In 1999, when Donald Trump was first toying with the idea of giving his countrymen the honor of voting for him for president, the notion was so absurd that Christopher Buckley took to The Wall Street Journal to publish his rendition of a Trump inaugural address. “My fellow Americans,” Buckley’s Trump began, “this is a great day for me personally.”
Twenty years later, Buckley remains the master satirist of Washington life. To be sure, it’s not the most crowded or competitive professional category in the world, but he has again cemented his position at its apex with the publication of Make Russia Great Again. In his 19th book, Buckley takes on a subject that would seem beyond satire—indeed, would itself seem a manifestation of some wild, dark satiric impulse: the Trump presidency. Buckley and I talked about Trump, the book, the Republican Party, and much else in a conversation last week. The transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
Andrew Ferguson: I guess my first question is: How did you work up the nerve? You’re satirizing a moment that seems to be unsatirizable. A couple of years ago, you said you’d stop writing satire because contemporary politics in America had become “sufficiently self-satirizing” and no longer required your help. Yet here you are, taking it on.
Christopher Buckley: I suppose the answer is desperation. I did retire the mantle of satire some years ago. Which reminds me of one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons, which is Washington-based. It shows a secretary approaching a congressman’s desk, around which is sitting the congressman and a number of his aides. She’s walking in holding what looks like a folded cloth in her hands. And the caption is “No, no, Miss Clark! I asked you to bring in the Mantle of Greatness, not the Cloak of Secrecy.”