National News

Recalling California’s Own ‘Trump Moment’ in a ’90s Immigration Debate

Posted June 20, 2018 8:33 p.m. EDT

With the United States in the grip of a crisis over immigration, the experience of California in the 1990s offers some historical context.

That was when California was experiencing, in the words of Manuel Pastor, a sociologist at the University of Southern California, its own “Trump moment”: a time of rapid demographic change with an influx of Latinos, and a Republican-led effort to deny services to unauthorized immigrants and ban bilingual education.

“One kind of signal of California having its own Trump moment is demographic change in California between 1980 and 2000 is the demographic change the United States is going through between 2000 and 2050,” Pastor said.

Pastor recently wrote a book on President Donald Trump and California, “State of Resistance,” and in an interview talked about how California’s dysfunction in the 1990s presaged what is happening now.

He said, “I don’t think demography is destiny. I do think that one of the things that happened in California demographically, was that the GOP hitched its wagon so much to anti-immigrant sentiment in the 1990s that where they had a big inroad with the Latino population they very much lost that.”

There were other parallels, he said. A loss of manufacturing jobs led to a sense of dislocation among the white working class. Rush Limbaugh began his career in Sacramento in the 1980s, just before conservative talk radio played a big role in fanning anti-immigrant sentiment in the 1990s, similar to the role Fox News has played today.

But California’s rise in the years since, Pastor says, offers at least some hope that America will overcome its own toxic political environment.

“The serious discussion we have to have about California’s future is not climate change versus no climate change,” he said. “Not about whether we will be a sanctuary state or not, but the nuances of this. Having a big symbolic battle about Trump, as interesting as it will be for the rest of the country, is quite a bit of a distraction from what the state itself needs to do, particularly in a gubernatorial campaign.”