Make Russia Great Again: A Novel

  • By Christopher Buckley
  • Simon & Schuster
  • 288 pp.
  • Reviewed by Drew Gallagher
  • July 14, 2020

Truth might be stranger than fiction, but this political satire manages to hit all the funniest notes.

Christopher Buckley is at his side-splitting funniest in Make Russia Great Again, which includes lines of such pure comedic brilliance that the reader is tempted to stand and applaud like one would for a soloist at the Kennedy Center. This is what Jonathan Swift envisioned when he introduced the world to political satire.

Conversely, Make Russia Great Again is probably not what President Trump envisioned by way of his legacy (fictional or otherwise), but there’s little risk of his reading this book unless it appears on the Fox News crawl.

However, in the unlikely event Trump or a lampooned member of his cortege does read it and protests his or her portrayal, Buckley offers a legally binding qualifier at the novel’s beginning:

“This is a work of satirical fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any person finding any resemblance between themselves and the persons depicted herein should probably be ashamed.”

Not sure that shame is a guiding principle in the Trump administration, but I defer to Simon & Schuster’s corporate counsel on that one.

Some might argue that satirizing this presidency is too easy. Any dime-store scribe would be equal to the challenge, but in reading Make Russia Great Again, one realizes that Buckley’s task is complicated by today’s continued lowering of expectations and standards of decency.

But the author, pro that he is, manages to add near-unbelievable elements to his narrative, although these don’t include his imagined premise that Trump slept with all 18 contestants at the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant. (That’s entirely plausible.)

Instead, the most farfetched storyline concerns Trump’s seventh chief of staff and our narrator, Herb Nutterman, actually serving prison time for his allegiance to — and nefarious actions undertaken in service of — his boss.

Jail sentences, however well deserved, are rare among members of real-life Team Trump.

Nutterman (Buckley’s nuanced nomenclature is another of the book’s treasures) worked for many years as hospitality director at one of Trump’s resorts, Farrago-sur-Mer, and when his phone rang out of the blue one day, he answered destiny’s call:

“Call me old-fashioned. My view is that when your president calls, you pick up the phone. My wife, Hetta, urged me — literally — not to pick up the phone when she saw ‘POTUS’ on the caller ID.

“‘Hetta,’ I said. ‘I can’t not take a call from the president of the United States.’

“‘Yes you can!’ she hissed, sounding like an inverted Obama slogan. She remonstrated, as only Hetta can. But I picked up. Let history record that when the president called, Herbert K. Nutterman took the call.

“The operator put me through to the Oval Office. I heard the familiar voice: ‘How’s my favorite Jew?’”

Trump needs his most-coveted Hebrew because all is not quiet on the Russian front. His BFF, Putin, is coming up for reelection, and the United States has frozen the assets of Putin’s homeboy Oleg because Oleg may have killed a disloyal journalist or two.

Nutterman had met Oleg before and would prefer never to see him again, but his president and nation need him to convince Oleg not to share compromising videos of the commander-in-chief with all those long-ago, wannabe Miss Universes in lascivious and gravity-defying poses.

Oleg’s request to Nutterman is simple: Unfreeze his assets so he can visit Interpol countries again. Nutterman explains that this will literally require an act of Congress, but Oleg persists.

So Nutterman enlists the whiny, once Trump-hating Senator Squiggly Biskitt from South Carolina to push the request through the Senate in the form of repealing the Glebnikov Act. Not surprisingly, the Senate is disinclined to take such action just so a wealthy Russian assassin can sail his yacht to Italy on a whim.

This displeases Oleg, who proceeds to post the sex tapes on Facebook. But in a world where supporters would happily allow Dear Leader to shoot someone on Fifth Avenue — and likely applaud his marksmanship afterward — the tapes’ release doesn’t have the desired effect.

Nutterman watches as Fox News goes into full spin mode:

“I was in my office watching Katie Borgia-O-Reilly on Fox. She was swatting away media questions about Oleg’s latest video release, this one featuring the future president enacting Kama Sutra positions with Miss Myanmar. We were now up to episode four of what Democrats, the liberal media, and Never Trumpers were calling The Apprentice Does Moscow.”

In fact, Trump, who takes great pride in the conquests (which were quid pro quos for the promise to each contestant that she would win), takes even greater pride in coining the attendant slogan celebrating them: “Make America Hard Again!”

Nutterman tries to tamp down the phrase (and the ensuing chants thereof at rallies) because he suspects it won’t appeal to the religious leaders who can turn a blind eye, but not necessarily a deaf ear, to Trump’s past immoral behavior (fake news!).

Throughout Make Russia Great Again, Herb Nutterman pivots manically from disaster to disaster — the Oleg fiasco is but one of many — and, much like the reader of this hilarious and fast-flowing narrative, is never able to take a breath.

Once upon a time, Christopher Buckley became so disillusioned with the machinations of government that he vowed never to write another political satire. That pledge lasted nearly 35 years. Fortunately for us, he has finally stared into the abyss, plunged headfirst back into the immoral morass, and managed to Make Satire Great Again!

Drew Gallagher is a freelance writer residing in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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