The Washington Post
President Donald Trump once exulted in the success of â€śRoseanne.â€ť â€śLook at her ratings! Look at her ratings!â€ť he raved at a rally on March 29 after calling to congratulate the star. â€śAnd it was about us!â€ť
Fast forward to this week. Roseanne Barrâ€™s show has been canceled by ABC after she compared former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett, an African American, to an ape and falsely accused George Soros, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, of being a Nazi collaborator. And now, if you listen to Trumpland, the fired TV star has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the former reality TV star in the White House.
I beg to differ.
My immediate reaction, upon seeing the news of Barrâ€™s vile comments, was to post on Twitter: â€śTrump is normalizing racism.â€ť Brett Baier and Dana Perino of Fox News were incredulous. â€śI donâ€™t think that President Trump had anything to do with this tweet,â€ť Perino said. Baier denied that Trump is â€śresponsible for that tweet.â€ť Brit Hume jumped in on Twitter to proclaim that my comment â€śis an example of the way too many Trump critics think everything is somehow about him.â€ť
Of course I wasnâ€™t suggesting that the president dictated Barrâ€™s comments or that she wasnâ€™t a racist before Trump was elected. Barr has a long history of pushing crazy conspiracy theories - lately, pro-Trump conspiracy theories - and of making racist comments. In 2013, she tweeted that Susan Rice, another African American and former Obama aide, was â€śa man with big swinging ape balls. â€ś Such comments did not, of course, prevent Trump from embracing Barr - indeed, he thanked her for her support in 2016. He still hasnâ€™t condemned anything she has said - instead ,he condemned ABC for not apologizing for criticism of him! And his son Donald Trump Jr.hasnâ€™t apologized for retweeting Barrâ€™s vicious attack on Soros.
What I was suggesting is that racists such as Barr might feel emboldened to publicly vent their hatred because they see the president doing something similar. This should not be such a radical idea for conservatives. They used to believe that a presidentâ€™s conduct mattered, because it set a moral tone for the entire nation.
Here is Bill Bennett writing in 1998: â€śCivilized society must give public affirmation to principles and standards, categorical norms, notions of right and wrong.
Even though public figures often fall short of these standards - and we know and expect some will - it is nevertheless crucial that we pay tribute to them.â€ť Bill Clintonâ€™s flagrant misconduct with Monica Lewinsky, Bennett opined, â€śis moral bankruptcy, and it is damaging our country, its standards, and our self-respect.â€ť
How much greater must the damage be from a president who pays off a porn star, endorses an accused child molester for the Senate, mocks a disabled reporter, lies an average of 6.5 times a day - and, yes, engages in flagrant racism. It is striking how little conservatives who scolded Clinton have to say about any of this - and especially about Trumpâ€™s regular attacks on minorities.
Remarkably enough, nearly 80 percent of Republicans claim that Trump isnâ€™t biased against black people.
How can they deny whatâ€™s in front of their eyes? He has a decades-long history of racist comments and acts, and he rose to political prominence by claiming that the first African American president wasnâ€™t born in America.
As president, Trump has said there were â€śvery fine peopleâ€ť on both sides at the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, defended Confederate monuments, pardoned racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio, described African nations as â€śs-holeâ€ť countries, and vilified African American NFL players who were peacefully protesting police brutality by saying they â€śshouldnâ€™t be in the country.â€ť
Trump calls certain immigrants â€śanimalsâ€ť - this has become part of his rally shtick - and complains that people in sanctuary cities are â€śbreedingâ€ť like, well, animals.
Can I prove that Trumpâ€™s hate-mongering is infecting the culture? No, I canâ€™t, but it stands to reason - and there are signs that it is. This year, there are at least 10 white supremacists running for office - and that doesnâ€™t count failed West Virginia gubernatorial candidate Don Blankenship, who excoriated â€śChina people,â€ť or failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Michael Williams, who campaigned in a â€śdeportation bus.â€ť Organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism and the Southern Poverty Law Center report that the number of hate crimes and hate groups have increased since Trump became president.
This is evidence to support conservativesâ€™ intuition that the character of a president matters. But apparently thatâ€™s something conservatives no longer believe. Or do they simply not care that a president is setting a racist tone for the nation?
Max Boot is a Post columnist.