Samantha Bee doesn’t pussyfoot around, does she? | Rebecca Nicholson

Using foul language about Ivanka Trump left the talkshow host vulnerable to the far-right outrage

If the talkshow host and comedian Samantha Bee had referred to Ivanka Trump on air as a feckless pussy last week, rather than the more outre term for female genitalia that she went with, she might have got away with it. As we all now understand, to speak of grabbing pussies is mere locker-room talk. Try it: call your loved ones pussies today. See? Harmless.

Bee’s show is called Full Frontal, not Modestly Dressed, but still, Trump chose to word his inevitable criticism by calling out a “double standard”, a phrase that, in its implied support of Roseanne Barr, suggests he believes a rude word to be equivalent to racism.

Ivanka Trump
Ivanka Trump: that she should challenge her father’s immigration policies was Bee’s point. Photograph: AP

Soon, in all the noise of the outrage storm, Bee apologised for what she called her “inappropriate and inexcusable language”, while the network that houses her performed its own mea culpa for allowing it to air. Bee seemed almost immediately aware that the single word overshadowed the substance of what she was saying – that in her official role as adviser to the president, Ivanka Trump should be challenging her father’s immigration policies that have meant children have been taken from their asylum-seeking parents at the US border.

Let’s not be obscene, says Trump, whose idea of diplomacy is to refer to other nations as “shithole countries”, to Mexicans as “rapists”, to neo-Nazis, to white nationalists as “fine people” and to a football player protesting against racism as “that son of a bitch”. If that’s the public standard, one can only imagine what goes on behind closed doors. But let’s not be obscene.

In these bizarre, unruly times, the far right have their opponents in a finger trap. Go high, ignore it, and their voices are louder so they win. Going nose to nose with a combative, aggressively defensive administration takes courage, a thick hide and a refusal to be shouted down.

After the White House correspondents’ dinner in April, comedian Michelle Wolf was pilloried by the right for her incendiary routine, which took aim not only at Trump but at those complicit in his actions, including Ivanka. Wolf joked about Ivanka’s role as an advocate for women, saying she was “about as helpful to women as an empty box of tampons”. Trump-supporting critics had the audacity then to call Wolf sexist for aiming jokes at women and demands were made that she apologise. She didn’t and still hasn’t.

Raheem Sterling: Footballer’s critics were firing blanks

Tattoos are often a source of regret. I’ve seen enough episodes of Tattoo Fixers to know that anything involving a sunny country, neon cocktails and a gaggle of friends urging you to get any word in gothic script in the region of your backside will never end well. Still, Raheem Sterling must have been taken aback by the scale of the furore that erupted over a new adornment to his right leg, which was labelled “sick” and led to calls for him to be axed from the England squad.

Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling: the gun tatoo was, he explained, a tribute to his father, who was shot dead. Photograph: Marc Atkins/Offside/Getty Images

Or perhaps he wasn’t. It’s easy to see why, on the basis of the image alone, it might be taken as insensitive, at the very least, to what’s going on in the world today. It’s a massive tattoo of a gun. Perhaps there’s some level of subconscious stereotyping, too, if we’re being generous about the subconscious aspect, though the Sun, which broke the story, has been at pains to say this was not about race.

Sterling has offered an apology this week, but only for a flight mix-up that meant he was 12 hours late for training. On the subject of the tattoo, he offered an explanation that was heartfelt and poignant. He explained that it was a tribute to his father, who was shot dead when Sterling was two, and was a reminder that he would never touch a gun in his life. “I shoot with my right foot so it has a deeper meaning,” he explained, adding, crucially, that it was “still unfinished”.

The same could be said of the fury around it – it was a controversy with no context, one that fell apart with much support for Sterling when he gave his side of the story. Apropos of nothing, Wayne Rooney has a tattoo of a Stereophonics album title.

Nigel Lawson: Mr Brexit goes awol in France

Nigel Lawson chez lui en France.
Nigel Lawson chez lui en France. Photograph: Ulrich Lebeuf/Ulrich Lebeuf/MYOP for The Guardian

I always enjoy the blithe hypocrisy of Brexiter swashbucklers such as Lord Lawson, who demonstrated his principled antipathy towards the EU by applying for his official French residency card. Like a homophobic preacher being caught in a nightclub lavatory with a dashing young man or Nigel Farage saying he will keep his EU pension of £73,000 a year because “why should my family and other suffer even more?”, these situations often feel like a gift from above. You tell them, Nigels: we don’t need Europe to tell us what to do, only to pay us and let us live there, because it’s mostly sunnier and the wine is lovely. Brexit in the streets, Remainer in the sheets.

“I’m not particularly familiar with it but as I live in France I’m not concerned,” Lawson told the Connexion, a newspaper for the English-speaking community in France, when asked about post-Brexit visa arrangements for Brits in Europe. Applying for his carte de séjour “comes under the category of tiresome rather than serious”, he said. Perhaps we should consider etching “tiresome rather than serious” on our shiny new blue passports, so we can remember that when we’re waiting in those long queues at the border.

Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist

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Rebecca Nicholson

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