Dispossessed Again

This is what happened. Donald Trump had a simple message. He’d be an apocalyptic president – he’d upend everything, or he’d burn it all down. That was the promise, and just enough voters in just the right places longed for some sort of national apocalypse. They’d had it with just about everything. Some of that was white resentment – too many absurdly rich black athletes and entertainers – too many people speaking Spanish in the streets as if that were the most natural thing in the world. This would never be a white man’s nation ever again. Some of that was economic and cultural resentment. Globalization had left them behind – the old jobs were gone forever and the new jobs were just too strange. Technology had left them behind. The urban hip culture had left them behind – the nation’s cities were foreign cities to them now. They wanted their country back, but their country had already sailed away from them. They voted for Trump to protest that. Most of them probably knew it was too late for them – the world had moved on – but they could do one last thing about that. They could burn it all down. They could vote for Donald Trump, so they did, and they’re still with him.

They did get one television show back, but that was just ripped away from them too:

ABC announced Tuesday that it canceled “Roseanne” after the show’s star, Roseanne Barr, went on a vitriolic and racist Twitter rant.

Barr appeared to take aim late Monday at Valerie Jarrett, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, in a tweet that identified the administration official by her initials: “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.” Though she later claimed it was “a joke,” she issued a fuller apology Tuesday after more intense criticism was directed toward her and ABC. “I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans,” she wrote. “I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me – my joke was in bad taste.”

But Channing Dungey, the president of ABC Entertainment, did not consider the tweet a joking matter.

“Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show,” she said in a statement released just hours after the comedian’s offensive social media rant.

“Roseanne,” in which Barr plays the Trump-loving matriarch of a blue-collar family, had been renewed for a second season on ABC, after a debut season in which it was the top show in Nielsen ratings, and averaged 19 million viewers an episode. Though the ratings were through the roof, the show’s producers seemed to hope they could steer clear of controversy by dialing down the show’s focus on politics. Dungey had said that the upcoming season, slated for fall 2018, would move “away from politics and be more focused on family.”

That won’t happen now, and that was that, but not quite:

Barr was also dropped by her talent agency, ICM Partners, who announced in a statement that her “disgraceful and unacceptable tweet” was “antithetical to our core values, both as individuals and as an agency. Consequently, we have notified her that we will not represent her.”

Jarrett addressed the comments on an “Everyday Racism” town hall on MSNBC, saying that Disney chairman Bob Iger had called her before the announcement. “This should be a teaching moment,” Jarrett said…

Perhaps so, but the resentment runs deep:

The social-media rant wasn’t exactly a surprise performance by Barr, who regularly delights supporters of President Trump with her retweets of conservative memes and stories. She has trucked in conservative conspiracies before, though she deleted most of her old tweets once it was announced that her show “Roseanne” was coming back on the air after a 21-year hiatus.

But even by her own standards, this latest round of tweets was particularly vitriolic. She started by spreading the false rumor that Chelsea Clinton is married to the nephew of billionaire liberal Democratic donor George Soros, who is a lightning rod for false conservative theories.

Clinton responded in her usual M. O. when dealing with social-media weirdness: a clap-back cloaked in sweetness. “Good morning Roseanne – my given middle name is Victoria,” she wrote. “I imagine George Soros’s nephews are lovely people. I’m just not married to one. I am grateful for the important work @OpenSociety [Soros’s organization] does in the world. Have a great day!”

Barr was having none of that and tweeted this back:

Sorry to have tweeted incorrect info about you! Please forgive me! By the way, George Soros is a Nazi who turned in his fellow Jews 2 be murdered in German concentration camps & stole their wealth – were you aware of that? But, we all make mistakes, right Chelsea?

And then Barr called on all Americans to “unite against” a CIA mind-control program, and then Donald Trump Jr. tweeted the Barr stuff about Soros out to his millions of followers, in spite of this:

Right-wing conspiracy theories portraying Soros – who is Jewish and was 9 years old when World War II began – as a Nazi collaborator have become internet staples. Propagated by former Fox News host Glenn Beck, actor James Wood, and conservative commentators Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza and Mike Cernovich that belief has become an article of faith in some Republican quarters.

But after Beck devoted a show to exposing what he believed to be the secret truth about Soros, Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman issued a statement calling the segment “repugnant.”

“For a political commentator or entertainer to have the audacity to say – inaccurately – that there’s a Jewish boy sending Jews to death camps, as part of a broader assault on Mr. Soros, that’s horrific,” Foxman wrote. “While I, too, may disagree with many of Soros’ views and analysis on the issues, to bring in this kind of innuendo about his past is unacceptable. To hold a young boy responsible for what was going on around him during the Holocaust as part of a larger effort to denigrate the man is repugnant.”

This will never be a teaching moment. David French at the National Review offers Roseanne and the High Cost of Embracing Craziness:

If Roseanne Barr is a poster child for anything, she’s a poster child for cultural brokenness. Consider, for a moment, the cascade of failures that brought us to today… First, ABC shouldn’t have brought her back. She was, quite obviously, one of the more toxic and troubled personalities in American public life. This was a woman who, after all, trafficked in grotesque conspiracy theories, said that anyone who eats at Chick-fil-A “deserves to get the cancer that’s sure to come,” and defiled the National Anthem more thoroughly than a thousand kneeling football players.

French cites J. J. McCullough on that:

Barr has never met a conspiracy theory she didn’t love. She’s a 9-11 truther who believes that “Bush did it,” and she has called the Boston Marathon bombing one of many “false flag terror attacks” perpetrated by the Obama administration to “remove” the Second Amendment. For good measure, she also believes that the old man Bush killed JFK.

You can find YouTube videos of her rambling about “MK ULTRA Mind Control” on RT, and she seems particularly fond of the notion that the American ruling class is running some manner of pedophile sex cult. Her views on Jews and Israel fluctuate wildly – in the past, she has called Israel a “Nazi state” and alleged that Zionism was created by the Third Reich (or something — I challenge you to succinctly summarize the opinions expressed here), though more recently she’s taken to accusing Hillary Clinton of plotting Israel’s destruction and labeling aide Huma Abedin a “Nazi whore.”

French adds this:

Remember when President Trump called Roseanne to congratulate her on her ratings? I know that Republicans are starved for Republican-friendly television, but can we ever reach a time when the stakes are low enough to draw lines based on character? I know people voted for the low-character president because of the Flight 93 election and all that. I know folks turned out for Roy Moore because of judges. But where’s the sitcom emergency necessitating the love for Roseanne?

We’re left with a mess. To argue that companies should err on the side of free speech – as I do all the time – is not to argue that companies can’t have any standards at all. I’m not troubled by Roseanne’s termination. I endorse a simple view of private employment: Do good work and be a decent person.

That’s why David French sides with the players and not the NFL on that kneeling-for-the-anthem business, and sides with ABC here, but the Weekly Standard’s Jonathan Last gets to the core of this mess:

It’s pretty clear that there wasn’t going to be a Roseanne show next season, at least not in any recognizable way. All that the corporate suits did was ratify the facts on the ground. (And save themselves the inevitable boycott/protest headaches that would have eaten up the next year of their lives.)

But the seduction of Roseanne is understandable. Despite what you may have read, Roseanne wasn’t about politics. It was a sitcom that got people to pay attention because it treated Red America Trump voters as normal (-ish) human beings. People on the right were desperate to see Republican types portrayed with any sort of sympathy by Hollywood. And so, they latched onto her, and her show, despite the fact that Roseanne Barr isn’t any sort of conservative.

In short, the world had moved on and they wanted their country back, and they got one television show back – a win for Trump too – but they got Roseanne Barr:

She is, at best, a vulgarian and, at worst, a cretin. Remember the crotch-grabbing national anthem? Remember her publishing the address of George Zimmerman’s parents? Remember her dressing up as Hitler? Or speaking to the Occupy Wall Street protesters? Or running for president with anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan as her running mate?

And yet, a bunch of Republican types – including White House social media guy Dan Scavino and the guy he works for (and that guy’s son) – all decided that, by gum, Roseanne represented the poor, the dispossessed, the great, happily deplorable, Electoral College majority.

That was a trap:

Roseanne was a lot like Trumpism. You start out thinking, I know he’s said some weird stuff and has a shady past, but illegal immigration is a real problem! And the next thing you know, you’re defending a president who plays footsy with white supremacists and accuses a former president of – literal – treason.

Signing on with Trumpism, or Roseanne, is a little like joining a motorcycle gang. You might be joining because you like riding your hog on Sunday afternoons and you enjoy getting a beer with like-minded enthusiasts. But even though you’ll to have some great rides with the gang, they’re still a gang. And motorcycle gangs are going to be motorcycle gangs – even if you only joined because you wanted a wall.

Slate’s Willa Paskin puts that this way:

Trump voters could watch Roseanne and feel seen, heard, and flattered. It allowed them to imagine themselves, like Roseanne Conner, as smart, tough, funny, and not racist. And as false and mendacious as this fantasy is, it was, also, perhaps efficacious for our schisming America, a pressure release valve for Trump voters, while also being a relatively nontoxic way for progressives to observe said Trump voters. It was a way for us to see each other without actually having to speak, a way to exist in the same space without having to fight. But sometimes there’s no choice but to fight.

So the dispossessed were dispossessed again. Paskin also notes that ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey is the first black woman to be the head of a major broadcast network. That doesn’t help matters. Damn, they’re everywhere!

This will never be a teaching moment, because later that same evening there was this:

President Donald Trump lambasted “Chuck and Nancy” and told supporters in Tennessee at a rally on Tuesday that Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen would do the bidding of Democratic congressional leaders.

Trump was in Nashville to campaign for Bredesen’s Republican opponent, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, in the race to replace the retiring Sen. Bob Corker.

“I never heard of this guy, who is he? Who is he?” Trump said of Bredesen. “He’s an absolute, total tool of Chuck – of Chuck Schumer. He’s a tool of Chuck Schumer and of course the MS-13 lover Nancy Pelosi.”

Trump claimed that Pelosi “loves MS-13,” the gang whose members Trump claimed are being deported “by the thousands.”

Roseanne, the television show was gone, but Roseanne Barr lives on:

Trump also turned his reference to members of the MS-13 gang as “animals” into a campaign rallying cry.

“They’re not human beings. They’re not human beings. And this is why we call the blood-thirsty MS-13 gang members exactly the name I used last week,” Trump said.

“What was the name?” he asked.

“Animals,” the crowd responded.

This call-and-response went on and on. They’d lost that one television show that had treated them as normal (-ish) human beings, but they had this. They had just lost Roseanne, but they still had Donald Trump.

In the New York Times, Roxane Gay acknowledges that:

The problem is that Donald Trump is a toxic president who amassed his power through the provocation of hate. He has behaved as if conservatism and racism are synonymous when, in fact, they are not. The problem is that having a major character on a prominent television show as a Trump supporter normalizes racism and misogyny and xenophobia.

President Trump often seems like a living embodiment of Ms. Barr’s Twitter feed, and many of his most vocal supporters revel in that. They revel in the freedom and the permission to be racist. The reboot of “Rosanne” contributed to a cultural moment that makes white people feel exceedingly comfortable and entitled…

The show should be gone, but Roxane Gay argues that no one has clean hands here:

For once, a major network did the right thing. But before it did the right thing, it did the wrong thing. It is not new information that Roseanne Barr makes racist, Islamophobic and misogynistic statements and is happy to peddle all manner of dangerous conspiracy theories. ABC knew this when it greenlighted the “Roseanne” reboot. ABC knew this when it quickly renewed the reboot for a second season, buoyed, no doubt, by the show’s strong ratings.

The cast, the writers and the producers knew what Ms. Barr stood for when they agreed to work on the show. Everyone involved made a decision to support the show despite its co-creator’s racism. They decided that their career ambitions, or their desire to return to network television, or their financial interests would best be served by looking the other way. It was only when Ms. Barr became an immediate liability that everyone involved finally looked at her racism and dealt with it directly…

Many people are praising ABC and its swift action. But there is no nobility in what anyone involved in “Roseanne” has done at any point during the reboot’s trajectory. Certainly, I empathize with all of the people who are now out of work, particularly those in the trades – the grips, best boys, camera people, production assistants and others who are not famous faces. But I also question what kind of empathy the decision makers had for the targets of Ms. Barr’s hateful rhetoric as they supported this show and her. They seemingly had none. Even at the recent network up-fronts, ABC executives were joking about Ms. Barr’s Twitter feed.

That means that this rings hollow:

Bob Iger, the chairman and chief executive of Disney, ABCs parent company, said, “There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing.” The cast member and producer Sara Gilbert lamented the show’s demise and said, “Roseanne’s recent comments about Valerie Jarrett, and so much more, are abhorrent and do not reflect the beliefs of our cast and crew or anyone associated with the show.”

All of these statements sound conscientious and righteous. These statements make it seem as if ABC is invested in doing the right thing. The statements make it seem as if the cast and crew are nothing like the show’s star. These statements are but part of an elaborate and lucrative illusion. ABC is the same network that shelved an episode of “Blackish” because it addressed the NFL anthem protests.

I am more interested in the statement ABC could have made by never making the reboot in the first place.

They made the reboot. It blew up on them, but the reboot was a marketing decision. They saw an audience, the dispossessed, those for whom the world had moved on and who wanted their country back. That may be more than thirty percent of the country. They could sell that demographic to advertisers. Roseanne Barr was problematic – she always had been – but they could make a lot of money.

There was only one problem with that. Others in America had felt dispossessed far longer – blacks and Hispanics and those with a sense of fairness and decency – and there were far more of them. And they aren’t apes or animals, no matter what chants Donald Trump leads, now that Roseanne is gone. He’s next.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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