One early December morning, Las Vegas police moved in on the Silverton Hotel and Casino, just off the Strip and known for its 117,000-gallon aquarium. There, having located a getaway black Audi with no license plates, they arrested 31-year-old Ka Pasasouk—a Laotian immigrant with a violent history who had eluded deportation as well as imprisonment. The Dragnet-style work came less than 24 hours after police back in Northridge, a Los Angeles suburb known for a state university campus, discovered what they called a “very grisly tableau.”
Outside an overcrowded boarding house, described in press accounts as unlicensed, lay the bodies of two men and two women, whom Pasasouk has now been charged with murdering. The story captured attention up and down the already tense state, where the phrase “grisly tableau” could easily have found wide use in the ubiquitous conversations about California’s economic, political, and social decay. America’s promised land has turned dystopian.
Especially in the movies, Californians do love to imagine how the forces of darkness could bring an Armageddon-like end to their earthly paradise. That is because, as they leave the theater, it has always still been paradise. Lately, however, life outside the cineplex has also turned dark.
The image of idyllic California, as cable watchers from coast to coast know, took another devastating blow in mid-February, when the disgruntled former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner went on his wild, manifesto-driven killing spree. In the frantic, weeklong manhunt, during which police officers managed to shoot innocent civilians who stumbled in their way, a sense of unloosed anarchy descended.
Dorner and Pasasouk. The first a crazed ex-cop who, amid his quadruple murders, managed to tweak a race-troubled LAPD history into a PR campaign that stymied public information officers and even, appallingly, gathered a measure of public admiration. The second a near-perfect symbol of the breakdown of liberal institutions. Both accentuating the sense that everything is falling apart in the storied state.
A civic unease runs through California these days. Premonitions abound of terrible things ahead. Not the space invaders or blade-runners of cinematic imagination, but padlocked -public services, interminable DMV lines, closed classrooms, off-limits recreational areas, public employee strikes, inadequate or nonexistent police, fire, and medical responses.
Just days before the Northridge slaughter, San Bernardino city attorney Jim Penman addressed a crowded city council meeting in the wake of an elderly woman’s murder, telling residents of the bankrupt municipality to “lock their doors and load their guns.” Penman was not alone among California city officials forced to slash law enforcement budgets. Nor did he back down amid the predictable media tut-tutting: “You should say what you mean and mean what you say.”
California voters in November overwhelmingly pulled the lever for a one-party state. Democrats control the governorship, statewide offices, and veto-proof legislative majorities—all beholden to powerful state employee unions. If the recent standoffs with such unions in Wisconsin and Michigan seemed dramatic, just wait for the coming epic in California, a state known for manufacturing drama. No prospective Scott Walker or Rick Snyder, the governors of Wisconsin and Michigan, appears on the political horizon. But that doesn’t mean peace with the unions—the money to buy it doesn’t exist. So there will be a budget war of multiple battles and skirmishes. With Republicans already prostrate, some joke darkly—this, mind you, in the land of Reagan and “sunny optimism”—of adopting a Leninist approach: Let it all collapse . . . break the whole egg carton . . . build on the ruins . . . make lots of morning-after omelets. A dark scenario indeed, but name another more likely for Republicans.
To be sure, and before the joke is taken seriously, Lenin actively instigated disorder and turmoil, the better to erect his totalitarian structure and, yes, his one-party state. The gallows humor of California Republicans is strictly passive; they are resigned to let nature take its course, the better to dismantle failed structures and launch productive, pluralistic systems consistent with freedom. The state’s new political dispensation gives Republicans no alternative other than to be ready with workable proposals after the fall.