Every American Should Be Watching Sacha Baron Cohen’s New Show

Is this how some Americans feel comfortable acting behind closed doors?

The critics are calling him shameless. Those duped by his antics say their words are being taken out of context. The rest of us are staring at the television, jaws agape, shocked at what some people will say and do when they believe they are around like-minded individuals.

On Sacha Baron Cohen's new Showtime series Who Is America?the prankster known for his sharp cultural analysis holds up a giant mirror to the United States. Through his first two episodes, Cohen taken on five different characters, including the gun-loving Israeli soldier Erran Morad, an unthinkably far-left progressive anti-Trumper named Dr. Nira Cain-N'Degeocello, and an alt-right conspiracy theorist with a disability named Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr. 

In the first two episodes, Cohen has managed to get sit-down interviews with former and current U.S. lawmakers, Republican donors and ABC newsman Ted Koppel. He even held a fake town hall in Kingman, Arizona. Thanks to some preemptive press releases defending their behavior, we know future episodes will feature former Gov. Sarah Palin and former Senate candidate Roy Moore. 

For all the legitimate criticisms of Sacha Baron Cohen's new show — that he has no female writers on staff, that he's playing to our worst instincts, that he will go to extreme lengths to get his guests to say what he wants — no criticism that I've read can take away from the feeling that we are seeing a side of some Americans that would otherwise be hidden from view. 

Some duped by Cohen have defended their actions by saying they were pressured to stay on his set and carry out bits. Others have said they were tricked into reading a teleprompter that didn't accurately their views.

Some of this might be true, but none of it changes the fact that in two 30-minute episodes Cohen has given us decisive evidence about two things that are often rejected by much of the country: First is that racism is still alive, well and present amongst elected officials and U.S. residents, a reality often denied by white Americans. Second is that there are gun rights extremists — beyond just being Constitutional originalists or Second Amendment advocates — who hold frightening views about guns and either hold public office or have a great deal of influence on lawmakers. Cohen has delivered this decisive evidence by using a very simple tactic: he's made his subjects feel as if they were in the company of like-minded individuals, so they could say and act how they really wanted to. 

In perhaps the most controversial bit to air thus far, Cohen, posing as the Israeli soldier Erran Morad, coaxed Georgia Rep. Jason Spencer into warning a camera about "sand n—s" in the Middle East just moments after Spencer performed an excruciatingly racist impression of a Chinese tourist so he could sneak an upskirt photo of a woman in a burqa. (During the fake terrorism exercise, Morad had proposed that the woman in the burqa may have actually been a male terrorist, and that an upskirt photo would resolve the question.)

Rep. Spencer has defended his actions by saying he believed he was in a terrorist training video, while also noting that he was in a fragile state of mind because of the death threats against his family as a result of a proposed anti-Muslim bill he drafted. 

It seems likely, though, that Spencer felt comfortable using this language because he believed he was in the company of an Israeli soldier who shared similar sentiments about Muslim people and terrorism. 

The same can be said of the residents of Kingman, Arizona, who were stuffed into a room together before Dr. Cain-N'Degeocello, the parody of an unhinged leftist, pitched them on the construction of a giant, Clinton Foundation-funded mosque in their hometown. The reaction in the room was swift.

"When I hear the word 'mosque,' I think of terrorism," one man said. "I'm racist toward Muslims," someone in the back said proudly, adding about the mosque: "That would look good in a fire." 

In the season's first episode, Cohen used Morad to get several Republican congressmen — current and former — to endorse a program that would arm children as young as four years old in school. The program was dubbed "Kinderguardians." 

"Maybe having the young people trained and understand how to defend themselves in their school might actually make us safer here," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said. "A 3-year-old cannot defend itself from an assault rifle by throwing a Hello Kitty pencil case at it," former Rep. Joe Walsh added. "It's something that we should think about, America," former Sen. Trent Lott said to the camera. "About putting guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens — good guys — whether they be teachers, or whether they actually be talented children or highly trained preschoolers."

These are the words of Americans who feel that they are speaking to an audience that would accept what they were saying without batting an eye. Perhaps they really believed what they were saying. Perhaps they read it willingly from a teleprompter not because they believed it, but because they didn't feel offended by it. Either way, that comfort guest felt is precisely the same comfort former vice president Dick Cheney, infamous for unnecessary, disastrous invasions in the Middle East, in the presence of an Israeli soldier when he expressed his love of "wartime." 

It's worth noting, too, that some people revealed themselves to be reasonable and decent. Republican donors and Trump supporters Jane Page and Mark Thompson hosted Dr. Cain-N'Degeocello and proved some people are willing to try to come across the aisle. They sat attentively and engaged honestly even as his character explained how he let his menstruating daughter "free bleed on the American flag." Others, like Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders and Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, demonstrated how easy it was to laugh Cohen off and amicably exit the interview, which they both rightly called out as being absurd. 

Who Is America? may not be politically correct or easy to watch, but it is important viewing. So far, it's been a revealing, honest and — sometimes — scary look at how some of the most powerful Americans in the world really think. Any American wanting to get to know their country better would be wise to sit down and watch it. 

Just try to remember to laugh.

Cover image via Ray Tang/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

More From A Plus

GET SOME POSITIVITY IN YOUR INBOX

Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.