Am I surprised? Not at all, and no one else should be, either. Americans should be used to this cycle by now, as we are all living through it on a much larger and more destructive scale. Yes: The Roseanne saga is a microcosm of the Trump experience, America’s past 18 months writ small.
Truly, it has everything.
You could begin with the reemergence of the show and its star in its most general sense, which paralleled Donald Trump’s emergence and popularity almost exactly. “Roseanne” the show was a reboot of the kitschy 1990s-era franchise and was freshly celebrated for bravely uplifting the views of a “real America.” (That America is white and working-class, naturally, and apparently underrepresented — if “underrepresented” means the same thing as “the subject of incessant media coverage.”) On the show, Roseanne thinks all Muslims are terrorists and her husband calls immigrants “illegals.” But she’s not really a racist, we’re told, and he’s just economically anxious. Sound familiar?
And then there is Roseanne Barr the person, who has a history of making inflammatory statements and pushing right-wing conspiracy theories — whether it’s
lending credence to a bizarre theory that Democrats ran a pedophile ring; making wild insinuations about the death of Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich; or accusing businessman and philanthropist George Soros of Nazism and attempts to undermine American democracy. Still, Barr was celebrated for being “outspoken,” “provocative” and “not politically correct” — right up until her tweet referring to a successful black woman as an ape, an obviously racist statement that she still refuses to acknowledge as such. Barr only regrets making a “bad joke about [Jarrett’s] politics and her looks.” “Very fine people,” anyone?
Which leads to the mystifyingly timid media coverage of such appalling events, delivered by outlets that have an odd discomfort with putting a name to the obvious. “Roseanne Barr attacks former Obama adviser in racially-charged tweet,” read a headline from the Hill
on Tuesday morning. “Roseanne Barr Starts Storm With Offensive Twitter Post About Ex-Obama Adviser,” said an early article from
the New York Times. “Roseanne Rips Ex-Obama Aide Valerie Jarrett,” read the entertainment site the Wrap. No, Barr’s tweet was racist, not just offensive or racially charged. It wasn’t a “rip,” it was a bigoted personal attack. (Also, in the real world, President Trump’s “misleading statements” are just called lies.) This should not be so difficult to say.
Finally, there is the way the whole story has played out. It all happened on Twitter, over a lightning-fast news cycle. There was a series of thoughtless comments, a speedy backlash fueled by public outrage, a ridiculous defense, a disingenuous apology and, almost certainly, a star who will soon say — give it time, everyone — that she has been unfairly attacked by the left, turning her into a martyr for the right-wing cause. (Oh, and don’t forget the obligatory Don Jr. retweet.)
This is the exhausting Trumpian circus we’ve been living with for months now, and it shows no signs of calming down. The ringmaster may be different in this instance, but it’s the same dispiriting show.
There is only one place where the two stories don’t line up, at least not yet. ABC, the television network responsible for the “Roseanne” reboot, was wise enough to pull the plug on the second season after its star revealed once again who she really was. Will America do the same with Season 2 of the Trump administration? Frighteningly, it is still too soon to say.