Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
Donald Trump was so overjoyed about the high ratings for the premier episode of ABC’s reboot of “Roseanne” that he praised the show and its star, Roseanne Barr, twice in the 48 hours after it aired.
First, on Wednesday, he called Barr, who was a vocal Trump supporter in 2016, to share his congratulations. And then, at a rally in Ohio Thursday, Trump again paused to praise the show, telling the audience its high ratings were because the show was “about us.” (He did not attribute that success to the anti-Trump character who is also featured prominently.)
The lovefest between Barr and Trump should surprise no one. After all, Trump and Barr have much in common when it comes to spewing bigotry and intolerance. What is surprising is the apparent blind eye turned by the people who have brought us this “rebooted” Roseanne – a decision that ABC may regret.
Why? Times are different from what they were when Trump got elected. There was no #MeToo movement, no Women’s March, no teens leading an awe-inspiring charge against gun violence. The passivity from many voters that allowed Trump to get elected, even as he said terrible things about many Americans, has given way to a new energy and activism.
In today’s America, nothing is immune from politics, and it’s quite possible that even a series with a successful rollout cannot escape that. Like her eponymous show, Barr’s history of bigotry is now in a new spotlight. And many will not tolerate her rhetorical kinship with the President.
To begin: Barr has repeatedly shared inflammatory views about Muslims. One of her retweets equated Islam with Nazism, saying both want “world domination” and the “destruction of all Jews,” according to an account last year in the Daily Beast. (Some of the tweets have since been deleted, but screengrabs can be found on several news sites.) Barr has also tweeted about what she calls “Islamic rape pedo culture,” and retweeted memes that gin up fear of Muslims.
Like Trump, Barr has also used Twitter to viciously go after those she perceives as enemies, even if the allegations aren’t true. For example, Barr tweeted in 2016 that then-Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, who is Muslim and at the time was married to Anthony Weiner, was a “Jew hater,” adding, “hillary clinton’s handler huma weiner is a filthy nazi whore.”
And Barr, like Trump, shares an affinity for the conspiracy-loving Alex Jones – the man who claimed that the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, which left 20 school children dead, was a “hoax.” Trump appeared on Jones’ show during the 2016 presidential campaign and, according to Roger Stone – Trump’s former political strategist and a campaign adviser – the two speak on the phone from time to time.
Barr also appeared on Jones’ show, and has shared tweets from his Infowars website, including retweeting his claim that “5.7 million illegals” voted in the 2016 presidential election – her apparent effort to explain why Trump lost the popular vote.
The “Roseanne” star has also been accused of spewing transphobic comments on Twitter. Even Barr’s recent responses to charges of such bigotry have a familiar Trump-like ring to them, one Americans have had to get used to over the past 13 months of this presidency. When asked by a reporter for USA today about accusations that she is transphobic or anti-Muslim, Barr responded “it’s easy for people to attack.” She then added, “I don’t care. Just spell my name right.”
Truly, Barr and Trump are a couple made in bigotry heaven.
There is a difference, however, in the way they have been brought before America. American voters chose Trump; ABC chose Roseanne Barr.
In an election, people can vote for who they want anonymously – there is no personal brand you need to think about protecting when you throw the lever in a voting booth.
But in the corporate world, your decision has a different meaning. Does the network – which is a part of Disney – want to be associated with a person with Barr’s history? Will Disney shareholders – will its advertisers – want it?
It is surprising that the network, which has just renewed Barr’s show for a second season, has not voiced concerns over its star’s history of hate. Sure, the ratings were great for the show – Trump’s widely publicized call undoubtedly will help. But it is deeply disturbing that ABC has been silent on Barr’s views. By either pretending they are not there, or worse, are harmless, the network abets the distortion of American norms of decency; it normalizes them – as does Trump’s praising Barr without any reservations.
In today’s America, where activism is on the rise – Black Lives Matter, immigrant rights, protests against gun violence – ABC shouldn’t be surprised if it sees a boycott of the show, targeting advertisers to take a stand on Barr. Trump and ABC executives may not care about Barr’s past views, but I’ll bet advertisers will.