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Hawaii provides another drama to grip America

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 01: Democratic presidential cadidate U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) speaks during the California Democrats 2019 State Convention at the Moscone Center on June 01, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Several Democratic presidential cadidates are speaking at the California Democratic Convention that runs through Sunday. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) - Credit: Getty Images

Bonnie Greer on Tulsi Gabbard, the controversial senator, running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

One of the best things about growing up in America in the 1960s was being able to watch the first run of the original Hawaii Five-O, the greatest police procedural, to this very day, that has ever existed.

Everything about the original series is exquisite: From the close-up freeze-frame that introduces the stars of the show; to the fact that the main character – portrayed by the taciturn and immortal Jack Lord – dresses like he is in Chicago, rather than in the 50th state.

His seriously heavy dark suits exist alongside the colourful ‘aloha’ shirts of some of the other characters. His was, of course, the forerunner of Columbo’s ubiquitous mac in sunny LA. A Philip Marlowe for the 1960s and forever. The existential US detective.

And then there was the Hawaii Five-0 theme music: Music you hummed everywhere. Little kids simply adored it.

The point of Hawaii Five-O is that it existed nowhere, least of all the real Hawaii. And its thirst for a kind of revenge. This is the secret of its immortality.

The term Five-O is still shorthand for a cop in some parts of the US. But even more ubiquitous than that was the aura, the very vibe of Five-O.

Once, for the annual block party held in our street in a striving African American semi-suburb, the adults chose a Hawaii Five-O theme: aloha shirts; muumuus, those baggy, colourful dresses sometimes worn by elderly women; flower leis for their necks, a pig turning on the spit; plenty of pineapple, and of course, that greeting we all learned from TV: “Aloha.”

Just how ridiculous I – an earnest student involved in the politics of the day – found the theme for the block party that year cannot be overstated. But underneath it all, it was a response to a phenomenon. And, of course, we had no idea about a little African American boy born in Honolulu seven years before the first episode of the series was shown. We could not imagine that this child would become a two-term president of the United States.

But Hawaii was fitting as his place of origin simply because of its multiculturalism. The state has the highest percentage of Asian Americans and multi-ethnic Americans, with the lowest percentage of white Americans anywhere in the US. More people identify as Asian American than anywhere else.

The state gave Hillary Clinton 266,891 votes (63%) in the 2016 election. Trump got 128,847 (30%) and none of its electoral college votes.

The state votes solid Democrat and one of its two Democratic Party senators, Mazie Hirono – the first Asian American woman senator and the first born in Japan – seldom misses the opportunity to take down Trump on TV.

One of the state’s two congresspeople, Tulsi Gabbard, is running for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. On paper she is perfect: She would be the first woman; first part-Samoan and first female combat veteran elected. She resigned her post on the powerful Democratic Party National Committee to work for Bernie Sanders. A woman of colour; a combat vet; and a progressive. A dream candidate for the Dems. But there is a problem: In some quarters of the party she is deemed too close to the Syrian president, Bashar-al-Assad, whom she has visited. A no-no.

A feisty campaigner, Gabbard has previously attacked senator Kamala Harris – a rival candidate for the Democratic nomination – for being too tough as a prosecutor, the media for getting her all wrong, and the Democratic Party for “rigging” the 2020 election.

But it is in recent days that Gabbard has really made the headlines: Former presidential candidate and secretary of state Hillary Clinton suggested that a mystery Democrat was a Russian asset, a “favourite of the Russians”, that Moscow was grooming to be a spoiler – a third-party candidate to siphon off the left and help Trump to re-election. Clinton did not name the candidate, but she is understood to have been referring to Gabbard.

Her fellow Democratic Party candidates Andrew Yang, Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke have criticised Clinton, but the seed has been planted.

Clinton has metaphorically yelled that immortal phrase at the end of every episode of Hawaii Five-O that was usually the prelude to a ‘murder one’ charge: “Book ’em, Danno!”

It is true that Gabbard used Russian talking points like “regime change war” nine times in the last Democrat nominees debate. And there are those ubiquitous bad actors out there, waiting to pounce on phrases like this, ready to sow seeds of dissension in that already fragile coalition known as the Democratic Party.

But she is also seen as the candidate of what is known in the US as “global retreat” and, in that, Tulsi Gabbard is Trumpian. She is feisty like the 45th president, too, hitting out at Clinton by stating that the fight is now personal, that it is now between the two of them.

This is not a good look in a party dedicated to female empowerment and equality. But Gabbard has not yet qualified for the next debate for Democratic presidential candidates, to be held in November. In other words, she has not raised enough money. But she could get those funds on making her campaign a personal beef against Clinton, who she has called “the queen of warmongers”.

The greatest thing about the original Hawaii Five-O is, of course, the character of Steve McGarrett, the head of the special police task force, played by the suited Jack Lord. He took absolutely everything personally, nothing could be too small, too inconsequential. There was never any question that he understood revenge and knew its beauty.

In that great episode Number One with a Bullet, Part 2, McGarrett informs one unlucky criminal that it was guys like him who killed his father, who was run down and killed by a robber. No doubt the chimes of doom rang inside the head of every viewer.

Gabbard has recently announced that she is not running again for Congress. Her relationship with Hawaiian political officials, particularly senator Hirono, has been described as “thorny”.

It would be fascinating if Congresswoman Gabbard began her speeches with the Hawaii Five-O theme. The message then would be driven home without a word: she means business

What that business is remains to be seen.

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