The West Wing Taught Me Everything I Know About US Politics

The West Wing

I consider myself quite knowledgeable in politics and in particular I’m fascinated by elections. Whilst ours are full of drama and shi*t slinging, no electoral system is more ridiculous than that of the United States. The way the campaigns are run, from the split parties to that fact that anyone can run to be president as a representative of a party–literally anyone, looking at you Mr President–is addictive to watch. The fact that the actual battle between two candidates is only a small fraction of the campaign is something utterly baffling to us Brits and something I enjoy explaining and poring over.

But here’s the thing: I knew nothing about American politics until The West Wing came into my life.

“The first time I ever saw a State of the Union address was when President Bartlett agonised over what to say.”

The West Wing is seen as a staple of the political drama genre because, simply put, it’s the most accurate political drama there is. It shows the day to day workings of the White House as a well-oiled meticulous machine. It’s written by people who love the country’s political system, for all its faults, and in turn the show educates without dumbing down. Through Aaron Sorkin’s incredible scripts I learnt all about Super Tuesday (the primaries that determine who are the two major presidential candidates). I discovered that because of the way the elections work and because the parties are so split, you can have one party in charge of the country (as president) and the other in charge of the country’s laws (if they have the most seats in Congress).

The first time I ever saw a State of the Union address was when President Bartlett agonised over what to say. I also learnt from that the rule of designated survivor, in which one person in the line of succession is chosen to not go to the speech in case all of Congress is blown up.

“I will forever see Paul Giamotti as the second President of the United States.”

It seems that I was not the only one inspired by The West Wing though. Throughout the series, Chief of Staff Leo tries to honour Andrew Jackson’s tradition of allowing the common people into the White House for one day a year and share problems that are usually ignored. In the last few years of his presidency, Barack Obama brought this into the real office.

Of course, The West Wing only shows a small portion of American political history, but it fuelled my history nerd passion and led me to discover more about American politics and the Founding Fathers. This was greatly helped by HBO’s show John Adams–arguably the best political mini-series America has ever created.  From this I learnt about how America attempted to negotiate peace with Britain and forged ahead to become the great nation they are now. The only drawback of this is that I will forever see Paul Giamotti as the second President of the United States, which is why it was quite disturbing when he played a sexually submissive lawyer who enjoys golden showers in Millions.

“I still live in hope that Jed Bartlett will save us all.”

More recently, my generation has learnt even more about American history thanks to the musical behemoth that is Hamilton. Through the catchy songs and fast rhymes, I learnt about how the war was won and how the country was formed despite adversity. The rap battles show Congress splitting into what we now know as the two political parties and the ways the electoral system works with delegates and states. But most importantly, Hamilton actually made me understand finance, which is a feat no accountant or teacher has ever managed to pull off.

In this terrifying constantly changing political climate it’s easy to feel scared and put off by the whats happening with the President. But thanks to The West Wing I feel more educated and reassured. Though I still live in hope that Jed Bartlett will save us all.

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