Anyone who is paying attention can see that the alpha and omega of current American politics is anger.
Anger about Obamacare and Puerto Rico. Anger about race and sexism. About NFL players, about the Congress, about what the president said or didn’t say or how he said it and to whom. So much anger that it feels as if all we have ever been is angry.
The thing to remember is that while our national situation begets anger, it is also born of anger. That simmering dissatisfaction at Democrats for losing touch with the middle class that had been their base. Growing ire at a polarized Congress and political parties content to supplant patriotism with partisanship. Distrust of established leadership structures that shifting our government’s focus from Main Street to K Street.
And in the throes of this national fever, the American voting public committed what had to that point been, literally, an inconceivable act of electoral self-harm: We elected a man so utterly unsuited to the presidency, so lacking in intelligence, experience, dignity or decorum, that the White House has devolved into a Grand Guignol of political ineptitude and buffoonery.
The Democratic Party of Hawaii is all-powerful but what has that gotten us?
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
All of which is to say that we would be better off today if we had sniffed that fetid breeze 18 months ago, instead of taking it full in the face on election night. But what warning might it offer for deep blue Hawaii, where the Democrat badge is hailed as a talisman against the evil eye that Trumped us?
We are not immune; the anger is here, but beneath the surface, a pre-seismic rumble nudging the edge of our perception. Our leaders take solace in the widespread assumption that low voter turnout reflects overall satisfaction, a comforting reflection of our noted no-stay-broke-no-need-fix, go-along-to-get-along spirit. After all, the most notable elected officials to be thrown out of office lately were Neil Abercrombie and Sam Slom, both of whom needed to work on using their indoor voices.
But then there’s rail, Honolulu’s political repetitive stress injury. That single droning argument has robbed Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and his office of any goodwill he may have generated through fixing sidewalks and sewers, cost a good legislator her leadership position, and convinced a remarkable number of people that, just this once, Middle Street would be a nice place to stop.
Gov. David Ige suffers from low approval ratings due in large part to the fact that he seems neither capable of nor interested in communicating. When he does speak, he’s boring. It’s not that he’s done anything wrong, really, he just … what was I saying? It’s an interesting situation considering that his predecessor was the least popular governor in the nation because he wouldn’t stop talking.
And then there’s Ige’s likely opponent in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Colleen Hanabusa. She really wants to be governor, even more than she really really wanted to be in Congress, both before and after she really especially totally wanted to be in the U.S. Senate.
Hawaii has too much at stake and not enough of a margin of error to risk a mudslide of public anger that mires us in toxic populism.
No one should be surprised if voters in this era of nagging issues like homelessness, TMT, and weak economic opportunities have trouble trusting the party that seems to accomplish so little despite an overwhelming majority and decades of control. And what segment of the party would they rely on? Traditional Hawaii ethnic blocs? Old school liberals? Labor? Don’t forget that Andy Winer, the man who helped Brian Schatz — Slate’s poster child for Senate Democrats’ fecklessness — win his Senate seat in 2014, espoused a reliance on low information voters and progressives who moved to Hawaii since the 1990s.
At the same time, how desperate would voters have to be to turn to the Republicans, who again shot themselves in the foot by driving out a promising young member for refusing to support the blathering charlatan they put in the White House? Beth Fukumoto would have been the opposition’s best bet to retake the First Congressional District seat — if only she were still a member of their party.
As the pressure builds to address this gathering storm of intractable challenges and unreliable leadership, no one can be sure whether the public’s next hero will be a statesman or a demagogue.
Trump has proven both that we must think about the unthinkable, and that the wrong choice can leave a deep, wide scar across the legal, cultural, and political landscape. Hawaii has too much at stake and not enough of a margin of error to risk a mudslide of public anger that mires us in toxic populism.
For elected officials, candidates, and both political parties, this means paying real attention to the needs and mood of the public, and not just those who repeat your talking points or show up at your fundraisers. Acting as leaders instead of politicians.
Democrats, admit your fallibility. Republicans, acknowledge that what you are doing doesn’t work in this community.
Instead of looking toward the next election, focus on the current problems. Instead of opposition research, how about research into solutions to genuine problems?
Instead of running the same cast of characters in every election, seek out those individuals in Hawaii who have the brains, temperament, and commitment to provide us with true leadership.
If we do not ask the question, “What can we do?” we’ll be stuck with “What happened?”
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