Eric Stinton: What Hawaii Can Learn From The Trump Years - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at ericstinton.com.


The insurrection attempt on Jan. 6 was a fitting end to one of the most ignominious presidencies in American history. It was definitively Trumpian: an act of amorphous grievance, howling selfishness and simian aesthetics, its very oafishness concealing just how dangerous it really was. It was Trump’s presidential term in a microcosm.

Shocking as it was, it was also in many ways predictable. Trump has led a public life even before he was the president, and he has demonstrated on innumerable occasions that if he loses anything, big or small, the only possible explanation he can accept is that he was cheated out of a rightful win.

He did this when he lost the 2016 Iowa Caucus to Ted Cruz, claiming Cruz “stole” the win through fraud. He did the same thing in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, saying he’ll only accept the results if he wins and alleging “large scale voter fraud” before ballots had been cast. He even did it after he won the 2016 election, claiming he only lost the popular vote because of millions of illegal votes.

There was no evidence for any of these allegations. Sound familiar?

Trump is not the first bad president, but he is a uniquely bad one in that he told us who he was and verified it in plain sight over and over again, and still millions of people consciously refused to see it. Looking back at his disastrous time in office, it becomes abundantly clear that his failures stemmed not just from bad policy, but from poor judgment and lack of moral character.

There are lessons here for Hawaii.

A pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as part of a deadly insurrection. Nick Grube/Civil Beat

Three years ago, Gov. David Ige presided over the most embarrassing and most visible unforced error in decades, if not longer: the false missile alert. It’s one thing to flail when you get T-boned by a massive crisis, but it’s a completely different thing to conjure a crisis out of thin air and then proceed to bungle it.

While you can’t blame Ige for the guy who actually sent the alert, you can blame him for his slow response to clarify the error — especially when his excuse was forgetting his Twitter login info.

The scandal drew national and international criticism, on top of traumatizing a sizable chunk of Hawaii’s populace who had to fling themselves and their loved ones into manholes and make panicked end-of-life decisions about where to go and who to call.

And most striking of all, 10 months later Ige was re-elected as governor in a landslide. Fast forward nine months after that, it takes Ige over a week to fly out to Hawaii island to meet with the Thirty Meter Telescope protesters. Fast-forward another eight months, and Ige once again moved excruciatingly slowly to address COVID-19 containment at the onset of the pandemic. We should’ve known better after the first time.

Ige is far from the only Hawaii politician who seems to benefit from voter amnesia. It was shocking to see Mufi Hannemann — who is among those directly responsible for the rail becoming the state’s biggest boondoggle in modern times — running for mayor again last year. Thankfully, Hawaii voters denied him another chance to lead, but the fact that he had the audacity to make another run — and had substantial, if insufficient support — is an indictment in itself.

Then there’s former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who was a relatively ineffective leader for eight years. He ran on a campaign of improving homelessness and “building rail better,” and didn’t come close to following through on either. I’m cautious about putting too much blame for the rail’s mismanagement solely on him; he owns less of it than Hannemann, but more than just about everybody else.

If the conservative party sucks too much to appeal to voters and is too timid to change its platform, they can’t complain about being perpetually irrelevant.

Still, even if he isn’t singularly responsible for mismanaging the project, as mayor he absolutely mismanaged expectations for it, which suggests either cluelessness or dishonesty. Either way that’s a failure of leadership that we should remember if and when he makes a gubernatorial run.

The revolving door of failed, familiar faces in Hawaii politics begs the question: why do we keep voting for these people? To my mind, much of the blame falls on the helplessly out-of-touch Hawaii GOP, which has been completely incapable of developing a platform that resonates with anybody. That’s why most Hawaii Republican politicians are only distinguishable from mainland Republicans for being cheap knockoffs.

For all the usual commenters shrieking about the status quo Democratic leadership in Hawaii, the local Republican Party has yet to produce a single viable candidate since Linda Lingle, whose record wasn’t all that different from her Democratic peers anyway. And it should be mentioned that mayors do not have a D or R attached to their names, aside from Keith Amemiya’s shameless attempt at partisan pandering during last year’s campaign.

If the conservative party sucks too much to appeal to voters and is too timid to change its platform, they can’t complain about being perpetually irrelevant. Besides, the fact that Ige and Caldwell have publicly apologized and owned up to their shortcomings — at least in some circumstances — makes it easier for voters to forgive and forget.

The local GOP is too impotent and emulative to ever force the Democratic Party to be better, but luckily we don’t have to wait for them to get their act together. A new wave of progressive policymakers seems to understand the weight of the issues we face today — climate change, wealth inequality, homelessness — and the response we need to adequately address them. If there is any hope for the future of local politics, it is coming from the left wing of the otherwise centrist Democratic Party here.

Luckily, we’ve yet to have a local leader analogous to Trump, who has authored the most shameful presidency in modern history. But if his dangerous idiocy and oafish incompetence is all we take from these last four years, then we will be doomed to continue electing the same doofuses to our local leadership here in Hawaii.


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About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at ericstinton.com.


Latest Comments (0)

The problem with the Hawaii GOP is the leaders they elect to run the Party. Most are just using the position for political stardom.

BK96706 · 3 months ago

Hawaii has been essentially a 1 party state for 50 years.  It was a different party one party state before that.  Island social and cultural norms dictate an avoidance of contention or strife.But that avoidance culture has come with a terrible price - over development, over visitation, over population, government corruption, expensive bad government schools, etc.  The old Hawaiian communal-ism of the ahupua'a system was much more eco friendly and egalitarian.  What "progress" have we truly made?  And what improvement can we expect from the same tired old group of rulers?

Sally · 3 months ago

Ideological differences have little, if any, bearing on the problems described in this article. We as a nation have enabled the emergence and entrenchment of a permanent political class and ossified, unaccountable government bureaucracies. Term limits do help; however, the positions they apply to are just a tip of the iceberg. The halls of power need more competition, more outsiders, more diversity of thought, and much more scrutiny by the public and the press.

Chiquita · 3 months ago

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