Revisiting Meghan McCain's legacy on "The View" shows the reality of across-the-aisle "friendships"

What, exactly, was she doing on the show in the first place?

Published July 8, 2021 7:13PM (EDT)

Meghan McCain on "The View" (ABC/Lou Rocco)
Meghan McCain on "The View" (ABC/Lou Rocco)

On July 1, "The View" co-host Meghan McCain announced her planned departure at the end of the show's 24th season later this month, leaving many to wonder if we'll ever uncover the mystery of who her father is. The announcement unsurprisingly sparked joyous reaction from McCain's many online critics — and also undoubtedly brought some relief to her fellow co-hosts, many of whom have visibly struggled to put up with some of her most outlandish, misinformed and offensive takes throughout her nearly four-year tenure on the show.

McCain's departure, and the years of on-air infighting, ignorance and racism that preceded it, warrant a fair amount of interrogation as to what she was even doing on the show in the first place (besides bewildering us with an array of dubious hair art). There are plenty of warm, optimistic explanations for this casting, like the importance of representing diversity of thought and perspective, or the classic, welcoming "both sides." After all, ABC might have seen McCain's inclusion as just good business — plenty of the show's target female audiences watching "The View" on weekday afternoons may share her conservative viewpoints, or revere her father, the late John McCain, in case Meghan failed to mention that.

But there's a dark side to that viral meme of the stick-figure best friends, Sally, a Democrat, and Bob, a Republican, who are both presumably white. The glorification of across-the-aisle friendships, which "The View" has tried to simulate with McCain as a co-host, ignores the toll these relationships can have on people of color, LGBTQ folks, women, immigrants, survivors, or, of course, people hailing from countries that have been devastated by U.S. military actions and imperialism. The reductive notion that politics is "just" politics, and we can be friends with those who "disagree" with us, doesn't apply to people who don't have the privilege of being able to treat politics as abstraction, rather than their everyday, oppressive realities. Politics isn't something those who are marginalized can just compartmentalize and neatly put aside for the comfort of those who are complicit in their oppression. 

The implosion of McCain's time on "The View" is the natural outcome of such a hackneyed sociopolitical experiment. It's the natural outcome of planting an unapologetically entitled and problematic white woman on a show to spar with or even argue against the humanity of her female co-hosts who generally know better. Now that McCain's time on the show nearing its end, it's worth revisiting her highlights to recognize just how harmful it was for ABC to platform her all these years.

October 2017: McCain's establishes her self-interest in her "View" debut

For her inauspicious debut, McCain decided to weigh in on Mike Pence's NFL stunt, in which he stormed out of a game knowing that players would be kneeling in protest. While the idea of protesting the anthem is a hot topic among conservatives, McCain turned the conversation to make it all about herself. This was just a sign of things to come.

April 2018: McCain tells "The View" audience they "deserve" Trump

When "The View" audiences applauded former House Speaker Paul Ryan's retirement announcement — yes, the Paul Ryan who tried to snatch health care from millions — McCain chastised audiences for celebrating. "If Paul Ryan is the greatest sin, this is how we got Trump, because if Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney and people like this are the worst politicians, then you deserve Trump," she said.

Of course, this holier-than-thou lecturing at audience members was hardly the shrewd commentary McCain intended for it to be. Under Trump, millions would suffer the unthinkable, from state-sanctioned family separation programs to the eventual, deadly mishandling of COVID — but, sure, Meghan. Celebrating the retirement of an evil politician means we had it coming!

December 2018: McCain almost drives Joy Behar to quit

In a particularly tense exchange between McCain and her co-host Behar, the women argue about Behar's choice to segue a conversation about the legacy of President George H.W. Bush into the urgent issue of climate change, which McCain found disrespectful.

At one point, as the cameras cut away, Behar reportedly said of McCain, "If this s**t doesn't stop I'm quitting this damn show. I can't take this much more." She continued, "I've tolerated a lot of s**t on this show but I'm at my wits' end with this entitled b***h. Enough already! Enough already! I'm not playing nice any longer."

At this point, McCain had been on the show for just over a year — a year of talking over her co-hosts, spewing misinformation. It probably wasn't the first time one of her fellow co-hosts threatened to quit over her, and it probably wasn't the last.

February 2019: McCain equates abortion with "infanticide"

At a time of increased violence targeting abortion providers because of baseless smears from Trump and other Republicans that equated abortion later in pregnancy with "infanticide," McCain added fuel to the fire, arguing again with Hostin, who she accused of thinking "a baby born from a botched abortion should be put down like a dog or a cat?!"

Abortion later in pregnancy can sometimes happen due to extreme health conditions, or because someone wasn't able to get an abortion earlier due to the expansive web of restrictions on care. The frequent conflation with this health service at any and every stage of pregnancy has frequently led to retaliatory violence on providers and patients.

McCain, of course, wasn't entertaining opposing views, or even just facts. "If the Democratic Party wants to be the party of infanticide, that is their choice," she said at the end of the segment.

McCain has a history of bringing up her hatred of abortion on the show, from baseless right-wing myths on abortion to more recent criticisms of abortion as "a cardinal sin," arguing in favor of the Catholic Church's retaliation against President Biden. All of these takes, of course, were spewed in the presence of fellow co-host Whoop Goldberg, who has shared her story of self-inducing her abortion as an adolescent girl, decades ago. This insensitivity to Goldberg is hardly the only time McCain has been unapologetically, well, the worse.

March 2019: McCain cries at Rep. Omar's "anti-Semitism"

In what the Daily Beast's Justin Baragona aptly described as "some grievance cosplay," McCain responded to her interpretation of Rep. Omar's comments on Israel's financial influence over U.S. politicians by crying, and somehow casting herself as the victim of Omar's supposed "anti-Semitism."

"I take this very personally," McCain said of Omar's criticisms of Zionism. "I would go so far as to say I probably verge on being a Zionist as well," she continued, citing her family's close friendship with Jewish politician Joe Lieberman. "I take the hate crimes rising in this country incredibly seriously and I think what's happening in Europe is really scary. And I'm sorry if I'm getting emotional."

June 2019: McCain identifies self as "sacrificial Republican" of "The View"

In a routine, par-for-the-course argument with McCain's fellow co-hosts on what motivates Trump supporters, McCain at one point referred to herself as the show's "sacrificial Republican." In response to McCain's usual self-victimizing, co-host Joy Behar offered a sarcastic, "aww," to which McCain snapped back, "Oh don't feel bad for me, b***h, I'm paid to do this, okay. Don't feel bad for me." McCain, of course, was the one who had initiated the self-pity party, despite — as she points out — being paid to spew white-supremacist-lite commentary on the show.

December 2019: McCain calls herself the "Mother of Dragons"

As if the "Game of Thrones" series finale flop weren't enough to ruin the series for its legions of fans, McCain's self-identification with Daenerys Targaryen, "Mother of Dragons," was the nail in the coffin. While getting into it with Goldberg in a nastier-than-usual argument about — you guessed it! — politics, Goldberg, speaking for all of us, asked McCain point-blank, "Will you stop talking?"

McCain later took to Twitter to tweet out a GIF of Daenerys accompanied with the text, "Good morning – to all the fellow conservative 'girls' who won't be quiet." To be clear, there's nothing especially brave about having harmful political views that are written into oppressive laws across the country. There's certainly nothing brave about agreeing with the marginalization of poor people of color. That said, there might be some merit to McCain's conflation of herself with an intolerant and tyrannical imperialist like Daenerys — perhaps McCain isn't always wrong!

March 2020: McCain harangues Sen. Elizabeth Warren, is ignored

If there's one thing Senator and former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is famous for, it's "having a plan for that." And she was nothing if not prepared to deal with Meghan McCain being Meghan McCain in her March 2020 appearance on "The View." Between offering her wide-ranging plans and policy positions on a wealth tax, universal child care, and funding public education for all, Warren simply ignores McCain's numerous, rude outbursts and interruptions, and doesn't waver once or give McCain a chance to derail her. Jezebel called the segment an "excellent lesson in ignoring McCain," which is a lesson McCain's own co-hosts and ABC might have done well to learn from, earlier.

June 2020: McCain presumes to know more about voting rights than Stacey Abrams, calls neighborhood a "war zone"

In a particularly embarrassing segment with the hindsight of the events of November 2020, McCain attempted to condescendingly explain the voting accessibility trends in guest Stacey Abram's own state of Georgia, to Abrams herself. Abrams nearly pulled off an upset victory in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election, only to be defeated by rampant, racist voter suppression efforts in the state. Rather than be demoralized by the loss, Abrams instead worked tirelessly to understand voter suppression trends, strategize on how to overcome these trends, and even flip her state blue. 

In any case, on that day in June, Abrams had some time, which she lent to schooling McCain, and tearing apart the "View" host's nonsense about the majority of Georgia counties that experienced ballot and voting problems in the 2018 election being run by Democratic leaders. Trump would notably co-opt these conspiracy theories upon losing Georgia in 2020.

"The reality is your access to democracy shouldn't depend on your county of residence," Abrams said. She continued, "Fundamentally we deserve to have elections that work for everyone. And yes, I believe that we saw a combination of malfeasance which is a continuance of the voter suppression we saw that [Georgia Secretary of State] Brad Raffensperger inherited from [Georgia Gov.] Brian Kemp, but it's also incompetence. And if we don't solve both of those problems, we're going to have a national breakdown of our election come November."

That same month, amid surging protests against racist police violence, McCain who is decisively against this First Amendment right, called her wealthy Manhattan neighborhood "a war zone." She said, "This is not America. Our leaders have abandoned us and continue to let great American cities burn to the ground and be destroyed. I never could have fathomed this." On top of being plainly inaccurate, her comments were foremost offensive to people who live in actual war zones, and certainly offensive to people protesting for safety from militarized police forces.

March 2021: McCain makes rise in anti-Asian racism about herself and "identity politics"

Shortly after the Atlanta shooting in March that saw a white man kill six Asian women at massage parlors, among other victims, McCain took the surge in anti-Asian violence as an opportunity to bemoan how so-called "identity politics" — or, really, any recognition that race, gender and class exist — hurt her, a wealthy white woman.

"We've only had one Asian American host co-host this show. Does that mean one of us should be leaving because there's not enough representation?" McCain very patronizingly asked her fellow "The View" hosts. She also expressed concern that someone who is "more qualified who happens to be a white straight person who has more experience" in their field may lose out on opportunities to a "minority with less experience." 

Her remarks ignore the obvious reality that far more often than not, well-connected, wealthy and incompetent white people are chosen for opportunities over significantly more competent and qualified people of color, who are never even considered. And while they'd be offensive and reductive really any time, her invocation of a crisis of white supremacist violence to worry about opportunities for a "white straight person" like herself was wildly offensive, even by her own standards of ignorant depravity.

April 2021: Following Ohio police killing a teenage Black girl, McCain criticizes NBA star LeBron James

Shortly after the guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin, the Minnesota police officer charged with killing George Floyd, Ohio police killed Ma'Khia Bryant, a teenage girl. The killing of Bryant sparked outraged response, including from LeBron James, who demanded "#accountability" for the police responsible in a tweet.

"When you have people like LeBron James posting pictures of this police officer before this has been adjudicated and litigated," McCain started, "you're also putting that police officer's life in danger, and I would like killing to stop in this country and violence to stop."

Throughout the segment, McCain repeatedly insisted she "heard" and "understood" everything her fellow co-host Sunny Hostin said about racist police violence, yet made the decision to focus instead on violence supposedly targeting police officers, and violence broadly, blaming citizen protesters rather than militarized police departments, and racist police violence.

May 2021: McCain equates the "Squad" of progressive women of color in Congress with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene

Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley are often referred to as "the Squad" — in a warm, badass way by their supporters, and a dismissive, infantilizing way by their detractors. More recently, in May this year, McCain equated their passionate support for health care for all, compassionate immigration laws, living wages, and other common-sense progressive policies with the unrepentant fascism of Rep. Greene, shortly after Greene equated the Holocaust with COVID vaccinations.
"If [Greene] is the face of the Republicans, the Squad is the face of the Democrats," McCain said. "I would love Democrats to put that same type of energy into what's happening on the left." She continued, "Quite frankly, this is how people get red-pilled. The media doesn't want the Squad to look bad. They just want Marjorie Taylor to look bad."

* * *

As McCain's time on "The View" comes to an end, unfortunately, her legacy of giving representation to the many white women who condemn racism in words while checking off whole Bingo sheets of racist microaggressions, will continue on one platform or another, lest she decry being "canceled" by Twitter liberals. Such is the most frightening, insidious thing about white women like McCain, who are "reasonable" Republicans, and are therefore entitled to not just platforms but friendships with those across the aisle: Their cloying sense of victimhood when they're disliked or socially rejected for holding abhorrent, racist views, can be weaponized at the drop of a hat against marginalized people who are seen as rejecting them. 

Whenever a person of color supposedly allows politics to disrupt their relationship with someone with dehumanizing political beliefs, they're the ones seen as intolerant and aggressive, rather than the person with views like McCain's. They're the ones expected to expend their emotional labor to offer a crash course in patriarchy and white supremacy to "friends" with dehumanizing, triggering political beliefs.

For all McCain's whining about so-called "cancel culture," conservative values remain deeply institutionalized and normalized at nearly every level of government, and broadly within our culture. It's not impossible to be friends with those with whom you may share vehement disagreements — it is, however, impossible to be friends with people who repeatedly disrespect you. The cocoon world of McCain's time on "The View" had to break open eventually.

By Kylie Cheung

Kylie Cheung is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She is also the author of "A Woman's Place," a collection of feminist essays. You can follow her work on Twitter @kylietcheung.

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