Randi Kreiss

Where’s Josiah Bartlet when we need him?


My secret pleasure? For the past month, I’ve been binge-watching “The West Wing” on Netflix. I drift off to sleep every night in the heady company of C.J., Sam, Josh, Toby, Mrs. Landingham, Charlie, Leo and President Josiah Bartlet.

Please, trust me on this one: If you’re suffering from news toxicity and Trump trauma, “The West Wing” can be your virtual E.R.

First, of course, you must accept the fact that the truth of our present political universe is way stranger than the fiction of “The West Wing,” a TV series about a brainy, liberal president and his coterie of brilliant, funny, fast and furiously loyal White House staffers.

For example, in one episode, Sam Seaborn (played by Rob Lowe), an assistant communications director, causes a major White House crisis when he unknowingly befriends (no sex involved) a woman who is working her way through law school as an “escort.” He realizes he has to end the relationship and does, but it’s a huge deal. The president’s people fear that the friendship could bring down the administration if word got out and the facts were distorted. The information could be used to compromise Sam and tarnish the presidency. A friendship! Not an affair. Not an accusation of sexual assault. Just a friendship.

That was fiction. This month, two real women were in the news with stories about having affairs with Donald Trump since his marriage to Melania. Both women allegedly were paid off to shut up, but their stories are being leaked to the public. So this is a real president, in real time, accused of having extramarital sex with porn stars with no apparent consequences. Not to mention the “Access Hollywood” tape on which Trump brags about grabbing women’s private parts.

In “The West Wing,” Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, played by Allison Janney, is a tour de force. She walks the tightrope between the president and the press like Phillipe Petit. Faithful to her boss and respectful of journalists, she is a consummate professional who thinks that lying to the White House press corps is unethical.

That is make believe. In real time, we have Sarah Sanders, a verbal contortionist who never met a lie she couldn’t and wouldn’t broadcast to the press.

And we have Mike Flynn, Reince Priebus, Anthony Scaramucci, Steve Bannon, Rob Porter, Sebastian Gorka, Tom Price, Dina Powell, Sean Spicer, Walter Shaub, Omarosa Manigault-Newman … But wait. No, we don’t have them anymore. They’re among the 45 White House staffers who resigned or were fired in the first year of the Trump presidency.

In “The West Wing,” Bartlet’s daughter, Zoey, is dating the president’s personal aide, Charlie, an African-American. President Bartlet deplores the fact that, because of the relationship, Charlie is the target of random bias and threats.

In real life, our president carries water for white nationalists and other racist groups. His daughter, who has no government credentials, attends foreign policy meetings and sits in for her father at global events. Her husband is a top-level adviser to the president and he doesn’t even have full security clearance.

When it’s said that you can’t make this stuff up, it’s true, because no one would believe it.

Also in real life, our president fairly percolates with mean-spirited tweets and pronouncements, from insulting developing countries to denigrating immigrants.

All the president’s men and women in “The West Wing” are fiercely loyal, not just to the boss and to one another, but to the principles of American democracy. People on the show make mistakes. They may say or do the wrong thing, but they talk it out and work it out. They take responsibility for their mistakes. They are the absolutely best people for their jobs. They protect the president from daily aggravations and minor crises in order to free him up for the big decisions that require his attention.

Compare that with Team Chaos: the number of untrained, allegedly corrupt and unqualified former Trump staffers who are busy throwing colleagues under the bus and cutting deals with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller, of course, is investigating Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election.

And, let us consider the fictional POTUS. President Josiah Bartlet (portrayed by Martin Sheen), is a fooler. At first glance he seems slightly scattered, since his thoughts bounce around the Oval Office like table tennis balls. But we learn that that’s how his mind works, scanning and considering and espousing esoteric theory while simultaneously focusing intensely on the problem at hand. He has a Ph.D. in economics but is a master of all he surveys.

And he is kind. And he has integrity. And he does not suffer fools or bad behavior.

Tune into Netflix and give your heart and soul a time out.

Copyright 2018 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.