I know Josiah (“Jed”) Bartlet is a fictional character, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to use him as a role model, as an ideal version of what we could have. I am a Bartlet Democrat (not to be confused with anybody who idolizes the real Josiah Bartlett, with three t’s in his last name — a member of the New Hampshire delegation to the Congressional Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence). In the same way that kids use superheros as role models, I think it’s healthy to imagine what Barlet would do under real-life situations. Of course, this isn’t always possible and the situations we (or a president) encounter will be vastly different from those Bartlet would have faced. And, of course, this is all up for interpretation because nobody (except maybe the writers of the show) would know for sure what Bartlet would do. But there are some scenarios that are easier to imagine than others. His reaction to President Trump’s tweets fall into that category. Let’s play.
Above is Trump’s tweet this morning. This seems to be a continuation of his response to the 60 Minutes interview with Andrew McCabe in which he claimed that he and Rod Rosenstein discussed the use of the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from office. Before imagining a former President Bartlet watching this unfold and responding, I think it’s important to be clear: the FBI cannot invoke the 25th Amendment. The language that’s being used makes it sound like the FBI considered using the 25th Amendment…the FBI can’t do that. The FBI can, however, show evidence to cabinet members and suggest that they use the power granted to them in the Constitution to remove a sitting president. Actually, if I knew a cabinet member, or had a job that gave me access to a cabinet member, I could do the same. That’s a lot different than the picture being painted that the FBI was trying to remove the president using a constitutional mechanism that doesn’t give that power to the FBI.
Now, let’s imagine Bartlet’s response. I picture him in a car, with a driver, on the phone with his wife Abby. He’s on the way to some talk or meeting or dedication and this tweet comes out. He removes his glasses and shakes his head, and immediately launches into a lengthy sermon about Trump’s use of “very illegal act.” I imagine a reaction similar to that we saw in “Galileo”
While it violates my ethical code to help anybody skip over even a single minute of a West Wing episode, the key part starts at 2:40 in the clip above.
Bartlet: Today we have a very unique opportunity to take part live in an extremely historic event which…Whoa, boy…
Sam: How you doing, Mr. President?
Bartlet: Who wrote this intro?
Tate: I did, sir. I’m Scott Tate from NASA Public Affairs.
Bartlet: Scott. “Unique” means “one of a kind.” Something can’t be very unique, nor can it be extremely historic.
In the same way, I picture Bartlet complaining to his wife (on the phone from the car) that “Illegal means against the law. Something is either legal or illegal, it can’t be very illegal or highly illegal. Who elected this guy?” His wife would likely call him a “jackass” or a “snob” and try to move on, but this would stick in his craw for some time.
Although it’s fun to picture more episodes of the West Wing, and imagine life after the presidency for Jed Bartlet, it’s hard for me to ignore that his fictional character really has become my measuring stick. An ideal that could never be achieved, but still an ideal. President Obama was close in many ways. His thoughtfulness and measured approach to issues was very Bartlet-esque. (As an aside, if you haven’t yet, or even if you have, go read the fictional post-debate conversation between Obama and Bartlet, penned by Maureen Dowd after the debate in 2012 — good stuff). Unfortunately, I think Trump is the farthest from Barlet we could possibly be.
His inconsistency and total disregard for logic and reason pains me. In addition to this morning’s tweet about McCabe, he also tweeted this:
He tweets a quote from NBCNews that he thinks exonerates him, only a day after tweeting: “THE RIGGED AND CORRUPT MEDIA IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” So the news is rigged and corrupt when it reveals bad things about him, but he’s happy to cite them when he thinks it favors him (I’m sure we’ll revisit the use of “direct evidence” in the report, but let’s leave that alone for today). Either the news is fake, or it isn’t. Either you trust the news, or you don’t. Of course the world is not black and white and the news can get it right sometimes and wrong other times, but the fact that we learn about the times reporters get it wrong gives me more confidence that we can trust them the rest of the time. But that kind of logic and reason would be more like President Bartlet than President Trump.
Nevertheless, primary season is upon us, so any regular readers of this irregular blog can look forward to plenty of who-is-the-most-like-Bartlet posts as we survey the large and exciting field of democrats eager to take on Trump. Fasten your seatbelt.