Melanie McFarland

'We're not able to process what's about to happen to us': Shep Smith highlights doctors' warnings on COVID

At several points during Salon's recent conversation with CNBC anchor Shepard Smith, he talks about noise. "The noise is just so loud. You've got have some quiet time," he said, referring to the space he carves out for himself during the workday when he retreats to his spartan office, puts his feet up and listens to music to harvest a little peace from the day's cacophony.

This philosophy also guides his approach to "The News with Shepard Smith," and it shows. Each weeknight at 7 p.m. Eastern since the program's Sept. 30 launch, Smith delivers the news of the day, regardless of what it may be, with an old-school broadcast anchor's mellow sobriety. Pressing events of the day top the hour and from there Smith and his correspondents zero in on an assortment of issues that stand to have significant local and regional impact.

"We try to find stories . . . tell them factually and dig into data a lot, and then hear from people about how they feel about the issues through their own personal experiences and how it's affected them," he explained. "And we're not looking for, 'How do you feel about what he said?' or 'How you feel about what she said?' We're trying to just seek the truth, find the truth and tell the truth in context and with perspective."

Having spent 23 years with Fox News, Shepard's new chapter at CNBC intentionally veers away from the argumentative clamor and enraged punditry that has defined cable news in the 21st century. Instead, "The News" offers something so rare and refreshing that people presumed it to be extinct: fact-based reporting, delivered calmly by a plain-spoken anchor uninterested in ginning up arguments.

When developing each day's story slate, Smith says he and his staff adhere to a set of sensible axioms: Get it right. Add in whatever context is important. Explain why the story they're covering matters because of what the consequences will be, if those are known consequences. Then put it into perspective, historical and otherwise.

His show intentionally declines to participate in the cycle of back and forth fueled by false equivalency and both sides-ism.

"We have to ignore the signal and focus on the prize," Smith told Salon. "There's a lot of, 'Look over here!' in life, and there's always been a lot of 'Look over here.' But 'Look over here' gets a lot more juice than it ever did before because of all of these media ecosystems. And it can overtake you."

"This other stuff is going to fade away at some point," he added, referring to the poisonous politics of the last five years and the amplified flurry of lies and hyperbole accompanying it, "and we'll cover the trials and tribulations along with it, we'll cover the uprisings and the demonstrations. And we'll hear from people about how they think about things. But we're on a different road. It's the road less traveled, and I'm enjoying it."

In case you've forgotten, as so many have, that metaphorical road to which he's referring is that it used to be the main road. The road. In the days of broadcast anchor supremacy and CNN's earliest era, the news was a straight-laced enterprise guided by policy, data and expert insight, and what leaders said and did received more space than broad interpretations of the meaning of what they tweeted.

When Smith was first rising through the cable news ranks, he distinguished himself during Hurricane Katrina by careful reporting what he saw on the ground, allowing his emotions to show through at times when the horror overwhelmed him.

I pointed that out to him as an asset. He views the memory differently.

"My goal is always to not let emotions get in the way. Recognize them, use them as inspiration and guidance sometimes, but not to express them," he said. "I like to get excited about things when there are things about which everyone should be excited, and to be sad about things, about which everyone should be sad, but in measured ways."

"And you said that just now, you said, 'You let your emotions take over,'" he continued. "They didn't. They won."

In his view, emotions got the best of him because what he was seeing and reporting starkly contradicted the party line that was coming out of the White House and being repeated by other reporters and pundits, including those at Fox News.

In recalling the memory, Smith is passionate as he describes witnessing firsthand the dire suffering in his midst and his shock at hearing officials tell the public that the cavalry had arrived, that people where getting food, medical attention and water when that simply wasn't true.

"I know New Orleans. I'm a child of Mississippi. And I know its greatness and its horrors. There are so many dynamic cities around the world that are both things. And I know the Lower Ninth Ward. I know the poverty and I know how it is systematic and systemic. And I know that certain categories of people have been kept in a place and they don't have a way out and now they're flooded and dying."

He continued, thinking back to what he may have said at the time, "'All of you, maybe you're mistaken, maybe you're misled, but you are telling untruths about what's happening here. And as a result of your untruth, more people are dying.' I couldn't believe it was happening. I couldn't believe that people in a building thousands of miles away were telling me that what I was seeing wasn't true."

"And I'm like, 'Wait, wait, wait, no, no, I'm here. You're reading, but I'm seeing and smelling. I don't need the Associated Press to tell me what's happening here, because I happen to be in the right place.'"

For the better part of the last quarter century, the route Smith has chosen for his program has been all but abandoned on cable. Early on in "The News" run, critics predicted Smith's show would be trounced in ratings. They were right. While October ratings for Fox News and MSNBC surged with the rising excitement and anxiety leading up to the presidential election, the audience for "The News with Shepard Smith" averaged around 272,000 viewers between Sept.30 and Oct. 22, coming in behind its 7 p.m. competitors on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News.

For a bit more perspective on Fox News, both "Hannity" and "Tucker Carlson Tonight" broke the 6 million viewer threshold in October. Carlson's ratings even beat "The Masked Singer" on Fox – that's Fox broadcast, not cable – in broadcasts that aired during the last week of October.

However, let's add a bit of context as well: Carlson's and Sean Hannity's programs are the linchpins supporting Smith's former home, the dominant news network for a decade and a half. CNBC is a small business news network powered by "Shark Tank" and "Jay Leno's Garage," and whatever attention it snagged in the mediasphere tended to be the result of something terrible that Lou Dobbs said.

According to Nielsen ratings data, over the first month that "The News" has aired, it increased the audience by 120% year over year, when "Shark Tank" reruns aired in its timeslot. And its audience may be small, but it is slowly growing. On Nov. 16 the program enjoyed its highest viewership yet in it's the 25-to-54 target demographic. It's been averaging around 268,000 viewers over the last eight weeks.

A CNBC spokesperson stated that the network is pleased with the progress "The News" has made thus far.

"Not only is CNBC a new entrant in the general news genre, but news viewers are creatures of habit, and it takes a long time to change those habits," the spokesperson shared in an emailed statement, adding that Smith's audience far exceeds that of the last regular news program to air on CNBC in the 7 p.m. ET timeslot, which was "The Kudlow Report" way back in the first quarter of 2014.

And lest viewers be tempted to write off Smith's classic approach to TV news, the cable news field has entered a period of flux. Numbers for "The News" may never approximate Fox News, MSNBC or CNN audience levels, but even their ratings are coming off the historic highs they rode during Donald Trump's presidency.

Much has been reported about disillusioned Fox News viewers migrating over to more far-right leaning and conspiracy theory-driven outlets such as Newsmax and One America News Network, and if that is the case, then surely there must be a commensurate number of viewers seeking out the kind of straight, no chaser delivery that Smith purveys.

Because as many people are realizing, and Smith told me, there's too much noise. "And all of that noise is destructive."

Not all of that destruction he's talking about is figurative. The biggest challenge Smith foresees in the immediate future isn't ratings, which don't trouble him owing to his sense of perspective. He says he's steeling himself for the time leading up to Christmas and into what he describes as "the cold, cold, beginning of 2021, when it's unimaginably sad and horrible everywhere."

"Because I talk to doctors – I talked to Dr. [Scott] Gottlieb, I talked to Dr. [Anthony] Fauci. I talked to a lot of doctors who I don't talk to on the air and they all say the same thing: We're not able to process what's about to happen to us."

This is Smith coming to me, from his personal space – not the on-air figure, but the person who railed at the irresponsible distortion of facts as he watched bodies float by in Katrina's floodwaters. Over Zoom you can see the humanity and concern registering on his face and perhaps hear it catching in his voice a bit. "Death and suffering is horrible in the little places where I've been and experienced them. You know, Columbine, the Oklahoma City Bombing, 9/11, they were all in one place – 9/11 was in a few places and certainly affected everyone. But they cried for us. It didn't happen in their town."

"Now," he continued, "It's going to be happening every town. And we're going to be so sad, if the doctors are right. And sadness is so destructive."

During those times, he said, the role of "The News" will be to find the heroes in the chaos. We have to give some people who are inspiring, and who doing it in their own little way, to more people in order to inspire them to inspire.

Which is why he stressed his program's dedication to finding the light, not to goose ratings. The vaccines, he said, are a light. So is the culture's renewed focus on women's issues and its nascent efforts to take an anti-racist stance. "Everyone seems to agree that we cannot continue to exist this divided. It will conquer us. We have to find ways to come together. And, you know, as a gay guy, I've always known that if we know get each other better, it's all going to be easier."

Amazingly the CNBC anchor has a hopeful view of what lies ahead for TV news. I feel like eventually we're going to look back and this will be just a little blip in time when people got confused about what was true and what wasn't . . . They got distracted and didn't realize, and, ' I really was misinformed. And I need to go back to a trusted source. And I need to be more careful about how I consume,'" he said.

"But we're in the middle of it and we have to figure out how to get out of it. I don't know what the answer is . . . I don't know how it's all corrected. I don't know what policies and changes need to be made. But I know that we're trying to do it, just ourselves, and we begin by focusing and tuning it out."

'The Reagans' shows how the Gipper paved the way for politicians pretending they aren't racist

Forty years after Ronald Reagan's ascent to the presidency his legacy is still treated with kid gloves. Centrist Democrats seeking to find common ground with Republicans quote him as if he were a saint, the modern example of a conservative with bipartisan appeal save for, you know, a few mistakes he could not recall. In 2003 CBS was set to air a fictionalized miniseries that romanticized Ronald and Nancy Reagan but was hounded by the GOP until the network shunted it off to Showtime, the same network airing Matt Tyrnauer's new docuseries "The Reagans,"

"The Reagans" doesn't adequately dig into who Ron and Nancy were or tell us much of anything we don't already know about them within its four hours. But at some point somebody should.

This missed opportunity is but one on a list that anyone seeking to understand Reagan's presidency will lament after spending time with it. "The Reagans" isn't terrible, but merely serviceable – not particularly flattering, but not all that enlightening either.

At least the premiere's timing is fortuitous, given Tyrnauer's focus on the Reagans as conduits for the Republican mission to bring the Southern strategy into full fruition within the Republican party. There's also ample reason to presume that many people are ignorant as to the very basic facts about the less flattering side of Reagan's history become the catchy aphorisms about "morning in America" or the shining city on the hill mythology.

From the very start, the director's intention to link then to now is crystalline when journalist Lesley Stahl recalls a Reagan observation that stuck with her over the years. "'If you are not a good actor, you cannot be a good president,'" she recalls him saying, "And it came to pass. If someone's running for president and they are not willing to do what an actor does – look good, read your lines well – you cannot lead."

This bit of implication plays well in 2020. Beyond it, much of the series' early examination of Reagan's rise in politics is relatively shallow, leaning heavily on shots from old Hollywood to reinforce the mythmaking nature of the actor's initial forays into politics, and the similarities between Hollywood political machinery and the one grinding up Washington.

Observations from son Ron Reagan lend additional insight into the president and First Lady as a parents and private people and serve to remind us that in spite of their flaws, they're still human beings. Nevertheless, what Reagan lends is limited. His father enacted destructive policies that hurt America's poorest even though he grew up in a family that benefited from many of the same government safety nets he ripped away. It would be fascinating to find out what fueled such a lack of empathy, but I regret to inform you that tax reform activist and right wing lickspittle Grover Norquist has no answers.

To watch "The Reagans" and hear Tyrnauer's relatively limited gallery of experts describe the direct parallels between Reagan and Donald Trump without explicitly mentioning the latter is a reminder that Trump represents the apotheosis of a destructive political ideology as opposed to an aberration.

Reagan had moves way back when that are easily recognizable to anyone who spent the last five years drowning in Trumpland. "Make American Great Again" is directly cribbed from the Gipper; if you weren't aware of that the series handily reminds us this is the case. As civil rights activist Maya Riley puts it, "Reagan's genius was that he wrapped his racism in a façade of fatherly love. And it was something that Black people in this country understood was a façade. And we understood it from his words and his deeds."

Several of the film's experts use the term "genius" in reference to Reagan, but the documentary doesn't adequately make the case for his genius. Instead "The Reagans" chips away at the veneer of folksy character surrounding the man by peeling back the rhetoric to spell out the true meaning behind noble sounding terms such as "small government," which sounds like it's preaching support for putting more money back into the pockets of regular Americans but is actually a cover for cementing power and privilege for the upper class.

Presumably if you're reading this, you have survived the last 30 years of right wing partisan hackery and therefore you already know this. You might also know that Reagan is the first president to hoodwink the working class into voting against their best interests, because to do otherwise would also benefit non-white folks, which "The Reagans" also points out.

At least it's a helpful reminder of the main difference between Reagan and America's outgoing president: Trump dispensed with the racist subtext Reagan pushed in the '80s and simply made white supremacy his main text.

And while that isn't as effective now as it might have been, given that Reagan won the presidency in 1980 with 489 of 538 electoral votes, and only received 14% of the African American vote, 73 million voters tell us that marketing racial animus to white voters is still pretty darn effective.

And while "The Reagans" leaves the viewer wanting in terms of adequately examining the extent of Nancy's influence over Ronald and how that may have manifested in terms of the policies he enacted, where the series is at its best is in examining the method by which Reagan tweaked racist messaging into coded language that spoke to white Americans' racist angst while allowing them to profess that they aren't saying anything racist.

His earliest messages weren't particularly well-disguised as the documentary shows in a commercial featuring Reagan describing California city streets as "jungle paths" and claiming "the jungle is closing in on this little patch that we've been civilizing" in the wake of to the Watts riots. We're still hearing some of it parroted back at us today. "Law and order," anyone?

Still, some of Reagan's greatest hits are breezed on by. "The Reagans" does a decent job of addressing how he sold out unions and dismantled social programs in the name of saving taxpayer dollar and progress while demonizing poor Black women as "welfare queens."

But I would trade in the time spent galloping through Reagan's early film career to receive more insight about his and Nancy's abject ignorance to America's LGBTQIA+ community's cries for help when AIDS was tearing through the country during his administration. Indeed, many of the scandals we closely associated with Reagan are hastily shuffled into the fourth hour, along with the requisite "Tear down this wall" soundbite.

Eight years of Reagan produced a legacy we're still grappling with. It's a shame that four hours of "The Reagans" doesn't do a better job of helping us to better understand what his part in reshaping America back then implies about our future.

The first episode of "The Reagans" premieres Sunday, Nov. 15 at 8 p.m. on Showtime.

The strange and wonderful world of John Oliver in the miserable 2020

Underneath this avalanche of the unthinkable under which we're buried – the obscene count of preventable deaths, the laments over time's meaninglessness, the emergence of end-of-days creatures, all this and much more – lurks a simple truth that surely must be universally acknowledged: 2020 is a sadist.

What's strange and wonderful is that "Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver chose to help us laugh about that by fantasizing about that force as a live human mascot played by Adam Driver.

To be clear, never has Oliver implied that Driver is evil, or thoughtless or uncaring. But for reasons that may only be slightly more apparent now, Oliver ushers his bizarre, violently sexualized fantasy statements about what the "Marriage Story" star could do to him into a recurring bit apropos of nothing.

"Last Week Tonight" has a tradition of ending its seasons with a massive stunt its viewers anticipate with the same glee as other holiday traditions. Some people look forward to annual broadcasts of "Frosty the Snowman" or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Oliver's devotees hang in there to see whether he'll send off the year that was with a smile or a massive F. U.

In 2016 producers compiled a montage of statements from people on the streets of New York listing all the ways that year sucked. Oliver referenced Trump's election as a dispiriting capper while also adding, "We cannot lose sight of all the other multiple ways this has been a s****y year."

Looking back on those complaints now, most people would give anything to be subjected to the irritations those 365 days served up, save for 2016's celebrity losses. That was the year we lost Prince, David Bowie, Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest and Alan Rickman, for starters.

However, what we remember most fondly is how he wrapped up that litany of woe: by gleefully blowing up a gigantic "2016" in the middle of an empty stadium.

As we approach the end of 2020 we have very little of such fire left in us. Replacing it instead is an urge to feel – more, or better, or anything at all. Maybe that's why Oliver's Driver obsession somehow makes sense. Bewildering, unexplainable and a tad frightening, it is the murder hornets of late-night bits.

At various points during Season 7 of "Last Week Tonight," Oliver saucily invites Driver to "Shatter my knees, you f***able redwood"; or "jam your mandible claw down my throat, you irredeemable steer" or other lines even E.L. James would characterize as "a bit much."

This walked up to Sunday's season closer that we should have seen coming: Driver, at last, confronting Oliver via FaceTime with a rage that was decidedly non-erotic. Instead he is frustrated and confused, particularly after Oliver's request that Driver "crush his larynx" while lending him the pet name of "you unwieldy boulder."

"I was having some weird fun," Oliver explains to the actor, who he yells at the host for creating a situation in which the Internet stans the pair of men and declares, "That you thirsting over me is 'a mood.'"

Fair enough. Also, and I'm just throwing this out there. . . . what if it is?

Across the board, late night comedy has provided us with clarity, catharsis and bracing honesty wrapped in laughter in a time of extreme separation on many fronts – physical, emotional, certainly political. Quarantine and divisiveness have worn on us in large ways and small, and while several hosts are getting us through this nightmare with gentle, soothing jokes and counseling tenderness with ourselves and each other, others have seized upon the surreal nature of our collective lot to create some next-level screwiness.

Then there's John Oliver and his void.

Oliver long ago proved that he doesn't need an audience to pump up his jokes. But like everyone else, being in other people's presence lights him up in ways that the void simply cannot.

Don't get me wrong – "Last Week Tonight" has been as searing, effective and necessary as ever, but recent episodes also reveal its host's humanity and the impact of surge depletion. You can see it in the shift in energy between early in the season and later half-hours either by watching a few of them, or simply scanning the tiles on the HBO Max episode page and noticing the weight in his facial expression as our collective mood transformed from early 2020 bemusement to late-year exhaustion.

But the Driver fiending is something else.

Oliver's first sexy Driver reference occurred during a February segment exploring the dangerous nationalism of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in which he used Driver's walking out on an NPR "Fresh Air" conversation with Terry Gross as a point of contrast with Modi storming out an interview. The contexts are very different. Modi stormed off because a journalist asked him whether he felt a sense of accountability for riots that occurred in 2002 under his watch as chief minister, in which more than 1,000 people lost their lives. Driver was angry at Gross because she played an audio clip of him performing on Broadway despite knowing that Driver does not like hearing or seeing himself perform.

But Oliver was not likening Driver to Modi. He affirmed the actor's exit simply because, in his estimation, Driver can do "whatever the f*** he wants." And here is where the dirty talk began. "Step on my throat, Adam Driver, you rudely large man. Break my fingers, you brooding mountain."

Oliver initially busted this out in front of a studio audience, one of only four such telecasts that "Last Week Tonight" was able to host in its 30-episode seventh season that ended on Sunday. But for . . . reasons . . . Oliver kept finding ways to come back to his fictional obsession with having Driver "demolish him" (his words, not mine).

"And what of Adam Driver himself? Is he bothered by this continued sexualization?" Oliver asked midway through the season. "He seems like a fairly private guy who's generally uncomfortable with attention, making what I'm doing possibly some form of harassment! He might actually have pretty good grounds to have my reprimanded legally to which I say, 'DO IT. Slap a restraining order on me, you forlorn block. Beg me to stop, you menacing obstacle.'"

In the season finale, Driver did not beg. He ordered Oliver to stop . . . and Oliver, playing the shocked and mildly titillated submissive, complied. It was the culmination of a season-long gag that good-naturedly reminds us of how strange we've gotten in the absence of normality or public places to visit, see others and be seen, save via Zoom.

It also bookends Oliver's 2016 season ender, down to the explosion – this one taking place in what appeared to be some sort of quarry.

"This year has been an absolute parade of misery," Oliver says before listing everything that occurred before the pandemic, including the Australian wildfires and Kobe Bryant's death. Now we're living with mass unemployment and evictions on top of mourning the losses of Chadwick Boseman, civil rights pioneer John Lewis and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

"This year ruined lives, jobs, concerts, and sanity. It also brought on a new wave of wrenching videos of police brutality that brought on a national reckoning with race, and a ferocious and depressing backlash. And sure, the presidential election ended well, but it was grim to live through," he said.

Taking all that into account, perhaps we can understand why Oliver, a host who describes himself as "six feet of nasty, spankable bird meat crammed into a suit," took a bit in which he daydreamed about a famous stranger slapping him around and ran with it for 10 months. At first it was absurd and seemed to come out of nowhere. Soon enough we came to wait for it, wondering what that was all about. Maybe that mood prevented us from completely retreating into our own numb nothingness. More realistically, it was just the sort of strange that felt right for right now.

As he does every year, Oliver ended his season with a warning for the future, laced in faint hope. "I really hope next year is going to be better. But the truth is, what happens is up to all of us. It's going to depend on how willing we are to fight, how well we learned from what's happened, and how much we're able to care about each other. So I don't know what happens next. But I do know what happens now."

At this point he takes a pen-sized detonator and fulfills an explosive fantasy on behalf of millions of us by demolishing something as opposed to getting demolished. "F*** you 2020," Oliver commands, adding for emphasis, "Get f***ed."

Trump & Election Results: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) www.youtube.com

All episodes of Season 7 of "Last Week Tonight" are currently streaming on HBO Max.

Our problems aren't just with Karens -- but with a nation of Meghan McCains

On the day after the election, Meghan McCain was feeling nostalgic. Accompanying an Instagram graphic that urges, among other observations, "Vote for whomever, but it will be up to us to rebuild the division this political process has established by being decent, respectful, kind, loving, supportive, and compassionate human beings during these trying times" were a few of McCain's personal thoughts.

"My first Election Day without my dad is my first with my daughter Liberty. Feeling overwhelmed with nostalgia and warm sentiments about the circle of life. . . " she wrote.

Then came this. "I love Election Day, always will. Don't let the ugly, divisive fleeting politics of today remove what's beautiful about our democratic process and our incredible country I will forever love so much. I am so proud to be an American and to have the privilege of living in the greatest country that has ever existed. No president or time or political party will ever change that. In the words of my dad – we're Americans and we fight, never surrender."

With that warm, Hallmark-ready closer, McCain illustrated the mindset of the white women who voted for Trump in 2016 and in 2020 – some of them doing so again, others for the first time and altogether in greater numbers.

In the coming weeks media analysts are going to engage in some generalized hand-wringing and soul-searching in an effort to figure out why about 70 million voters wanted a second term for Donald Trump, despite his miserable handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, his overt bigotry, misogyny, documented corruption and malfeasance and, oh yeah, the fact that he was impeached.

Within that study are subsets of curiosity to dig into, like figuring out the reasons for Trump's increased support among a small subset of Black and Latino voters. But to the immediate horror of liberal white women who believed that somehow at least some of their conservative sisters would wash their hands of Trump – after five years of sexist comments, the Stormy Daniels saga, caging migrant children at our southern border, #MeToo and multiple sexual assault allegations – it turns out they did not.

On the contrary, those white women responded to Trump's various moves on other women and women's rights overall with a lusty embrace. Some 55% of white women voted for Trump in 2020, compared to the 52-53% who threw their support behind him in 2016, according to a recent New York Times exit poll.

And even with the usual disclaimers, such that the fact that exit polls are far from precise and it isn't clear whether this includes information from voters who submitted via absentee ballot, the rise in support for this misogynist is astonishing . . . to everyone who hand knit pink pussy hats for their girlfriends as Christmas presents back in 2017.

It really isn't to women of color who have been dealing with these types of women forever. And to clarify, by these types of women I'm not talking about Karens. I'm talking about the Meghan McCains of the world. The differences are subtle, but they're there. McCain, for example, probably wouldn't have called the cops on a birdwatcher or a kid selling water or stood on her front lawn waving a gun at protesters marching near her home; I imagine her as much more of an eye-roller.

But that doesn't mean she doesn't have feelings about all of those folks – she just saves her thoughts for other forums. For example, on the same day McCain posted her national kumbaya on Instagram, here's what she offered on Twitter as a quote reply to Politico correspondent Anna Palmer's declaration that Tuesday was an "abject disaster" for Democrats:

"Normalizing socialism, 'mostly peaceful protesting', cancel culture, insane tax rates, arrogant identity politics, apologizing for loving America and patriotism, and overall coastal elitism about Christianity and anyone making under 100k a year," McCain offered, adding as a smug kicker, "There I explained it, Democrats."

McCain has been on maternity leave from "The View" over the last few weeks, denying us a televised window into the psyche of how half the country politely, comfortably and quietly supports authoritarianism. However, that tweet tells us a lot about her overall appeal.

For the sake of focus let's not get into her strange accusations about apologizing for patriotism or Christianity or get into the ways that the term "coastal elite" is a dog whistle or parse the coded language conveyed by the reflexive usage of the term socialism. I assure you that Kamala Harris' alleged socialism isn't the reason some of these women I'm talking about refused to vote for Joe Biden, even though they may allege that it is.

We also need acknowledge that McCain and her mother publicly declared that they did not vote for Trump, choosing instead to throw their support to Biden. However, just read the text of that tweet cited above and imagine if Trump hadn't insulted her father, the late John McCain, or prisoners of war in general or American military servicemen and women killed in battle.

Imagine if Trump has simply stuck to demonizing progressives, feminists, Black Lives Matter protesters, journalists and liberals living in large cities. Maybe, given those circumstances, you might envision McCain voting for Trump. Hence her similarity with the expanded plurality if not majority of white women who voted for Trump.

Remember, McCain's role on "The View" is to translate the world from the conservative perspective, to represent the sensible right-wing woman who hasn't gone full QAnon and maybe mingles with people of color insofar as they're in her orbit, who decries racism and yet refuses to make an effort to understand where all the inconvenient divisiveness is coming from.

You know, beyond "political process."

Hence, when millions watch her on the "The View," she presents a version of a conservative firebrand that is at best atypical, which is to say a woman who sits down at the table with other women of different ethnicities and political points of view and isn't afraid to spar, but then appears to find common ground with the rest of the group.

This is why McCain can ask all the "but what if" questions she wants on "The View" and not demonstrate that she's listening to or learning from the insights her subjects provide. As McCain shared in a tweet she has since deleted, she's interviewed Stacey Abrams multiple times, during which Abrams offered concise answers supported by data.

In one such exchange back in 2019, Abrams pushed back against McCain's attempt to dismiss Democratic policy proposals as identity politics by actually defining that term. Abrams explained that it is an effort to honestly tend to the needs of marginalized people who are asking for help and not getting it. That includes people in rural communities that aren't getting adequate investment and, in her example, Black women whose high maternal mortality rates aren't being addressed.

"Identity is simply saying, 'I see you and I see the obstacles to you getting the things that all of us want: healthcare, economic security, educational opportunity,'" Abrams said. "What I look for in this Democratic primary are conversations that say, 'We see all of you.' Because if we want people to turn out and vote in November, they have to be seen long before that. You don't win elections by convincing the same people to do the same thing. You win elections by getting new people to say, 'I care too.'"

Democrats were successful in doing that to some degree with Black voters, and in part because of the party's support of racial justice demonstrations sparked by Floyd's death, regardless of what McCain's social media thread posits. Data from TargetSmart, a Democratic political data and data services, shows a surge in voter registrations in several states, particularly among young voters and people of color, as protests took place across the country this summer.

Yet in her paradigm and that of people like her, supporting those protests was an "abject disaster," politically speaking, because it disturbed their world.

McCain and people like her aren't interested in following up with the information she learns in her interviews to glean more facts or draw their own conclusions. This is not out of laziness – Meghan McCains aren't lazy, not by a mile – but because it would threaten to shift their convenient view that everything would be fine if everyone would simply go back to being the "decent, respectful, kind, loving, supportive, and compassionate human beings" they were before election season kicked off.

This posits that American culture was already all of those things, along with just and equal. The point of all the unrest and anxiety that's finally boiled over across the country is that it never was.

There have been times when McCain acknowledges this, as women like her do to maintain the polish on their legitimacy. But it's entirely performative and therefore meaningless. All you have to do is scroll back through these last few months for examples.

Take mid-May, for example, when a segment of "The View" was dedicated to examining Barack Obama's virtual commencement speech, during which Obama took a shot at the current administration's incompetent response to the pandemic. Most of the hosts gave it high marks. McCain blamed Obama for ushering in "the culture war that I believe is real, and is raging in this country" leading to Trump exacerbating it.

A few weeks later after George Floyd's murder, McCain expressed empathy and copped to the shortcoming of looking at the world from a place of privilege, saying, "All of us have a responsibility to take a hard look at our responsibility confronting race . . . I hope this is a watershed moment that we can learn and grow from."

She may have suggested that Fort Benning be renamed in honor of Lori Piestewa, the first Native American woman killed in combat – "As long as we start highlighting wonderful icons like that in our military history, I really think it is something people can get on board with," she said – but her Nov. 4 tweet blasting Democrats for normalizing "'mostly peaceful protesting'" and arrogant identity politics does not show much learning and growth.

And yet, the left is failing to win over these women and other Trumpists not because of their passionate enthusiasm for white patriarchy, but because progressives aren't pushing a comfortable sort of identity politics – the type everyone can get behind.

See, the difference between McCain and the average white woman Trump supporter – not the ones who show up at rallies unmasked, co-opting Village People songs and braying racist mispronunciations of Kamala Harris' name – is that she's paid to put it all out there.

Out in the wild, many of the women holding those views tend to keep their politics to themselves because discussing such matters in company that may not share their opinions isn't polite and, indeed, may lead to irritation and bad feelings.

Not surprisingly, a lot of these folks aren't exposed to many people of color on a regular basis save for the few at work or church or who marry into their families. They may feel affection for those individuals and still vote for candidates who back policies designed to harm them because those politicians also speak to their personal beliefs and, with Trump, fears.

Since they'd rather keep their interactions polite, nobody engages them or challenges them to explain why they voted for a fascist white supremacist because I'd wager it would lead them to expose some unpleasant and impolite qualities about themselves that they can't quite defend, like their racism. To someone who supports racists while insisting she isn't racist, that's uncomfortable.

The Meghan McCains of the world deeply resent being made to feel uncomfortable.

Maybe it's time for the people who cater to them to stop feeling bad about that and thoughtfully confront them over their harmful politics and cloaked bigotry, regardless of how impolite they insist we're being in doing so. The challenge is to keep the engagement going for longer than an hour or an episode, because four years of treating our democracy like a TV show is what got us into this mess in the first place.

All the ways Trump let the coronavirus win

Over the last four years, Donald Trump's administration has kept fact checkers and truth-seekers several levels occupied. Those who aren't actively correcting his statements busily dig for precedent or corroborating evidence to prove their take on reality isn't simply yanked out of thin air, that it is accurately represented.

Such a task shouldn't be difficult. But "Totally Under Control" shows how needlessly tough it is under an administration that has pitted science against politics and the economy, and for experts with extensive backgrounds on pandemic response against Trump loyalists more eager to remain in the president's good graces than to curb the spread of a pandemic he'd rather would simply disappear, like magic.

"Totally Under Control" is a 123-minute indictment of the Trump administration's disastrous mishandling of this pandemic, which is exactly what a person expects from an Alex Gibney documentary. No fan of this administration, Gibney has had an especially prolific 365 days thanks to this administration's bungling; this is his third Trump-related documentary released since last November, after "Citizen K," and HBO's "Agents of Chaos."

Understandably, Gibney could direct this project alone, especially given that he decided it needed to be made in April, "in the middle of the New York sh*tshow," according to the film's press notes. Demonstrating this are the recurring instances of perspective shots taken from behind the interview subjects, showing them speaking to a small screen surrounded by extensive plastic sheeting, behind which a camera operator is lurking.

There's a touch of levity in those glimpses; more than this, however, it calls attention to the obscenity of this new normal.

Works born in the midst of crises and times of high anxiety risk becoming victims of the creator's frustrations, but Gibney and his co-directors Suzanne Hillinger and Ophelia Harutyunyan sidestep those pitfalls.

By carefully walking the viewer through the pandemic's timeline from the emergence of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 to the most recent headline-grabbing developments, it reconstructs recent history to remind us of how recently and quickly this pandemic changed life as we know it. Simultaneously, it calls attention to the many missed opportunities officials could have seized that may have altered the course we're on, and the inexcusable idiocy behind decisions such as contradicting expert recommendations that people wear masks in public.

Somehow ignoring scientific advice became an act of patriotism, the film observes. That misguided fervor will take more than a regime change to undo.

"Totally Under Control" moves with a variation of the anxious urgency that drives "Agents of Chaos" owing to its connection to the here and now. Just as that film dives into Russian interference with the 2016 elections and was released weeks before the 2020 edition, the final frame of "Totally Under Control" confirms how close to release the three filmmakers had to update the production.

It simply a text card that reads, "One day after the completion of this film, President Donald Trump revealed that he had tested positive for COVID-19."

In light of the two hours' prosecution that spells out this administration's spectacular bungling of its response to this pandemic, those word should have an air of poetic justice to them. But they don't because we're still living with the effects of that failure. "Totally Under Control" simply adds the doleful confirmation that all this could have been avoided if not for Trump's narcissism and ego, his and his cronies' zealous belief in the myth of American exceptionalism and his administration's purposeful dismantling of any plans or structures informed by expertise.

Mind you, despite their even-keeled strategy in taking on this story, "Totally Under Control" is far from a dispassionate film. Nearly every scientific or medical expert who agreed to sit for an interview has at least one point in their testimony where they are at the very least at a loss for words.

Rick Bright, who was removed from his position with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) after going to the press with what he knew about this administration's intentional misleading the public regarding hydroxychloroquine, nearly breaks down in tears as he's retracing the steps that led to his decision to effectively garrote his government career for the sake of protecting the public.

"It's not easy to come forward in this administration, OK?" he says, adding, "It was a very hard process to lay our careers on the line to push back" against the Food and Drug Administration's insistence upon rushing the treatment to consumers at the White House's insistence and despite any evidence of its effectiveness.

But this is an appropriate response when placed in context of the documentary's central question: Why did the United States fail to reckon with a danger for which it should have been so well prepared?

The answers are exasperating – and to the credit of Gibney, Harutyunyan and Hillinger ( who worked on the FX docuseries "The Weekly") the blame doesn't entirely fall on this administration. Just most of it.

"Totally Under Control" explains why the federal stockpiles of protective medical equipment should have been adequately supplied under Barack Obama's administration but, unfortunately, were not. As with all past presidencies, military spending was prioritized over preventative allocations for other departments, including those tasked with pandemic preparedness.

As with any film of this sort, much of "Totally Under Control" is in effect a replay of the news that's come before that takes time to highlight aspects of the pandemic narrative that likely escaped our attention or might have been underreported.

One alarming testimonial comes from Max Kennedy, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy who volunteered to assist the White House COVID-19 Supply-Chain team headed up by Jared Kushner. Kennedy assumed he would be providing auxiliary support to a team of experts, only to discover that he was part of a 10-person crew of 20-year-old volunteers "all just with private laptops, nobody with any industry relationships, no experience working in supply chain" Googling mask manufacturers online and contacting them through their personal email accounts.

He left in mid-April, as the pandemic was ravaging Manhattan and state governors were bidding against each other – and the federal government itself – to secure PPE for its own state medical facilities and frontline workers.

"My takeaway was really that I still feel that I haven't worked for the government," Kennedy says. "We were so far outside of it. I mean, we were . . . every single person that we reported to up the chain of command was a political appointee. The number of FEMA employees I met, I could count on one hand, and they were fleeting interactions. It taught me about how this administration works, and it seemed to work in this case outside of the government."

This makes "Totally Under Control" a case study of how this administration works against the interests of the public and for the enrichment of corporate entities and the personal financial portfolios of everyone involved. And if the professionals here can't hide their aggravation or befuddlement at the administration's criminal inability to refrain from politicizing a deadly virus, no sane and feeling viewer can blame them.

We've reached a point in this presidency's lifespan at which the public surely must be numb to so many accounts of willful negligence and mishandling of issues that impact the entirety of the American population – the economy, the environment, systemic injustice and now, the public's health.

Within the last four years, Trump has inspired more than 1,200 books about his life and his governing methods, positive and negative. A count of every special report, hour-long news special and documentary such as this would eclipse that number by a wide margin.

"Totally Under Control" serves as a record of Trump's dereliction of his duty to protect the American people that's also a testament to the efforts of the respected and accredited medical professionals who have done their best to step into the void he's left.

"There's a misconception that public health failed. The truth is that political leaders failed to follow public health guidance, and that's what caused avoidable disease, death and economic destruction," said Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the CDC.

Frieden and other medical professionals aren't sharing such opinions out of vindictiveness but rather, dismay, anger and sorrow. For people like Dr. Taison Bell, the COVID-19 ICU Director at UVA Medical Center who sounded the alarm regarding the pandemic's disproportionately heavy toll on communities of color, testifying isn't merely a matter of satisfying one's conscience. He's doing it, he says, because in every case he sees his own family and the risks they face.

When he reads names of people who fell sick or died of COVID-related illnesses, he says he sees "smiles and hugs and tears and barbecues. They're not numbers on a paper."

"Totally Under Control" is currently available on demand and premieres on Hulu on Tuesday, Oct. 20.

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