In times of crisis, everyone needs an escape—and that often that involves seeking out entertainment. For some people, a 'Law and Order' marathon might do the trick, as bleak as some of the storylines may be. Others find solace in video games. But some, in response to barely believable current events, choose to embrace a fictionalized version of reality, one that harkens back to their idealized version of life before everything went haywire.
And what better way to deal with the realities of President Donald Trump than to binge watch The West Wing, what with its ideal (to some) commander-in-chief, President Bartlet, masterfully portrayed by Martin Sheen?
Data from Google Trends, searching across the worldwide Google search engine over the past 12 months, shows a clear spike in interest of the Aaron Sorkin television series coinciding with two key recent events: Donald Trump's election as president in November 2016 and his inauguration last month in Washington, D.C. A similar spike in interest can be seen when restricting search trend data to YouTube, where, if you look closely enough, you'll find pirates uploading full episodes of the series using a common technique to work around copyright restrictions.
It only makes sense that The West Wing would serve as comfort viewing for people shaken to their core about President Trump. Critics of the series, which largely coincided with George W. Bush's presidency during its original 1999-2006 run on NBC, routinely characterized it as a "liberal fantasy."
"A show about a selfless, intelligent man who becomes president and surrounds himself with a competent, good people who are dedicated to serving the public... maybe—just maybe!—people are looking for a bit of escapism from the world we have now," Sara Morrison, a current staff writer at Vocativ who formerly reviewed TV shows for the website Television Without Pity, told Motherboard.
When you look at the broad strokes of Sheen's President Josiah "Jed" Bartlett, it's hard to not to see him as anything but the ideal Democratic president. For starters, he was a strange amalgamation of John F. Kennedy (Catholic, runs the country while secretly dealing with a debilitating illness) and Bill Clinton (brilliant but flawed governor-turned-president who went to school in England). This comparison wasn't lost on people who actually served in the Clinton administration, with former press secretary Mike McCurry once swooning on CNN:
"He has sort of the compassionate integrity of Jimmy Carter. He's got some of that shrewd decision-making and hard-nosed realism of a Richard Nixon. He's got the warmth and amiability and the throw-the-arm-around-your-shoulder of a Bill Clinton. He's got kind of the liberal passion of like a Teddy Kennedy character."
Then you look at what he accomplished during his eight years in office, including successfully getting Israel and Palestine to sign a peace agreement and pursuing a progressive policy agenda with respect to Social Security reform and renewable energy. On top of all that? The most commonly shared scene from the entire run of show is President Bartlett completely owning an obvious stand-in for conservative commentator and radio show host Dr. Laura for selectively quoting the Bible to advance homophobia.
So while the actual president may be busy upending long-established norms and aggressively tweeting about his enemies at all hours of the day, at least one fictional president is available on-demand to soothe frayed nerves.