Roseanne isn't all about the Trump effect

The successful revival of an old sitcom about a blue-collar US Midwestern family is an interesting reflection of today's political reality

When the American sitcom Roseanne was originally launched on the ABC television network in October 1988, Republican President Ronald Reagan was about to begin his last year in office.

The series, which went on to become the most-watched TV show in the US from 1989 to 1990, centred on the Conners, an American working-class family in a fictional town in Illinois, representing the demographics that had voted for the Republican Reagan in the 1980 and 1984 presidential elections.

Exactly 30 years later, the television network has decided to bring back to the screen the sitcom and the Conners. Almost 19 million viewers watched the season premiere last month. The show did especially well among those who voted for President Trump: Older voters who reside in the Midwest who had gone for the Republican presidential candidate in 2016.

In fact, Mr Trump even telephoned star Roseanne Barr and congratulated her on her television ratings. He even made it sound like his political stardom was responsible for the show's success, stating during a rally in Ohio that the sitcom's ratings were so high because it was "about us".

Trumpists celebrated the success of the revived Roseanne as a sign that the nation is rallying behind President Trump, despite the fact that his approval ratings in the polls remain relatively low.

Critics have bashed Roseanne for exploiting the class and racial divisions in America, while pandering to the Trump voters who are perceived by anti-Trumpists as religious extremists, racists and homophobic, among other things.

Some have suggested that the sitcom's return demonstrated once again that there are two Americas today - the economically struggling and culturally conservative Americans who, like the Conners, live in small towns and rural areas of the Midwest, and those liberal and well-to-do residents of the large coastal urban centres who hate Mr Trump.

If anything, watching Roseanne in 2018 creates a very different impression.

First, not all the Conners are ardent Trumpists. Her sister is a left-leaning feminist who attacks President Trump and his supporters, but who despite those political disagreements, gets along with her pro-Trump sibling.

The Conners - who include a divorced daughter, a gay son, and an African-American granddaughter - are not religious nuts, homophobes and racists.

While Roseanne is an admirer of President Trump and his populist agenda, hoping that he would improve her family's economic conditions, it is clear that the Conners' support for the president is qualified, and that if things don't get better in their struggling Midwest town, they may well switch political parties.

This article was published in The Business Times last Thursday.