Much has been made about the impossibility of political satire in the Trump era, when the reality of our current administration has become far stranger and more ridiculous than any fiction we might dream up. How, one thinks, while drinking just to forget, can any satire compete with the deranged comedy-of-manners that is the White House in 2017?
This was a question David Mandel and the team at Veep had to reckon with when writing the bulk of season six, the finale for which aired last night. And it’s one that, by demurring to, they’ve managed to tackle head-on.
On last night’s time-hopping episode, we caught glimpses of Selena’s campaigns through the ages, from the birth of her daughter Katherine, to a senate race 16 years ago, to the “spa” she stayed in following her loss in the presidential election. The purpose of these micro-flashbacks were to provide context and set the stage for the dénouement—when Meyer, with her team intact, announces once again her candidacy for the presidency of the United States.
But there was a satirical purpose as well, whether the showrunners intended one or not, in that the flashbacks expose Selena as a prototypically static character. She is as politically craven, selfish and egomaniacal in the sixth season as she was when she gave birth to Katherine, and, somewhat disgusted by the prospect of motherhood, promptly declared her wish to run for congress; and as she was when she blackmailed a wealthy donor into giving an additional $250,000 to her campaign after she caught her blowing her then-husband, Andrew. Unbelievable idiots like Donald Trump come and go, the show might be saying—but ruthless egotism in Washington is forever.
Of course, this has been Veep’s modus operandi since the beginning. Where Veep differs—has always differed—from SNL’s Trump sketches or even House of Cards is its acerbic indictment not only of the head of state, but of the cogs of the political machine: the junior congressmen, the political aides, the consultants and lobbyists. This is a satire of our era but not exclusive to it, at once general and bitingly specific. It does not attempt to do the impossible and directly satirize Trump; rather, it attacks the entropy at the President’s roots.
And in our current political climate, with the Republicans in congress willing to bow to the whims of a dictatorial blowhard and take healthcare away from millions of Americans for no other reason than to keep a bullshit political promise, is there any satire more venomous than that?