Roseanne Barr returned to network TV this week with a reboot of her wildly successful sitcom, which promises to present a complex image of a family in America’s current political climate.
In the show, the actress’s character, Rosanne Conner, voted for President Trump, while her sister, Jackie, was appalled by the candidate.
“I just wanted to have that dialogue about families torn apart by the election and their political differences of opinion and how we handle it. I thought that this was an important thing to say at this time,” Barr told the New York Times.
The president agreed and reportedly called Barr to congratulate her on the show, which averaged more than 18 million people on its debut night. (And we know how much Trump loves good ratings.)
During a time where sitcoms like “Blackish” and “The Good Wife” have dedicated episodes to address the current political climate, having a sitcom where the main character is white, working-class Trump supporter is rare. Tim Allen's “Last Man Standing,” which had a conservative lead character, was dropped in 2016. Allen has said he believed it was canceled because of his politics.
But presenting the stories of white, working-class Americans who support Trump is not that rare on the small screen. Between rallies and focus groups, a case could be made that no demographic from the 2016 election has received more airtime than white, working-class Trump supporters.
And as a result many viewers are left with the false impression that most of the president’s supporters were white, working-class Americans in small, Midwestern towns like Roseanne’s.
But that’s not true.
Exit polls from the 2016 election showed that the majority of voters without college degrees backed Trump, but lacking a college degree is not always the same as being “working class.”
American National Election Studies reports that nearly 60 percent of white Trump supporters without college degrees were in the top half of the income distribution. In fact, 1 in 5 white Trump voters without a college degree live in households where the income exceeds $100,000. But exit polling did not include how people earned a living.
Trump won most men, most white millennials, about half of wealthy Americans, most college-educated white voters and most independents. But this is uncommon in Hollywood when portraying Trump supporters.
Yes, Clinton won urban areas, but there was still support for Trump. Double-digit percentages of voters in Los Angeles (23.5), Philadelphia (15.5) and Chicago (12.4) were drawn to his message.
Hollywood has an opportunity to help those who don’t understand Trump supporters outside of the white working-class caricature see what it was about his message that resonated with more than 60 million Americans, all of whom were not white and working-class voters.
In giving this platform to a white working-class family that hopes jobs return to its Midwestern town, there is a missed opportunity to humanize other voters who haven't been as much of the focus of stories.
Author Roxane Gay wrote in the New York Times about what some call the mainstream media's obsession with “real Americans.”
“When a lot of the mainstream media talks about the working class, there is a tendency to romanticize, to idealize them as the most authentic Americans. They are 'real' and their problems are 'real' problems, as if everyone else is dealing with artificial obstacles. We see this in the some of the breathless media coverage of Trump voters and in a lot of the online chatter about the 'Roseanne' reboot.”
And Linda Holmes, host of NPR's “Pop Culture Happy Hour,” criticized the show as only dealing with a certain segment of America's electorate — even within Trump world.
“It basically treats politics as an emotional issue for white people, something that they need to work out with each other, but not as something that makes anyone's lives better or worse. The idea that it doesn't really *matter* is the basis of the reconciliation,” she tweeted.
America is a far more diverse country than some seem to realize — even within Trumpism — and much of that is because of tribalism and limited contact with people who are different. As voters head toward the midterms, it could be helpful for many Americans to learn why people outside of their bubble rejected the messages of the Democratic Party.