Since the depressing events of January 20th, I have been thinking of Philip Roth’s alternative history novel The Plot Against America. Our would be dictator’s references to “America First” reminded me of the anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, fascist movement championed by Nazi-loving Charles Lindbergh.
The famous American aviator Charles Lindbergh achieved notoriety with his record-setting 1927 transatlantic flight and became a staunch isolationist in the years prior to World War II. He was also a willing spokesman for ant-Semitic groups around the nation. He was the public face for the isolationist America First Committee, received an Order of the German Eagle award from Hermann Göring in 1938, and advocated a neutrality pact with Hitler as late as 1941.
In Philip Roth’s 2004 novel The Plot Against America, Lindbergh runs as a surprise Republican candidate in the 1940 presidential election. With strong support from Southern and Midwestern states, Lindbergh defeats FDR, then signs “understandings” with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan that promise nonintervention in Europe and Asia.
Roth uses his autobiographical setting of Newark, N.J., where his Jewish family is threatened by this nightmarish turn in U.S. politics. Anti-Semitism sweeps the country, with Jewish children forcibly removed to the Midwest to “Americanize” them, leading Jewish citizens arrested and violence spreading in the U.S. cities. Roth’s actual experiences with American anti-Semitism in the 30s and 40s give The Plot Against America a frightening basis in reality. The novel also serves as a portrait of the calamitous possibilities lurking in election surprises.
If you haven’t read the book yet, it’s a chilling and foreboding glimpse of the alternative reality that is enveloping the U.S. and threatening the world.