It’s almost impossible to spoof the Trump White House because no parody sounds as ludicrous as much of what comes out of there.
- President Trump, while criticizing Democrats’ clean-energy policies, said, “If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75 percent in value. And they say the noise causes cancer. You tell me that one, O.K.?”
- President Trump complained that NASCAR had made a mistake by banning the Confederate flag from its car races and accused Bubba Wallace, the Black driver who found a noose in his garage, of perpetuating a “hoax.”
- President Trump erected a statue of a Confederate colonel on the 17th green of the Trump Bloody Run Golf Club, in Virginia, claiming—despite objections by the Virginia Historical Marker Commission—that a decisive Civil War battle took place on that spot.
All three sound like headlines from The Onion, but the first two are all too real. The third is an invention in Christopher Buckley’s satirical novel Make Russia Great Again. And despite the degree of difficulty, this takeoff on the Trump administration is ingeniously plotted and as enjoyable as the real thing is painful.
The only quibble is that Mr. Buckley’s fictional Trump, while grandiose, ignorant, and corrupt, seems slightly more focused and less loony than the real one.
A Most Reliable Narrator
The story, told as a prison memoir by former chief of staff Herb K. Nutterman, is weaved around the re-election campaigns of Trump and Vladimir Putin, and the two are mysteriously linked. That would be uncanny, given current events, except that every season seems to bring a fresh Putin-connected scandal into the Oval Office; this summer it is the intelligence leak that a Russian military-intelligence agency paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants who killed American soldiers, and that the White House was told and either missed, ignored, or buried the information.
The novel’s made-up misdeed is actually more plausible than that. Oleg Pishinsky, a Putin oligarch who is banned from the United States, has kompromat on Trump from the 2013 Miss Universe contest and wants a big favor in exchange for staying mum: the overturning of the Glebnikov Act. (A thinly disguised reference to the Magnitsky Act, this law was named after an investigative journalist, Peter Glebnikov, who was murdered after writing an exposé on Pishinsky.)
In the novel, too, there is election interference, only it is America that tries to influence Russia’s vote count. Trump is half right about one thing: the Deep State is out to get him. But the sabotage is inadvertent and driven by a computer-programming glitch.
This takeoff on the Trump administration is as enjoyable as the real thing is painful.
Mr. Buckley also has fun with names, places, and even Russian words. Based on the real-life monthly journal Novy Mir (New World), the Moscow daily in his book is called Novy Smir. Nutterman, who served as assistant general manager of Trump’s Florida estate, Farrago-sur-Mer, is charged with keeping the blackmailing Pishinsky at bay and getting Trump’s re-election campaign on track. And Nutterman treats his boss with the kind of tact and obsequious deference that Mr. Salter used on the tyrannical Lord Copper in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop.
Major characters, such as Trump, appear under their own names, while others are fun-house-mirror distortions: Senator Lindsey Graham is Senator Squigg Lee Biskitt (Trump refers to him as “Buttplug” ); Sean Hannity is Seamus Colonnity; Vice President Pence is Vice President Pants; and Ivanka and Jared are Ivunka and Jored. In one of the novel’s few concessions to political reality, Melania Trump is barely present.
Buckley has satirized Washington before, notably in The White House Mess, a 1986 novel that revolves around a presidential aide (also named Herb) struggling to keep a Democratic successor to Ronald Reagan out of trouble. But it is striking in retrospect how gentle that mockery was: that novel’s tone was arch yet humane, in sync with mores that by today’s standards seem almost Edwardian.
Presidents get the parodies they deserve: Trump has earned Make Russia Great Again.
Alessandra Stanley is Co-Editor of AIR MAIL