by Denis G. Campbell
Whenever depressing Trump related news crosses my desk, I often go back to the balm that got me through Bush 43’s two terms, watching episodes of television’s The West Wing. Whilst the show itself is fiction, the writing is superb and a dedicated group of former WH staffers advised the cast and crew on real-life scenarios in the Oval Office.
This weekend I watched the special edition documentary made interviewing past White House staffers and Presidents interspersed with clips. Filmed during the hit season of the show, it takes us back to a post 9-11 Washington. Hope was at an ebb when this was filled yet every staffer or Cabinet member from as far back as the Nixon Administration as well as presidents Ford, Carter and Clinton essentially said the same thing about working in the West Wing. It was awe inspiring and a great duty and privilege to serve their country.
My experience of working in that building echos that of former press secretary to Bill Clinton, Dee-Dee Myers (who is an advisor on the show).
It’s a very human place and the people who work there are very human. And they’re not imbued with any super-extraordinary powers and they just do the best they can. And I think, regardless of party from administration to administration people go here with high hopes and they work their hearts out and they are fragile, and they make mistakes. And it’s a building full of human beings.
I cannot help but think about how the current occupant has sullied the legacy of those who came before him with his petty, deceitful and vindictive ways. Historians will look back at 2017 and wonder why so many put party and personal interest ahead of country and drove the nation literally into the ground to enrich the privileged few?
The quotes chosen are all sublime and 15 years on from the filming seem written for the current situation we all face. They are the antithesis of the current occupant.
This was a very balanced documentary featuring everyone from Nixon and Ford secretary of State Henry Kissinger to representatives of every past president since then. I was especially taken back by a Republican, Reagan advisor David Gergen. He gave three of the strongest quotes in a 45 minute documentary that could have been written in the UK by WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. Why? Everyone in both parties spoke about duty and honour and what a privilege it was to serve there.
“I think the best thing about our presidents has been, they have a sense of how better things can be than we are. And they have a sense of potential, of possibility. To maintain that sense of possibility about who we can be as a people and then encourage us to have great dreams. That’s when leaders produce action. That’s what you want to keep alive in the White House.”
Harry Truman, 1948. He signed an executive order with regard to the military to desegregate the military. And his advisors warned him, ‘if you do that, youmight lose the election.’ And he said, “This is more important. I’m going to do it because it’s the right thing to do. And if I lose the election, I lose the election. That’s final.” And of course he went on to win the election. But that’s one of the reasons all of us have such a high regard for Harry Truman because he was one of the examples and there have been many others. He was a model for saying, “let’s put the country first and we’ll worry about our election later.”
When he described working in the West Wing he said what I felt every time I walked through those doors:
Working in the White House is a special honour. It’s different from working in a lot of other institutions in our society. And there is a fraternity of people who work there, who do look after each other, because they have such a respect for the office of the President.
This is the respect for each other and the rule of law all nations need to focus on going forward. While some would say I buried the lede, Gergen saved his best quote for last. It so very accurately describes the current occupant to a ‘T.’
Many people no longer believe this, but trust remains the coin of the realm in politics. A president who is trusted-by the people, by the Congress, by the press, by foreign countries is a president who can get a lot of good things done. You break that trust, you violate that trust everything else tumbles around you.
It is time for action to get trust back in the White House and this office. We need it now more than ever. It is why I wrote my book: Donald Trump: Deplorable Bully.