We are an angry country. Each side of the political spectrum has very little in common, but they sure do share similar emotions. Bernie Sanders supporters are angry with Wall Street and college budgets while Donald Trump supporters are angry at Mexico, the entire Islamic world, the profession of journalism and many, many other people, places and things. These two old, white and – at (most) times – difficult men stand at the top of a tidal wave of anger, attempting to crash over the “establishment” walls of the left, right and everywhere in-between.
This movement – and it really is ONE movement, rather than two – has caught virtually every member of the media and political class off guard. But, is it really that surprising? For the last two decades, older, white, angry, difficult men have consistently dominated American popular culture. Starting with Tony Soprano (The Sopranos) and moving through his spiritual heirs including Don Draper (Mad Men), Walter White (Breaking Bad), Frank Underwood (House of Cards) and Jimmy McNulty (The Wire) to name a few, America has been watching a steady stream of angry and confrontational men. Even today, TV gives us Bobby Axelrod and Chuck Rhoades (Billions), Frank Gallagher (Shameless), and Rick Grimes (The Walking Dead). None are exactly rays of sunshine. The American public has proven, time and again, that they cannot get enough of this trope. Is it really that surprising that such a large number of Americans are attracted to these same characteristics in politicians?
Of course, this has not always been the case. You only need to look back to the late 90s during the reign of the West Wing, a show stuffed to the gills with optimism and nobility. Now, it is true that those are two adjectives many people would not identify with Bill Clinton, who was President at the time the show began, but the political climate was nowhere near as toxic and angry as it is today and neither was the entertainment landscape.
I happen to voraciously enjoy many of the television shows listed above and do not pretend to think that our collective TV viewing habits somehow created the Sanders and Trump movements. But we Americans are not that complicated. Our tastes have changed, and it will have a profound impact on our country if we continue down this angry path. President Bartlett would not fit in our political or entertainment climate today, but President Underwood is right at home.