We spoke with Mr. Brown on Tuesday, when he visited The Times for a meeting with the Editorial Board. With just months left in his final term as governor, he was in a reflective — and fairly pessimistic — place.

At times, he sounded almost like the scientist in a disaster movie. You know, the one no one listens to — until it’s too late.

“We are sleepwalking in a very dangerous era, when split-second decisions can kill hundreds of millions of people and people don’t seem to give a damn — or even know about it,” he said.

He said America was on the verge of crisis: In our future, he sees global instability stemming from a recession he believes is coming as soon as next year, disastrous impacts from climate change and threats of nuclear arms, cyber war and bioterrorism.

To address all of that, he argued, Democrats need an uplifting message.

“Trump had his theme of national nativism, and he’s pushing that, so I think the opposite of that is a more inclusive — a more generous — sense of what it is to be an American,” he said.

That’s not the way he expects his party to run in 2020.

“They’re going to run against the Republicans and Trump. That’s usually the way things work,” he said.

His perspective is particularly interesting, because while Mr. Brown is leading the state at the center of the liberal resistance, he’s seen by some there as a moderate.

He’s famous for his “canoe theory” of politics: “You paddle a little on the left and a little on the right, and you paddle a straight course.”

Liberal priorities — like single-payer health care, free college and abolishing ICE — motivate voters, but Mr. Brown wondered “how far can you really push that” and still govern.

“We’ve had Clinton, and that produced Bush, then we had Obama, and that helped produce Trump,” he said. “It goes back and forth. So you can get very excited about a certain direction, but if you look at the history, you do have to find a steadier course.”

As for whether there’s someone he thinks could push that message? Mr. Brown didn’t see any Democrat on the horizon — at least not yet: “It’s very hard to see where the party is going,” he said.



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