Much has been written about Sacha Baron Cohen’s new Showtime show, Who Is America, and how, in typical Sacha Baron Cohen fashion, he’s tricked Sarah Palin, Joe Arpaio, Roy Moore and various other public figures into doing or saying embarrassing things on camera. Of course Palin, Arpaio, Moore and their ilk have never needed Baron Cohen to thoroughly embarrass themselves on camera on a regular basis—extremism and extreme ignorance is how all three became famous in the first place. At a time when many prominent conservatives have abandoned whatever tactics they formerly used to downplay their true intentions, and openly support bigotry, divisiveness and a dangerous fraud like Donald Trump, you might wonder why Baron Cohen feels the need to resort to his old Ali G playbook and dress up as various new characters to encourage these extremists to reveal what they don’t even attempt to conceal. Even after watching his show, which premieres tonight, you might still question its existence.
Capitalizing on the large amount of publicity that angry politicians have afforded the show this past week, Showtime released an extended preview of Who Is America on YouTube today. You can watch that below. In it Baron Cohen plays an Israeli anti-terror expert who gets various pro-gun activists and current and former Republican Congressmen to support a program that would arm toddlers to prevent school shootings. Trent Lott, the former Senate Majority Leader from Mississippi, stares directly into a camera and endorses arming “highly-trained pre-schoolers.” Dana Rohrabacher and Joe “You Lie!” Wilson, two sitting members of Congress, also speak in favor of the patently absurd plan. Congressman-turned-radio host and well-known Twitter dunce Joe Walsh cuts a professional commercial-worthy testimony in support of the idea, signing off with “Happy shooting, kids.” Somehow only ascendant Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, a star of the far right and large-headed living embodiment of the Florida Man meme, refused to endorse Baron Cohen’s proposal—not because he recognized how ridiculous it was but because he didn’t have enough information on it yet. (Gaetz, by the way, is apparently a big fan of Baron Cohen’s work.)
This clip runs long—it’s over ten minutes, which feels like an eternity on YouTube—but if you’re interested you can watch it right here.
This video highlights two well-established, undeniable facts about the Republican Party: they’ll do and say anything to appease the gun lobby, and they’ll do and say anything to appease Israel. It’s hard to say which reason for supporting Baron Cohen’s joke plan is more disquieting. Did Wilson say that we should strap live ammo on unpredictable, uncontrollable children because he was worried he’d lose his A+ rating from the NRA if he didn’t, or because he didn’t want to abandon the far right’s absolute knee jerk support of Israel, or because he actually believes it’d be a good idea to give guns to three-year-olds who are still learning how to speak, think and coexist with one other? Any answer is a bad one, but then there are never any good answers when it comes to extremists like Joe Wilson, short of voting them out of office as soon as possible.
Now, is any of this actually funny? Again, everybody that Baron Cohen targets in this video already supports or endorses policies that are patently ridiculous, obscene, and/or offensive. Baron Cohen could’ve skipped all the makeup and the effort needed to trick these people into these interviews and just found talk radio or Fox News clips where these same Republicans gladly espouse opinions almost as terrible as this one. When Da Ali G Show premiered on HBO in 2003, the extreme views of the Republican base weren’t quite as public as they are today, or even as extreme. Today, though, there’s no attempt to cover up what Republicans really believe—the GOP is fully the party of Trump, of talk radio, of Fox News, of the extreme far right fringe. It’s hard to see how Baron Cohen will be able to expose anything that we don’t already know about them.
The first episode of Who Is America premieres on Showtime tonight at 10 PM ET/PT.