ABC Dismounts the Sabertooth

With friends like unhinged Roseanne Barr, Donald Trump and his most recalcitrant acolytes need no enemies

Writing in his 1999 memoir/state-of-the-sport analysis, You're Missin' a Great Game, baseball Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog harked back to one of his St. Louis Cardinals pitchers, Joaquin Andujar. Best described as a human time bomb, and may his soul rest in peace (he died three years ago), Andujar was a high-wire act as a Cardinal, right up to the night he got tossed out of that disastrous (for the Cardinals) seventh game of the 1985 World Series and suspended subsequently for a portion of the following season's opening. Herzog and the Cardinals alike may have been relieved to survive.

"Well, when you've got to ride the tiger in life, stay on his back as long as you can. If you asked me to rate my managing," Herzog wrote, "I might say, 'Hell, I rode a sabertooth for five years, got a lot of miles out of him, and never ended up inside until the end. I must have done something right'."

ABC elected to ride a sabertooth named Roseanne Barr, and the ride lasted about four years less than Herzog riding Andujar. Within hours of Roseanne's racist Tuesday tweet comparing of former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett to an ape, ABC dismounted before riding enough miles to end up all the way inside. The least shocking element, if you didn't count her remaking/ remodeling of her public and on-camera self as a Trumpian, is that Roseanne would prove perhaps the greatest embarrassment to ABC since The Pruitts of Southampton, whose star Phyllis Diller was brassy enough but unlikely in any era to leave anything worse than egg on ABC's face, never mind swallow the network alive.

Barr is not exactly unknown for timing, utterances, and gestures described most charitably as bizarre. She once raised a loud uproar over a coarse performance of "The Star Spangled Banner" before a baseball game, a performance far more desecrating to the national anthem if not the American flag than that of any professional football player who chose to kneel in protest during the anthem's playing. She is known well enough for subscribing to and enunciating the view that the 9/11 atrocity was the doing of George W. Bush and his administration; she has suggested Bush's father had more than a hand in John F. Kennedy's assassination; she has called the Boston Marathon bombing one of those "false-flag terror attacks" by which Barack Obama hoped to vaporise the Second Amendment; she has proclaimed herself a socialist one minute but denounced Bernie Sanders the next as a sellout running on war; she has defended the Pizzagate conspiracy theory around a tirelessly debunked child sex trafficking operation.

If Barr is not deranged or delusional she qualifies as the kind of creature whose raison d'etre is smashing up the house. Which may explain some of why President Trump and his most arsonic of supporters, those whose populism springs from no economic or sociopolitical well of thought, but from every well yielding the waters of the paranoid who think even the lowest level of authority could only have come from the devil's spells, took to her when her once-upon-a-time hit situation comedy was revived, and her eponymous television character was remade into a Trumpkin.

Hers and theirs, writes Katherine Timpf in National Review, "is the sort of lazy logic popular with people who don’t know a whit about politics, history, law, or economics, and can’t be bothered to learn, but still want to enjoy the standing of being smarter than everyone else. It’s a perspective that tends to be especially popular among those in the performing arts, where cravings for adulation run high; yet resentment of reliance on the scripted thoughts and actions of others fosters an obsession with demonstrating their independent worth."

WhataboutKathy Griffin and her simulated decapitated Trump head? ask enough on the right. Whatabout it? Griffin incurred months of professional ostracism for her simulation, never mind that you might find enough in her industry who found the idea of decapitating Trump positively orgasmic. Neither Griffin's ostracism nor Barr's purge by ABC amount to violating freedom of speech, inasmuch as neither faced consequences instigated directly by the government, and if both faced professional ostracism and unemployment for their grotesque presentations it beggars a debate on the extent to which private entities may limit expression as a condition of employment, which is a separate issue though a tireless debate.

Whatabout all those late-night comics who can't live a day without firing some sort of rip at the president? ask enough others, including the president himself, who wondered aloud in a tweet why ABC cannot tolerate comparisons of Valerie Jarrett to a denizen of Planet of the Apes but can and does tolerate the horrible statements said about him on ABC. But the airwaves have tolerated horrible statements made about, oh, just about every president in my lifetime, and that harks back to the Eisenhower Administration. Short of calling outright for a president's assassination, or denouncing him in racial or religious or ethnic terms, there is nothing legally or morally enjoining anyone from saying anything he or she likes about a sitting president. And presidents of the left and the right alike are rather fabled for developing thin skins upon if not before assuming office.

Hollywood is not exactly friendly territory to the right, whether of the conservative, the libertarian, or the conservatarian community, and the temptation to embrace any Hollywoodlander who merely appears starboard side or dons a rightward mask is as overwhelming as the temptation to dismiss ABC as merely caving to political correctness as opposed to recoiling from and rejecting racism. Mounting the sabertooth is something else entirely, as ABC learned or re-learned the hard way. An awful lot of people in the rightward camps think those of their fellows who embraced Trump actually mounted a sabertooth. An awful lot of those who mounted him think those who declined to mount are unhinged. But unlike a network with an unhinged, racist star, it won't be that simple to dismount him, which is why even those who mounted him willingly and unapologetically must be praying hard.

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