There may not be a single person in the United States — possibly the world and definitely not the Coachella Valley — who is without strong thoughts about the performance of the 45th president since he took office two years and seven months ago. You may love him or hate him, but you’d be in a tiny minority if you were indifferent to the high drama of the West Wing.
President Trump’s admirers and detractors find it difficult to look away or be unfazed by his performance. And when I say “performance,” I mean the tweet storms, the near-fisticuff antagonism between the president and the press, and the Cohen-Giuliani-Stormy-Mueller-Manafort-Barr-McGahn-Pelosi-Acosta sideshows that dominate the news.
Everyone can agree that such distractions from the country’s pressing issues — the policy decisions that affect our lives in the Coachella Valley — get lost in all the white noise and bombast. As with many U.S. presidents, from Eisenhower to Kennedy to Ford to Clinton, Trump has a strong connection to the desert. Unfortunately, it’s less positive than the aforementioned statesmen, whether it’s because his Trump 29 casino in Coachella failed in the early 2000s or because he believes our windmills make Palm Springs look like “a junkyard,” as he told conservative radio show host Herman Cain while on the campaign trail in 2016.
At Palm Springs Life, we’re acutely aware of our readers’ diverse political views. When I moved here more than four years ago, I was amazed that such wide-ranging political dynamics could co-exist on the same square block, let alone among nine adjacent cities. It was explained to me that the one thing everyone in the Coachella Valley had in common was that they truly loved living here, and many carefully avoid upsetting the good vibes. When we set out to elicit opinions and perspectives from all walks of life across the Coachella Valley for this article, many folks declined to be interviewed. In light of the delicate socio-political balance many maintain with their neighbors and community, this is not so surprising.
Still, we did our best to assemble a range of opinions on the legislation, executive orders, and other policy decisions important to the desert.
The president says that our job growth, bull market, and other indicators prove that his presidency has been better for the economy than any other in history, and that if the economy had continued under President Obama (or Hillary Clinton), we’d be facing another Great Depression. However, even conservative commentators in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes point to the fact these growth trends began under Obama with his measures to end the Great Recession and Trump’s favored tax breaks for companies. The question is: Will this prosperity be good for everyone in the Coachella Valley or only widen the gap between rich and poor?
Palm Springs Mayor Robert Moon says the economy is robust and local sales tax and taxes on hotels and vacation rentals are helping the budget at city hall, but adds, “Our pension liabilities are really high — from $13.5 million to $27 million in five years. That’s what keeps me up at night.” Responding to some economists’ belief that another recession could strike next year, the mayor says, “When the last recession hit, Palm Springs had to furlough 20 percent of [its] employees … and people here have a certain expectation from the city.”
Furthermore, Trump’s tax reform punishes high-tax states like California and New York “because the deductions we used to be able to take against our federal income tax had been reduced significantly.” Joe Wallace, CEO of the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, believes the downside of the Trump tax reform is a “mental effect … people who got less of a refund [are] in an uproar thinking they’re paying more taxes. If you dig in deep, there’s no truth to that.”
In March, Trump once again took up his campaign pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. However, days later, Senate Republicans talked him in to delaying the fight until after the 2020 elections. Meanwhile, Trump and GOP legislators have chipped away at the law in a number of ways, most significantly by eliminating the law’s individual mandate.
“Repeal of ACA without a replacement could affect the health of Coachella Valley residents.”
Joy Miedecke, president of the East Valley Republican Women Federated, one of the oldest Republican women’s clubs in the country, favors the dismantling of the ACA, she says, “because a lot of people couldn’t afford coverage in California.” She also says that one of the reasons Medicare is in danger is “because so much money goes to pay for free medical care to people who do not belong in our country. It’s not fair that somebody comes in our country and gets medical care at my expense.” Leticia De Lara, CEO of Regional Access Project Foundation and a board member of the Desert Healthcare District, concedes “the Affordable Care Act is not perfect, as almost everyone acknowledges, but repeal of the law — without a solid, defined replacement — would negatively impact the health of thousands of residents in the Coachella Valley who would have less incentive to obtain health insurance. As a result of ACA, the number of people insured has increased, and they are more likely to access preventative and health services before their conditions become acute, taking a greater toll on them physically, emotionally, and financially. Significant strides have been made by increasing access to healthcare services to more residents. It is not only good for their individual quality of life but for the overall community’s good quality of life as well.”
On Jan. 18, 2018, Trump addressed the March for Life, affirming his administration’s opposition to Roe v. Wade by saying, “We are protecting the sanctity of life and the family,” and claiming that the landmark decision has resulted in the most permissive abortion laws anywhere in the world. Since then, Alabama and Missouri have passed the strongest anti-abortion laws in the country with many other states pursuing “fetal heartbeat” laws that would make abortion illegal if a heartbeat can be detected. The Trump administration is also proposing modification to the Title X family planning program that would disqualify clinics that refer patients for abortions from receiving federal funds from the program.
Jeanne Jewett of Birth Choice of the Desert says the Trump administration’s efforts thus far have been positive for her organization. “[There] is a greater perception within the community that there is a sense of pro-life respect that’s being shown from the government. We didn’t have that for many years. It feels more comfortable.”
Cita Walsh, communications director for Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, which includes Riverside County, says the effect of the administration’s policies is a gag order dictating what physicians and clinicians can say to patients seeking abortion information. “The gag rule is inappropriate,” Walsh says, “and we refuse to comply.” She says almost 1 million low-income patients per year receive “critical life-saving screenings, birth control, and other essential services through the Title X program. We are committed to providing the full range of reproductive healthcare services to those who rely on us for care.”
Four months ago, Trump cut off his controversial secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, at the knees when she indicated federal funds would be withdrawn from the Special Olympics. DeVos has also halted the Obama special education policy for minority students. Rob Bowman, who teaches rhetoric at Indio High School, says such changes take “a long time to trickle into the classroom, partly because legislation moves slowly and partly because teachers are so reticent to change.”
While Democrats criticize the administration for doing nothing to protect children from school shootings, the president has suggested arming teachers as a measure of defense. Bowman says he spends more time “training and preparing for gun violence than anything else, even medical emergencies.”
Bowman also deals with the fallout from what he views as the president’s misogyny. “One of the things that has worried me most on campus is the growth of toxic masculinity. I have spent a good deal of time talking about that and trying to promote a more feminist [perspective] in my room.”
Another ongoing concern among a segment of the student population in the Coachella Valley: the threat of deportation. Bowman says the mood in his classroom has changed “because students can’t help but bring in their outside stresses and worries as it relates to this presidency.” He says students miss school “because their parents are keeping them home for fear they’ll be rounded up. When you ask about career goals, they’ll says things like, ‘I just don’t want my dad to get kicked out of the country.’ They look to us teachers for wisdom, but we don’t have any answers for them.”
“The president’s threat to bus immigrants to sanctuary cities could impact desert communities.”
Whether you think that illegal immigration along the southern border is a “national emergency” or a social and economic issue in need of a multilayered response, there’s no need for a 1,954-mile wall, antagonistic policies such as the attempted end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, or the separation and detention of children from parents attempting illegal entry. Though Congress has denied the president’s wall, it has allotted the money to beef up border security, and Trump continues threatening to close the border. His Jan. 25, 2017, executive order on immigration has (among many things) increased the purview of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain any class of undocumented alien from Bangor to Barstow.
Miedecke of East Valley Republican Women Federated thinks the stories of families being separated and children being abused “is just lie after lie after lie. I don’t care if it’s a child coming on their own or what it is, these people do not need to come in over our border, and we have got to stop it.” Miedecke says she and her organization support Trump’s border wall. “I think it’s a great idea, and I love that this president is going forward no matter what the opposition is. My mother came from Italy on a boat when she was 17 years old. She had nothing to eat except for bananas, and she had no shoes. She came into this country and became a citizen. That’s the way it should be. People crashing our border, it’s not the way to go.”
The fact is, few people on either side of the issue would argue for illegal immigration. Trump’s threat to bus detained immigrants to sanctuary cities would have a significant impact on Cathedral City, Coachella, and Palm Springs, which have passed ordinances declaring themselves as such.
Luis Nolasco, a policy advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, thinks the president’s threat to populate sanctuary cities is mostly rhetoric and a continuing “attack on communities that are passing strong anti-deportation policies.” He believes that part of the divisiveness in the debate stems from people not understanding immigration law, which he says is below only tax law in its complexity. “Most of [the Central American migrants] are coming here seeking asylum. Seeking asylum is not illegal. It’s a legal process where these folks are presenting themselves to the border and asking for refuge from the various unstable conditions in their home country, many of them fleeing from extreme poverty and gang violence,” Nolasco explains. “They’re doing basically what the law allows them do to. A lot of the folks that are choosing to come to this country through non-legal ways are doing so because the situation in their home-country is so unstable that if they were to stay there, they’re literally facing death or starvation.”
In addition to withdrawing in 2017 from the Paris Agreement on climate mitigation, the Trump administration has directed the Environmental Protection Agency to consider formally repealing the Clean Power Plan and the 2015 Waters of the United States rule, which aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and expand clean water bodies, respectively. He has been a longtime opponent of wind power, which he says kills eagles and causes cancer. His main objection to wind power is what he thinks to be its unreliability. In March, Trump told a crowd of supporters at a Michigan rally, “If it doesn’t blow, you can forget about television for that night.”
“The federal government owns 40 percent of the land in and around the shrinking Salton Sea.”
Of course, Trump’s biggest irritations with California are the state’s many successful lawsuits that have prevented the implementation of his policies. While this dismissal of alternative energy sources is worrisome, the slow federal response to the looming disaster at the Salton Sea rings more alarming. Phil Rosentrater, executive director of the Salton Sea Authority, says that “rising salinity and lowering elevation of the Salton Sea threatens human health, ecosystem collapse, and economic damage far beyond the Coachella Valley — potentially impacting state, federal, and international interests.” He says that his agency does not engage in pointing fingers for the lack of progress and is more interested in forging relationships on a local, state, and federal level to stimulate progress. “Historic progress has been made through legislative efforts like the $867 billion Farm Bill, which President Trump signed into law in December 2018 in order to give relief to the agricultural industry hard hit by tariffs (though small farmers claim the money has never trickled down to their level),” Rosentrater says. “Again, critical progress at the sea now waits for administrative leadership in federal agencies that have been slow to respond.” The federal government owns 40 percent of the land in and around the Salton Sea, so it is in their interest to solve this potential environmental and economic disaster. “The Feds are in a pivotal position to accomplish transformative change [at] the sea.”
On March 23, 2018, the president issued a memorandum banning most transgender people from serving in the military. Though the memorandum did not change DOD policy from accepting transgender recruits or allowing them to finish out their service, Trump’s memo has been called unconstitutional. California has more armed services bases (32) and personnel (184,540) than any other state. March Air Reserve Base and the Marine base at Twentynine Palms are both in commuting distance of the Coachella Valley.
In response to a query from Palm Springs Life, Capt. Karen Anne Holliday, communication strategy and operations director, provided a written response asserting, “The updated DOD policy on transgender service members is not a ban on transgender individuals. This policy focuses on those with a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and the associated chronic conditions such as depression, adjustment disorder, and suicide. Transgender persons without a diagnosis or history of gender dysphoria may serve in the military and are required to meet the standards/requirements associated with their biological sex. … Under the updated policy, Marines diagnosed with gender dysphoria after entering service would be permitted to continue serving, and to receive mental health counseling, provided gender transition is not necessary to protect their health and they are willing and able to meet all standards, including the standards associated with their biological sex.”
Andy Linsky, a former Human Rights Campaign board member, says the captain’s response is “government speak — they sound good, but they do evil. A number of courts have already declared his policy banning transgender members from being in the military to be unconstitutional. And they put stays on [the rule] so it hasn’t actually been enacted. So far, there has not been a change in the actual policy. But the memorandum and his actions are blatantly discriminatory.”
The Obama administration made strides by repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and opening of the military to all Americans, including transgender people. Banning anybody based on religion, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity precludes service members who might be the best in their field from actually serving, thus placing the country a greater risk.
Three decades ago, Trump was firmly in favor of marijuana legalization. His position since 2016 has been vague, showing soft support for medical use and opposition to recreational. In 2018, attorney general Jeff Sessions revoked the Cole Memorandum, which deprioritized enforcement of laws against the cultivation, possession, and sale of cannabis. Sessions affirmed that federal prosecutions under the Controlled Substance Act would continue unabated. Nevertheless, attorney general William Barr’s staff has more pressing issues to deal with than recreational cannabis. With 33 states legalizing or decriminalizing its use, it’s hardly a battle worth fighting. Benjamin Brayfield, interim CEO of Palm Springs’ Safe Access, says there is no overt threat from the Feds, but “it affects us when it comes to investors. We’re developing 14 acres, and investors want to know what would happen [if the Feds interfered]. It becomes a big question whether they’d interfere with [our] expansion.” Cannabis companies’ biggest concerns the tariff war with China. “Almost all our containers come from China,” Brayfield says. “We’re forming domestic partnerships, but at the moment, the fight over tariffs becomes a big factor.”