The opening credits of Netflix's The Politician peer into a wooden, life-sized model of the main character Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), an ambitious high schooler with dreams of becoming the President of the United States. Inside are dozens of compartments meant to represent the teen character's interests, aspirations, and innermost traits: Harvard's crest, campaign buttons, a pink heart surrounded by black tar. Notably, there are four books placed inside titled Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, symbolizing the most recent U.S. presidents (excluding George H.W. Bush). The Politician never mentions current president Donald Trump, but it's here the show seems to make its most pointed joke about him: instead of his name is a fifth book titled Idiot's Guide to Clowning.
The choice to not say Trump's name is perhaps in part due to wishful thinking. Real events and people, like past leaders, are referenced often throughout the show, but the current president goes unmentioned, keeping its heightened world — in which a class election is treated with as much gravitas as a professional one — separate from our own. "It's like an alternate reality a little bit," Theo Germaine, who plays Payton's campaign adviser James, tells Bustle at a New York press junket for the show.
But it's also something many cast members believe is for the best. "[The show isn't] about him. It's about what politicians stand for," says Lucy Boyton, who plays Payton's political rival Astrid. "I think you're able to more accurately represent concepts and political points and such if you don't put a name to them that already carries so much weight of opinion. This is a way to look at a clean slate."
Adds Rahne Jones, who plays Skye: "It's almost too easy to mention Trump. It's low hanging fruit."
Zoey Deutch (Infinity) relates not including Trump to other aspects of the series that might go unnoticed. "It certainly isn't a show that ever skims the surface, it always digs deeper, which is in line with every other [Ryan] Murphy, [Brad] Falchuk, [Ian] Brennan production," she explains. "But when I realize there's never a curse word, there's no nudity, there's no mention of Trump. It's really interesting, the things you don't mention." (The show does actually include the occasional swear, but given some of its dark themes, you might expect there to be more.)
Julia Schlaepfer (Alice) agrees, and while she says she can't speak for the series creators, she believes all of these choices are a way for the show to be appropriate for viewers of different ages. For young people watching the series, not talking about Trump means they aren't being preached to about politics in such a direct way. "They're not being told, 'This is bad,'" she says. "It's a conversation. The whole show is a discussion."
Murphy touched on this idea in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. While he didn't talk about leaving Trump out specifically, he did mention the idea of wide appeal. "It just seemed like [Netflix] really understood what I wanted, which is a big, broad, mainstream hit," he said. The showrunner also spoke about being inspired by the Trump family, particularly "this idea of Ivanka and Jared [as] the sort of satanic poster boy and girl for privilege and nepotism."
But while Trump's name might not be said aloud, "he's still part of the conversation," according to Germaine. "I mean, because there's so much bull that is going on. I see a little bit of things being reflected in the show even though there's no mention of anything."
And overall, The Politician cast is in agreement about what the show is saying about the current political climate: as Deutch puts it, "that it's a sh*tshow."