Newsom’s approach is also the clearest sign yet that California’s exceptionalism—its longtime self-image as the place that imagines how the future will look and work, for aerospace and computing and entertainment—may well be the new American exceptionalism. How the state responds to this massive economic, social, and health-care challenge could prove that self-image is accurate—or shatter it entirely.
Overall, California appears to have succeeded in sharply limiting the spread of the virus, though the state remains substantially under-tested, so the statistics may not be as encouraging as they seem. As of yesterday, 31,675 cases had been confirmed statewide, and 1,178 deaths—compared with 247,512 cases and 14,347 deaths in New York State.
Newsom’s acting so unilaterally, in opposition to Washington, does hold some risks. California taxpayers remit about 15 percent of individual contributions to the U.S. Treasury, yet California is, in the end, only a state, responsible to and dependent on federal laws and largesse like any other. It can buy equipment, and influence world markets, but it can’t set national trade or economic policy. But it’s easy enough to imagine a red state charting a comparably independent course against a future Democratic administration in Washington—one that the liberals who are applauding Newsom today might oppose.