Samantha Bee has come under fire for a crass remark she made about Ivanka Trump. Last night Bee dedicated her TBS show Full Frontal to covering the Trump administration’s revulsive policy of separating undocumented children from their parents at the border. She criticized Ivanka for not speaking out against the policy to her father, and for being so tone-deaf she tweeted this picture as the story was spreading, which Bee called “the second most oblivious tweet we’ve seen this week.”
And then Bee said something naughty: “You know, Ivanka, that’s a beautiful photo of you and your child, but let me just say, one mother to another: Do something about your dad’s immigration practices, you feckless cunt.”
It’s not too often we hear the word “feckless” on TV. Well done.
Bee went on to make a joke about the fact that the President of the United States of America is sexually attracted to his own daughter: “He listens to you. Put on something tight and low cut and tell your father to fucking stop it. Tell him it was an Obama thing and see how it goes, OK.” Trump has said that if Ivanka wasn’t his daughter he would date her, and he told Howard Stern it was all right if he called her a “piece of ass.”
Now we have right-wingers calling for Bee to be fired, comparing what she said about Trump to what Roseanne Barr said earlier about Valerie Jarret in this week’s most oblivious tweet:
As a quick side note for Mr. Erickson, Trump supporters wanted the U.S. judicial system to execute Hillary Clinton and made T-shirts and bumper stickers that said “hang the bitch.”???)
Former Fox News host Megyn Kelly also leapt into it:
Well, no, these things are not the same. Here’s why: Samantha Bee made a crass joke; Roseanne Barr made a racist joke. If this doesn’t register for you, I’ve fashioned a helpful diagram:
It’s one thing to attack Bee for what she said on its own merits. Have at it. She used a crude word that deeply offends many people, and there’s a valid point to make about the level of discourse in our politics today. Bee is also a comedian, and comedians say offensive things. But even though this was an offensive thing to say, this wasn’t a racist thing to say. If Bee had made this joke about Ivanka’s Jewish faith, for instance, then we can draw the parallels. As it is, though, we can’t. And here we can see the horns of a very big problem peeking over the horizon.
If a left-wing comedian makes a tasteless joke about a conservative, liberals (generally) defend it as free speech and the right wing cries about how hypocritical this is of the party that purports to be for tolerance. When a conservative makes a racist remark and liberals get upset about it being racist and intolerant, the right wing cries that they’re hypocrites about free speech.
Whether consciously or not, and I’d say it’s mostly if not entirely conscious, a large section of American society feels it’s our right to be openly and brutally racist, and that to suffer the consequences for it is an infringement on those rights. This section of America sees the disparity between punishing someone for being racist or misogynist and punishing someone for being mean as not only unfair, but as persecution.
To use today’s example, if TBS doesn’t fire Samantha Bee the way ABC fired Roseanne, then liberals are a bunch of hypocrites who don’t care about decency or free speech and are out to get conservatives at any cost. The difference in punishment is evidence of an attack on conservatives, led by the media.
Look, criticism of Samantha Bee has merit. That’s one thing. But the comparison to ABC firing Roseanne for tweeting something horridly racist (which she apologized for but then doubled down on) shows that these conservatives either don’t understand what racism is, or don’t know or care why it’s particularly awful, painful, and dangerous. In this equation, racism and cuss words are the same thing. But racism and cuss words aren’t the same thing.
This is a big problem, and it keeps returning. Look at the NFL kneeling debate. Look at Jamele Hill. Look at Trump’s both-sidesing Nazis and white supremacists and racists. In these scenarios the right wing misunderstands (often willfully) and perverts the First Amendment to create a false equivalency. This false equivalency flattens morality and principal, citing values of process and procedure and making arguments that start out “Well, technically…” Anything offensive goes, right? To say otherwise is to violate free speech.
In other words: It’s okay to be racist.
Time for a quick civics lesson. Here’s what the First Amendment actually says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
This doesn’t apply to media companies punishing employees, or the NFL punishing players. They can more or less do what they want. The First Amendment (though it has several exceptions, such as defamation and incitement to violence) is our guarantee that the government will never step in to silence its critics. So it is a violation of the First Amendment for the White House to step in and advocate private citizens should be silenced for speaking their mind. And this is exactly what Trump did when he advocated NFL players and Jamele Hill be fired, and it’s exactly what Sarah Huckabee Sanders just did in her response … to Samantha Bee:
Her disgusting comments and show are not fit for broadcast, and executives at Time Warner and TBS must demonstrate that such explicit profanity about female members of this administration will not be condoned on its network.
Now that is a First Amendment issue.
But in terms of morality this is about a group of Americans who somehow, 160 years after slavery ended and 50 years after Civil Rights legislation passed, still don’t seem to understand (or flat-out don’t care) that racism is a specifically heinous and pernicious streak of humanity, and that it is alive and well and out in the open in the United States of America. It’s not a violation of the constitution to say, “Roseanne Barr deserves a harsher punishment than Samantha Bee.” But it’s a violation of morality to say, “Samantha Bee deserves the same punishment as Roseanne Barr.”
This is because Roseanne, like Donald Trump, is a racist whose public elevation has uncorked something truly horrible.
What’s also weird is that the word “racist” is so odious, such a taboo, that no one ever admits their racism. The Roseanne issue, coincidentally, shone a light on this one as well. The actress in part blamed the sleeping pill Ambien for her tweet, and Sanofi, the makers of Ambien, tweeted this in response:
It’s not the medication. It’s not a bad joke. It’s not a cuss word. And it’s not about your constitutional rights. It’s about a large segment of the American population working harder than a one-legged cat in a litter box to cover a vile piece of itself. We are distorting logic. We are distorting morality. We are distorting our values. We’re a distorted, contorted people, and it’s starting to have consequences far beyond our computer screens, most notably in the appalling Trump policy that Samantha Bee rightly slammed Ivanka Trump for not speaking out against, and the U.S. government’s repeated attempts to violate the First Amendment in order to silence critics of those policies.