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2017’s America Told In “The Plot Against America” In Phillip Roth’s 2004 book

March 25, 2017

I love to read late at night when the city streets are quiet and our old home has those soft creaks that makes it home sweet home.   No matter what I read at those hours it never impedes my sleeping.  Until this past week. When I got to the pages of a story, as told through the eyes of a small American boy, when he finds his Jewish family needs to be moved to a new place in the country due to an anti-Semitic national policy.  I read wonderfully and richly written pages that are a marvel from a textual sense.  But when I finally turned off the lights my sleep was hard to come as it was not only the pages of the book but the times in which we live where Hispanics and Muslims are under attack with attempts to marginalize them that kept me awake.

I had never before read works by Phillip Roth but when The New Yorker referenced The Plot Against America in a column I took notice.  Thanks to Amazon the book was at my door in 48 hours and the pages started to turn.  But it is an unsettling read, even though it is alternative history.   Nonetheless I strongly encourage the read.

We must turn to fiction for analogies. In The Plot Against America, Philip Roth imagined that Charles Lindbergh, the pro-German isolationist and mega-celebrity, won the Republican nomination for president in 1940 and then defeated Franklin D. Roosevelt. Lindbergh signs peace treaties with Nazi Germany and Japan and installs Henry Ford as secretary of the interior. Anti-Semitic mobs attack Jews while the Ku Klux Klan is unleashed on blacks. White nationalism rules the country. This was allegory, not fantasy: Roth was writing about something he found latent in America. Trump has come along to exploit that dormant spirit with such genius that he has achieved what Lindy, the spokesman for the America First movement, barely dreamed of.

We do not, thank God, live in nearly so perilous an era as the one Roth was writing about. But Trump is eager to make peace with Vladimir Putin, who more than any other individual has set himself against the Western values of individual liberty and political freedom. Putin has returned the favor by hacking the emails of senior Democratic officials — which Trump had the astonishing effrontery to welcome. And Trump will target the outsiders of our own day, whether Hispanic immigrants or Muslim Americans. Is the analogy so very far-fetched?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2017 2:18 PM

    Thanks, Peter. I came away from this book, other than being really moved by the experience, wondering how I missed this one until now and what other great books are under my radar. Makes me wonder how much I am missing.

  2. March 30, 2017 10:51 AM

    Roth is deep, and I’m glad you have discovered him. You might want to give “American Pastoral” a look.

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