economic and even cultural symbiosis with growing tech industries in India and China.

Another part is of course just the San Francisco Bay Area’s ultimate location on the Pacific Ocean.

The east coast of America on the Atlantic Ocean naturally looks to Europe (and Africa!). The west coast on the vast Pacific Ocean naturally looks to Asia, in all its diversity and vast demography.

Michael Seward, Fox/Human, 2024.

And to end our truncated ruminations here for an auspicious moment before they grow altogether too long, this Asian element in the new California Dreaming can also be seen with some still stronger force in Hawaii — which remains Barack Obama’s real homeland.

This growing Asian American edge may be what finally bothers the 48% of Republicans who think California today is “not really American” the most.

Yet bluster as much as the MAGA crowd and their leader like, as an upbeat motto (and advertising slogan) of the Los Angeles Times puts it, California remains “the state of what’s next”!

NOTE : For a more brooding view of San Francisco today and its future, from someone with a much longer and deeper understanding of the city than any of us here from Toronto and environs see Rebecca Solnit, “In the Shadow of Silicon Valley,” London Review of Books, Vol. 46 No. 3 · 8 February 2024.

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