A new age of mockery is upon us. Trump's shabby little departure from Washington this week lightens the mood of the entire world – and lightens satire, too, releases it from its bitter and frustrated tone of these past four years.
Trump was more far-fetched and grotesque than any satire. True, there was a lot of funny comedy directed at him during his presidency, and some of it got under his skin – his contempt for Alec Baldwin was a form of hurt – but none of it made any difference.
Person, woman, man, camera, satirical commentary ... he ate satire for breakfast and by dinnertime, no one had the energy left to laugh at him. Trump laughed last, and loudest.
But he was laughed out of office, eventually, happily, thankfully. He's gone. He's over. He's a useless conglomeration of troglodytic conspiracy theories and fake Fox-generated news.
Already his reign of chants and sacred texts – MAGA, looting leads to shooting, Chinese flu – feels ancient, like a distant bat squeak from a bygone age. Only his bad reputation remains intact. "He," as Stephen Colbert said of the former President this week, "who shall remain shameless."
As the Biden vaccine gets to work on America, satire can get back to its core business of mocking the good and the great, and the bad and the ugly, with a clean conscience. The first business of satire is to entertain. That never felt enough during the Trump administration. There were other motives at work.
UK literary scholar Matthew Hodgart's great study Satire (published in 1969) observed that satire sprang from primitive witchcraft: "The equivalent of pointing the death bone and causing your victim to die of sheer terror, or, perhaps better, of making a wax image of your victim and sticking pins in it."
Satire stuck pins into Trump effigies with increasing hostility these past four years. The best it could hope to achieve was to help keep up people's spirits. Conditions are different now. Evelyn Waugh once commented, "Satire flourishes in a stable society." It's the turn of the Democrats to be mocked and they look ripe for it, with their good intentions and their desire to refill the swamp.
But what of New Zealand, and our satirical possibilities in 2021? Once more I am about to wander forth and stick pins into the cushion of the Secret Diary, that weekly death bone pointing at the good and the great, the bad and the ugly, on home soil.
It begins again next Saturday. Naturally, most of the targets will be our lords and masters toiling away on our behalf in Parliament. "Politics is the pre-eminent topic of satire," as Hodgart writes in his 1969 book.
The second term of the Ardern administration ought to be ripe for mocking but the Government isn't as inherently ridiculous now that Peters has gone. What's so funny about Grant Robertson, Andrew Little, Chris Hipkins, and the rest of the Labour front bench? What, above all, is funny about Jacinda Ardern?
All through the Key administration, I continually wrote Secret Diaries that imagined Key unscrewing his head from his shoulders, and letting it float around the room, as weightless and empty as a balloon.
Last year, I continually wrote Secret Diaries that imagined Judith Collins sitting in an attic with a doll of herself on her lap, and holding long conversations with it … I need to do something similar with Ardern, come up with some grotesque version of herself in a strange and revealing setting. Hodgart's definition of satire is borrowed from a line by the American poet Marianne Moore: "Imaginary gardens with real toads in them."
Collins will surely provide satirical material throughout the year. So, too, Act's David Seymour and his gang of 10, as well as various assorted Greens. It will be trickier to take on the two new MPs from the Māori Party – the liberal impulse is to avoid laughing at anyone wearing a moko – but such are the burdens and obligations of satire.
Each of us is ridiculous. It's the human condition. The satirical impulse is to hold everyone up to a good old-fashioned funhouse mirror and enjoy the distorted resemblance. It doesn't have to be nasty or mean. It can be light-hearted, whimsical, even affectionate.
The age of Trump is over; let a gentler, happier mockery begin.