By Edward Simon Cruz
Television shows have always depicted heightened versions of real life. But when the television show became real life, the concepts of fiction and reality seemed to converge into some inexplicable peculiarity as the unimaginable became true and the true became unimaginable.
Such has been the wonder of Donald Trump’s magnum opus, The Worst Wing, a show built on the idea that you can distract people from a car accident by setting a forest on fire. Trump rejected the witty intellectualism of obnoxious Hollywood presidents like Jed Bartlet, whose egos interfered with their abilities to lead. Instead, his role models were more like Frank Underwood and Selina Meyer, leaders who exemplified the power of coveting even more power.
Say what you will about The Worst Wing, but it was never boring. Trump, after all, was the president obsessed with the idea of “more”: more tweets, more COVID cases, more burgers at the party for the college football champions. His experience with reality shows has lent itself naturally to crafting a world where small incidents shape everything from Twitter trends to our modern vernacular. (Who else remembers the “covfefe” about “covfefe”?)
Trump’s own business acumen additionally allowed him to transform everything, from bankruptcy to legal investigations, into a triumph as he paved the way towards a once-unthinkable idea that the leader of the free world could become best friends with Kim Jong-un and adversaries with Angela Merkel. If there were any doubts about Trump’s skills even after a decade of showing off his decision-making skills as host of The Apprentice, those doubts have surely been dispelled by now. Only a “very stable genius” can pull off such miraculous feats, at least when he’s not recalling and reciting a sequence of words as complicated as “person, woman, man, camera, TV.”
The first episode was criticized for its poor writing — it’s never a good sign when the first ten minutes include a line about “alternative facts” — and the story about fabricated inauguration crowds made many viewers incredulous. But that episode paled in comparison to what would follow. The Worst Wing perfected the art of throwing ideas at the wall, seeing that none of them stuck, and nevertheless deeming them the greatest ideas ever made. In its first three seasons, Trump’s show has addressed (and contributed to) a wide array of social issues: gun violence, foreign election interference, domestic election interference, family separation, climate change, white supremacy, and ethically-questionable payouts related to extramarital affairs.
The fourth season became the most catastrophic and explosive one yet; if an impeachment, a global pandemic, and racial justice protests weren’t enough, it was also election season — and so, after four turbulent seasons and a nail-biting election, the American people decided to cancel The Worst Wing. However, we should know that Trump is insistent, if not resilient: he won’t go down without a fight, even if it means going down in flames.
This may be Trump’s ultimate television show, but he can no longer get away with masking himself — figuratively, not literally — with delusions of grandeur and tacky gold embellishments. This is more than a television show. It’s real life. We were all reminded of this in the latest episode depicting a riot at the Capitol, which combined the most nightmarish plotlines of every political drama from the last twenty years to produce sights that shocked us without necessarily surprising us. Considering the incredible character development — or lack thereof — of the president and his cronies, maybe we should’ve realized that the assault on democracy would culminate in a literal assault.
And it might not even be the culmination. Former presidents typically remain under the radar, but Trump is anything but typical. The news that he is looking to revive The Worst Wing in four years and create spin-off series shouldn’t be surprising, which may explain why major networks and digital platforms are already saying “no” to him. This may be an appropriate evolution in the character arc of television’s most intriguing and frustrating villainous antihero: the man who built a career on firing people is now being fired himself — and he took it like only a baby would. (In fairness to babies, they can be quiet if given something to suck on.)
Good riddance, The Worst Wing. For four years, you’ve made us laugh, roll our eyes, and stare in horror as you threatened to trivialize our values and destroy our nation’s integrity. Biden will have a lot of work to do if he wants to extinguish the fires you’ve started, but he will do it with much less bravado. Biden will be a very boring president starring in a very boring TV show. And I, for one, cannot wait for that show to start.