America’s politics has become more nationalized. That’s bad for the nation and particularly bad for Hawaii because it diminishes the importance of local values and local issues.

It’s the loss of the local, and that is not good.

As Daniel J. Hopkins writes in his new book, “The Increasingly United States: How and Why American Political Behavior Nationalized,”  people have lost attachment to and concern with their own particular locales.

Wherever you fall on the conservative to liberal spectrum, the odds are you’re focused more on national than local politics.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Local is a jurisdictional term, but as anyone in Hawaii can tell you, the term is also cultural. It refers to the power of particularity, recognizing the legitimacy of difference.

If an issue does not have national implications, it tends to disappear from the political agenda. The Trump administration’s antics and the media’s response highlight this nationalization, but it began well before Trump.

National polls show that most people think that what their mayor or governor does is more important to their everyday life. At the same time they give more time, concern and attachment to the goings-on inside the Beltway.

The public’s knowledge of state and local government has decreased. This is not the case for national government.

People voting in state or local elections now take their cues from national politics.

As late as 1972, knowing how a state voted for president told us nothing about how it voted for governor. Today almost every state has a governor of the same party as the presidential candidate who won that state in the previous election.

Your political party identification increasingly means national party identity. For most people it has become an overarching frame of reference and the key in all kinds of elections even the most local.

Surveys show that people continue to express strong racial, ethnic and religious identities. But attachment to your state or local area, not so much.

Both major political parties have become nationalized on issues. This determines who gets campaign money from the movers and shakers. Issues pertaining only to a particular place don’t sell.

Rest assured that if Honolulu were first beginning to consider rail, there would be powerful national players trying to influence the decision.

Now let’s discuss the cultural effects of this nationalization. They are more troublesome.

As Hopkins shows in his discussion of the once-powerful place-based phrase “sweet home Alabama,” such cultural catch phrases that trigger powerful regional and local loyalties have lost their power.

Surveys show that people continue to express strong racial, ethnic and religious identities. But attachment to your state or local area, not so much.

“I am an American” is now the most common geographical identification. People differ dramatically on what being an American means. The differences are, no surprise, related to the political party you identify with.

But the larger point is that local no longer matters as much.

Whatever the hope we had that social media would increase the opportunities for local interest and dialogue, the opposite has happened.

People increasingly get their news from sources that are national and not place-based or locale-oriented.

Local news coverage has declined as newsrooms get smaller. Even local news has become homogenized. Sinclair Broadcast Group, now one of the largest media conglomerates in the U.S., sometimes requires all of its dozens of local news anchors to recite from the same script.

You might be tempted to argue that Hopkins’s evidence does not apply because — you have heard this many times before — “Hawaii’s different.”

That’s dismissal and denial.

In this case it makes much more sense to assume that Hawaii is part of the same nationalization in several ways.

Location Isn’t Everything

We are part of the same domineering national media landscape as the rest of the country.

Hawaii’s political campaigns increasingly involve political strategists from the mainland and the same campaign technology used in Shorewood, Wisconsin, or Bangor, Maine.

Hawaii has seen the influence of nationalization over the years. One of the best examples, the Akaka Bill, may seem politically ancient. It was an issue in the early 2000s. But it was a portent of how local issues lose importance as national politics dominates.

I am not arguing in favor of the bill, only that it exemplifies a problematic process.

That bill would have established a procedure for moving toward Kanaka Maoli sovereignty.  As long as members of Congress saw this bill as an issue particular to Hawaii, it had a good chance of passing.

At first, senators in both parties seemed to view the bill as a minor issue important only to two of their small-state Hawaii colleagues. Nonpartisan and particularistic, no big thing.

But as national conservative politicians and pundits began to see the bill as a civil rights violation and as a usurpation of the Fourteenth Amendment, it became part of the increasingly polarized national dialogue about rights and race.

The bill was dead in the water.

In Hawaii “local values” can mean many things. Whatever you think the term means, at its essence it is a defense against cultural and economic homogeneity — defining our own needs instead of becoming like the mainland.

“Local values” is about the need to be nested in institutions and groups particular to your place. No surprise that “ohana” and “aloha” are so much a part of this.

Like “sweet home Alabama,” “local values” is an identity marker celebrating the value of uniqueness.

“Sweet home Hawaii.”

Political nationalization threatens uniqueness in two ways.

First, it diminishes concern and attachment to the place you live.

Second, it exaggerates the importance of a certain kind of politics. Life is not politics, certainly not national politics.

The saddest finding in Hopkins’ book is that people think state and local politicians have the most impact on their lives but nonetheless focus their attention on national politics.

Hopkins calls this a paradox. I call it a tragedy.

It is a denigration of uniqueness and richness of everyday life and of the important stuff that needs to get done in your own family and community.

It is another threat to Hawaii’s always-vulnerable localness.

It’s also a threat to the rich and important networks of localness that exist — or at least used to exist — everywhere else.

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