I just watched Episode 5.17, which was about nominating one liberal and one conservative justice to the Supreme Court. They debated abortion, affirmative action, and constitutional interpretation.
Previous episodes addressed trade with China, the possibility of nuclear weapons in Iran and North Korea, and climate change.
Of course, some of the issues have faded away, like school vouchers. And on the show, the internet is relatively new and everyone has a flip phone.
I never watched West Wing when it originally aired, even though two of the actors lived on the same block as my in-laws. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it back then.
As you might expect, West Wing is a lot more about legislation and politics than Madam Secretary, which was naturally more about foreign relations. I would describe West Wing as more realistic and Madam Secretary as more idealistic, but that's only relative to each other.
Both shows are idealistic and aspirational, in the best way possible. They remind us that there are good people in the world, and we can hope that at least some of them are highly placed in the government. They remind us about what's great about the United States - the Constitution, the right to freedom, the diversity and the debates.
Neither show is perfect. There's some effort at racial diversity in the cast, but the powerful people who are series regulars are overwhelmingly white. I didn't love the way West Wing handled some issues, like sexual harassment in the workplace or the separation of church and state.
But nothing is perfect, and the creators of the shows courageously put them out into the world to tell these stories, and they're good stories. Like the activism that's filling the world right now, these shows lift me up and give me hope, and I can't say anything better about any art. (Both West Wing and Madam Secretary are on Netflix.)
What's been lifting you up and giving you hope?