Saturday, October 04, 2008

Hawaii: Un-American in More Ways than One

Timothy Noah asks: Why is Seward's Folly the "real America" and the Aloha State not? His explanation:
Alaska leans Republican while Hawaii leans Democratic, and the GOP long ago intimidated the media into believing that only Republican strongholds represent the "real America." These Republican strongholds are usually sparsely populated, and I suppose the media's been sold on the idea that because the United States started out as an agrarian nation, rural areas are somehow more authentic than urban ones.
There’s a certain truth to that, and Hawaii is more urban than Alaska, as Mr. Noah shows. But Texas and Utah were only 17.5% and 11.7% rural respectively, as this table based on the 2000 U.S. Census shows, and what two states could be redder than this pair? Mr. Noah is too discreet to point to the causation and not the correlation. But he doesn’t have to. For the reason is obvious. And it’s the one thing, together with the unforeseen mega-event—a massive terrorist attack or an Osama bin Laden takedown—that could turn the tide in John McCain’s favor in this election.

Having said that, let’s look at what other things that the contrast between the two states reveals. With its forbidding winters and the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897, Alaska is a fitting coda to the founding myth of America, How the West Was Won (bought it from Russia?), the often violent, always white, saga played out against the vast expanses of “no-man’s” land*. The facts of the Palins and their friends have the feel of a Western movie.

Hawaii is a chapter in the imperial phase of America’s expansion, a series of political and military maneuvers like many imperialist endeavors that culminated in the formal annexation of the territory—the aborigines and their culture largely intact, but gradually reduced to a small minority by subsequent waves of immigration, Japanese and Filipinos taking the place of the Indians of the British colonies, to serve the colonial masters alongside the ubiquitous Chinese. The Asian-Pacific aborigines and immigrants—like the Hispanics in the other parts of the empire—remained mere extras in the greater narrative.

Alaska delivers the White Man’s valedictory while Hawaii tells the immigrants’ tale. One is Republican while the other is Democrat.

There! It’s always more fun to write other peoples’ histories, isn’t it? Maybe I should do it more often.

* Coming as it did at the end of the 20th Century, Alaska’s conquest was relatively free of the genocide and ethnic cleansing that marked the takeover in the contiguous United States and territories.


Ross said...

When US Marines assisted the largely white land owners takeover of the independent Kingdom of Hawaii in the 1890s (coup in 1893 and US annexation in 1898), I believe inhabitants of Japanese descent were already a plurality of the population. Indeed, one explanation for the action was concern among the wealthy elite, largely American, that the islands would trend toward Japan given the demographic trajectory.

Those Japanese found themselves in a nominally democratic political system, even when still a US territory, but one in which they were largely disenfranchised by what was a Republican elite. No surprise then that as Japanese and other non-white groups organized and were eventually able to take control over local political power they did so as Democrats.

By contrast, the Alaskan annexation was over a relatively sparsely populated region and experienced little immigration from outside the US.

Jun Okumura said...

Thanks for the information, Ross. Hawaii apparently became the forerunner for the multicultural coalition that is the face of the Democratic Party that Mr. Noah explains in his article. And it’s increasingly the face of America. I’m surprised that the Japanese were already outnumbering the native Hawaiians at the time of the annexation. I wonder why African-Americans hadn’t come in their stead. I’ll have to look into that one of these days.

With Alaska, I can see how it would have been difficult for Europeans to move in directly before they had settled elsewhere and built a stake for themselves.