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How California’s governor Gavin Newsom mobilised the quiet rage of the vaccinated

In a vote on the governor’s leadership through the pandemic, voters resoundingly rejected replacing him with a Trumpist Republican.

California governor Gavin Newsom at an anti-recall event in Long Beach, California. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images.

“Thank you. I am humbled and grateful to the millions of Californians who voted yesterday and in the weeks before to reject the division, the cynicism and so much of what has defined our politics over the last several years.
“We said YES to science. We said YES to vaccines. We said YES to ending this pandemic.

“We have a lot of work to do. Let’s get back to it. – Gavin”

The ‘Gavin’ in this thank-you letter is the governor of California, Gavin Newsom. It is a general letter to those who donated to his campaign against a recall that would have kicked him out of office.

My two sisters and their families live in Southern California on the edge of the Mojave Desert. Their community is almost all white, so much so that the local Black Lives Matter group is made up of mainly white people who have now generated their own homegrown anti-BLM hate group. Also composed of white people.

This is very California, fondly called by some ‘Cali’. Its system of nullifying its gubernatorial election is all its own, too.

First, voters had to decide whether to dump the Democratic governor or not. This was a simple ‘yes’/‘no’ on the ballot.

Then, if ‘yes’ had won, choose a replacement from a list of 46 candidates. There is not enough room in this column to name and show the platforms of each one but, rest assured, the field was interesting. Then, whoever got the most votes from that crowded field would become the new chief executive.
That is how Arnold Schwarzenegger won the first time.

This recall process is what is called in the US a ‘jungle primary’, where everyone piles in and the person who can stay alive emerges the winner.
The triumph of Gavin Newsom over the attempt to end his career can be laid down to many factors.

Republicans are becoming sparse in the state. An endangered species. In the most populous state of the union with an economy, if it were a country, that would rank number five in the world, ahead of Great Britain. Where California goes, the nation pays attention.

Newsom’s thank-you letter says many things, but the most interesting part is that he managed to galvanise the growing rage of the vaccinated.

The recall movement began because conservative elements in the state revolted against the measures that he took to curb the pandemic.

Newsom also had to deal with the ‘vaccine hesitant’, who also comprise communities of colour in California. Within them exists that factor That Dare Not Speak Its Name: that many men of colour not only do not like the Democrats, do not like their policies, but they support Trump. Anything he is against, well, so are they.

What some might call ‘gender politics’ – #MeToo; the rights of trans women, abortion rights – these are anathema to a segment of the macho culture of some men of colour. Not wearing a mask; ignoring experts, some see these as revolts in support of their masculinity in a majority culture that has always made war on men of colour.

Newsom’s chief opponent, the African American radio star, Larry Elder, represented everything that some in this demographic like: bold; in your face; and the hell with niceties.

So what the triumph of the California recall election has done is to create a possible playing field for the Dems and anybody else who clearly needs to define the field of combat. Because this is combat.

The tipping point for many right wingers and just plain fed-up folks was Newsom going to the poshest restaurant in California, without a mask. This is oftentimes the fatal error of some on the progressive and not so-progressive Left, like the Obama shindig on exclusive Martha’s Vineyard until they were told to tone it down; and the couture dress that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore to the $35,000-a-plate Metropolitan Museum of Art bash, with the words “Tax The Rich” written on it.

With people living in their cars and the price of petrol going up, especially in California, these actions do not get a thumbs-up.

So Newsom, like Biden, aimed his attack at those who refuse the vaccine. It worked. People want their lives back and if it takes a shot in the arm, bring it on. Anybody not able to get that message now is out.

The landslide victory of Newsom allows us to see the landscape of battle, and what can be done.

The Democrats are, like Labour, subject to in-fighting between various wings of their own party. And this fight is partly generational. But as the war is waged over who wins the future, the question of voting itself will come more and more into play.

Newsom’s victory shows that the democratic process, even at its most ludicrous, can deliver results that assist the majority – those of goodwill. If people can see that actually happening, that voting accomplishes something, then they will do that with less and less cynicism and reluctance.

We are at a time in which democracy itself is being felt as not effective. The danger of this is plain to see but it goes deeper than what is apparent: the lack of belief in democracy creates a clear playing field for demagoguery.
And then, utter darkness.

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