Roseanne is not Trump
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The decision this afternoon by ABC Television to fire Roseanne Barr and to cancel the top-rated Roseanne Show came after the program had been renewed already for this coming fall’s season. ABC had been tolerating much of her racist or borderline racists sketches for some time, but her twitter attacks against Chelsea Clinton, George Soros, and Valerie Jarrett over the past 24 hours were clearly over the top.
The Rosanne Show had been designed to appeal to Trump’s large base. The show was reported to have brought in $45 million of revenue this year and the thirteen episodes of the comedy next year had been projected at $60 million. It had delivered bonanza ratings to the network of a reported 18 million viewers according to Nieslen’s delayed viewing data. It is likely to rank as the third highest rated show in 2017-18. President Trump himself had congratulated Rosanne after her first episode and was clearly most appreciative that a major entertainment force in the country was broadcasting a program clearly representing many of his and his followers’ views.
ABC, nevertheless, responded promptly and unequivocally. It would not permit the show’s star to tweet about racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic rantings. The network recognized that despite the wide-loss in potential sponsor revenue it needed to cut the show and accept the consequences. It was smarter than would have been the reverse backlash against ABC if it had failed to act so decisively.
Although a follower and supporter of President Trump, the actress did not have the luxury that the President enjoys. Barr is answerable to the Board of ABC and the network’s sponsors. Unlike the actress, Donald Trump is ultimately answerable only to the American people at election time or to Congressional impeachment. While Presidents are presumed to be answerable to the law, it seems after almost 18 months in office even the special counsel has yet to divulge whether he has found the President in violation of any laws.
It is perfectly clear that had Trump committed many of the violations and uttered his extensive verbal attacks, he long ago would have been held accountable in the private sector. The economic forces in the marketplace do not affect the President. Unlike Barr, Trump continues to be untouchable and is adored by his supporters. He can be as racist or sexist or homophobic as he wishes and there are no consequences.
It is also fascinating to consider how other democratic systems appear far more ready to hold their leaders morally or ethically accountable. Parliamentary systems, especially multi-party systems, are able to hold their political leaders more responsible than the American presidential system. Parliamentary Government is not the sinecure for many of the problems in America’s political system–the scholarly work of Woodrow Wilson to the contrary. Parliamentary Governments certainly have serious institutional problems of their own. Nevertheless, those systems certainly have found ways to remove leaders from office both expeditiously and expeditiously.