On New Year’s Eve, Donald Trump strolled onto the stage of Channel One Russia amidst applause and confetti.

“Hello, did you recognize me?” he asked the audience. “I’m here on an unofficial New Year’s Eve visit. But don’t tell anybody. I want it to be a surprise. As you say in Russia, ‘You weren’t expecting me, were you?’”

Portrayed by the Russian actor Yuri Stoyanov, the Russian Donald Trump was a far cry from Alec Baldwin’s scathing impersonations of the President. Jolly, affable, and exceedingly polite, the Russian Donald Trump was perhaps funny only because upon repeat viewings the realization dawned that it was not meant to be a parody at all.

Let me begin here: the Russian media are not known for being kind.  When Russia’s Channel One covered Obama’s farewell address, it snidely noted that Obama was giving, “the last speech in a series of last speeches.” They also reported that Obama began to “trot out the same tired speech about American exceptionalism,” at which point members of his own audience yelled, “I don’t believe you.”  Another newscaster noted that Barack Obama’s accomplishments as President were so few and general that they, “could have been claimed by any of the preceding forty-three Presidents.”  Ouch! This, by the way, was a standard newcast, not an opinion piece.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that when I saw Channel One was featuring two political parodies in their New Year’s lineup, I expected some pointed performances.  The first parody, a trio of Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, and Theresa May, was on the mark. The three ladies (all played by men) were united in commiserating about their various political challenges through music, singing a variation of the classic Russian song “Why Do Girls Love Beautiful Men?” aptly retitled “Why Do We Girls Go Into Politics?” One of the more snide verses went: “We’re so smart and pretty, what are we doing there?” (Unfortunately the mean-spirited comments about women’s appearances are not limited to Russian media: Alec Baldwin made a similar jab at KellyAnne Conway, saying that she looked like she did the ice bucket challenge with her makeup.)

Hillary led most of the song, complaining that Trump had not been a gentleman and had not let her win, with Merkel and May supporting her and saying, “Be strong, don’t you call him first!” Merkel finished with a comment about how she was the eldest of the group and had the most experience in keeping house. “Is it a big house?” May asked. “Oh, yes, huge!” Merkel responded. “All of Europe. The only problem is, guests just keep coming and coming. And I have to host and feed them all!” (This elicited cheerful laughter from the audience – another barb at what they perceived as Merkel’s mishandling of the Syrian crisis.)

Following this number, I expected the Trump parody to at least land a few punches.  But it demurred, instead making jokes at the expense of one of the presenters, Russian food, and Bill Clinton. The longer I watched the more I became convinced that it was not a parody at all, but an elaborate joke with a moving punchline—, and the punchline was us.

Russian Trump sailed onto the stage amid enthusiastic applause, following a flattering introduction. (“We’ll ring in the New Year with the help of a very high-ranking guest!” singer Philip Kirkorov announced. “High? Like an astronaut or a pilot?” his dopey co-host parried.) The Star-Spangled Banner played in welcome, and Trump delivered his quip about a secret New Year’s Eve visit.

But the secret was not destined to remain so, because as soon as Trump was on stage, his cell phone rang. Trump frowned and picked up, muttering, “I guess you were expecting me after all,” then, “Good evening, who is this? The number says, ‘unknown.’”

A familiar, disembodied voice greeted him. It was Vladimir Putin, and the audience laughed knowingly as Putin told the puzzled Trump, “You’ll know the number soon enough.” Trump studied his phone dramatically, assuming an expression of nervous discomfort.  

He exclaimed, with convincing eagerness, “Ah, Mr. Putin, I was just about to call you!”

If you’re watching along with the video, note the stark contrast.  Trump is a neutered version of himself: a cheery, portly, aging man.  Putin, however, is someone Channel One does not dare to satirize.  He’s relegated to the realm of an omniscient, omnipotent power.  A disembodied, all-knowing voice that gets to deliver some of the best lines to a nervous and discomfited Trump.  We laugh at people when we want to make them weaker. But Trump is already a subordinate— – why waste scathing, invective humor on him?

Putin gamely congratulated Trump on the November election while the audience burst into applause.

“Mr. Putin,” Trump continued, eager to please, “I know you’re very busy, but I was hoping you might find time to meet with me.”

“Yes, I may have a minute,” Putin replied with offhanded noblesse oblige. There’s no question about who’s in the driver’s seat in this relationship.

Putin and Trump exchanged best wishes for a New Year with Trump adding, “I wish you health and oh yes! Money. Lots of money. And if you run out, I’ll just print some more.” This is ultimately at the heart of the Russian Trump parody and what commenters will always come back to, either kindly or snidely. Another Russian journalist, in analyzing the election results, opined that he couldn’t understand why the Americans were so opposed to Trump, as he was the embodiment of the American ideal of capitalism and consumption. If here in the US, we say that Trump is a caricature of a poor person’s idea of a rich person, in Russia, Trump is the perfect caricature of an American capitalist.  

The skit continued with a joke about Bill Clinton almost becoming the first lady of the United States, and a saxophone magically appeared on stage.  For those who are young or forgetful, the saxophone is a reference to Clinton’s ‘92 stint on the Arsenio Hall Show, and where he played the sax in a move that cinched his campaign.  That a mainstream Russian audience would be privy to the reference is perhaps a hint that they pay much closer attention to American politics than they would have us believe.

Trump laughed at the instrument, insisting, “I don’t play— – and the sax won’t play itself!” Putin was both at his creepiest at his most honest as he intoned, “Here, it does.” And that, perhaps, should be the biggest real lesson about Russian foreign policy.  

The skit concluded with a bland duet: Trump and the voice of Vladimir Putin singing Happy New Year to the Russian people.  Watching an obsequious, jolly Trump kowtowing to their iron-fisted leader, the Russian people look like they’re having a very happy new year already.

Featured screenshot taken from the parody video.

With contribution by Vadim Yesilevsky. 

About The Author

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Anna Redmond is the author of The Golden Arrow, a fantasy political thriller which draws on historical traditions of holy sex to create a society where women use sex for magic and power. She is also curator and co-founder of Hippo Reads.