My husband, Paul, and I have been binge-watching “The West Wing.” We first watched the series, which features the fictional presidency of Democrat Josiah “Jed” Bartlet, when it originally aired in the early to mid-2000s. Then, it was a refreshing antidote to the administration of President George W. Bush.

Now it it seems like a fantasy. Really, an erudite president who thinks big thoughts? Who listens to his national security advisors? Whose staffers are idealistic?

How about that press secretary who holds — wait for it — daily briefings?

The first time around, the series was an escape from a not-so-bright real-life president who never seemed fully invested in the job. We’d just had a president — Bill Clinton —  who was smart and read books. I know I was thinking, back then, “Those were the days.”

Bush never should have invaded Iraq (and I said so publicly at the time), but at least there was no question that, under him, our government was operational. We liberal, progressive Democrats just didn’t like the way things were going.

Now we’ve gone down the rabbit hole. We have a president who doesn’t read at all. He tries to tweet foreign policy. President Donald Trump lies, even when the facts are easily checked. (His father was not born in Germany.)

Was Trump putting the best interests of the country first when he said, in effect, that he saw nothing wrong with accepting information about campaign rivals from foreign powers? (Not surprisingly, he’s now recanted that statement.) Or when he tweeted (as reported in USA Today)  that “supporters might not want him to leave office after two terms”?

Oh, I still yearn for a president who speaks and writes eloquently, but Trump’s liabilities go far beyond his incoherence. He doesn’t understand the Constitution. He doesn’t care about it.

My undergraduate degree is in political science and I take the workings of government seriously. I can’t turn a blind eye to what goes on in Washington, or here in Augusta. I’d find it impossible to live in a red state. Eight years of Paul LePage was hell for me. I wept for joy when Janet Mills was elected governor. And I die a little inside when Trump says things that sound to me as though all he cares about is himself.

Whither the republic?

So it is that “The West Wing” reminds me of the way our government should be. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. On November 11, 2016, Vanity Fair posted “10 West Wing Quotes to Help Cope with Election Depression.”

Not that the Bartlet administration is perfect. During his first campaign, Jed conceals that he has multiple sclerosis; the backlash is fierce when he finally admits to it. His chief of staff has to own up to drug and alcohol problems. The vice president resigns because of a sex scandal.

The Bartlet administration is constantly reminded that, no matter how lofty its goals, governing is not a neat and tidy process. Naming Supreme Court justices requires an enormous compromise; meanwhile, lower court judgeships remain unfilled because neither the left nor the right will give an inch. A free-trade agreement means wins for some, losses for others.

Staffers Toby Ziegler and Josh Lyman talk to the father of a prospective college student while on the campaign trail. They come up with the idea of tuition tax credit for parents. It gets cut in a monumental budget battle.

As I watch these scenes, I am reminded how hard it is to get anything done in Washington, even when essentially reasonable people are sincerely trying to get things done. Now we have a president who wants to rule like an autocrat, Republicans who are too fearful to oppose him, and Democrats who can’t think of anything besides Trump’s defeat or impeachment.

Of course, I’m right on board with them on that.

Bartlet’s press secretary,  C.J. Cregg, is an integral part of the team. She wants to learn the truth (and doesn’t always succeed) before she faces the news media. Sometimes C.J. is uncomfortable with what she has to say; she doesn’t agree with the administration’s stance. But always, she treats the media as what is has been for eons — the fourth estate. According to Wikipedia, alongside the three branches of government, the media “is not formally recognized as a part of a political system, (but) it wields significant indirect social influence.”

Last week, polite pundits said outgoing press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ legacy would be that she killed the daily press briefing.

That would be shameful, if the current administration had any kind of conscience. I haven’t seen any evidence of one.

I can’t imagine Trump ever removing himself temporarily from office due to a conflict of interest, as Bartlet did when his daughter was kidnapped by terrorists and he felt his judgment was impaired.

Bartlett stepped aside even though his vice president had resigned previously, leaving the Republican speaker of the House as the next person in the line of succession.

Someone needs to pinch me before I start picturing Nancy Pelosi taking over the West Wing. If I don’t wake up from this reverie of a better country, I’m going to see pigs in flight, too.


Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected].

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