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The Briefing: On 'Roseanne' and all the stupid stuff that comes into our heads

Jerry Zremski

WASHINGTON – Roseanne Barr blamed Ambien for her career-killing racist Twitter rant, which strikes me as odd. After all, I took Ambien once, too, and my Twitter feed remained respectably boring.

So there you go. The fault, dear Roseanne, lies not in our sedatives, but in ourselves. And the sitcom star's downfall proves, once again, that social media brings out the worst in us.

You may be wondering why a blog devoted to politics would even mention Roseanne, but the truth is that she is a political figure: one who has long dabbled in conspiracy theories and frequently crossed the line between respectability and racism. Sound familiar?

Moreover, her medium of self-destruction – Twitter – is the modern-day equivalent of the news ticker of old, except that it delivers a lot of non-news, like all the stupid stuff that comes into people's heads.

All of which means we all might learn both political and personal lessons from Roseanne's reckoning, such as:

• Racism remains. Yes, and the sun shines, and the Sabres stink. We hold these truths to be self-evident, but it never hurts to point out the fact that America's original sin, racism, has proved as enduring as the Constitution. And what Roseanne did on her ill-fated Twitter rant, essentially comparing an African-American Barack Obama aide to an ape, is about as racist as racism gets. Look closely, though, and you'll see racism all around you: in the Confederate flag on the back of a pickup that sped by me on the highway last weekend, in the growing pay gap between blacks and whites, and of course on social media sites such as Reddit, where haters hate with a public abandon that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.

• Political correctness = common decency. "Political correctness" has taken a public drubbing in recent years, but what is it, really? Is it really thought censorship? Sometimes, on college campuses that shut down or shout down voices from the far right or far left, it may indeed be that. But in the realm of daily life, political correctness is just common decency, or treating others as you would like to be treated. Once upon a time, back when Mark Zuckerberg was a baby, we all seemed to know this. Then social media pioneers like Zuckerberg built networks that were supposed to connect us, but that turned out to divide us. And now, who among us is not guilty of saying something obnoxious online that we would never dare say to someone face to face? Add up all the times all of us have done that, and it really does seem that common decency is under mortal threat.

• Impulsiveness can kill. Impulsiveness obviously killed Roseanne Barr's career, but that's not all. Crimes of passion really do occur, although not all that often, and in many cases the worst of them happen because the killer just can't control his or her impulses. The trouble with social media, though, is that it's built on impulse. It's just so easy to tweet the clever thing you just thought of, and it's so rewarding to see the "likes" and the retweets piling up. This is why Roseanne Barr is by no means the only person to post really awful stuff on social media: In fact, researchers have found that the no-holds-barred culture of social media encourages us to do so, even if it's a threat to our friendships or even our careers.

So what are we to do about all this, then? The answer is easy in theory but difficult in practice.

Think before you tweet, and remember Roseanne Barr's last life lesson:

Your first thought may be your worst thought.

Happening today

President Trump attends a campaign fundraising dinner in Dallas … The Washington Post hosts an interview forum with former secretary of state Madeline Albright, who discusses ''the Trump administration's foreign policy approach and her new book titled, ''Fascism: A Warning" … The Brookings Institution holds a symposium on Media and Democracy, focusing on ''the consequences of misinformation … The Bipartisan Policy Center holds a book discussion on ''Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America's Fifty Year Fall — and Those Fighting to Reverse It," with author Steven Brill.

Good reads

The Washington Post tells us how and why spies may tap into your cell phone overseas ... Vox looks at the stories Fox News covers obsessively, and those it ignores ... Reason magazine examines the contradictions at the heart of President Trump's trade policies ... The Los Angeles Times reports that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is having a hard time nailing down the speakership ... And the New York Times enters the dark world of Columbiners, who find a deadly allure in focusing on the 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.

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