TV Review – The West Wing Sucks Part 4

This is the end. Not of the world, probably not of humanity (yet). This is the end of the age we were born into. The world we knew is burning away. The world to come is uncertain. It could be fascist. It could be socialist. I am distraught it is the former. If you are out of the loop, reproductive rights for people with a uterus are gone in the United States. This is a reversal of a ruling predicate on a right to personal privacy. 

In his concurrent brief, Clarence Thomas references three previous rulings (Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergfell) as cases that could and should be revisited in light of yesterday’s ruling. Those cases recognized people’s rights to birth control access, same-sex marriage, and same-sex relationships. To remove reproductive rights extends beyond abortion. The disposal of implanted embryos in IVF clinics falls under many states’ definitions of abortions. If you have an ectopic pregnancy, removing the embryo to save the person’s life will involve a procedure classified as abortion. There is a deep, dark history of BIPOC being forcibly sterilized in the United States and its territories. Beyond all this, no one should have to carry a pregnancy to term if they don’t want to for whatever reason they want. It’s their fucking body. 

13 states had abortion trigger laws in place, and as of yesterday’s ruling, they have banned the practice. One of them is my former home of Tennessee. 13 more states are pushing for the same type of bans, so by next year, half of the states will be worse than they are right now, if that’s even possible. Leaders in the Republican party have teased a nationwide abortion ban at the federal level when they inevitably regain power in 2024. By 2026, I predict abortion will be outlawed from sea to fucking shining sea.

Democrats provided the following yesterday: Nancy Pelosi read a poem, some members of the House sang “God Bless America,” and Joe Biden told people they better not get violent as armored Capitol Police marched like stormtroopers to the step of the Supreme Court while snipers were positioned on the roof the building, weapons pointed on the gathering protestors. 

But, of course, we can’t forget other rulings made by the Court this month: police departments are no longer required to read people their Miranda Rights, your employer-based health care is not required to pay a dime for your kidney dialysis, public education funds cannot be withheld from religious institutions, states cannot regulate the carrying of handguns in public, on and on. As Sam Seder said in yesterday’s Majority Report, this is what June will be like for at least the next 15-20 years if you are an American. It will be the month when the Court destroys more of our human rights.

People like Aaron Sorkin or Lawrence O’Donnell (producer and sometimes writer on the show) are partly to blame. They act as mouthpieces for the status quo in a different department of media than the reactionary fervor of Fox News and its spawn. For Sorkin, civility and adherence to norms are the greatest calling for anyone in the realm of politics. This is an expected take from a privileged person, someone for whom the rolling back of rights will be the last to hit. He feels so comfortable being cheeky, having a conservative female character argue against the Equal Rights Amendment. He would not have achieved the level of fame and the amplification of his voice he has if he didn’t espouse ideals that prop up established authority. 

The lesson of The West Wing is ultimately to let the “important, smart” people handle the problems and sleep comfortably, knowing everything will be fine. This does not track with reality and even in the show’s fiction makes zero sense. I am watching just the ten highest-rated episodes by fans (per IMDB), and something I noticed after season one? A complete lack of real engagement in policy and a shift to personal problems and administration scandals. What legislative accomplishments does Jedidiah Bartlet have that justify the show’s presentation of him as a great and likely legendary American president? He gives a perfectly worded “off the cuff” speech and then proceeds to push for nothing, do nothing; the most active he seems to be is when it comes to the policing arm of the federal government. Not surprising for the show as it moved into the post-9/11 era, where America leaned into all of its worst traits. 

It’s hard to say much about this utter crap, but it feels relevant right now. It’s an autopsy to show that the United States has never honestly had a Left, working-class party. The binary is fascist and right-wing, one party that shoots you in the face and another in the back. From time to time, a well-meaning Democrat surfaces, but they are either quickly brought over to the status quo or made irrelevant, ground into dust by the gears of time. The answer to these ills lie in us, each and every person, not behaving as a lone actor but as a mass consciousness, working in tandem to destroy what was to build what must be. The American Civil War never ended; the President was assassinated a week after the cease-fire, and Jefferson Davis lived into old age. In the 1910s, the children and grandchildren of the Confederate bastards rewrote history and revived the Klan’s specter and its many forms; statues went up across the South, reminding everyone who was really in charge. America is evil. You are not America; you are a human. It’s up to humans to end this long, torturous nightmare.

Manchester Part 1 (S03E01)
Original airdate: 10 Oct 2001
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Thomas Schlamme

Picking up from the close of season two, Bartlet (Martin Sheen) says he plans on running again for president, regardless of his multiple sclerosis diagnosis. In the background, the American embassy in Haiti is besieged by that country’s military while the FDA wants to announce that it has approved RU-486 (the morning-after pill). The White House staff scrambles to deal with it all. Blah blah fucking blah. Who gives a rat shit anyway, right? 

At this point in the run, The West Wing is clear what it is: a show about public relations management. Bartlet could be replaced with cereal or a car brand, and the show would barely have to be rewritten. As said above, why should I care about a president who is more concerned with staying president than really doing much for the people? I wish Bartlet had been killed in the assassination attempt, or the MS would just kill him. It’s pretty cathartic to be able to talk about wishing a president was dead because he’s fictional. 

Bartlet for America (S03E09)
Original airdate: 12 Dec 2001
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Thomas Schlamme

Leo McGarry (John Spencer), the chief of staff, is testifying before the Senate regarding his role in hiding Bartlet’s MS. He’s decided to throw himself under the bus regarding his personal substance abuse problems because Bartlet is worth keeping around, right? Ultimately, deus ex machina steps in so McGarry doesn’t have to, and Bartlet just keeps doing what he does, which often amounts to managing the personal problems and scandals he’s directly responsible for. Oh yeah, and there are several Black churches in Tennessee getting burnt down by white supremacists, and this is used to show how cool the FBI is, I guess? There’s so little context provided or even commentary on the ideology of the arsonists that the fires might as well have been caused by random lightning strikes. 

The President has also saved a fucking napkin McGarry used to convince him to run, with “Bartlet for America” written on it. We are supposed to cream our pants over this when it resurfaces in a frame that Bartlet has left for his chief of staff. IndieWire sycophant Ben Travers included this on the comically titled list “15(ish) Episodes of ‘The West Wing’ To Binge View In Celebration of America.” About the episode, he said that if NBC had sold replicas of the framed napkin alongside Friends mugs and other merch, it would have done gangbusters. Travers isn’t wrong. Americans love to buy hollow, jingoistic crap that ultimately fills the planet with trash.

One more of these fucking posts tomorrow, plus Ariana & I will be doing a podcast recording right after we watch the 2020 West Wing Election Special on HBOMax. I am so over this shit.


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