The Thanksgiving episodes of The West Wing are classics: President Bartlet calling the Butterball hotline, CJ choosing which turkey to pardon. For that reason, I had high hopes for memorable moments in this week’s episode. Which turkey would get pardoned, Jared or Donald Jr.? Would Trump ask Elizabeth Warren to come to dinner in a Pocahontas costume? Would Roy Moore organize a trip to the mall for Black Friday? This year’s White House Thanksgiving was certainly a departure from years’ past. Here’s what happened.
For a while, it was looking like Trump would forgo the traditional pardoning of the turkey on the White House lawn in favor of sparing a more unusual animal: the elephant. In last week’s episode, he lifted a ban on the U.S. import of “trophy” elephants killed in Zimbabwe. Then he abruptly changed his mind, keeping the ban in place and effectively pardoning all of the elephants in Zimbabwe. He must have been feeling generous, because he decided to continue with the annual turkey pardon as well. He even asked whether he was allowed to touch the chosen turkey before he began petting its feathers. This was a pointedly obvious reference to the infamous flashback scene from season 36 where Trump remarked that when he sees a beautiful woman, “Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it.” Apparently when you’re a star, you ask whether it’s okay to touch a turkey, but not a woman. Got it. I’m guessing I’m not the only female viewer who wanted to smack Trump in the gizzard right about then.
In a well-loved Thanksgiving moment in season 3, President Bartlet called the famed Butterball hotline to get answers to his most pressing questions about cooking turkey. President Trump has his own source for answers to pressing questions: Russian President Vladimir Putin. It seems unlikely that Putin knows at what temperature stuffing must be cooked inside the turkey in order to avoid poisoning guests, but he can answer other questions. For instance, how much poison does it take to kill journalists? How can one ensure the outcome of the 2020 election? Anything interesting in Hillary’s recent emails? Like the Butterball hotline, the Putin hotline is open 24/7 and no question is too stupid to pose. And unlike Bartlet — who on the phone pretended to be someone named Joe Bethersonton from Fargo, North Dakota — Trump can be himself with Putin. Plus Putin helps him get rich. The rest is just gravy.
In a season 2 episode, the White House senior staff grumbled about getting invited to Thanksgiving dinner with the President, when all they wanted to do was watch football in peace. Should President Trump’s staff want to watch football, they will likewise get no understanding from their boss. The NFL has become one of Trump’s most hated enemies, along with its “ungrateful” players, most of whom happen to be black. (Trump’s obsession with black Americans’ supposed lack of gratitude toward him is another theme the writers have run with this season.) Is there an American tradition that Trump hasn’t tried to overturn? Freedom of the press, elections without foreign interference, and now football on Thanksgiving. It’s almost too much upheaval for viewers to handle. What’s next, a war on Christmas?
If only us viewers could call the Butterball hotline to get answers about the Trump presidency. We’d ask things like: How many pardons (turkey or otherwise) does a president get before things get dicey? Could watching football be replaced by watching Sean Hannity as America’s favorite pastime? And is it too early to start thinking about Bob Mueller dropping gifts down the chimney? Tune in next week to find out.