By the time the original Borat hit theaters, America was already knee-deep in George W. Bush’s lame-duck period. Incredibly, that period began less than a year into Bush’s second term, when the president’s embarrassing failed effort to privatize social security was followed by his catastrophic mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina, and two ongoing wars in the Middle East that defied the promised easy resolution. Borat, with its warts-only depiction of Real America, was the ideal satire for a country that had lost its way and lost confidence in its leader, to the tune of a 33% approval rating.
Creator and star Sacha Baron Cohen’s just-released sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, available on Amazon Prime, inhabits a different world entirely. Donald Trump, whose eponymous New York tower Borat dropped a deuce in front of during the first film, has presided over multiple failed initiatives and catastrophic disasters, all while those same two wars continue unabated. The difference, however, is that none of these things has precipitated any kind of fall from grace among the Trump faithful. While Bush’s popularity plummeted in relation to his failures, Trump’s supporters never seem to acknowledge his failures at all. The president’s approval rating has stayed within the same 14-point range between 35% and 49% the entire time, currently sitting at an inexplicably robust 43%.
In order to continue supporting Trump at this point, one has to be engaged in not only a denial of reality but a fantastically convenient counter-narrative. Trump didn’t drop the ball every step of the way during the coronavirus crisis—the Democrats did that! Trump never used his office to enrich his family and cozy up to China—his opponent did that!
One scene in the Borat sequel quietly captures the noxious unreality we’ve all slipped into over the last four years. It’s a scene you’ve probably already heard a lot about.
On Wednesday, a Guardian report about the movie went viral after revealing the “compromising position” in which Cohen managed to put Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Astute news hounds might recall how Giuliani’s communications director framed his interaction with Cohen during Borat’s guerrilla film shoot back in July.
Un-fooled and placid, Mayor Giuliani notified security to call the police. It was then, upon hearing the word police, Cohen turned from a screaming banshee into a fleeing hyena.
I hear he was last seen running down the street in his bathrobe.
Better luck next time, Sacha!
— Christianné L Allen (@Christianne_L_A) July 9, 2020
It is difficult to imagine what having better luck next time might actually look like.
In the film, Giuliani sits for an interview with Borat’s daughter (Maria Bakalova) posing as a reporter. The former mayor is mildly flirty during the interview, and appears to follow the reporter back to her hotel bedroom for a drink. Much hay has been made over what happens next. Giuliani either does a rigorous shirt-untucking after the “reporter” takes off his microphone wire, or adjusts himself beneath his pants. The innocent explanation is certainly plausible; it’s the fact of following the woman into the room for a drink at all, or touching her on the back once inside, that is damning.
But neither of those things is what’s most disturbing about Giuliani’s appearance.
During the interview with Borat’s supposed daughter, when the subject of COVID-19 comes up, Giuliani casually tells her, with a huge grin on his face, that “China manufactured the virus,” and that the country “deliberately spread it around the world.”
This despicable conspiracy theory is something Trump himself flicked at early on in the pandemic, but never fully embraced. Even the currently-under-indictment Steve Bannon, a frequent crony of Giuliani’s, seems to only walk up to the line of saying China manufactured the virus, without ever crossing it. While Giuliani has speculated about the virus’s origins before, outright stating this claim as fact is a step beyond. Even for someone who is, at present, infamous for participating in what appears to be a shady disinformation campaign against Joe Biden, this is a new low.
Throughout its runtime, the Borat sequel captures plenty of random citizens going along with Cohen’s in-character hatred and misogyny, a reminder of the toxicity many Americans are used to living with—and which many also perpetuate.
In this scene, however, the person who tops Cohen in pure toxicity is a powerful man who has the ear of the president. Wawaweewa, indeed.