DANIEL VAUGHAN: ‘Roseanne’ is Hollywood’s version of a Trump voter

March 30, 2018

Roseanne is back on the airwaves, and with it, Hollywood’s latest attempt to connect with the Donald Trump voter.

Or at least, that’s what we’re led to believe with the project, headed by Roseanne Barr and most of the original cast.

The ultimate question we’re left with is whether Roseanne is an accurate representation of a conservative — or Trump voter — or if it’s just what Hollywood producers want those voters to be in their imaginations.

I tend to lean toward the latter, but the smashing success of Roseanne suggests there’s plenty of money to be made in fake olive branches, as opposed to the outright disparagement of your average voter on the right.

John Podhoretz probably had the best take on this in a piece at the New York Post: “Hollywood is now faced with indisputable evidence that there’s a huge potential audience out there for programs that don’t actively insult 63 million Trump voters.”

Not angering half the country would seem like an essential point for television producers competing for eyeballs and advertising dollars. But late night hosts, awards shows, and even average sitcoms seem to be aiming for an ever-shrinking audience of their own making.

Roseanne, both in its initial run and so far in its new one, bucks that trend. Roseanne is set in what can be described as the core of Trump’s voters: a white working-class family, trying to stay afloat in the Midwest.

But it’s hard to say that Roseanne is an accurate depiction of conservatives, another core of Trump’s support, or even blue-collar workers in the Midwest. One scene in particular highlights the divide, as Podhoretz notes in his piece:

Another way in which the new Roseanne gets it right was revealed in the second episode that aired Tuesday night. They have to deal with the fact that their 9-year-old grandson seems to have a taste for cross-dressing. And although Dan arms him with a penknife so he can defend himself, he does so only because he fears for the boy’s safety, not because he is sickened by the kid’s behavior.

If you work your way through Roseanne’s own belief system in the show, both before and now, you encounter a person who is pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, pro-transgenderism, and liberal on feminism. In the end, the reason she voted for Trump was that of economic goals and bringing jobs back to America.

It’s an apparent Hollywood conceit to say that everyone, Trump voters included, agrees with them on everything but the right jobs and tax plans. If the only reason people voted for Trump is that of taxes and jobs, why have Democrats pursued such a hardline in demonizing the average Trump voter as a “basket of deplorables?”

And if all we’re bickering about is money, as Ben Shapiro points out, then that ignores what’s happening in the culture wars:

Trump’s populism sprang directly from culture wars, not from economic issues: it sprang from anger at intersectional politics, coastal elitism, and disdain for traditional values. According to Roseanne, however, those concerns make you a deplorable. Which means that Roseanne is still preaching Hillary [Clinton]’s message, even if it pretends to hat-tip Trump supporters.

Shapiro is right here. Roseanne presents a palpable version of the Trump voter to Hollywood — not the audience. What makes the show acceptable to the audience is just that Hollywood isn’t hammering every single person on the right as deplorable.

Part of coping with Trump’s unexpected victory meant reevaluating “what happened” in 2016 for Democrats. For some — mostly protesters — the rage stage of grief is still alive and well. For others, like Hollywood producers pushing shows like Roseanne, it’s about rationalization.

Intellectuals on the right and left did the same thing throughout 2016 and 2017 with J.D. Vance’s book and memoir, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Vance’s book recounts his personal history growing up in rural Ohio as his family fell apart around him, and he watched those like him encounter the same.

He presents his grandmother, the central figure in the book other than himself, in a Roseanne-type fashion. She’s tough, gritty, and brings the fight when people attack her. You get a sense Vance presents her in a light palpable to people on the left when it comes to social issues, much like Roseanne.

Vance’s story dovetails nicely here, because it presents the economic hardships of small midwest towns starkly, with people barely getting by and abandoned industrial towns slowly dying out. He also offers several arguments on the need to revitalize these towns and the need for economic growth.

But boiling a Trump voter down to only issues of jobs and money is cynical and fanciful. The culture wars existed well before Trump, with a growing number of people on the left and right getting dissatisfied with “politically correct” culture.

Trump got elected because of the culture wars: the election of conservative Supreme Court justices who would have the chance to overturn the case on abortion was the most compelling issue in the entire race.

We should probably applaud Hollywood for not bashing or presenting a derogatory version of Trump voters. But we shouldn’t accept this as reality either.

Hollywood wants to believe middle-America is like Roseanne — where everyone secretly agrees with the Hollywood moral code.

And the belief that everyone secretly agrees with Hollywood on social issues is more fictional than the set of Roseanne.


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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.