I cannot bring myself to hate Meghan McCain. What would be the point? She is the natural endpoint of a giddily vacuous celebrity culture, a sort-of famous person who plays a sort-of famous person on TV. She frequently says stupid and hateful things, but they always seem uncalculated, and she is endlessly surprised to find that people disagree with her. (One suspects that the household staff never did, and now that she’s wandered off the compound and into public life, she can’t quite seem to grasp that not everyone is a family retainer.) Like most privileged mediocrities, her sense of moral conviction is perfectly befuddled.
McCain is one of the hosts of the beloved kitchen background noise generator, “The View,” where she has been known to pound the table and yell, “I’m John McCain’s daughter,” as though she were there for any other reason. John McCain, you may recall, was a famously corrupt senator who reinvented himself as a “maverick” by very occasionally bucking his party’s line and by very frequently flattering reporters. Upon his death last year, he was hailed as a moral hero for having personally disliked Donald Trump. Meghan McCain also personally dislikes Trump and often compares him unfavorably to “my father, John McCain.”
As is the case with all two dozen or so remaining “Never Trump” conservatives, Meghan’s natural audience is the national media. There is no other actual constituency for these beliefs. Anyone who rejects what Trump stands for must reject American conservativism as a whole, because he is its apotheosis: crude, atavistic, vengeful, unlettered, greedy, racist and mean. The “Never Trump” tendency just rejects the crudity, in principle ostensibly, but in reality simply for the practical reason that his transparency about the conservative political project constitutes a dangerous form of honesty.
Meghan McCain ostentatiously rejects the very prospect that “John McCain’s daughter” could be racist, although she is married to a man, Ben Domenech, whose also-ran conservative content farm literally aggregated stories into a “black crime” vertical. It’s hard to imagine that McCain ever actually read The Federalist—or much of anything, for that matter—so it’s probably reasonable to accept a plea of ignorance here. As is the norm in America, her ability to consider the existence of racism is limited to considerations of whether or not any particular individual is a racist. Generally, she assumes they are not. The very word is “the worst thing you can call anyone,” she contends, especially if that person happens to be a Republican.
McCain has internalized the popular conservative jujitsu of flipping accusations of racism by declaring that leftists are the real racists. This is how she stumbled tuchis-first into the manufactured Ilhan Omar controversy, turning a relatively calm discussion between several of her television co-hosts about the appropriate limits of criticizing Israel into a weepy soliloquy about how deeply felt the issue is to her, personal friend of Joe and Hadassah Lieberman, a Baptist woman who “probably verge[s] on being a Zionist as well.” It was plain that she very nearly said “Jewish.”
Every Jew knows at least one of these people, who think that because they went to your bar mitzvah and watched a lot of “Seinfeld,” they are practically Jewish themselves. McCain’s self-anointed ersatz Jewishness then squared itself when the Jewish satirical comic artist, Eli Valley, drew her as one of his classic grotesques: cartoon Meghan proclaiming her own self-anointed ersatz Jewishness! It was, McCain said, “one of the most anti-Semitic things I have ever seen.” Oy gevalt!
But such is the inexorable logic of television “news” programming that once a person talks about a topic, he or she becomes a person who gets invited to speak on said topic. And so McCain found herself one of George Stephanopoulos’ roundtable panelists on “The Week” to discuss, among other things, rising anti-Semitism in the wake of another violent right-wing attack on Jewish worshippers, this time in Poway, Calif.
She immediately took the opportunity to say that if we are going to talk about anti-Semitism, we must also talk about Omar—the vile, racist implication being that a black Muslim woman who has offered some frankly milquetoast criticisms of Israel is a greater “threat” to Jews than right-wing nationalism. In a twist that is both disturbing and embarrassing, it now seems likely that the Poway shooter also committed arson at a mosque. The truth is that American Jews and Muslims are each other’s natural and necessary allies in the deadly conflict with white nationalism, but conservatives at least tolerate white nationalists in their coalition and hate Muslims, so hurt Jewish feelings are used as a cudgel against the latter while the former’s body count is conveniently ignored.
What qualifications did McCain have to talk to the nation—at least, the approximately 1% of the nation that watches Stephanopoulos on a Sunday—about anti-Semitism? None. But what qualifications did Chris Christie or some random Clinton campaign apparatchik have, either? Expertise is not the currency of television infotainment.
In this respect, McCain is one of the purer representatives of the medium in which she works. She has not traded on political notoriety and insider glad-handing to get herself into the green rooms. She is John McCain’s daughter, a genuine reality TV star and a pundit in precisely the sense that the buff alcoholics of “Vanderpump Rules” are waiters and bartenders. What a grim fate, not to have been born so much as cast.
Do politicians actually care about your opinions? This researcher says no
Earlier this month, a New York Times op-ed written by two political science professors, Ethan Porter of George Washington University and Joshua Kalla of Yale, discussed their troubling research findings: State legislators, the two claim, don't much care about the opinions of their constituents, even if they're given detailed data regarding their views.
This article first appeared in Salon.
The best Civil War movie ever made finally gets its due
On Sunday and on July 24, Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events are presenting big-screen showings in theaters nationwide of “Glory,” in honor of the 30-year anniversary of its release. The greatest movie ever made about the American Civil War, “Glory” was the first and, with the exception of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” the only film that eschewed romanticism to reveal what the war was really about.
The story is told through the eyes of one of the first regiments of African American soldiers. Almost from the time the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, S.C., the issue of black soldiers in the Union army was hotly debated. On Jan. 1, 1863, as the country faced the third year of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, rapidly accelerating the process of putting black men into federal blue.
Trump echoes another president who stoked fear rather than face the tech-based economic change he failed to stem
It is amazing how similar America in 2019 is to America in the 1920’s, a decade that began almost a hundred years ago. It is as if America is reliving its own history, trapped in a prison of deja vu, purposely not wanting to remember the disaster that unfolded as the 1920s ended.
The parallels are striking, the anti-immigration frenzy, race-baiting, trade wars, over-heated stock markets, corruption, and technological changes that produced hip urban centers contrasting with rural alienation and bitterness. Like today, the 1920s was a period of spectacular wealth and an ever-increasing income gap.