Why Trump can get away with anything

By Rong Xiaoqing Source:Global Times Published: 2018/6/7 20:23:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Last week, two American comedians made headlines by not being funny at all. One is Roseanne Barr, whose namesake show Roseanne, an ABC TV sitcom that was beamed 20 years ago, had just had a successful resurrection in March with the debut episodes attracting more viewers than any other network TV comedy since 2014. In a tweet, the conservative comedian referred to Valerie Jarrett, former Obama adviser who is black, as a baby of "Muslim Brotherhood & Planet of the Apes."

The other is Samantha Bee. She was gross in criticizing the Trump administration's policy of separating illegal immigrants' children from their parents. In her TBS talk show Full Frontal, the liberal comedian drew the attention of the audience to a picture that Ivanka Trump posted of her snuggling her baby. "You know, Ivanka, that's a beautiful photo of you and your child," said Bee. "But let me just say, one mother to another: do something about your dad's immigration practices, you feckless cxxx!"

While the two may have appeared to have committed similar "verbal crimes," and apologized afterwards, they faced completely different consequences. Barr's show was immediately canceled by ABC but Bee's program survived.

This enraged Barr's supporters who accused the media of double standards - treating conservatives harshly and letting liberals get away.  Even President Donald Trump, who hailed Barr for portraying the protagonist in her show as a Trump supporter, chimed in via Twitter. He asked ABC to apologize for "the HORRIBLE statements" the TV station made about Trump himself. And he also tweeted: "Why aren't they firing no talent Samantha Bee for the horrible language used on her low ratings show? A total double standard but that's O.K., we are Winning, and will be doing so for a long time to come!"

It is not hard to explain the different fates of Barr and Bee. The former is a white actress who used epithets offending people of a disadvantaged racial group. The latter is a woman who used a dirty word against one powerful woman.

But if Barr herself didn't get this, I suspect the president's words won't provide any comfort. Rather she may feel that salt is being rubbed into her wound, for, if there is a double standard, hasn't it been shown more clearly in the contrast between the treatment of the president and the treatment of the beleaguered comedian after they chose derogatory words to express their views?

Trump has created a unique presidential style for himself by deploying almost all the words that are on the "no no" list of a primary school student to attack several people. And he never apologizes for anything. Yet not only is he still the president, his approval rating is rising. 

The robust support he has from about one in four of the American population despite (or perhaps because of) all the nasty things he has said about individuals, groups and even entire races, religions and nationalities, has had many people scratching their heads. Other public figures would get into big trouble if they dared to behave like this even occasionally. 

Trump can to an extent rely on economic successes. The US stock market has been surging in the past 18 months, and the unemployment rate, at 3.8 percent now, is at its lowest since 2000. How much of that is down to Trump is debatable. The economy also did well in most of Obama's years in power. But Trump has certainly benefited from the rosy picture. As long as people are making money, they tend to ignore moral decay. But Trump may also be right when he refers to double standards. People tend to set their expectations of someone based on his own expectations of himself. If one implies to the public that he'd like to be considered a saint, the public will have high moral expectations of him. If one indicates to the public that he is determined to go to the other end of the alley, they would adjust their expectations of him.

Many politicians before Trump often disappointed supporters for taking the high moral ground. Trump gets a free ride for going in the opposite direction. For the rest, who are in the middle, Barr has shown what they may get by following in the president's footsteps.

The author is a New York-based journalist. rong_xiaoqing@hotmail.com

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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