A hardworking, civic-minded woman with a long career of public service behind her decides to run for office. Her main election opponent is the wealthy son of a wealthy father—an air-headed, privileged buffoon who can hardly string a sentence together and whose reasons for running have more to do with ego than duty.
Despite being manifestly more qualified, experienced, and “temperamentally” suited for the job, the woman struggles to keep up with her gormless rival, whose name, money, and gender alone are enough to win him supporters. Finally, the pair comes face-to-face in a televised debate. The dogged competence of one meets the thoughtless entitlement of the other to decide the fate of the election—and what comes after.
This is the story, so far, of the 2016 presidential election race. It’s also the main plotline of season four of Parks and Recreation, wherein Leslie Knope runs for Pawnee City Council against Bobby Newport, the idiotic heir apparent to the town’s Sweetums candy-business empire. In the image above, Parks and Rec‘s protagonist faces off against a conventional male candidate, creating the same optics as we saw last night in real life. The fact that a sitcom has already explored the absurdity of a race in which a smart, highly qualified woman somehow faces a tough battle against a blundering male opponent reveals just how far into the realm of parody this election cycle has gone.
Sadly, there are more parallels between the season four debate episode, “The Debate,” and last night’s IRL election face-off. The emptiness of Trump’s three-word solution to America’s neverending gun crisis—“law and order”—rivals Newport’s solemn declaration, “I’m against crime, and I’m not afraid to admit it.” Trump’s spineless obfuscation over his well-documented skepticism on man-made climate change echoes Newport’s stance on abortion: “Let’s all just have a good time.”
Like Clinton, Knope has to constantly reassert her right to even be present on the same stage as a man vastly inferior to her. When Knope declares, “If I come on strong, it’s because I feel strongly,” it’s an answer to the continual judgment that comes with being an ambitious, accomplished woman in the public eye. In much the same way, Clinton was prompted to explain herself for having thoughtful, ready responses.
“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And yes, I did,” Clinton said last night. “And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that’s a good thing.”
In some ways, Trump would have benefited from reviewing Parks and Rec before stepping on stage. At the very least, Bobby Newport’s charm, geniality and pleasant goofiness would be an improvement on Trump’s brand of calculated hate. But in both cases, audiences get a clear view how unthinking pomposity holds up when it’s standing next to quiet achievement: it withers.
Parks and Rec’s fourth season ends in Knope eking out a narrow victory, and Newport conceding defeat with grace and good humor. That’s probably too much to expect from Trump. But after last night, maybe life will imitate art once again come November.