Poor Swift (from my lockdown diary for 28 May)
In my distant schooldays I read Jonathan Swift for English A Level. I read him again intermittently for pleasure and possible literary larceny, since he is of course out of copyright.
Then and now, I would sometimes have to mug up the politicians of Queen Anne and the Hanoverian succession, to make sense of Swift’s targets. Then and now, I would sometimes wonder if Swift thought them worth his talents. Did he think, why am I toiling to compose matchless prose to make these people immortal? Did he sometimes cast aside his quill, shout “Godolphin is a swillbelly ” and slope off to the Brothers’ Club for a little gargle with Bolingbroke and his mates?
If Swift were alive today, he would have felt that way about the present ministry. He would simply use the epithet software on his laptop to call Dominic Cummings a pilgarlic or Michael Gove an arsworm and then have a steamy Zoom session with Stella.
Swift would never have sent Boris Johnson to Lilliput because it would imply that there was something to diminish.
Trump is something else. Terrible but not trivial, and a proper target for time-travelling Swift. But it is monumentally hard to satirize Trump when he does such a brilliant job of doing it himself. Trump’s behaviour is calculated. He does mind how many people think he is a monster so long as they also think he is a giant, and so long as enough of them hate his enemies more than they hate him. One has to find a way to mock Trump without actually helping him. That task might even defeat the genius of Jonathan Swift. With a final despairing cry of “Trump is a slubberdegullion” he might give up and compose some additional Remarks on the Barrier Treaty.