Valerie Jarrett, the former Obama aide targeted by Roseanne Barr, says the comedienne’s train wreck should be a “teaching moment.” And so it should — about the poisonous kookery of Roseanne Barr.
Given the political freight piled atop the hit revival of her TV program, it was inevitable that Barr’s spectacular Twitter flameout would be interpreted as a portentous statement on Donald Trump’s America.
Chris Hayes of MSNBC says that her “problem turned out to be that she far too authentically represented the actual worldview of a significant chunk of the Trump base.” Roxane Gay of The New York Times wrote a piece headlined, “‘Roseanne’ Is Gone, but the Culture That Gave Her a Show Isn’t.” Activist Michaela Angela Davis said on CNN that Trump had enabled Barr — a common theme on the left — and then went all the way: Asked point-blank if all Trump voters are racist, she said, “Yes.” Nothing so perfectly encapsulates the dynamic of the Trump era than a TV show that was supposed to be a sympathetic portrayal of Trump supporters by liberal America leading — once again — to the ritualistic denunciation of Trump supporters by liberal America.
Barr is not a typical Trump voter just because she played one on TV. She shares much more in common with a celebrity culture that never lacks for its share of nut jobs and toxic personalities, especially among comics, than with, say, Youngstown, Ohio. Her wild ramblings don’t tell us anything about what Trump voters think, about the state of race relations in America, or about working-class culture. Her crackpot views are all her own. Roseanne was a kook long before President Trump showed up. She maintained that Sept. 11 was “an inside Bush job,” perpetrated to destroy the records of George W. Bush’s Enron and Arthur Andersen friends, prior to the destruction of the entire economy. She’s not a conservative. She supported Occupy Wall Street and competed with Jill Stein for the 2012 Green Party nomination. When she lost, she ran instead on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan was her running mate, prior to their — surprise — falling out. Her worldview, such as it is, is prone to wild swings. She used to call Israel a “Nazi state” and denounce “warmongering American rabbis,” before turning around and calling Hillary Clinton “anti-Semitic” and Huma Abedin “a filthy Nazi whore.”
Her subsequent explanations for her heinous Valerie Jarrett tweet should make it clear — she thought Jarrett was a Saudi, or a maybe a Jewish Persian — that this is fundamentally a story about an unhinged person advertising her lunacy on social media.
Of course, Trump gave his critics reason to associate him with Barr by calling her to congratulate her on her show and eagerly trumpeting its success. Trump’s boosterism was typical of him — it’s all about the ratings — but also reflects an endemic weakness of the right.
Conservatives disdain celebrities, but dangle a C-list celebrity with a few rightward leanings in front of us and he’s immediately awarded a speaking slot at the next Republican convention. We have low regard for pop culture, but crave its validation. If it must come via a program that is a 1990s throwback reliant on a ticking time bomb of a star, so be it. The genesis of the “Roseanne” revival was innocent and laudable enough. The president of Disney-ABC Television Group explained the show’s inception after the 2016 election: “We looked at each other and said, ‘There’s a lot about the country we need to learn a lot more about, here on the coasts.’”
He was right. The appetite for the show, which partook of none of the toxicity of Roseanne’s real-life personality, speaks of the hunger for more programming about Red America. Surely, there must be other vehicles for that — assuming Hollywood doesn’t internalize the critique of Roseanne Barr as a characteristic Trump voter.