The ubiquity of Donald Trump in the national conversation, no matter the topic, reminds me of a bit from Sam Kinison, the immensely talented, and even more immensely profane, comedian who died in 1992.
Kinison’s subject was Charles Manson, the infamous murderer and cult leader.
Kinison riffed on Manson’s megalomania, joking that Manson believed he was the inspiration for a variety of pop culture references, including the never-seen “Charlie” character in the TV show “Charlie’s Angels.”
I hadn’t listened to Kinison’s standup routine for years but I immediately thought of it while reading some commentaries after ABC canceled the revived “Roseanne” series following namesake star Roseanne Barr’s deplorable tweet about Valerie Jarrett, a former adviser to former President Obama.
The main difference is that Kinison’s satiric version of Manson claimed that he was influencing pretty much everything, while Trump doesn’t need to exaggerate his outreach because his critics handle that task for him.
Except some pundits, in their eagerness to shove Trump and Barr into the same shameful corner, seem to have forgotten that Barr has been prone to embarrassing public gaffes throughout her more than 30 years as a celebrity of variable notoriety. She certainly doesn’t need the immediacy of Twitter to expose the hateful aspects of her personality.
More to the point, she doesn’t need a Trump presidency.
To cite just one comparable example, in 2013 Barr penned an offensive tweet about Susan Rice, who was at the time the National Security Advisor for the Obama administration.
Yet despite the ample evidence that Barr’s tweet about Jarrett was part of a pattern rather than an anomaly, some pontificators have implied that it could have happened only in the Trump era — that somehow, even though it was Barr’s allegedly Ambien-addled fingers doing the tweeting, the omnipotent Trump must have been exerting at least a gentle tug on the cyberpuppet strings.
It’s an easy slur, to be sure — and one made easier because there is a definite connection between Barr and Trump.
She supported his candidacy.
So does (or, rather, did) her TV character.
Trump applauded the reboot of the TV series.
Yet in a 593-word editorial on Barr’s tweet and her subsequent — and absolutely justified — firing, the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board included Barr’s name seven times and Trump’s six.
A reader could be forgiven for wondering whether Barr was responsible for her own tweet or whether Trump was the uncredited ghostwriter.
It seems to me that Barr would have been wiser to blame her tweet not on a prescription sleep aid — which is silly as well as pharmacologically improbable — but rather on the president.
She would hardly have been alone.
The Tribune’s editorial is a contrived version of the perennial favorite — guilt by association.
This lazy rhetorical tactic annoys me, but mainly because, well, it’s lazy.
I don’t much care that the editorial is unfair to Trump.
His own tweeting history is of course riddled with comments ranging from the infantile to the nonsensical, although I don’t believe any has been as irredeemably nasty as Barr’s tweet about Jarrett.
But the larger point is that Trump ought to be judged on his own words, just as Barr should be.
Yet the Tribune’s editorial board also manages, even in a work of moderate length, to implicate Trump, however implicitly, in the white supremacists’ riot in Virginia last year, in cases of police using excessive force against African-Americans, and in the April arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks on a ridiculous charge of trespassing.
The Tribune contends that “Trump’s remarks, true to his history of tone deaf and equivocal remarks about race, provide an opening for hate mongers to seek legitimacy.”
What bothers me about these tenuous links is that the practice, perhaps slightly but perhaps not, diminishes the culpability of the actual purveyors of hate and violence.
White supremacists are terrible people. They were cretins before Trump was elected, and they’ll be cretins after he moves out of the White House. Trump deserved to be criticized for his belated condemnation of the Virginia riots, but to imply that he inspired them is not justified.
As for the tiny percentage of police officers who abuse people based on their skin color or ethnicity, there’s no credible reason to believe that a bunch of officers suddenly joined that cohort after Trump’s inauguration, or indeed because of it.
The Tribune concludes its editorial by lauding ABC for canceling “Roseanne,” and Starbucks for closing its company-owned coffee shops one recent afternoon so employees could attend racial sensitivity training.
“It will be an exquisite irony,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote, “if, by the end of Trump’s problematic time in office, America has taken many bold steps to be a fairer nation.”
I don’t think that qualifies as irony, exquisite or not.
Trump’s presidency has certainly been problematic, as most presidencies are.
And a significant number of the problems are due to Trump’s lack of political acumen and, in some cases, his lack of common decency.
But to argue that an improvement in racial relations during Trump’s tenure would be ironic is tantamount to arguing that racial discord would not have happened had Hillary Clinton won the Electoral College because she isn’t a racist and Trump is.
Or, to return to where we started, it’s akin to claiming that Roseanne Barr would not have tweeted racist drivel if somebody besides Trump were president.
We don’t need to speculate as to whether that’s a logical claim.
We can review Barr’s own words and actions over three decades and see that, like white supremacists and bad cops, she needs no encouragement from Trump, or from any other politician, to engage in bad acts.
If there’s any true irony here, it’s that Trump, who has rightfully been accused of failing to accept blame for his miscues and for taking more credit than he deserves for achievements, has prompted his critics to create a sort of alternate universe.
In their world Trump is guilty of offenses he didn’t commit, while people who should alone bear the burden of their transgressions — Barr among them — are gifted a perverse brand of presidential pardon they haven’t earned.
J ayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.