Fourteen years after The West Wing ended its seven-season run on NBC-TV, the hit series looks especially inviting now as we endure its antithesis in real life.
I recently watched all 156 episodes on Netflix. I’m not sure why I didn’t catch The West Wing the first time around but was glad to be watching its idealistic take on Washington now. A dose of optimism is welcome these days.
We have become so jaded under Donald Trump, we’ve nearly stopped expecting a chief executive like Jed Bartlet, The West Wing’s fictional president. He is competent, kind, moral, smart, and trying to do his best for all citizens — the opposite of Trump on every count.
Watching The West Wing, I decided it is an ideal program to stream now. During these last few months, as we’re battling a virus that the president either denies or suggests ingesting a poison to cure, we need something to restore hope in our leaders. Yeah, The West Wing is fiction, but I don’t want to think that we’re so far gone that competent, principled government is impossible.
Democrats and Republicans talk and work together on The West Wing. Republicans, who have control of Congress, are mostly honorable. Coping with his daughter’s kidnapping, Bartlet, a Democrat, even invokes the 25th amendment so that he can temporarily turn over the Oval Office to the Speaker of the House, a Republican. After Bartlet’s daughter is rescued, the Speaker gives back control.
Bills are passed. Sometimes Democrats win, sometimes not, but there isn’t continuous gridlock.
The West Wing isn’t impeccable, especially by 2020 standards. Its main Black character, Charlie Young, is in a helping role as the president’s personal aide for most of the series. Except for press secretary C. J. Cregg, female characters are on the periphery in the early seasons, and Margaret and Donna, the assistants to the chief of staff and the deputy chief of staff, are portrayed as flaky.
Maybe The West Wing’s encouraging view of what our national politics could be is not realistic, maybe we’re too polarized to climb out of the mess, but it sure is fun to watch and to wish for a federal government like that.
Part of The West Wing’s vision materialized in real life. The show went off the air in 2006, two years before Barack Obama’s first victory, with the election of a young, charismatic president of color. Matthew Santos was a Latino who resisted pandering to Latino voters. He would be a president of all the people.
We don’t know how well Santos succeeded. Maybe the country wasn’t ready for a uniter like Matthew Santos or Barack Obama. Obama’s election resulted in greater gridlock as Republicans opposed his every move. Look what followed Obama.
Joe Biden is not a transformative politician like Santos and Obama, nor an intellect like Jed Bartlet. But like them, he has decency. The American people are entitled to ask for more, but I’ll take decency for now and hope that we will see leadership, vision, caring, and courage again.
ANTI-TRUMP COMMENTS: 124TH IN AN ONGOING SERIES
“Trump remains the first president in modern polling never to achieve majority approval for his work in office, with the lowest career average on record.”
— Yahoo News