Christopher Buckley’s new novel “Make Russia Great Again” is a rollicking satire of Donald Trump’s White House — and of a president whom Buckley told Yahoo News must not be reelected or “we’re all going to be sitting in lifeboats.”
“It’s not really very funny when you think about it,” Buckley said during a Friday interview on the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast. “If he gets another four years, I don’t think satire’s going to be possible.”
Buckley’s book hits stores on July 14 and follows the success of earlier books like “Thank You for Smoking,” (2010) a send-up of the tobacco industry and political correctness. This latest effort skewers the Trump administration and its various enablers, including a South Carolina senator modeled after Lindsey Graham named Squigg Lee Biskitt “whose ability to adapt was beyond even Darwin’s imagination.” Other characters include speechwriter Stefan Nacht von Nebel — modeled after White House anti-immigration hardliner Stephen Miller — billed as the author of the “thought-provoking essay, ‘The Final Solution to the Mexican Problem.’”
Buckley’s father, the late William F. Buckley Jr., is widely considered to be the intellectual dean of modern conservatism; he founded and led the influential conservative magazine National Review and hosted the long-running public affairs television show “Firing Line.”
Christopher Buckley said his father would be “appalled” by the Trump presidency.
“Donald Trump is not conservative,” Buckley said. “He has no ideology beyond the cravings of his own id. ... Some of the things that Trump does are quote unquote conservative, but those are merely aspects of his crowd pleasing.”
Buckley revealed that he has personally intervened twice in the past couple of years to keep conservative media prizes out of the hands of Trump supporters. Buckley said that he almost sued National Review for awarding their William F. Buckley prize to Rush Limbaugh last fall.
“It came very close to a lawsuit, but in the end I couldn’t go through with it because I figured it only would have added oxygen,” Buckley said. “I was very upset. Amidst the volley of increasingly angry letters between me and the chairman of the board of directors, I asked him if he was planning to serve Vichy water at the awards ceremony.”
Describing himself as a Never Trumper, Buckley said that his anger at National Review stemmed from his realization that for the magazine to endorse Rush Limbaugh was a proxy Trump endorsement. While William Buckley was a fan of Limbaugh in the 1990s, Christopher Buckley said his father would not approve of Limbaugh now, since he has “quaffed very deeply at the Trump trough.”
Buckley said that when he learned recently that the Media Research Center founded by his cousin Brent Bozell intended to bestow its own William F. Buckley Award on Sean Hannity of Fox News, he again intervened. Bozell retreated, leaving Hannity “snarling,” according to Buckley. (Hannity, a vocal Trump defender from his perch at Fox News, is depicted in “Make Russia Great Again” as media personality Seamus Colonnity).
“Everything Trump touches dies,” Buckley said. “Look at what he’s managed to do to the reputation of every Republican senator but one. These people are gonna be dissembling: History will judge. And the entire Republican Senate is going to have to spend the rest of its life saying, ‘Well, we don’t know the half of it,’ [suggesting] that they were working furiously behind the scenes and they were horrified by Trump.”
Buckley recalled an essay by his father published in Cigar Aficionado in 2000 in which he called Trump a narcissist and a demagogue.
“When he looks at a glass, he is mesmerized by its reflection,” William F. Buckley wrote of the president. “If Donald Trump were shaped a little differently, he would compete for Miss America.”
Writing “Make Russia Great Again” is a homecoming of sorts for Christopher Buckley. He gave up political satire for historical fiction about 4 years ago, he said, “on the grounds that American politics had become sufficiently self-satirizing.” As time passed, and perhaps as he reflected on his father’s own essay on the president, Buckley decided he was ready to try his hand at political satire again.
“A number of people said, ‘Gee, why aren’t you writing about Trump?’” Buckley recalled. “And I said, ‘I don’t really know how.’ Trump as an object of satire is both a low-hanging fruit and a challenge — and he’s a challenge precisely because he’s a low-hanging fruit.”
Lucky for us, Buckley said, he just decided to “suck it up and get back in the water.”
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