Monday, August 8, 2016

What if the political promised land doesn't exist?

I've been sitting on this piece for a few weeks, not sure what to do with it. 
1) It's too long for my normal Civil Beat column;
2) I feel like the asshole t
rying to tell everyone that Santa Claus doesn't exist;
3) what's the point?

But, rather than file it away in my growing folder of abandoned pieces-- I decided to put it out there for ya'll to judge. And, while it sounds pessimistic, I think it's one of the most optimistic pieces I've ever written. Maybe we don't need "political revolution"-- we just need more politics. As a side note, please forgive the crazy formatting (random color and size changes) of blogger. If anyone has a suggestion for a better blogging platform, I would really appreciate it.


For our entire democratic history we have been searching for a post-political utopia-- free of corruption, where merit comes before party, and power rests in the hands of the people.

But, what if it doesn’t exist? And what if our endless search for this promised land of democracy is causing our political system to unravel?

On the day that George Washington announced that he was stepping down from office, Benjamin Franklin Bache (grandson of the famous Franklin)
famously editorialized the moment by writing:
Every heart in unison… ought to beat high with exultation that the name of Washington from this day ceased to give current to political inequity and to legalized corruption. A new era is now opening upon us—an era which promises much to the people; for public measures must now stand upon their own merits, and nefarious projects can no longer be supported by a name.
While the language of journalism has been notched down, not much else has changed. We consider anyone who has held political office for too long as part of a corrupt establishment, and we look towards every fresh face as the one who will fix politics.

And, through centuries of reform, government is now cleaner and more democratic than it’s ever been. In contrast to the political machines, back room deals, and old boy networks which characterized our political system for most of its history,
every state now has some variation of Sunshine Law that mandates all political deliberation be open to the public. Rather than letting loyal partisans choose our presidential nominees, we switched to a system of popular vote in the ‘70s. Bipartisan campaign finance reform in 2002 has drastically reduced party influence over local, state, and federal elections by limiting party contributions and spending. Congressional earmarks (aka pork barrel spending) have been mostly banned since 2010. And, most recently, we've come to expect watchdog organizations like Wikileaks (and the Russians) to expose government documents that were meant to be private.

“If the broad light of day could be let in upon men’s actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects,”
wrote Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in 1913.

And he was right. The result of these reforms, as Matthew Yglesias wrote in Slate, is that congress is remarkably free of corruption- whether of the formally illegal kind or just unseemly horse trading.”

While my Facebook feed continues to explode in outrage over Clinton "stealing the nomination," the irony is that she won in a system that is more open and democratic than it has ever been.

Yes, there are still shady things going on. But our furor over the DNC email leak shows how far we’ve come. In the broad scheme of shady dealings, emails revealing the partisanship of a few individuals within a private partisan organization pale in comparison to the daily operation of political machines, party organizations, and even congress throughout most of our history.



Congressional polarization
Yet, despite our unprecedented transparency and relative lack of corruption, our political system has never been more broken. Trust in government is at an all time low, both party nominees are the most unpopular candidates in recent history, congressional disapproval is at a record high, the most important bipartisan legislation last year was a bill to avoid a government shut down, congress is more polarized than ever, and our local governments can’t even come together on something as fundamental as funding road repair.

And so we keep doubling down on increasing transparency and participation because it’s the only political philosophy
that unifies us. 


In the speech that launched Ronald Reagan into the national spotlight, he stated that the issue at stake was whether “a little intellectual elite in a far-distant Capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.” After the 2008 election, President Obama wrote that “my administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.” Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard just declared a victory for democracy because most super delegates will now “be required to cast their votes based on how their state voted.” And of the 52 candidates asked so far by Civil Beat whether they support a citizen’s initiative process, 39 answered with a resounding “yes.”

But, what if increasing the power of the people isn’t the solution to our political woes— but the cause?

Or at least that’s the argument made by Jonathan Rauch in
a recent Brookings Institute paper titled “Political Realism, How Hacks, Machines, Big Money, and Back-Room Deals Can Strengthen American Democracy.”

His thesis is that politics is made up of professionals and amateurs: “Whereas professional politicians attempt to avoid issues because the loyalty of their workers is commanded by other means, amateurs generate issues because there seems to be no other way to command these loyalties.”

Both extremes are on display in Hawai'i politics. Many of our state’s most powerful politicians (the “professionals”) avoid issues to such an extent that sometimes it’s hard to know what they believe in. Here on Kaua'i, our council chair and vice-chair didn’t participate in the first candidate forum of this election cycle. On the other side of the spectrum, the new crop of political newcomers (the “amateurs”) have cut their teeth on either side of moral crusades like genetic modification, water diversion, and TMT.

Rauch argues that if we’re trying to move government from rhetorical talking points to actual solutions, then we need both types of politician. And that our unprecedented political dysfunction is because we’ve gone to war against the smoke filled rooms and transactional politics of the “professionals” while lifting up the ideological purity of the “amateurs.”

He writes that by increasing transparency and participation, we have reduced the role of the party, eliminated the space for compromise, and rewarded extremism.

Strong parties are necessary for moderation. When your effectiveness and political future are in the hands of party leadership, you naturally tend towards moderation. But, as institutional reform erodes the power of the party (election by popular vote, campaign finance reform minimizing party ability to influence elections, etc) then extremist candidates are the only ones who can break through the noise. And, in the absence of party support in elections, SuperPacs have taken their place. But, rather than influence a candidate towards the platform of the party (as party spending used to), SuperPacs funnel money towards single issues-- once again, rewarding extremism. And modern candidates now have to spend much of their available time fundraising instead of relying on a few big donors or the party apparatus to do it for them, which ensures that politicians don't have the time to be well versed on policy (if you click on one link in this article, make it this one).

Earmarks used to act as a transactional bridge. Candidates who stood in ideological opposition could be swayed by promises of funding for their district. They were literally the currency of compromise. And in their absence, senior party members now have less power to get their members in line and opposing forces have no incentive to come to the table.

And transparency has eliminated the space for frank dialogue. When everything is open to the public (including emails), and transactional politics is looked at as part of a dirty game-- politicians can't even have an open discussion without the risk of it appearing on the cover of their local newspaper.

“Back-scratching and logrolling are signs of a healthy political system, not a corrupt one,” Rauch explains. “Transactional politics is not always appropriate or effective, but a political system which is not reliably capable of it is a system in a state of critical failure.”

The paper makes a clear argument for the need to find a balance between the professionals and the amateurs, between public participation and party control, and between transparency and the space for back-room deals.

“Just accepting that more democracy is not always the answer would mark a sea change in American political discourse,” concludes Rauch.
Perhaps the hardest of all default assumptions to reset is the idea that most of America’s political and governmental ills are the result of some version of corruption and that the remedy involves some version of amateurism. Changing this default is a tall order in a country where politicians and the public are addicted to diatribes against politics, where inexperience in politics is regularly touted as proof of virtue, and where two generations of reformers are deeply invested in the war on corruption… 
Transactional politics is social mediation. It is how we connect across our disagreements and figure out a way forward. Strengthening the mechanisms of compromise—the incentives to barter, the leverage of leaders, the spaces for frank conversation—will not bring all of the people together all of the time, but it will allow more of the people to come together more of the time.
Last week I wrote that ideology was the root cause of our political dysfunction. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the growing partisan divide is only a symptom, while the real problem is our collective disdain for the art of politics. Maybe getting the right people elected is far less important than maintaining the systems necessary for compromise.

Maybe the lesson of Donald Trump is that parties need to have more power over the nominating process. Maybe the real story behind the Hillary Clinton email scandal is that government officials should be able to write an email without worrying about it being part of the public record. Maybe the rise of SuperPacs and outside influence in our elections has more to do with the limits on party spending rather than with Citizens United. And maybe Hawai'i's strict Sunshine Law deserves some of the blame for stifling the trade-offs necessary for effective policy from our county councils and state legislature. 


There is no political promised land-- this is all we've got. So maybe it's time to accept that politics is an inherently dirty game. And the more we try to scrub it clean, the more we cripple its ability to function. 



Sunday, April 17, 2016

Thoughts on the JFF Report for Kaua'i

I have spent the last three years arguing that the fight over genetic modification is unnecessarily divisive, and that it does nothing to expand local agriculture or ensure that our communities are safe from pesticide drift.

Invoking the ire of many of my friends, I supported the mayor’s veto of bill 2491 because I agreed that it was his administrative duty to ensure a legally defensible bill. 

I feel strongly that we need to support the seed companies because we need an "all of the above" approach to feeding our planet, we need the economic diversity that they provide, and we need to encourage all forms of Kaua’i agriculture. When a Kaua'i kid can get a PhD and come home to a well paying agricultural job on the west side-- we all win.

And, I have consistently argued that we shouldn't let the loudest or the angriest voices dominate the dialogue.

Which is why I was really impressed with the draft report of the JFF—as it presents an objective bridge between the divide that has erupted on Kaua’i over the last few years.

The report clearly cited the slowly accumulating evidence that chronic pesticide exposure leads to ill-health; that exposure can come from many sources other than agriculture; and that while the west side has major health concerns, we don't have enough data to even attempt to dig through the various potential causes (socioeconomic conditions, lifestyle, ethnicity, etc).

And the most important finding of the report is that the current environmental and health data is glaringly insufficient.

And so their recommendations to the state-- further testing, buffer zones based off of that testing, and an expansion of the good neighbor policy-- are obvious conclusions.

Every year around this time, I sit down and double check my business bookkeeping with my bank account. It takes about forty hours of mind-numbingly boring work. I am careful when I do my accounting, so I never find errors. But, I do it anyway. Not because I'm hoping to find a mistake, or because I like wasting time, but because the fall out from a potential problem is much greater than the cost of double checking.

By following the recommendations of the JFF, we can both support our seed companies, yet have assurance that surrounding communities are not being exposed to pesticide drift. And we can begin to move beyond the divisive debate over genetic modification.


I encourage everyone to both read the draft report and the statement released yesterday by moderator Peter Adler.

Full disclosure-- my dad, Dr Lee Evslin, was one of the volunteer members of the JFF and one of the authors of the chapter on health. While I am proud of the work that he has done on the JFF, I want to be clear that I do not speak for him.

For more information on the rationale behind the recommendations-- here is the opening of the introduction to the recommendations that my dad gave at the JFF's public presentation on April 4th. 

My role in tonight’s presentation is to review a summary of the task force’s recommendations. 
I am going to start this review of the recommendations by very briefly answering a question.  I am answering from my perspective as a physician member of the taskforce. 

The question raised is: Why is the task force making ANY recommendations if there is no proof that there is any harm to humans or wildlife? 

As Kawika made so clear in his summary, we could not prove or DISPROVE that there has been harm to human health or to wildlife on the Westside due to pesticides or due to any other environmental toxin. The reasons for our inability to prove anything include the following: 

1. There has been almost no testing of the environment, meaning minimal organized testing of air, soil, water and dust and no reported testing of metabolite levels in humans and/or wildlife. 

2. The number of people on Kauai and particularly the number of people on the Westside is so small that most of the health data we could find could not meet the criteria of being statistically significant.  Meaning that although we did find somewhat elevated levels of developmental delay in children, ADHD in children, renal disease requiring dialysis in adults, and other adverse health statistics, the small numbers involved do not allow one to say with any certainty that these numbers are not just due to random chance.  

3. Even if for some reason we could find a number which was statistically significant, for example; obesity on the Westside compared to the rest of the state might just meet the criteria of being statistically significant, BUT without evidence of toxins in the environment or evidence of toxins in living tissue one STILL can not say with any certainty what may have caused this condition. Obesity obviously has many causes and only recently has obesity even been associated with environmental toxins.  

4. Final point, which is made repeatedly throughout our report, the health data, is very incomplete, much is out of date, and some may be actually incorrect.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Path to 100% Renewable Energy

I just finished a four part series on renewable energy for Civil Beat. They are best read in order:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

And then in a sort of Star Wars prequelesque way, here's the conclusion which was actually published first.

Thank you to Brad Rockwell, Jim Kelly, Mina Morita, Ben Sullivan, and John Wehrheim for answering my incessant questions.

And also thank you to David Roberts from Vox who's been writing weekly columns on renewable energy for years (originally at Grist). If you're looking for a better writer who has gone way more in depth-- then check out everything he's written at both Vox and Grist.

Monday, March 21, 2016

On Growth and Polarization

Here's another Civil Beat column I just published. It's a short look into the 20th century history of development in Hawai'i, along with the duel threat of overpopulation and underpopulation. All of these arguments have appeared on my blog before-- though in a more rambling tone and spread out over a half dozen posts.
As a disclaimer, let me clearly say that there is no doubt that population growth is wreaking havoc on our infrastructure, natural resources, and climate. My argument is that unless we diversify our economy and heavily invest in local business, education, and the technology sector-- that we are going to face some really hard times.


On a completely separate note--

While Kaua'i's County elections are all non-partisan, last year we saw the rise of ad-hoc slates. And we're now facing an unprecedented level of discord and partisanship within our council chambers. In an effort to understand the grid lock within our county and federal legislative bodies, I recently started reading a book called Beyond Ideology-- which is on the root causes of partisanship. And about four pages into it I came across this stunningly accurate description of party polarization:

This book argues that fellow partisans' shared risk has wide-ranging effects on congressional party politics. It leads members of one party to support efforts to discredit the opposition party on the grounds of its incompetence and lack of integrity, not simply to oppose its ideological policy agenda. It persuades members to rally around the initiatives of their own party's president, and, as a mirror image, the other party to resist initiatives championed by an opposing party's president. It prompts members to routinely back up their own party leadership's efforts to exert control over the floor agenda. And it encourages members and leaders to steer the congressional agenda toward issues that allow them to differentiate themselves from their partisan opposition and thus to make the case that voters should prefer one party over the other. Members' diverging political interests drive the parties apart on many issues that bear no clear or direct relationship to the principled policy disagreements between liberals and conservatives.

Tracing the sources of party conflict speaks to the very purposes political parties serve in a democratic system. If party conflict in Congress were only rooted in members' disagreements over policy, then partisan debate would simply represent the range of public policy preferences that exist within the country's elected leadership. It would do no more than give voice to officeholders' legitimate, policy-based disagreements over matters of public concern. If, however, party conflict also stems from legislators' competition over power and office, then parties do more than reflect the underlying policy disagreements that exist in American government and society. Parties also systematically institutionalize, exploit, and deepen those divisions. Indeed, partisan political interests can create conflict where it would not have otherwise existed. Evidence presented in this book suggests that legislative partisans engage in reflexive partisanship, in which they oppose proposals because it is the opposing party's president that advances them. 

A clear implication of this analysis is that the public's well-documented skepticism about political parties-- a skepticism greatly at odds with political scientists' general attitude-- is well founded. At the same time that political parties help make government more coherent and understandable to the broad public, they also have some negative consequences. In seeking to advance their collective interests of winning elections and welding power, legislative partisans stir up controversy. They impeach one another's motives and accuse one another of incompetence and corruption, not always on strong evidence. They exploit the floor agenda for public relations, touting their successes, embarrassing their opponents, and generally propagandizing for their own party's benefit. They actively seek out policy disagreements that can be politically useful in distinguishing themselves from their partisan opponents. All of these sources of partisan conflict would continue to exist regardless of members' different ideological orientations. Even if there were ideological consensus in the Congress, political parties would continue to score points in their fights over power and office. In all these important respects, the American public is hardly misguided in thinking that "partisan bickering" goes on in congress...

The grim logic of two-party competition is that a party can potentially gain as much electoral mileage from damaging its opposition's reputation as from building a positive record of policy achievements of its own.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Reflection

I fell into my own trap.

In a burst of anger after the GOP caucus on Kaua'i I wrote an inflammatory post about Donald Trump. It took me about an hour to spew out and I posted it without editing. It wasn't just a self-righteous attack on Trump, it was an attack on those who voted for him. I stand by what I said, but I'm not sure what I achieved by writing it.

Yesterday, Civil Beat published my second official column with them. I started writing that piece last month. It took me around twenty hours of research, writing, and editing. And it was on Hawai'i's responsibility to step in where the federal government has failed on climate change mitigation. Other than a few veiled digs at the GOP's climate change denialism, I didn't criticize anyone or weave together any rhetoric about our responsibility to not fuck up our planet. I just pointed out the logical necessity of a policy to cap carbon emissions in Hawai'i. It was one of the most important things I've ever written.

In December, I wrote a piece for Civil Beat on why we should ignore Trump. The gist was that climate change presents a much more serious threat to the fate of the world than some inflammatory reality TV star. It included this line:
Getting mired down in a debate over personality is easier than facing our actual complex and systemic issues. And Trump's complete lack of ethics and human decency allow me to brush aside my own moral failings in a warm blanket of liberal self-righteous condemnation... The systemic issues that we face are too grave for us to get bogged down in a fight with bigots. We should be discussing policy, not personality. 

Yet, in two days my blog post on Donald Trump is already my sixth most viewed post. And my post on climate change policy, despite Civil Beat's wide readership, was probably read by about 7 people. 

For me, the lesson of climate change has been one of complicity. As an American citizen, climate change is my fault. I drive a truck. I flew roundtrip to O'ahu yesterday. I have benefited from an economy based off of cheap fossil fuels. And so I can't blame runaway Co2 emissions on anyone else. Which is why I feel so responsible for solving it.

Yet, Donald Trump carries the same lesson. As an American citizen, I am complicit in his popularity and in the polarization of our country. I've launched rhetorical attacks. I've laid judgement on his followers. And, if hits are a measure of success, then my blog has benefited from those attacks. And so I can't blame his rise on anyone else. Which is why I feel so responsible for solving it.

Most importantly, both as a consumer and a producer of content, I am complicit in the victory of personality over policy in our media. Like grabbing that tub of ice cream from my freezer, I eagerly follow the link to Trump's latest inflammatory statement. And like distractedly picking at that arugula salad, I force myself to read what Scalia's death means to the future of Obama's Clean Power Plan. So I can't blame the media's infatuation with personality on anyone else.

Which is why I feel so responsible for solving it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

To my conservative friends:

Last night nearly eight out of every ten Kaua'i Republicans voted for either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. 

There have been a few moments in my life where a deeply held fiction was taken from me-- like learning that Santa Clause isn't real or when an understanding of the horrors of the holocaust changed my perspective of humanity. Last night was one of those moments.

I thought that I understood conservative ideology. 
  • That freedom is the most important part of America.
  • That limited government is the best way to expand our freedom. 
  • That reducing taxes limits the size of government and grows the economy. 
  • And that the only way to move people out of poverty is to get them a job through that expanded economy—not by handing them food stamps for life.

Like a dialogue between husband and wife making a marriage stronger, I've always understood that the give and take between progressive and conservative viewpoints is what truly made America great.

The GOP positions that I disagree with most fervently-- climate change denial, opposition to gay marriage, political obstructionism, and unlimited gun rights-- could all be explained through the dogmatic insistence that the only way to expand freedom was through limited government.


And as a progressive Democrat, I've spent countless hours trying to dissuade the dangerous and divisive myth that conservatives are selfish, or racist, or that their party has been corrupted by corporate influence. 


Ronald Reagan was President when I was born. I've been watching the rightward shift of the GOP for my entire life. And, while I've always disagreed with the core tenets of conservative ideology-- I could at least respect them. 

And I knew that Donald Trump didn't represent those ideals. So I didn’t express any moral outrage when he called Mexicans rapists. I ignored his sexist feud with Megyn Kelly. And I barely began paying attention when he called for a complete ban on Muslim travel to the US.

There are plenty of racist shit heads in the world, and we tend to give them too much credit. This guy didn’t represent the conservative party-- he was just an egomaniac with a microphone. He was a media side-show, and we had more important things going on.


He took the most extreme aspects of the GOP-- inflammatory rhetoric, hate mongering, and intense xenophobia-- and got rid of the small government ideology that's been used to justify it. And so I knew that the party of Reagan would ultimately denounce him. 

Until last night. That fiction imploded with the Hawai'i GOP caucus.

Nearly forty-five percent of Republicans on Kaua’i voted for him. More than twice as many as voted for Rubio and Kasich combined.

These are people that I know and see everyday. People that live in one of the most vibrant multi-cultural societies in America. People that come from a community built by immigrants.

Yet, you handed him your vote. The guy who talks about the size of his penis in a GOP debate—who insists that we need to commit war crimes to win the “war on terrorism”— who calls Ted Cruz a "pussy"-- who defends Putin-- and the guy who scape goats all of our problems on other people.

Donald Trump represents the worst of America. He has made a mockery of our country and our political system. 
What wouldn't have been acceptable conversation at the dinner table is now acceptable in our political debates. 

I know that you've heard this before. 

And I'm not blaming him. Because at least his motivations are clear-- he's a narcissist who wants to be President. 

But, if you voted for him, then you don't have the luxury of excusing your actions with a quest for power. I am sure that you have hidden your decision for him behind the fiction that he's a good deal maker or that we need a businessman as President. But you're lying to yourself. 

You voted for Donald Trump because you are afraid. You're afraid that the world is getting smaller and your role in it is being marginalized. You're afraid that you can no longer mask your bigotry behind religion. And, most of all, you're afraid that the color of your skin is no longer the badge of power that it once was.

While he may not have convinced you that he can "fix" this, at least he's shown you that these feelings are morally acceptable.

Which is why he is so dangerous. 

The world is changing quickly, and we need a healthy Republican party. We need to have robust conversations on welfare reform, marginal tax rates, and infrastructure spending. On whether we should respond to climate change with market incentives or stricter government intervention. On what America's role should be as a global leader. And on how best to battle inequality.

Conservatives, we need all of you in this dialogue. And we can’t afford to lose you to the fire of extremism.

As a friend told me last night-- if we vote for Donald Trump, then it's Donald Trump that we deserve.

While I'm beginning to believe it, I hope that you can prove me wrong.
From The New York Times






Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Rise of Fear Based Politics: From Trump to Kaua'i

Donald Trump has repeatedly proven me wrong.

Just a few weeks ago I erroneously wrote that he represents the ideological extreme of the Republican party.

But his crawl to the left of the GOP at the last two debates (criticizing George W. Bush, defending planned parenthood and Obamacare), and then his quick slither back to the right made me finally accept that it isn’t ideology that drives Trump—it’s his narcissistic quest for power. While Ted Cruz represents the ideological extreme of the Republican Party, Donald Trump is simply a manifestation of the anger and fear which the GOP has been carefully cultivating among their base since the election of Barak Obama.

Yet, as predicted by nearly every creation story from Prometheus to Frankenstein-- the GOP lost control of their anger fueled electorate.  

And I was wrong again when I wrote a piece for Civil Beat saying that Donald Trump’s name "
will soon be buried in the sand of history. Just another hate-mongering demagogue who never made it into elected office."
Super Tuesday's primary results were clear enough to show that he will almost certainly be the GOP nominee. Which puts us one terrorist attack or economic recession away from having this vile political animal winning election to the most powerful office on the planet.

And even if he loses the election and drifts into obscurity, his brand of authoritarian politics is here to stay. Because he's not the problem.

Thomas Edsall recently wrote in a New York Times op-ed that the widening inequality gap and the stagnation of middle-class wages is driving the success of Donald Trump. "Already disillusioned with the Democratic Party, these white voters became convinced that the mainstream of the Republican Party had failed them, not only on economic issues, but on cultural matters as well."

Ironically, Donald Trump is a perfect example of the fundamental flaw in unfettered capitalism which leads to growing inequality and middle class wage stagnation. Trump inherited $40 million in 1974. As Vox reports, if he had just let the money sit in an index fund he would have just about the same size fortune as he has right now (somewhere around $3 billion). Donald Trump's wealth isn't because he's a brilliant businessman or good at making deals, it's simply because wealth begets wealth.

In every developed country on Earth the rate of return on capital exceeds overall economic growth. So investment returns on accrued or inherited wealth-- whether it's in stocks, land, or equipment-- increase much faster than wages do.

As Donald Trump shows us, those with money make more money at a faster rate than those who rely on wages. And unless we correct for it, inequality will continue to rise.


Which is the most fundamental problem facing America today. 

While I won't give him credit for his financial success-- he does deserve credit for his innate understanding of the electorate. Instead of confronting the fundamental issues that have swallowed the wealth of the bottom 90% of Americans-- Donald Trump has capitalized on our fear, anger, and desire to blame someone else.

Vox recently featured a must-read overview on the rise of American authoritarianism.

Two decades worth of research into authoritarianism has shown that a large segment of the population turns to authoritarian leaders when presented with a stimulus of fear. And it predicted the rise of a future authoritarian politician who could capitalize on those fears. But, while the article focuses on Donald Trump as the epitome of an authoritarian leader, it's hard to read it and not think about Kaua'i.

Frustration with the economy and social change isn't isolated to the mainland. Growth in personal income has stagnated in Hawai'i, inequality is growing, and crowded roads and crumbling infrastructure are the first signs that we are reaching our limits to growth.

If you grew up on Kaua'i, then the rapid pace of change and our seeming inability to do anything about it can be both frightening and maddening. In 2014, that fear gave rise to an unprecedented level of polarization from emotion based politics. One side capitalized on the fear of genetic modification and the other side capitalized on the fear of socio-economic change. 


Polarization on Kaua'i: Click to Enlarge
With that in mind, please read closely these excerpts from the Vox article:
Authoritarians are thought to express much deeper fears than the rest of the electorate... and the extreme nature of authoritarians' fears, and of their desire to challenge threats with force, would lead them toward a candidate whose temperament was totally unlike anything we usually see in in American politics...   
When they face physical threats or threats to the status quo, authoritarians support policies that seem to offer protection against those fears. They favor forceful, decisive action against things they perceive as threats. And then they flock to political leaders who they believe will bring this action...  

There is a certain subset of people who hold latent authoritarian tendencies. These tendencies can be triggered or "activated" by the perception of physical threats or destabilizing social change... It is as if... a button is pushed.  

 [In 2005, researchers theorized] that if social change and physical threats coincided at the same time, it could awake a potentially enormous population of American authoritarians, who would demand a strongman leader and the extreme policies necessary, in their view, to meet the rising threats. 
This theory would seem to predict the rise of an American political constituency that looks an awful lot like the support base that has emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, to propel Donald Trump from sideshow loser of the 2012 GOP primary to runaway frontrunner in 2016... 
... non-authoritarians who are sufficiently frightened of physical threats... could essentially be scared into acting like authoritarians. 
Authoritarians are much more susceptible to messages that tell them to fear a specific "other"-- whether or not they have a preexisting animus against that group. Those fears would therefore change over time as events made different groups seem more or less threatening. 
When told to fear a particular outgroup... "On average people who score low in authoritarianism will be like, 'I'm not that worried about that,' while people who score high in authoritarianism will be like 'Oh, my god! I'm worried about that, because the world is a dangerous place..."
Trump's specific policies aren't the thing that most sets him apart from the rest of the field of GOP candidates. Rather, it's his rhetoric and style. The way he reduces everything to black-and-white extremes of strong versus weak, greatest versus worst. His simple, direct promises that he can solve problems that other politicians are too weak to manage. 
This... is "classic authoritarian leadership style: simple, powerful, and punitive..."
If Trump loses the election... the authoritarians will still be there. They will still look for candidates who will give them the strong, punitive leadership they desire. 
And that means Donald Trump could be just the first of many Trumps in American politics, with potentially profound implications for the country.
The key in this research is that fear triggers a move towards authoritarianism: "as if a button is pushed." As I've written about before, our political discourse is moving increasingly towards a rhetoric of constant fear-- which is triggering otherwise latent authoritarianism tendencies in voters.

In the rise of authoritarian leaders, the issues aren't important. What does matter is the "simple, powerful, and punitive" leadership style, the reduction of complex subjects to simple memes, the willingness to fight, and most importantly, a steady rhetoric of fear.

But Donald Trump and some of our loudest fear mongers on Kaua'i are not the problem-- they are just symptoms of this growing trend.

This isn't about the specific politicians or their policies-- it's about what happens when we let fear and anger drive our political discourse. There will be no end to the line of authoritarian leaders who can successfully channel that emotion towards a clear "enemy;" whether it's Jews, Muslims, "north shore haoles," or "chemical company shills."

We're facing the beginning of a new breed of emotion driven politics. And as campaigns based on fear and resentment proliferate, they will continue to erode our ability to have rational conversations, engage in transactional politics, and reach across the aisle. Our political system was never designed to be a zero sum game-- and if we can't come together then we will continue to fail at solving our most fundamental problems.

In a self perpetuating cycle-- as fear and anger continues to grow, so will the number of politicians who can capitalize on that emotion.


While we might not be able to break that cycle nationally, we can break it on Kaua'i. The island is small enough that, at most, there's only one degree of separation between all of us. We are one community, and we can't be divided by fear.

I was wrong about the rise of Donald Trump, but I don't think I'm wrong about this.