Friday, January 20, 2017

Survival in the Age of Trump


Donald Trump is being sworn in as our 45th president. I’ve had two months to adjust to this new reality, and I still feel completely unprepared. It’s like spending all of high school learning Geometry and then graduating only to find out that all the rules you thought you knew have been thrown out. A squared plus B squared no longer equals C squared. Or something like that.
One of the most decent human beings to ever inhabit the office is being replaced by…
Trump’s victory did not exist within my realm of possibilities. Obviously, I was wrong. And in an effort to regain my footing, here are seven quotes to survive the Age of Trump.
1) “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.” — Alexander Hamilton (maybe falsely attributed to him.)
I’ve always thought of this quote in terms of Trump. But, now I worry that the Democratic party could tumble down the same rabbit hole.
When you’re in the minority it’s easy to base your entire existence off of opposition. Just say “no” to everything. And then whenever things don’t go well, your opposition is vindicated. The GOP spent the last eight years doing this, and now they are the undeniable winners at every level of government.
But, they sold the soul of their party in the process. What do they stand for now? Opposition to women’s health care? Opposition to science? Opposition to combating inequality? To bank regulations? To public education? To infrastructure? To renewable energy? To Islam? In opposing everything that the Democrats put forward, they stand for nothing. And so the country fell for Donald Trump.
It’s easy to fall into the same trap. Over the last year, I spent significantly more time arguing against Donald Trump than I did arguing for what I believe in. Equality, decarbonization, human decency — all got set aside as I exclaimed shock and horror over the daily antics of DJT. 

Democrats are now in the minority. Defining ourselves based on opposition is going to be even easier than it was during the election, as so much of what the GOP has put forward is reprehensible. But we can’t forget what we stand for. We don’t have the liberty of continually saying “no” just because Republicans might be finally saying “yes.”
2) “Tyranny does not begin with violence; it begins with the first gesture of collaboration. Its most enduring crime is drawing decent men and women into its siege of truth.” — Evan Osnos
On the other side of the spectrum, we must speak truth to power. Though we can’t define ourselves merely in opposition, we also can’t be drawn into the “siege of truth.” As the years roll on, it’s going to be tempting to normalize the Trump administration. Or at least to withdraw from the onslaught of misinformation.
I can already feel myself doing this. Despite his slate of cabinet appointees being historically unprepared for their jobs (with incredibly dangerous ramifications), despite his continued vitriolic outbursts on Twitter, despite his continued failure to divest from his company, despite the impending appeal of the Affordable Care Act — — I’m not as horrified now as I was on the night of the election. Our brains aren’t wired to exist in a state of perpetual shock. So we normalize. We contextualize. And we go on with our lives.
But, we need to be continually horrified. We cannot give up. We cannot give in. We cannot pretend as if any of this is normal.
3) “We create institutions meant to counterbalance our worst demons, temptations, and limitations.
Where short-termism and tribalism will tend to yield armed conflict, we create institutions capable of binding us together in long-term political and economic cooperation.
Where loss aversion and mistrust will tend to inhibit trade, we create institutions to structure and enforce the rule of law. (Markets themselves are human institutions, not, as libertarians have it, a state of nature.)
Where confirmation bias, saliency bias, the bandwagon effect, and various other vulnerabilities to fallacy tend to reinforce and myth and retard economic and technological progress, we create institutions to produce and rigorously vet knowledge, exposing it to dispassionate scrutiny and falsification.
We imbue these institutions with an authority that extends across various tribal lines. That is how society functions — with individual and group differences playing out against a backdrop of common institutional architecture.
Institutions are, almost by their nature, non-zero-sum. They are premised on the idea that some forms of sustained cooperation benefit everyone, even if everyone has to sacrifice some short-term interests along the way.
The message of every political demagogue in history is the opposite: society is a zero-sum game. Institutions no longer transcend tribal boundaries — they have become corrupt, weapons of a hostile tribe. Nothing transcends tribal boundaries. You can only trust the demagogue; only he is on your side.
When trust in institutions declines, when they lose the authority and social license they’ve been granted, no amount of individual effort can substitute. Until and unless new trusted institutions develop to bring stability, society decays and becomes vulnerable to authoritarianism.” — David Roberts
That long quote is worth reading twice. Or three times. The one thing standing between us and authoritarianism is the strength of our institutions. Demagogues win by attacking those institutions. And as our institutions fail, we turn increasingly to demagogues. It’s a feedback loop until “society decays and becomes vulnerable to authoritarianism.
This pervasive attack on our institutions is just as prevalent on the left as on the right. It happens every time any politician sends out a fundraising email asking for money so that they can stand up against our corrupt government, or the corrupt Wall Street bankers, or the corrupt media. It happens every time a politician says “I am the solution.

We must reject this demagogic appeal. Both in rhetoric and at the ballot.

Yes, there are corrupt individuals in every institution, and institutions often have major structural failures — so we need to remain vigilant in perpetually improving them. But, just like cleaning our home, it’s a job that’s never quite finished and acknowledgement of that necessary maintenance and improvement is a basic tenet of good governance. 

But we can’t just sweep the entire system away and we can’t give in to the base appeal of those who claim that they can. 

(*Edit, I realize that this argument is not fully hashed out, so I will elaborate in a future post.)
4) “And when the arc of progress seems slow, remember: America is not the project of any one person. The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We the people.’ ‘We shall overcome.’
Yes, we can.
” — President Barack Obama, in his final letter from the White House.
No message of the Obama presidency is more powerful than this one. We need to be hopeful. As anger and fear become valuable political tools, the only way to combat them is by spreading President Obama’s message of hope. My final column at CB was on the need for hope, so I won’t repeat it all here.
5) “Hope is fine. But you can’t live on hope. The name of the game is six votes.” — Diane Feinstein (as quoted in The Mayor of Castro Street from when she was on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors).
This is the hardest lesson for me to swallow. In order to have the leverage to create change, we need power. While it’s the most obvious of the above lessons, it’s the one I always ignore. But the rest is meaningless without the votes. Without the power to influence change.
And so run for office (and read this Slate article!). Or support someone running for office. Or work on gaining the leverage (as a vocal constituent, a lobbyist, whatever) to influence someone who’s in office. It’s all about votes. There’s a million ways to get engaged in electoral victory.
6) “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.” — Voltaire
One of the most dangerous trends of this election has been our unwillingness to challenge our own perspectives. We now require an absurd level of ideological purity to be part of the tribe. Don’t you dare criticize Bernie Sanders. Or vote for Hillary Clinton. Or defend Cory Booker.
We should constantly be challenging our own positions. Look for contradictory info. Argue with friends. Let them expose flaws in our logic and then do the same for them. That is how we grow.
7) “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
We can be both non-violent and hostile at the same time. And the fight is eternal.
I’ll end it here.
In my attempt at putting these into action, I’ll be at the Women’s March on Washington tomorrow. Every community in the country will be having one (Kaua’i’s is at 11 AM at the airport intersection.) This isn’t so much about marching against President Trump as it is about marching in solidarity with women and children. And, in the words of their mission, “recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”

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 a limited federal 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. 

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.