(From Fiction To Fact) Philip Roth Beat Trump To The Punch


Lots of the author’s readers have noted the unsettling convergence. Philip Roth’s Plot Against America is a dystopian counter-history which chronicles the election of Charles Lindbergh to the U.S. presidency and his transformation of the country into a Nazi state. These are particular items drawn from the novel, highlighting the way a work of prescient imagination  carries over into our own troubled political life today with the election of Trump. Ironically, a key element to the story is the inability of people to imagine the reality of a terrifying malevolence stalking the nation.

–FDR mocks the Republican candidate at his nomination: “By the time this is over, the young man will be sorry not only that he entered politics, but that he ever learned to fly.” Woken up at 4:00 AM, President Roosevelt fell immediately back to sleep (p.18)

–During the campaign, national polls found FDR “comfortably ahead of Lindbergh in the popular vote and well ahead in electoral votes” (p.36)

–On the morning after the election, “disbelief prevailed” across the Jewish stronghold of Newark, New Jersey (p.53)

–The ease with which President Lindberg disseminated alternative facts about dicators, for instance about Hitler as a safeguard against Communism and the cavalier disregard for allies, i.e. the turning of our back on our friends, making friends with enemies, and “destroying everything that American stands for” (83-4). This is the “shameless courting by the president of the world’s greatest democracy of a despot responsible for innumerable criminal deeds and acts of savagery” (178).

–The “Just Folks Program” and the appeal to “the people” served by the targeting of a vulnerable religious minority.

–People thinking about and making the move to Canada (194)

–This sentiment, “How can this be happening in America? How can people like this be in charge of our country? If I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I’d think I was having a hallucination” (196).

–Michigan as a key place of disturbance, in the Winchell Riots.

–The economic distress of rural and rural-industrial white American and the ever-present danger of being lynched. This time around, though, those violently defending their lands from usurpation weren’t Indians led by the great Tecumseh but upright American Christians unleashed by the acting president of the United States (357)

–“America First”

–The strong sense of the completely unexpected and the unforeseen, and the sham of routine normality (113, 353).

–The idea that “Something essential had been destroyed and lost, we were being coerced to be other than the Americans we were” (108)

–Jewish collaborators like Rabbi Bengelsdorf and Aunt Evelyn cozying up to Nazis.

–The sickening reality of “vaporous creatures” from the cellar, spiraling malevolently up from the earth’s innards into my life” (139).

[[In Roth’s novel, however, Lindbergh enjoys massive popular approval. What Roth fails to imagine is the formation of an large scale effective political resistance. One can only hope that he got that one wrong.]]

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
This entry was posted in uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to (From Fiction To Fact) Philip Roth Beat Trump To The Punch

Leave a Reply