Golis: President Bartlet, you’re needed in the Situation Room!

If you remember “The West Wing,” you know this TV drama about the American presidency was imagined in a more innocent time.

These days, Americans are steeling themselves for a rematch between Democratic incumbent Joe Biden and the former Republican president, Donald Trump. Voters can cite chapter and verse about why they’re not thrilled by the prospect, but Biden and Trump remain the front-runners for their respective party’s nominations.

If voters feel dispirited, disillusioned or just plain ignored, we understand why. They want someone to save them, but who would that be?

President Bartlet, where are you when we need you?

Each week “The West Wing” portrayed the adversities confronting Josiah (Jed) Bartlet, a fictional president of the United States played by Martin Sheen. There were 154 episodes over seven years, ending in 2006.

Years later, the show’s creator, Aaron Sorkin, would recall that TV programmers thought a show with a political backdrop would be a bust. “‘The West Wing’ wasn’t supposed to be a hit,” he said, “or even get on the air.”

You can tell it’s an old show because there’s a Republican senator from California (played by Alan Alda).

Extra points if you can name the last Republican senator from California.

Answer: That would be John Seymour, a former state senator from Orange County who served two years (1991-1992) after being appointed to succeed Republican Pete Wilson. Wilson resigned after being elected governor.

Seymour belonged to a Republican Party not many would recognize today. At the time he was appointed, the New York Times reported: “In recent years, Mr. Seymour has voted to ban assault weapons, to outlaw discrimination against people with AIDS, and to increase spending for social programs including education and mental health benefits.”

A Times analysis of new poll results last week noted “it’s not (Ronald) Reagan’s party anymore.” The survey showed fewer Republicans in the era of Donald Trump are enamored with Reagan-era views on topics such as immigration, free trade, entitlements and foreign policy.

Our politics has turned a lot meaner in the years since “The West Wing” aired.

The Times even wrote about resurgence of the old shows in 2019 as Americans tried to make sense of the toxicity of the nation’s political debate. “Fans revisit ‘The West Wing’ to recall an era — even a fictional one — when it seemed possible for the three branches of government to be populated by public servants of integrity, intellect and wit,” the story said.

To learn more, we went on a “West Wing” binge.

Despite their age, we recognized many of the issues — nuclear power and radioactive materials, cars and climate change, tax cuts and budget deficits, health care, tense relations with Russia and China, misinformation on the internet, the debt ceiling, immigration, gay marriage, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, abortion.

Even in a fast-changing world, some things remain the same. With a couple of exceptions, these issues are no less vexing today, even if the debate is more mean-spirited and bombastic.

While President Bartlet and his aides never hid from their liberal views, the show portrayed politicians of all stripes as people of good will.

When Bartlet temporarily surrenders the presidency after his daughter is kidnapped, he asks the Republican leader in the House of Representatives (John Goodman) to take his place. (In a previous episode, the vice president, played by Tim Matheson, resigns after it was disclosed that he leaked confidential information to his mistress.)

Sex scandals happen, but can you imagine President Biden asking Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to take over for a few days?

In a 2015 interview, Sorkin explained, “That’s just me being romantic and idealistic …”

Sorkin said his work was inspired by the exploits of another fictional character, Don Quixote. Quixote, said, Sorkin, “decided he could be a knight if he is just behaved like one.”

As happens, Sorkin wrote the updated script for a reworking of the 1960 musical “Camelot,” a reboot now playing at Lincoln Center in New York. Camelot would become a reference to the presidency of John F. Kennedy and what many believed were happier times in America.

The writers of “The West Wing” did foresee the social and racial divisions to come. Against the advice of his aides, Latino presidential candidate Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) speaks at a Black church shortly after a 12-year-old African American boy is shot and killed by a Latino police officer.

“I try to find compassion,” he tells the congregation, “compassion for the people I blame, compassion for the people I don’t understand. Compassion.”

“Blame,” he added, “will bring us more violence, and we’ve had enough of that.”

When Santos finishes, the parishioners stand and applaud.

In today’s toxic politics, when was the last time you heard a politician talk about compassion and forgiveness?

A new Gallup Poll measures the growing gap between Republicans and Democrats, red states and blue states. On issues such as free trade, abortion, immigration and taxation, there’s now a much more dramatic divide than existed 20 years ago.

Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia — no John Seymour — recently suggested it was time for the country to get a divorce. “We need to separate the red states and blue states,” she said.

In a country beset by anger and exhaustion, Americans are left to decide. Will we become red states and blue states going their separate ways?

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.

You can send letters to the editor to letters@pressdemocrat.com.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge, Black Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge, Black Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

This post was originally published on this site