Barr delivered the remark that prompted ABC to cancel “Roseanne” in a tweet: “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj,” she wrote, referring to former Barack Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, who is African American. Likening a black person to an ape is an old and blatantly racist trope. Barr gave her would-be defenders so little to work with that many are not even trying.
In forums such as Breitbart News and “Fox & Friends,” where “Roseanne” had been celebrated and where people who take offense are often mocked as “snowflakes,” Barr's tweet has been described plainly as racist.
Hours after ABC announced the end of Barr's show, Trump rallied supporters in Nashville and railed against MS-13, the violent gang whose U.S. ranks include immigrants from Central America.
“They're not human beings,” Trump said. “And this is why we call the bloodthirsty MS-13 gang members exactly the name that I used last week. What was the name?”
“Animals!” the crowd shouted.
“Animals,” Trump repeated.
In fact, it was not entirely clear that Trump was referring only to MS-13 members when he originally applied the “animals” label at a White House event on May 16.
“We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country,” he said during a roundtable discussion of immigration. “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.”
Some news outlets interpreted the president's comment as a sweeping characterization of people who attempt to cross into the United States illegally. But the White House countered by noting that moments before Trump spoke, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims had said, “There could be an MS-13 member I know about; if they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] about it.”
“The president was very clearly referring to MS-13 gang members who enter the country illegally and whose deportations are hamstrung by our laws,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted at a media briefing the next day.
“Very clearly” is rather charitable, but it is certainly plausible that Trump was riffing on Mims's invocation of MS-13 — and thus referring only to violent criminals when he said “animals.” Some, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), consider such dehumanizing rhetoric troubling, regardless of the target. But others, like the rallygoers who shouted “animals!” on Tuesday night, manage to rationalize the president's language.
This is hardly an isolated episode. One of Trump's great skills as a politician is his ability to say something inflammatory in such a way that he can later claim to have been misinterpreted and unfairly criticized. As a candidate, for instance, he told supporters at a rally that if Hillary Clinton were to win the election and “if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although, the Second Amendment people, maybe there is.”
The remark was widely covered in the news media as a rumination on the possibility of assassination. But the Trump campaign called such reporting “dishonest” and claimed Trump simply meant that “Second Amendment people have amazing spirit and are tremendously unified, which gives them great political power.”
“They will be voting in record numbers,” the campaign added, “and it won’t be for Hillary Clinton; it will be for Donald Trump.”
The explanation was pretty flimsy. Trump did not appear to be talking about the power to prevent Clinton's election; he appeared to be talking about available recourses in the event she wins and nominates federal judges. But his cryptic phrasing created at least a shadow of a doubt.
Barr left no doubt about the racist nature of her tweet on Tuesday and forfeited the benefit Trump is so good at maintaining.