To know California is to appreciate America’s nation-state as grist for comedians’ mills. Jack Benny’s radio show liked to titillate audiences with city names (an announcer would declare “Train now leaving on five for Anaheim, Azusa, and Cuc . . . amonga”).
Californians long led an idyllic version of the American Dream: lots of sunshine, jobs, upward mobility, home and automobile ownership, inviting ample space and tremendous mobility. Long a harbinger of national trends and an incubator of innovation, the Golden State used to be home to steadily rising standards of living, outstanding public schools and universities, and enviable infrastructure.
Vocabulary changes always reflect the agendas of a political debate. The fight over illegal immigration plays out by altering words and their meanings. Take the traditional rubric “illegal alien.” The English has been clear and exact for nearly a century: illegal alien (cf. Latin alienus) was a descriptive term for any foreigner who crossed the US border without coming through customs to obtain proper legal sanction.
Despite changing demographics and a sharp veer to the ideological left, is it possible that California could take a political trip back to the future as two staples resurface that drove the state’s politics in the more conservative 1980s and 1990s? Look around and you’ll see indications that even in this liberal bastion on the left coast, the issues of taxes and crime are stirring again.
It’s time to finally ditch the “Silver Tsunami” label about longevity. By 2020 one in five Californians—about 8 million residents of America’s nation-state—will be aged sixty years or older. That ratio will climb to one in four by 2030.