Roseanne Barr’s culminating act of self-destruction, at least until she parlays martyrdom into a lucrative spot on the right-wing media circuit, is as revealing as it was predictable. Anyone surprised that she compared an African-American woman—Valerie Jarrett, President Barack Obama’s former senior adviser—to an ape either wasn’t paying attention or selectively forgot that she made the exact same comparison in regard to Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, in 2013.
Condemnation for Barr’s tweets yesterday was swift. Roseanne writer Wanda Sykes quit via Twitter, and co-star Sara Gilbert rejected Barr’s comments. Then, within hours, ABC canceled the show. This response, however, looks less laudatory when considered in light of the more important question: Why did the network, cast members, writers, and producers allow someone with a demonstrated track record of racism, anti-Semitism, and dangerous conspiracy theories to have a platform on network television in the first place?
The Jarrett comment hardly comes out of nowhere. Barr has based much of her career on sledgehammer subtlety, especially after the initial run of her eponymous TV show. Brief lowlights include her screeching, crotch-grabbing national-anthem stunt (which conservatives overlook, apparently, because she was not kneeling), her smearing the Parkland shooting survivors, making casually racist “jokes,” and being a conduit for anti-Semitic lies that play disturbingly well on the right.
Everyone who helped make the new Roseanne show happen ignored all of this. The simplest, least satisfying explanation of why this happened is money. An industry reduced to mining nostalgia for an endless parade of reboots, remakes, and sequels could not resist reviving one of the essential, culture-defining sitcoms of the nineties. In this light, ABC saw the new Roseanne as no different than Fuller House—mindless, derivative, easy to churn out, and profitable.
The more complicated answer involves the media’s drive to “humanize” and explain those who see Trump as their long-awaited salvation. Like the endless journalistic forays into the Rust Belt to profile Trumpers with shuttered steel mills as a photo backdrop, the Roseanne reboot intended to show what the media kept calling the “white working class” sympathetically. The latest iteration of Roseanne Conner would demonstrate that the real-life people her character represents are not racist caricatures. This is, after all, what we would like to think about our fellow Americans—that we have differences, but we can still come together as one nation. Halfway through the first episode of the new season, Roseanne Conner and her Jill Stein–voting sister Jackie Harris, played by Laurie Metcalf, have already reconciled after an argument about Trump, hugging out their political differences.