If life imitates art, Nikolay Gogol, who had a keen grasp of the delusional and demented, could have scripted many of the key political events of recent years. Consider a story that begins with a woman announcing her presidential candidacy and quickly becoming – despite her flaws – the favourite to win. But out of nowhere appears another candidate: a television star with no qualifications for public office.

In short order, this buffoonish interloper goes for the jugular, heaping one big l...

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