When Brown began his third term, in 2011, California had not recovered from the Great Recession. The state was running a deficit of twenty-seven billion dollars, unemployment was at twelve per cent, and its credit rating was the lowest of any state in the country. With help from a recovering economy, Brown balanced the budget, first through spending cuts and then with a temporary tax increase. Today, California is in the black and has even banked an emergency fund of eight billion dollars. Unemployment is less than five per cent.So that's my ideal of a politician: somebody who has lots of interesting ideas about humanity and society but can also manage the legislature and balance the budget. As to how Brown feels about the current moment:
Still, there is nothing halcyon about Brown’s vision of the future. At a press conference in January, he unveiled his valedictory budget proposal. Its centerpiece is an addition of five billion dollars to the emergency fund. Brown walked over to a blown-up cardboard graph and made clear that this was no cause for celebration. Pointing to the very end of a red bar that represented his term, he said, with a slight smile, “The next governor is going to be on the cliff. . . . What’s out there is darkness, uncertainty, decline, and recession. So, good luck, baby!”That's exactly how I feel; calling yourself “the Resistance” makes Donald Trump the most important issue, and he is not. Questions about what sort of society we want and how to get along with each other are much more important.
Brown has been ambivalent about dwelling on his apocalyptic vision. “If you talk too much, you’re odd, they can’t hear you,” he told me, “but if you don’t talk about it, then no one will know.” For him, the “potential for doom” resides in two threats: climate change and the nuclear-arms race. “People may now be worried about North Korea, but not about the fact that Russia and America could get into a nuclear exchange,” he told me. “The fact that in forty-five minutes it could be over is not a problem in the minds of ninety-nine-point-nine per cent of the people.” He continued, “I’m just saying that human beings in 2018 are living with unimaginable powers of both creativity and utter, final destruction. That being the case, a degree of wisdom and restraint and discipline and openness is absolutely required if we’re going to make it and we’re going to survive.”
Brown also sees danger in the growing discord between Democrats and Republicans. “The last time we had that, we had the Civil War,” he said. Infuriated by the President, California Democrats—such as Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who is leading the race to replace Brown, and State Senate leader Kevin de León, who is challenging Dianne Feinstein for her seat in the U.S. Senate—have argued that the state is a “sanctuary,” and the antithesis of Trump’s Washington. Brown’s opposition to Trump is somewhat different. On occasion, he drops some “rhetorical bombs,” as he has called them, but he prefers a measured, pragmatic approach. Brown rejects the idea that a state can offer sanctuary from the federal government, and he does not like to talk about “the Resistance,” either.
“What is that?” Brown said. “People are striving to frame their campaigns rhetorically. But I’m not running a campaign. . . . I’ve criticized the President when I thought he was wrong, but my life doesn’t revolve around Donald Trump.”