• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

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The President I Wish I Had

The West Wing as Inspiration for American government.

February 1, 2017
 
 

In the frightening and depressing American politics of the current administration, where I find Muslim friends and colleagues feeling threatened, where people close to me are worrying about losing their health care, where the rights of women to make decisions about their bodies are being challenged, I have found inspiration for the proper running of government: the television show The West Wing.

I must confess to having always loved this show (and in general, anything written by Aaron Sorkin), but now it’s providing me with a hypothetical reality and escapism, much as I imagine that classic Hollywood movies did for people during the Great Depression. I also know I’m not alone. Fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda are familiar with the fact that he is a huge big (I can never write the word “huge” again because of the negative associations it brings up now) fan of The West Wing. Miranda even has played with the idea of a fantasy musical version (for which, by the way, I would be the first to buy tickets). Other fans have used the show to suggest ways to solve real political conflicts, such as the opposition President Obama faced when he nominated a Justice to the Supreme Court.

The West Wing spends little time on characters’ personal lives; when it does, it is usually to remind viewers that they don’t have time to have them. The show never explored what we refer to today as work-life balance, because when push came to shove, work always came before anything else. Public service and The Office of the President was considered the most important work ever -- more important than Josh and Amy having a relationship, more important than any promises Bartlet made to his wife, and more important than CJ dedicating time to pursue romance. Public service required sacrifice, and these public servants gave it their all for the good of their country.

In The West Wing, the President surrounded himself with people who were willing to disagree with him. In one episode, the administration tested a potential speechwriter’s willingness to speak to power by placing a bad note from the President in his writing. The value exalted in the show was morality over loyalty; if a character witnessed a policy as morally wrong, they were expected to speak up. When watching our new administration that completely refuses to ever admit they are wrong, and surrounds the President with only those who agree with him, and are loyal even when violating the Constitution, I have decided to watch again the episodes showing Toby telling the President he’s not going to achieve greatness without resolving his father issues.

Sure, the show may have jumped the shark (SPOILER ALERT) when Zoe was kidnapped, but in real life we jumped the shark the moment Trump was elected President (maybe even earlier). At least in my fantasy world, some type of solution that respects the Constitution is offered. Most importantly, as much as I love The West Wing, I can still distinguish that it’s fiction, not fact, which is more than I can say for the current administration.

 

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