Monday, September 30, 2019




          It’s easy to find an obvious motive for President Trump’s well-documented and much-ballyhooed “war” on California. After all, this state in 2016 gave Hillary Clinton a margin of more than 3 million votes over Trump and he’s felt hurt and angry over it ever since.

          He’s taken action after action against this state’s best interests, one example his September attempt to eliminate California’s unique authority the early-1970s Clean Air Act to regulate its own air quality. Even though Trump and his handpicked chief of the federal Environmental Protection Agency moved the other day to revoke that ability, most legal authorities say he can’t actually do it because California’s right to fix its air was granted by Congress, not the President of that time, Republican Richard Nixon.

          Presidents have a lot of executive authority, those legal experts say, but they cannot unilaterally reverse acts of Congress.

          Showing its whimsical nature, Trump’s administration shortly after announced it would withhold highway funds from dozens of California areas because they don’t meet federal clean air standards – even though some of the affected areas do in fact meet those standards. So Trump wants to penalize California for having dirty air at the same time he seeks to take away its ability to clean up that same air. Go figure, or as Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein deadpanned, the combined moves “seem counterintuitive.”

Trump also threatens to withhold federal grants from police in California’s many “sanctuary cities.” He warned he would cut federal wildfire aid and penalize San Francisco because its homeless population allegedly dumps human waste and hypodermic needles into the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. Except they don’t do that.

          Time after time, Trump trumpets actions against California, with the state’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, reacting with lawsuits like a Pavlovian laboratory dog.

          But does Trump really mean all this seriously, when he’s had so little success at it? Or is another agenda at work here?

          This question arises because the pre-presidency Trump was in effect a carnival barker, always aware of the legendary circus impresario P.T. Barnum’s observation that “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Trump the showman understood while running his reality television show that, as a New York Times television critic observed, “the only rule is that there are no rules.”

          He carried this sense over into his presidency, where a day rarely goes by without some crisis, be it a threat to bomb Iran or one to punish California. Trump also knows that California-bashing is a longtime, popular national pastime everywhere outside the Golden State.

          So when Trump blasts America’s longtime allies and cozies up to the most murderous of foreign dictators, it may all be for show, with the sense that as long as he keeps America entertained, he can get on with his real interest, which is making profits.

          It’s an approach completely unlike any previous President, and one whose ultimate consequences are unknown as an impeachment inquiry gets started. But it is fairly clear that Trump stands little chance of making good on most of the attacks he’s made against California.

          Top state officials say they are fairly certain of that, despite a Supreme Court that’s upheld some other unprecedented Trump actions, like his condoning the caging of small immigrant and refugee children.

          Said Gov. Gavin Newsom, who seems to enjoy sparring with Trump, and so is part of the President’s new show, “If Trump prevails, we will have more asthma in California…and other diseases. But that’s the state of things today in this country…We will fight back when he goes after our Dreamers and our health standards. And we will win in the courts.”

          Added Becerra, “If the arguments in the President’s tweets are the arguments they will use to propel (legal actions), then we’re looking pretty good and we will enjoy facing them in court.”

          The trick here is to see Trump’s real apparent motive: Less to hurt California or the potential victims of his actions than to keep the spotlight constantly on himself, impeachment investigation or not, and thereby help ensure another presidential term and even more personal profits while he steers government and foreign spending to his many properties.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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