Meghan McCain and Van Jones Want to Reunite America
“The View” co-host and CNN commentator are executive producers of “The Reunited States,” a terribly bland documentary that values platitudes over accountability.
President Joe Biden can talk about “unity” until he’s blue in the face, but in the aftermath of the nightmare that was the Trump presidency—and the former reality TV host’s mainstreaming of vile white nationalism and insane QAnon conspiracy theories—what this country needs isn’t a “let’s all move on and get along” détente but condemnation of the anti-democratic, fake news-peddling insurrectionist forces rampant on social media, in the halls of Congress, and in everyday society. Consequently, the very title of The Reunited States (in virtual cinemas Jan. 29, and on VOD, Amazon and iTunes on Feb. 9) is apt to make one bristle, loaded as it is with the suggestion that our chief national priority should be kumbaya bridge-building rather than holding to account those who, for the past four years, and particularly on Jan. 6 at the Capitol, sowed seeds of discord and outright threatened our Union.
Ben Rekhi’s documentary confirms one’s worst fears about its intentions, focusing on a collection of individuals dedicated to crossing the aisle to encourage bipartisan debate and cooperation. It’s a noble endeavor that, arriving at a present moment when the former president is rightly being impeached (again) and numerous Republican House and Senate members should be censured for their seditious election-fraud lies, proves tone-deaf and misguided. Heavy on platitudes but light on nitty-gritty specifics, this non-fiction report delivers an avalanche of well-intentioned both-sides-ish blather about listening to one another, healing age-old wounds, and seeing the common humanity in everyone—nice ideas that are presented in theoretical rather than practical fashion, since Rekhi’s film avoids confrontation of explicit problems (and solutions) at every turn.
The Reunited States is executive produced by CNN’s Van Jones and The View’s Meghan McCain, two celebrity commentators who reside on different sides of the political spectrum—he on the left, she on the right—who have a history of working with those they decry (Jones with Donald Trump on a police-reform initiative; McCain with her liberal The View castmates, who frequently can’t stand her). Their joint interest in collaborating with members of the opposing party looks good on paper. Yet given Trump’s monstrousness, Jones’ covert alliance with the former administration reeked of hypocrisy—and undercut the genuineness of his criticisms of the twice-impeached commander-in-chief (or his recent on-air sobbing following Biden’s win). McCain, meanwhile, is the personification of Republican-apologist obnoxiousness, sticking to formulaic talking points with the sort of fit-for-Reddit logic that has become the GOP’s stock-in-trade. Like the film itself, they’re unifiers of a superficial soundbite-ready sort.
Inspired by Mark Gerzon’s book of the same name, The Reunited States fixates on four subjects: former Republican strategist David Leaverton and his wife Erin, who embark on a 50-state RV tour to understand our domestic rifts by creating a dialogue with those not like themselves; Susan Bro, whose daughter Heather Heyer was fatally run over on August 12, 2017, while protesting the neo-Nazi “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia; Steven Olikara, founder of the Millennial Action Project, an organization dedicated to bringing together young Democratic and Republican legislators; and Greg Orman, an independent running for governor in Kansas. They all appear to be kind-hearted individuals committed to “lowering the temperature” and fostering political and cultural cooperation and compassion. Aside from that, however, it’s difficult to comprehend what they’re actually doing—aside from making speeches and having chats with random people in various cities—because Rekhi’s documentary never tells you, instead opting for clip after clip of them espousing bland generalities to the camera and to strangers.
Olikara discusses millennials’ role in forging the country’s future, and Erin Leaverton expounds upon her post-tour realization that America’s racial issues run deep. That’s about as useful as The Reunited States gets in terms of diagnosing our ills or proffering remedies. Through conversations with victims of racial discrimination (which inspire her to embrace Black Lives Matter), Erin Leaverton also decides that everyone has value—the sort of sentiment that’s both true (everyone should be treated equally, and with kindness and respect) and nonsense (some people are horrific, due to their beliefs and/or actions), and thus for all intents and purposes, meaningless. The best her husband David can do is acknowledge the existence of white privilege while admitting that he doesn’t like the term itself.
Rekhi employs plentiful montages set to heartening music and uplifting narration about empathy, teamwork, and reconciliation. Yet he never addresses the fact that “finding common ground” isn’t feasible when one of America’s two factions—i.e. Republicans—questions reality itself, spews “fuck your feelings” vitriol, stands against gender, racial and LGBTQ+ rights, and (as Tucker Carlson has recently done on his Fox News white power hour) staunchly defends neo-Nazi terrorists that advocate for thwarting government institutions, overturning free and fair elections, and overthrowing democracy in favor of autocracy. There can be no bipartisanship when Republicans view the Democratic party as inherently fraudulent and illegitimate, embrace QAnon’s dangerously bonkers and hateful orthodoxy as their own (see, most recently, the Texas GOP), and support the execution of their rivals (as Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene reportedly did).
In other words, The Reunited States’ abstract talk about unity sounds agreeable only because it remains surface-level; any genuine examination of America’s problems circa 2021 requires delving into the ugliness that Trump and his enablers have cultivated for the past half-decade, and continue promoting today. Nowhere is the film’s shallow avoidance of such details more pronounced than in a late encounter between the Leavertons and Susan Bro, during which the latter says she wasn’t sure she would attend the sit-down because she’s still angry at the Leavertons for “stirring up opposition”—a vague conflict that’s suddenly raised, never explicated, and then quickly waved away on a sea of chitchat about “shaking up the system.”
So generic is The Reunited States that Rekhi doesn’t even have anyone specifically define what it currently means (in terms of policy stances and cultural attitudes) to be a Republican or Democrat. America may still find a way to recover from its ongoing divisions to forge a new, more harmonious tomorrow, but it’ll require far more than simply spouting the feel-good banalities articulated here.