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

Anyone baffled at how Trump's margin among white women went up between 2016 and 2020 wasn't watching "The View"

By Melanie McFarland
November 7, 2020 1:22AM (UTC)
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Meghan McCain (ABC Disney)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's TV critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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