Hard to believe it’s been almost a full season since President Trump’s election on The West Wing. It feels like just yesterday we were seeing President Bartlet off into the New Hampshire sunset. Who could have guessed that at this point, we’d be watching the most corrupt U.S. president in history bring the country to the brink of war with North Korea? I know many of us viewers long for simpler times. But this president and these writers are what we’ve got, and one can only binge-watch old episodes on Netflix so many times. As Bartlet would say, what’s next? (And as Trump would say, JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!)
The Special Prosecutor
Back when TV presidents were investigated for hiding a disease, rather than colluding with a foreign country to influence an election, Bartlet was up against a special prosecutor — just as Trump is up against Bob Mueller now. Whip-smart press secretary, CJ, recognized that in order to fight back, they would need an adversary they could come out swinging against, not a mild-mannered has-never-told-a-lie respected-on-both-sides type. Lacking a staffer as intelligent as CJ (let’s be honest, they’d be lucky to get Mandy), the Trump administration has found itself in the tough spot she predicted with Mueller. Try as Trump might, he can’t seem to diminish Mueller’s credibility, so he’s decided to come out swinging against a different adversary: Hillary Clinton. What’s that you say? Seems ridiculous for Trump to go after the candidate he beat out for the presidency? Well perhaps if the writers had stocked the Trump administration with more smart women political advisors, he wouldn’t be stuck between a rock and a hard place.
The Sick Man and the Degenerate Animal
When a white man shot hundreds of people at a country music festival in Las Vegas several episodes ago (though it feels like eons ago), Trump called him a “sick man, a demented man, lot of problems.” Then, when an Uzbek immigrant inspired by ISIS drove a truck down a bike path in New York City, killing eight people and injuring a dozen others, Trump called him a “degenerate animal.” We get it, Trump is racist! He sees violent white men as victims of illness, but darker skinned or foreign men as animals. Could the writers hit us over the head with his racism any more than they already have? There have been nearly as many examples as there have been telladonnas — the term the West Wing Weekly podcast uses to refer to the device of one character explaining a policy or procedural issue to another, often Josh explaining to Donna. The audience cries uncle.
This episode ended with Trump kicking off a two-week trip to Asia, and bidding adieu to the U.S. with a visit to Hawaii. Given his obsession with Obama’s birth certificate and insistence that the former president was born in Kenya, it was only appropriate that he was greeted by Hawaiians holding up signs saying WELCOME TO KENYA. (Though supposedly Aaron Sorkin hasn’t watched an episode since he left the show, that seems like a witty joke he’d appreciate.) We’ve yet to see Trump be able to take a joke about himself. Bartlet had a healthy ego like every other president, but was capable of appreciating a well-placed ribbing at his expense. Usually he got teased for droning on and on about national parks or grizzly bears or the merits (or lack thereof) of Camp David. One can only imagine what Trump lectures his staff on. How he’s the smartest person and best golfer in the history of the world? I think most of us would prefer facts about national parks.
When will one of the main characters receive an indictment from Bob Mueller? When will Trump’s ridiculous Twitter posturing lead to serious consequences such that he gets kicked off for longer than eleven minutes? How badly will he embarrass himself in Asia? Stay tuned. It feels like these next few weeks will be critical to the show’s future.