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I’m your humble host and editor Ezekiel Kweku, and today I’m talking with two members of New York’s politics team — Jonathan Chait and Ed Kilgore — about Roseanne’s racist tweets and the cancellation of her eponymous show.
Ezekiel: Once again, I have gathered the three most culturally literate people at New York to discuss pop culture.
Ed: Thank you, Ezekiel. I think.
Ezekiel: You’re welcome, Ed. So our topic today is actress and comedian Roseanne Barr making a wildly racist comment about former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, resulting in the revival of Roseanne being immediately canceled.
Jon: Be right back, going to binge-watch Roseanne before we start.
Ed: I guess a threshold question is whether it was Roseanne Barr — you know, the former Green Party nominee for president — posting a wildly racist tweet, or Roseanne Barr playing “Roseanne” and doing so — and whether the distinction even matters. I’m sorry: Barr tried to get the Green Party nomination and failed, but did get the Peace and Freedom Party nod. You know, the party once identified with the Black Panthers.
Ezekiel: I don’t think the distinction matters, but I think this was clearly Roseanne Barr the person — not that I’ve ever watched the show, but I don’t think egregious racism was really what they were looking for when they revived it.
Jon: That is true. However, having a Trump fan catering to other Trump fans and then be fired for racism is very Dead Dove Do Not Eat.
Ezekiel: I also remember her being a Hillary dead-ender in 2008, calling Oprah a closeted Republican, Barack “racist and anti-worker,” and calling John McCain a fascist.
Jon: She has all of the takes. Pretty amazing that her turn around the edge of the ideological spectrum led her back around to the right.
Ed: Having poor taste and composition skills seems to be the constant.
Jon: Her crotch-grabbing rendition of the national anthem made her Red America’s enemy No.1 for a while.
Ed: That is true. She was the Colin Kaepernick of another era.
Ezekiel: Haha. Very dry, Ed. I agree with you on the essential oddness of it, Jon. This is, after all, not the first time she’s said something racist or otherwise morally unacceptable on Twitter. Like she compared Susan Rice to an ape just five years ago.
It vaguely reminds me of Kevin Williamson — not that there’s a comparison between the two people — in that they fired her for doing something she’d done in the past, and which they would have uncovered with minimal due diligence.
Jon: Nate Silver should calculate the odds that these are a total coincidence unrelated to racism.
Ed: Before we move along, let it be recorded that I think Kevin Williamson would be perfect for a sitcom about a politically incorrect right-wing jerk from a white working-class background. You’re welcome, Kevin. I don’t know a whole lot about showbiz, but you have to figure Roseanne will be in a special place of Hollywood hell for instantly atomizing a cash cow for the network and all the other people involved in the show.
Ezekiel: Maybe outright comparing black people to apes without even disguising it is a third rail even for Trump people?
Jon: Possibly — not seeing any defenses of her.
Ed: Yeah, Trump folk generally prefer racist dog-whistles, not the Twitter equivalent of a cross-burning. The speed of the cancellation was astonishing — matched only by the cancellation of The Playboy Club.
Ezekiel: Yeah, they moved extremely fast.
Ed: But I wouldn’t be too surprised if a backlash, even a small one, develops.
Ezekiel: I think it would probably manifest in whataboutism, rather than a full-throated defense.
Ed: Exactly. One of the great new terms of political discourse in this era, I might add.
Ezekiel: Haha. Trump tweeted about her ratings and praised her. I’m curious what he’ll have to say about this.
Ed: Probably nothing, but then again, he didn’t have to say nice things about the Charlottesville rioters, but he did anyway.
Ezekiel: I can actually imagine him condemning her racism and then saying “What about XYZ.”
Ezekiel: Weirdly, yeah. Wouldn’t bet on it, but …
Ed: Yeah, Trump purporting to “rise above” a racial dispute is both hilarious and quite possible. But there’s zero chance he’s not riveted by this saga, right? I mean, I know he’s got a lot on his mind what with trade negotiations, but still …
Ezekiel: Oh, he’s definitely thinking about it.
Ed: So is this one of those moments when the “adults” in the White House are surrounding Trump and begging him to behave?
Ezekiel: Haha, who knows? But this seems like one of those instances where they would “let Trump be Trump” and “trust his instincts.” Yeah, I’d be surprised if he didn’t weigh in. There’s also this:
Roseanne has talked about having multiple personality disorder and a bunch of nervous breakdowns. I don’t think that precludes her from having a show, but it seems to me that you should have a plan in place just as you would for someone with any disability.
Ed: Yeah, like maybe a million-dollar contract penalty for ever, ever, venturing onto Twitter.
Ezekiel: All right, let’s do some prognosticating. What are the odds on when Trump tweets about this?
Ed: 3-1 tomorrow morning. After that, the odds get pretty long, unless Trump is cooped up at Mar-a-Lago soon without access to golf.
Jon: Does he still do late-night tweets?
Ezekiel: Would be a good target for a late-night tweet. And what are the odds it’s something negative about Roseanne?
Ed: Pretty good if combined, as you suggested, with whataboutism. You know — “Roseanne insulted black people, Crooked Hillary insulted white people… and did you know that a very high percentage of Mueller’s targets have been white?”
Jon: I would be very surprised if he went neg on Roseanne. She has not insulted him, has she? Not recently, anyway. I think the play for Trump is to emphasize victimization, or at least hypocrisy, at the hands of liberal Hollywood.
Ed: Yeah, “hypocrisy” is usually at the heart of whataboutism.