“The West Wing” was one of the most popular television programmes in America; the public loved the portrayal of President Jed Bartlet by Martin Sheen, and John Spencer playing his Chief of Staff. In many respects, it was a dream: in that fictional landscape, America had a decent, fair President who had won a Nobel Prize in Economics. His team, though human, were basically good human beings. Government was shown to be imperfect and messy; politicians were often seen as grasping. Nevertheless, there was an underlying nobility about the entire enterprise.
The show ended in 2006. Portrayals of Washington gravitated towards a darker interpretation as provided by “House of Cards” and Kevin Spacey as the main antagonist, Frank Underwood. Nevertheless, you could still find pockets of decency, via the character of the intrepid reporter, tireless editor or innocent victim.
Trump’s time in office has been yet another show. We have had bluster, bravado, and outright lying. He has spewed more blatant fictions than any previous occupant of the White House. His lurid entourage have only made the spectacle seem more “made for television”, i.e., plastic, and phony. If there wasn’t the ingredient of power, the deep streak of cruelty, and a death toll from Covid-19 growing by the day, it would be laughable.
Over 75 million Americans voted for the show to be cancelled. While there was theatrical element in Biden’s victory speech, it’s clear that he isn’t an actor. It’s also obvious that whatever else Trump might say or do in the intervening weeks, that the words of Shakespeare best apply – “our revels now are ended”.
Joe Biden had a unique electoral coalition. It included far left-wing activists like Angela Davis and disaffected conservatives like Bill Kristol. What united them? It was not just a distaste for Trump, but rather it was an appetite for stability and normality.
One of the concerns that radical revolutionaries like Mao Tse-Tung have is that once the old order is overthrown, an appetite for calm and normality sets in. Mao tried to keep matters on the boil by instituting a “cultural revolution”. Steve Bannon is of a similar ilk: he once referred to himself as “Leninist” in his desire to smash up institutions. He was recently banned from Twitter permanently for stating he wanted to see Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Wray’s heads on pikes. Most psychologically well-adjusted people can only manage outrage for a time before wanting peace and normality to return.
Biden was well chosen for this moment: his moderate politics, his grandfatherly mien, his echoing of a gentler age appeals directly to the needs of our present era. Our revels now are ended: no more bluster, no more lying, no more lurid nonsense. There is a time to sow and a time to reap, there is also a time to heal. The President-Elect spoke of healing, it had greater emphasis and resonance than perhaps anything else he had to say. It is time to get over the excesses and hysteria, to resort to calm and quiet. It will be a time when politics can fade into the background, rather than be the subject of anxious scrolling through social media in the middle of the night. Biden represents a gentle reversion, a path back to the vision of “The West Wing”. Right wing populists should tremble; they thought that their undoing might be the forces of the hard left. No. Rather, it will be that most basic of human wants, a desire for peace, that will ultimately destroy them.