Ruben Navarrette: California: Where the weather is great, and the people are obnoxious

Summary: Getting cooperation from Californians to sacrifice is challenging.

Ruben Navarrette column
Ruben Navarrette commentary
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SAN DIEGO — California, you're breaking my heart.

I've lived in the Golden State for three-fourths of my life. The state is in my bones and part of who I am. I've shopped around. I've lived for a dozen years in three other states. But this is where I belong. And where I'll stay.

Yet, there have been times in the last eight weeks — which have seen a global pandemic, food insecurity, shelter-at-home orders, public protests, and now meat shortages at grocery stores — when I haven't recognized the place.

For instance, when I attended elementary school in Central California in the 1970s, we were taught that the official state motto was: "Eureka." Now, the new unofficial motto seems to be some organic, buck-authority, anti-vaxxer, anarchistic aging hippy version of: "You're not the boss of me!"

The old motto — the official one — is all about progress, discovery and renewal. The new one — born of the coronavirus — reeks of selfishness, defiance and entitlement. You ask people to make a little sacrifice like giving up golf or staying away from the beach for just a few months. And all heck breaks loose.


As usual, President Trump is no help. He had a few strong moments early on in the crisis, but he tripped up. A few weeks ago, while trying to explain how he could simultaneously support protesters who wanted to re-open the economy and the medical professionals in his own administration who want to keep it closed, Trump had a rare moment of honesty. He blurted out: "I'm with everybody."

You can say that again, Mr. President.

I remember reading where Winston Churchill said something like that during the Blitz as the Nazi's dropped bombs over London in the early 1940s. Actually, I never read that. Because "Winnie" was a mighty leader who tackled reality, not a reality show host mightily pretending to be a leader.

But, far away from Washington, it's the bratty Californians that really get my goat. With tens of thousands of people flocking to any open beach, and local sheriffs and city mayors in revolt against the governor, it feels like the state is coming apart at the seams.

During World War II, civil defense corps were founded and everyday commodities — from steel, rubber and gasoline to butter, firewood and cooking oil — were rationed. Everyone was expected to support the war effort, and you did your part by doing without.

Well, I can't tell you how many times over the last two months I've looked at television footage of protesters in Southern California demanding that beaches and hiking trails be opened and thought to myself: "It's a good thing these people weren't running the home-front during World War II. We'd all be speaking German."

We all know that California — like the rest of the United States — has to get back to work and get back to business. You can't keep the world's fifth largest economy padlocked for very long, or the entire U.S. economy will falter.

But since California has not met the federal requirement of showing a declining number of COVID-19 cases for two weeks straight — and no state has, including those that are now in the process of reopening — I'd prefer that we not reopen anything until at least June 1.


Of course, I'm not a governor with matinee-idol good looks and likely presidential ambitions who wants everyone to love him and doesn't relish the sight of furious protesters holding signs calling for him to be recalled.

And so, this week, in the face of mounting public pressure, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that some "low-risk" businesses could reopen — bookstores, manufacturing plants, toy stores, florists etc. These are places where people go in and out, do their business and leave without lingering. That tends not to be the norm in bars and restaurants, which will remain closed.

Having been bullied by the mob, and lacking the sky-high approval ratings of someone like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Newsom is trying to scrape together a smidgeon of his dignity. He insists that those businesses that are allowed to reopen will have to practice social distancing, require employees to wear masks and ask that customers do the same.

That's the rub, Governor. Businesses are only as obedient as the people who run them. If those bratty Californians were any good at taking direction, honoring requests or accepting suggestions, we wouldn't be here.

For many of my comrades in the Golden State, the three branches of government are: Me, Myself, and I. And asking anyone to sacrifice anything for any amount of time is asking too much.

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