Roseanne incident just the latest development in a broader decline

Roseanne Barr said some shockingly vitriolic things to bring her newly revived sitcom crashing to earth. As the Washington Post points out, Barr’s language was not “racially charged.” It was straight up racist. But Valerie Jarrett, the woman about whom some of the worst things were said, wants us to make this “a teaching moment.” So let’s take a step back and ask ourselves, what have we learned?

It came on a day when 8,000 Starbucks locations all over the U.S. were closed in the afternoon for racial bias training — a reminder that Roseanne Barr’s awful invective didn’t occur in a vacuum. Her bile was spewed into an already toxic atmosphere. And we live in a time and a place where many people are intentionally and gleefully inhaling those toxins — not because they have no choice, but because that’s what they prefer to the cold, clean air of truth.


We need to applaud ABC for its response to Roseanne’s outrages. They acted quickly and decisively. ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey said “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.” Robert Iger, head of parent company Disney added “There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing.” It didn’t hurt that it was the smart thing to do, but intelligent choices are disturbingly rare in many quarters today. So kudos to ABC for being smart AND right.


Roseanne the person may be notorious for frequently giving vent to the ugliest impulses of the conspiratorially minded supporters of Donald Trump. But the show Roseanne tried harder to give a more rounded view of the world. Although Roseanne was a Trump supporter, her sister Jackie, played by Laurie Metcalf, represented liberal viewpoints. The new cast featured grandchildren for Roseanne including one who is gender non-conforming and another who is biracial. The writing staff was diverse. All of those people are out of work now.

Still, the show was portrayed in the media as giving voice to a supposedly silenced segment of America — white working-class Trump supporters. For me, the appeal of both the Roseanne character and even, to an extent, Donald Trump, were neatly summarized in a moment on the first episode of the revival. Roseanne explains to Jackie the appeal of Trump by saying, “He talked about jobs, Jackie! He said he’d shake things up!” I wish Democrats would talk more about jobs. That’s one four-letter word we should be using more.

We’ve allowed the conversation about the economic well-being of working-class people to be hijacked by those who just want to keep them poor, uninformed and angry at each other. For starters, why does there seem to be no acknowledgement that the working class is not all white? There are African-American, Latino and Asian families facing the same struggles as the Connors.

But Donald Trump isn’t going to seriously address the needs of anyone in the working class. He spent his business career trying to break unions and stiffing workers out of their paychecks. He conned those aspiring to a better life with his fly-by-night “university.” As president, he has sabotaged the healthcare system his working class base depends on, simply because it’s got Obama’s name on it. And what will Trump’s reckless rhetoric and punitive policies do to those gender-fluid and biracial grandchildren of Roseanne ... or the real people like them?

Worst of all, he’s pitted struggling Americans against each other by demonizing immigrants and minorities. “Roseanne” the show addressed that kind of stereotyping and demonizing of Muslims. Roseanne the person just recklessly reveled in it with her racist and Muslim-bashing tweets.

It was President TrumpDonald John TrumpKey takeaways from the Arizona Senate debate Major Hollywood talent firm considering rejecting Saudi investment money: report Mattis says he thought 'nothing at all' about Trump saying he may leave administration MORE’s hateful rhetoric, intentional lies and vicious conspiracy mongering that set the tone for everything that Roseanne Barr said on the day she destroyed her show and the livelihoods of those who worked on it. In addition to smearing Valerie Jarrett with vile racist terms, Roseanne spent much of the time leading up to that fateful tweet spewing out a stream of conspiratorial hate that was just as poisonous.

She ranted out far-right conspiracy theories of the vilest type about George Soros and Chelsea Clinton — and her messages were retweeted by Donald Trump Junior. Roseanne Barr has a history of tweeting out the nastiest, darkest conspiracy theories about pedophile rings, the Muslim Brotherhood and other memes popular in the fever swamp of Trump’s most unhinged supporters.

And where do they get license to behave like this? From the president who launched his career by fanning the flames of birtherism, and who is currently obsessively spinning conspiracy theories about the investigation into his connections with Russia. The same morning that saw Roseanne’s tweets about Valerie Jarrett also saw Trump tweeting out that “the rigged Russia Witch Hunt, will be MEDDLING with the mid-term elections.”

This sort of conspiracy theorizing is typically the fodder of people with mental illness. But I don’t think that Donald Trump or Roseanne Barr are paranoid or mentally ill. They CHOOSE to believe these things because they validate their hatred and their fear. And they endlessly push these falsehoods to protect themselves by getting others to believe them.

If this is going to be a teaching moment, as Valerie Jarrett wants, then the best thing we can learn is that we can’t allow the repetition of lies and conspiracies from anyone continue to poison our national discourse. It’s time to bring back decency and standards in what we expect from public figures and those we hold in high regard.

Donna Brazile served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee and is the author of "Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House."