By Marguerite Jill Dye
We switch back and forth between reality and fantasy, but it’s often confusing as to which is which. When we’ve reached our five-minute news limit on Trump’s turmoil and utter chaos, we leave CNN’s political pundits and MSNBC commentators. We’ve found a way to preserve our sanity by turning on Netflix and streaming “The West Wing.” In Aron Sorkin’s weekly series, filmed between 1999 and 2006, the White House has “a moral center,” words have meaning and “reality” makes sense. People say what they truly believe that the White House stands for honor and truth. It upholds American values and ideals and presents exemplary leadership.
Like many other shell-shocked citizens, we’re beginning to cope with Trump’s Bizarro world.
In this case, reality is definitely stranger than fiction. The fictitious West Wing is more credible than what’s real. Our head oligarch in our seat of power juggles his staff like a circus act. If their loyalty’s not complete (extending beyond what’s legal), he declares, “You’re fired!” He’s in cahoots with our Cold War rival, and waging war against the opposition party since eliminating his female rival.
But yet again, a woman’s leading the charge! Petite Nancy Pelosi’s ready smile belies her strong-as-steel will. With her years of experience on Capitol Hill, the misogynist-in-chief may have met his match. How humiliating for a businessman who dictates to his children and other “yes” people.
Meanwhile, in “The West Wing,” President Josiah Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen), a Nobel-winning economist and philosopher, leads the charge with his brilliant team: Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, audacious Assistant Chief Josh Lyman, his highly ethical (and depressed) Communications Director Toby Ziegler, his gifted assistant and speechwriter Sam Seaborn, the young, responsible presidential aide Charlie Young, and Dr. Abbey Barlet, his accomplished wife. They’re all diligent and dedicated. They work all hours for what they believe in: improving our nation for the average American, not only for the ultra-rich. They respond to crises around the globe with measured decisions, not hotheaded ones. President Bartlet seeks sage counsel, then acts with intelligence and historical perspective.
“The West Wing” was popular at the time of George W. Bush (“W”), when some feared we’d elected our worst president yet. The weekly series provided an alternative to W’s mediocrity and contrasted with his grave mistakes. It echoed the energy of the Clinton administration, seeking bipartisan cooperation. Some say it helped pave the way for Obama’s arrival on the scene, when President Bartlet’s successor, Hispanic Texas Representative Matt Santos (played by Jimmy Smit) won the show’s presidential election right before the series ended.
When healthcare was threatened by the GOP majority, the 2013 government shutdown occurred. It is strange to see a one-week shutdown on “The West Wing” concurrently with our own recent marathon shutdown as our government was held hostage by a wall-crazed president. Once again, the daily White House reality show of sound bites, drama, and photo opps, driven by ratings and an unquestioning base, has monopolized the media, as it has done since the 2016 election. Trump’s frequent getaways and games of golf seem to be our only reprieve. Most meetings with foreign leaders include a Trump Tower on the agenda. Business opportunities are the priority for the NYC tycoon and his entourage.
“The West Wing” is experiencing a resurgence for those seeking comfort in this topsy-turvy time. There are rumors that it may be revived! There’s clearly no shortage of new material with our president’s de-structuring and upheaval: our longest government shutdown in history over a meritless plan, denial and a lack of action to address the critical global warming crisis, threats to withdraw from the UN, NATO, and our nuclear agreements with Russia and Iran, refusal to participate in the Paris Accord, lower taxes for the ultra-rich at the expense of programs for the poor, slashes in public school education, oil pipe line drilling and digging in majestic national parks, relaxed regulations against polluting and the Endangered Species Act, and locking up refugees and kidnapping their children, traumatizing and denying them asylum.
I well remember when candidate Trump asked, “What have you got to lose?”
No matter the crises on “The West Wing” that occur at home or abroad, the way they’re managed by a capable team is safer and far better than “winging it.” Inexperience and instability undermine security and the people’s wellbeing. For the sake of our nation, welfare and health, may new powers in Washington learn from “The West Wing.”
Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between the Green Mountains of Vermont and Florida’s Gulf Coast.