My Aaron Sorkin Fantasy: If Jed Bartlet Were President Today, Here’s What He’d Do

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As a veteran political writer I’m what you’d call a West Wingnut. Every Wednesday I’d park myself on the couch with a 12-pack of Michelob and take in Aaron Sorkin’s masterpiece about the folks in Washington trying to make the country a better place. Sadly, the show went off the air in 2006. But lately I’ve been wondering: what if Jed Bartlet were President today? How would such a leader of wit and integrity handle the crises facing our country in 2016? I think it would go a little something like this:

EXT. OREGON MILITIA STANDOFF – DAY

AMMON BUNDY stands at the perch of the wildlife refuge building, rifle in hand, with dozens of armed militiamen flanking him. He is facing a thick crowd of National Guardsmen, reporters, armed federal and local law enforcement officers. Suddenly, the sea parts, and none other than PRESIDENT JED BARTLET walks through.

Jed takes a megaphone and walks over the police cordon, shrugging off his Secret Service agents who try to pull him back. He is now standing just 20 years from the militiamen in a wide open field. 

AMMON: (aiming his gun at Jed) That’s far enough. You know I ain’t recognize you as no president, now.

BARTLET: And if I don’t recognize my uncle, that doesn’t invalidate the fact he’s my father’s brother, does it? Any other great interpretations, Emperor of the Wildlife Preserve?

AMMON: Y’all done trampled on our rights for too long. The government has taken the sweat of our labor for y’alls purposes.

BARTLET: Is that so? Let me ask you something, Mr. Bundy. Where did your father get his loans to start his cattle business?

Several of the gunmen put down their rifles.

AMMON: (stammering) Now that ain’t–

BARTLET: By your logic, a man can walk into your house, ask for a loan to start a lemonade stand, and say you’re not his neighbor when it’s time to pay you your 20 bucks back.

AMMON: That ain’t even–

BARTLET: I’m not finished. You’ve proved my point.

The gunmen surrounding Bundy are now scratching their heads. 

AMMON: Now how’s that? Your law ain’t legitimate. I got a darn family to feed, you hear?

BARTLET: Then that would be a great goddamn reason for expanding the Workfare Food Supplement Program. Which you, of course, oppose, in your infinite wisdom.

The gunman closest to Bundy gets on his knees with his hands up, and the rest all follow suit. Except for Ammon, who throws his hat on the ground and stomps on it.

AMMON: Alright, you got your East Coast debatin’ ways, but how you reckon’ I’m fixin’ to get down from out this standoff? I swear to the Almighty I ain’t going to no jail!

BARTLET: Mister Bundy. You’ve lived an entire life based on the idea you don’t owe a debt to anyone. And one thing–one damn thing my dad told me that was worth a care–was that a man who doesn’t pay his debts is no man at all. How about you get down from there, give up the gun, and answer for what you’ve done. For once.

A single tear rolls down Bundy’s face. Meanwhile, the officers surrounding Bartlet have started a slow clap that within seconds erupts into a thunderous applause. Bundy tearfully climbs down from the building, leading a procession of the men gracefully offering themselves into handcuffs. Bartlet walks up to Bundy.

BARTLET: Don’t get down on yourself, son. It’s never too late.

The President hands Bundy a copy of John Dean’s Blind Ambition: The White House Years as FBI agents slip a hood over his head.

INT. TRUMP RALLY – NIGHT

Donald addresses a cavernous auditorium full of excited Middle Aged white people, cheering every word from the billionaire candidate.

TRUMP: And that’s why we will Make America Great–

An African-American PROTESTER stands up amid a sea of white faces and unfurls a sign.

PROTESTER: Black lives matter! Black lives matter!

The audience members scream and boo. They take the sign and rip it apart. They move towards the protester threateningly, and as they are about to lay hands on him, he takes off his mask revealing that he’s PRESIDENT JED BARTLET!

BARTLET: (to the audience members) About to beat up the President of the United States. Some patriots you are.

Bartlet strips off his costume and adjusts his tie as he slowly walks towards a scowling Trump.

BARTLET: We also have a little thing called Freedom of Speech in this country. That’s right, there are other Amendments besides the 2nd. And in this country every man has the freedom to speak his mind and not be threatened with physical violence.

Bartlet stops at the foot of Trump’s podium. He looks up to the coiffed billionaire.

TRUMP: (smirkingly) And what’s on your mind, Mr. soon-to-be-EX-President? (the crowd laughs)

BARTLET: Well, Saudi Arabia and Iran have changed their Facebook status to “It’s Complicated,” Vladimir Putin is scheduling more flights over Syria than Virgin Airlines, and my teenage daughter wants to get a tattoo of something called “Meek Mill.” So I thought I’d go take a walk to clear my mind, and I ended up here.

I have a question for you. When you say you want to “Make America Great” again, may I ask how?

TRUMP: First, we’re going to build a wall, a beautiful wall, to stop illegal immigration. (crowd cheers)

BARTLET: Tell me, will it be modeled after the Great Wall of China? Which didn’t do a great job keeping the Mongols out. How about the Walls of Constantinople? 40 feet high, 15 feet thick. The Turks used ladders, I believe. Or perhaps your inspiration is the Berlin Wall. I have a big piece of it in the Oval Office — a gift from Helmut Kohl — in case you need to copy the design. (crowd is silent, thoughtful)

TRUMP: Fine. Well, I’m going to renegotiate all our deals with China, and I’m going to get a fantastic bargain for the American worker. (crowd cheers) Hang on, I’m getting a text. (Trump pulls out an iPhone)

BARTLET: Nice phone, Donald. Is that the iPhone 6?

TRUMP: 6S.

BARTLET: Nice, nice. Hey, could you read me what it says on the back of that phone, that little text under the Apple logo?

TRUMP: “Assembled in China.” (crowd gasps)

BARTLET: I see. Seems like you already got a pretty good deal with China, huh?

TRUMP: All right. How about this. We are going to end terrorism by banning Muslims from this country.

BARTLET: Oh, so you have a problem with Islam, do you?

TRUMP: I do. It is not a religion of peace.

BARTLET: Then explain this. “Allah has knowledge of the Prophet’s cry, ‘O my Lord! Truly these are people who will not believe!’  But turn away from them, and say ‘Peace!’ But soon shall they know!”

TRUMP: What? What is that from?

BARTLET: The Quran. 43:88-89. Maybe it’d serve you well to read from the book of your declared enemy, you pompous fool.

The crowd is deathly silent. A single person claps, followed by the whole arena. They now menacingly turn to Trump, who sputters and cries. Bartlet walks out with the confidence of a man who’s proved his point. 

INT. DEMOCRATIC DEBATE – NIGHT

BERNIE SANDERS and HILLARY CLINTON are going back and forth, and MARTIN O’MALLEY tries to get a word in. 

SANDERS: We should not be asking, what can we do for our stocks. We should be asking, what can we do for our people that need! The! Most! Help!

CLINTON: I will not be going to prison despite my horrible e-mail felonies. In fact, the current President Bartlet–

Suddenly, a voice booms from the crowd. It’s JED BARTLET!

BARTLET: Sorry to crash the interview for my job. How’s everyone doing?

The crowd erupts. Bartlet makes his way on stage while a shocked Bernie stammers and Hillary turns her head as if she were an owl. He makes his way between them, placing his hands on both their shoulders, and looks directly into the camera.

BARTLET: Bet you folks at home wish you could do this.

JAKE TAPPER: This is highly irregular, Mr. President!

BARTLET: I heard my name mentioned, and I believe I’m entitled to a response.

TAPPER: You are not–

BARTLET: Nice haircut, Jake. Does it come in men’s?

Tapper stammers, completely humiliated by a dashing, superior wit.

BARTLET: So, here are your choices, Democrats. On one hand, you’ve got a soon-to-be convicted felon who spent more time emailing Sidney Blumenthal than emailing single mothers facing foreclosure.

SANDERS: Heh!

BARTLET: I’ll get to you in a minute! Mrs. Clinton, the office of Secretary of State was occupied by Thomas Jefferson. Ask yourself, are you doing him proud? Then you have Bernie over here.

SANDERS: This is ridiculous. This is the president of the 1 percent–

BARTLET: And the American people, you feckless bastard. As I was saying, you have someone more interested in throwing tantrums than passing legislation. I’ll tell you this, Senator Sanders. You and I have a bit in common. We’re both Northeasterners who have a little flare for the dramatic. The difference is, Senator, I use logic and statistics. You use hand waving and sputtering. I use words. You make sounds. People in this country have babies every day, Bernie. They would not like to have another one to take care of in the White House.

The crowd cheers, but Tapper is fidgeting aggressively.

TAPPER: Mr. President, I am trying to conduct a debate!

BARTLET: Just 15 seconds, Jake. By the way, I would think you’d be happy for anything that gives you good ratings for once.

The crowd erupts in laughter. Tapper, red-faced, stares at his shoes.

BARTLET: And finally, Governor O’Malley. Here’s my advice to you, kid: Hang in there. I seem to remember another salt and pepper-haired East Coast governor no one thought had a prayer. Remember these two. They’ll tell you what not to do when you’re playing the championship game.

The music swells to a crescendo.

O’MALLEY: Yes sir, Mister President!

The crowd stands in ovation, and Bartlet waves goodbye.

Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years, and is the author of “Think-ocracy: The Rise Of The Brainy Congressman”. Got a question for the Dig? E-mail him at carl@cafe.com or Tweet to @carl_diggler.