Danny De Gracia: Hawaii’s broken political system is the real emergency



With potential local candidates emerging for the upcoming 2022 election cycle, most political watchers right now are focused on the personality dynamics and intrigue of ambition surrounding those who may or may not run for office.

Maybe this is just the entertainment of politics, but we should all be concerned that Hawaii has now been in a literal state of emergency for more than a year with no end in sight. The pressing question that we must ask is not who will run for office and win, but who will restore the normality and legitimacy of government in the Aloha State.

I can already imagine several declared and undeclared candidates who read this column and, like schoolchildren, enthusiastically volunteer for a class project and declare themselves to be the ones to end our plight. I have three words for this lot: sit back.

As Filipino philosopher José Rizal famously said, “The glory of saving your country is not for those who contributed to its downfall.” Hawaii is currently such an unstable, chaotic and ungovernable place that almost everything local government does does, meets with mass protests, and people have so little confidence in their elected officials that conspiracy theories are now the norm rather than the fringes.

There is a serious problem when just one Honolulu Star Advertiser article with a harsh but ultimately misleading headline changes everything in the community pointlessly and people suddenly start questioning reality.

That tells me that there is a strong underlying current of public resentment where people don’t really take the government seriously, and the moment any doubt tickles their fearful instincts, they don’t give in and don’t believe our leaders.

We really cannot blame people for reacting this way when we see the amount of corruption, incompetence and lack of attention to detail that is rampant in both our elected government and the permanent bureaucracy that runs it. Hawaii is in both an existential need and an emergency rule.

And this is where the candidates for office in 2022 have to focus. The discussion now must be how we can make the government of Hawaii more transparent, more responsive and more competent so that people willingly cooperate and participate in the social contract.

The paradigm shift that is necessary must be both political and philosophical.

In essence, the kind of change that needs to be made in the government of Hawaii in 2022 and beyond is almost analogous to what the U.S. Army did after the catastrophic Vietnam War, when officers realized that a combination of micromanagement was elected by Officials, bad organizational doctrines, wrong technology, and the lack of political support from the American public all contributed to its failure.

The survivors of the Vietnam War did not hold on to what had ruined them; They were ready to openly admit to one another that “the army is hollow and broken” and to make efforts to change personnel, revise methods and, above all, study new ideological models.

After the catastrophe of the Vietnam War, the military did not stick to the failed policies that led them there. manhhai / flickr.com

I mention this Vietnam analogy because the Hawaiian government has all the hallmarks of the Robert McNamara’s reign, where we are so tenaciously insistent on bean counting and performance measurements, but our leaders are unwilling to solve problems, and our bureaucracy is always like that behind than before a crisis.

Right now with Covid-19, elected officials are giving press conferences with confusing statements that sound more like talking about talking than actual politics. Our bureaucrats step in front of the cameras making promises they can’t keep and predictions that don’t always keep.

The public service announcements that various government agencies make telling us how to cooperate with them are offensive, annoying, and reek of patriarchal condescension. The public wants to get on with their lives, but our government is constantly changing the bar. And what is the result? Everyone is angry, everyone is frustrated, and everything is still an ongoing state of emergency.

And how does Hawaii look and feel? On every island, the state and the counties, which presume to shape our lives, cannot even deal with basic infrastructure or sanitary facilities. Federal grants go like waterfalls to Hawaii to improve community outcomes, but where does all that money go if this place is still in disrepair?

Hawaii is hollow and broken, ladies and gentlemen.

As I have said repeatedly over the years, Hawaiians deserve the very best of government. If you’re running for office, put those cute pictures of you and your family in aloha shirts, listen to the futile talk about what a great lawyer or representative you are going to be, and actually pause and sincere for a moment think about how we can get the government working again.

We have to stop talking about personality and start talking about guidelines, procedures and philosophy. We need a government that is again worthy of our trust and taxpayers’ money.

To end the emergency here, bad people have to go. Bad ideas need to be stopped. And most importantly, in the days ahead, bad potential decisions on our ballot paper will have to be made with better candidates.


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