When "Roseanne" first debuted on ABC back in 1988, the show irrevocably changed television, eschewing the conventions of a decade that had produced the aspirational fantasies of "Dynasty" and "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" to provide (white) working class audiences with a true(r) reflection of themselves. At that point, there was no one on TV that looked or sounded like the show's creator and star, Roseanne Barr, who brought a populist sensibility to a Hollywood that had for years largely focused on the wealthy and upwardly mobile middle class.
Two decades after the Conner family last piled onto an old, tattered sofa in a wood-paneled living room, "Roseanne" is back on ABC, having debuted late last month to record-shattering ratings. Newly rebooted, the show -— and more significantly, its creator -— are still a reflection of a certain strain of American working class populism. But the commonly accepted understanding of populism has over the past 20 years undergone a massive shift, from the left-leaning rhetoric of rust belt union leaders to the alt-right conspiracies of Steve Bannon and internet trolls.
Much like with the man she now backs, President Donald Trump, Barr's political transformation suddenly went from quiet sideshow distraction from a has-been '90s celebrity to an urgent matter of national concern. It's hard to pinpoint exactly when Barr went from lefty to someone who retweets Breitbart and InfoWars and pushes widely discredited conspiracy theories. But the turning point seems to be sometime after the 2012 election, the last contest in which has-been '90s celebrities couldn't get on the ballot in all 50 states.
Barr ran a sideshow of a campaign for president that year, serving as the official candidate of the Peace and Freedom Party after failing to land the Green Party nomination. Her platform in that election was a smorgasbord of stereotypical far-left priorities, from the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage to abolishing the military-industrial complex and enacting criminal justice reform, including ending the war on drugs. She called student debt "slavery," and a year prior, she spoke at Occupy Wall Street, calling for greedy Wall Street executives to be jailed.
Now, the man she supports stands for absolutely none of those things. How did it happen? She voted for Obama in 2012 because she couldn't get on the ballot in her home state of Hawaii, which is instructive. It would seem that she turned into a Trump supporter not because she necessarily loved his political priorities, but because he spoke against the “system” that she had encountered during her own campaign.
Roseanne rages against the machine...and her past self
In 2015, while promoting the documentary about her run for the White House, she railed against the two-party system and the vested interests that keep it dominating American politics.
"The people who sit at those tables where public money is apportioned, they're just taking it off the tables and putting it into private pockets —- it's all a f-cking scam," she said in an interview with Salon. "The last thing they want is a decent election where the people's voice is listened to or serviced, and that's why I ran."
Trump claimed that he wanted to "drain the swamp" during his campaign, and Barr became a full-throated supporter of his candidacy. It helped that she had known him since he appeared on her 1992 HBO special, but it was his anti-establishment message that won her over. But Trump's brand of rebellion against authority was based on very little actual ideology, and so he provided a blank canvas for conspiracy nuts and other lunatics who projected their far-fetched paranoias and racist delusions onto him. And because he loves attention more than anything, he happily accepted this new breed of supporter, amplifying their insanity and convincing his other supporters to join in.
Roseanne hops aboard the Trump Train and gets racist
Roseanne went along for the wild ride that was the 2016 Trump campaign. Her Twitter feed became a toxic wasteland of racial slurs and slander. She seemed to "discover" Zionism at around the same time as Trump, with both using it as a convenient cover for virulent anti-Muslim rhetoric. In 2015, she said that University of California at Davis "should get nuked" for divesting in companies with ties to Israel, a decision made to protest the ongoing armed conflict with Palestinians. While she may have once blasted Hillary Clinton for being too centrist and not supporting most of her 2012 campaign platform, she now attacked her from the far racist right. "Jew hater Hillary Clinton's handler Huma Weiner is a filthy Nazi whore," she tweeted in August 2016, adding that Clinton's election would lead to the death of Israel. The tweets drew criticism, which only pushed her into giving a facetious apology.
It was a landmark summer for Barr, whose torrent of slurs and conspiracies mirrored the depths to which the national political dialogue was sinking. The once-ardent feminist tweeted things like "#intersectionality is degenerate pseudo philosophy of fake left" and "Mamas don't let ur babies grow up 2b libtards [sic]." She went hard right on immigration and civil liberties, too, tweeting "ppl think Trump saying 'vet' immigrants from anti-gay anti semitic patriarchal rape cultures is worse than sending our troops in harms way [sic]."
When Trump won, Roseanne said that Americans should thank God for his victory.
After the election, she continued to push his agenda, as more conspiracy theory tweets followed, including some promoting the infamous "pizzagate" hoax, as well as spurious allegations that Democrats were behind the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich.
Though there are plenty of screenshots, we can't actually link to any of these tweets, as she erased her Twitter feed this past December in preparation for her show's relaunch. But she's provided plenty of newly unhinged tweets over the last three months, from retweets of false InfoWars stories about millions of illegal immigrants voting in the 2016 election and other fanciful tales, to attempts to engage with the people who generate so many of these tinfoil hat memes.
In late March, Barr sought out, via Twitter, contact with prominent 4chan user known as Q, who claims to be a high-level government employee who has evidence of all sorts of misdeeds and secrets pertaining to only Democrats, from the “pedophile ring” at the center of Pizzagate to the Steele dossier being fake to the Las Vegas massacre being perpetrated by a secret Clinton-Saudi network of globe-controlling terrorists. She also tweeted out a bizarre and seemingly unsourced declaration that Trump has been cracking down on human trafficking all over the world, which turned out to be another wildly untrue assertion by the mysterious Q. Not to be outdone by more traditional players in the far right media, she also suggested that David Hogg, one of the most prominent Parkland survivors and activists, was making Nazi salutes in photos of him speaking to teens demanding gun control.
As Roseanne's character explains in the opening episode of the reboot, she voted for Trump because he "talked about jobs." But what's become clear is that Barr has gone far beyond those working class concerns and into far more dangerous territory, where the fabric of reality is twisted and stretched thinner than the old quilt on the Conner family couch 30 years after its debut.