One night during the first week of classes, I was walking back to my dorm in Edens, trying not to think about the litany of readings and problem sets I’d be assigned in the coming weeks. As I passed a common room with walls of glass, I glanced in and saw Dule Hill’s likeness on a television. Those in the room were watching “The West Wing.” I paused for a moment and smiled before quickly moving along so as to avoid looking like a character from “Rear Window.” I had smiled not because I liked “The West Wing”—I hadn’t even seen it—but because growing up, I loved Aaron Sorkin, the show’s creator. I maintain that “The Social Network”—for which Sorkin won a screenplay Oscar—is about as close as you can get to technical perfection, and I stuck it out through all three seasons of “The Newsroom.”

Even so, I never watched “The West Wing.” Maybe I thought it was too mainstream—that my fandom would suddenly be unexceptional if I bought into the mass-acclaim surrounding the show. Then recently, as I was googling Duke’s fictional graduates, I came across Sam Seaborn—the deputy communications director of the fictional Bartlet administration. He is a graduate of Duke Law and a primary player during the first four seasons of “The West Wing.” I quickly read about the character and watched a couple episodes of the show.

My assessment was simple: Sam Seaborn is whip-smart and a consummate idealist. No matter your politics, the passion with which he approaches public service is admirable.

Sorkin likes to make his characters earn that designation of whip-smart, chiefly through verbal sparring matches with bigots and ideologues. The rhetorical adversaries of “The West Wing” almost always relent or falter quickly. Staffers’ debates gravitate towards sermonizing as Sorkin’s heroes are inspired by the righteousness of gun control and universal healthcare; it’s liberal wish fulfillment of the highest order. And for those who abhorred the presidency of George W. Bush in real time, “The West Wing” provided a palatable version of our “city upon a hill.” If the “eyes of all people” couldn’t be averted, maybe, with the help of some rapid-fire dialogue, Sorkin could find us something pretty to look at.

It’s hard to imagine how Sam Seaborn might react to the pushback of a real conservative pundit or staffer rather than what Scott Meslow refers to as Sorkin’s “straw men,” ready to be knocked down. What would a verbal sparring match between a member of the Bartlet administration and Stephen Miller, advisor to Donald Trump, look like? Miller—who’s a Duke graduate—might be understandably mistaken for one of Sorkin’s “straw men.” His hateful rhetoric and convoluted interpretations of clear statistical evidence would, in the world of “The West Wing,” make him an excellent target for rhetorical firing practice.

In reality, Miller is paid to never admit defeat. Earlier this year, while opening for Trump, Miller proclaimed, “Everything that is wrong with this country today, the people who are opposed to Donald Trump are responsible for!” That’s quite an abdication of responsibility for someone who, as communications adviser to Senator Jeff Sessions, literally wrote the handbook that helped kill a 2014 bipartisan deal on comprehensive immigration reform—what would have been a step forward from gridlock. Miller is clearly confident in his moral and political infallibility. In fact, when John Burness—visiting professor of the practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy—was asked about Miller for a recent Towerview article, he noted the Trump advisor’s “unwillingness to listen to a viewpoint that wasn’t his."

Although “The West Wing” is centered more on the triumphs of its progressive heroes than bipartisan compromise, members of the Bartlet administration still recognize that opposing viewpoints are vital to the political process. As Leo McGarry—the fictional White House chief of staff—notes, “statesmanship is compromise.” All-encompassing blame is too easy and doesn’t lend itself to the dense dialogue Sorkin likes. In fact, it seems to me that the reason people love “The West Wing” is that its characters make us feel optimistic; they labor under the weight of their task but never seem completely disillusioned; it’s like Sisyphus got some friends and they actually started to make some progress.

Before this starts to sound like hero-worship, I should note that I don’t consider Sorkin himself a liberal hero. For example, despite all his progressive dialogue, women are often poorly rendered or under-represented in his work—his scripts are a series of boys’ clubs. In “The West Wing,” Sam Seaborn—the ultra-idealist—even tells a female colleague wearing formal attire that she “could make a good dog break his leash.” It’s an awful comment from one of the shows most ostensibly righteous heroes. Sorkin’s work is plagued by a glaring focus on the ultra-competent men of his stories and the women go to the wayside—I think of a particularly cringe-worthy scene from “The Newsroom” in which a young producer working on a piece about sexual assault reasons he has a moral obligation to believe the accused rapist rather than a female rape victim.

The problem with a political television show written by one person is that the dissenting voices feel so half-hearted. The fact that I often agree with what the heroes are saying makes it palatable, but I’m sure I’d find it difficult to sit through a version of “The West Wing” written by Stephen Miller. In some ways, Sorkin’s treatment of conservative characters—as well as women and people of color—reminds me of a quote from John Stuart Mill: “A state which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposes—will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished.

When we diminish those with which we cannot identify or reduce them to “straw men”—in a teleplay or a stump speech—we do a disservice to ourselves by failing to carefully consider opposing viewpoints constructively or render a realistic portrait of the human condition.

Whatever our message is, it’s incomplete.

Jake Parker is a Trinity sophomore. His column, “thinking too much, feeling too little,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.