"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. A cautionary tale for today.

"If anybody asks 'Can you do this job? Can you handle it?' You tell 'em 'Absolutely.' By the time they find out that you can't, you'll already have learned, and the job'll be yours." Charles Lindbergh in The Plot Against America, pg 11,


I can't stop thinking about the book The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. Based on what is happening in America today, this cautionary tale seems even more chilling and relevant than when it was first published.

My husband and I listened to the audiobook version of The Plot Against America in September of 2010. It made a big impression on both of us, one that makes me think about it quite often, especially today.


What's The Plot Against America about? (Don't skip over the summary, it provides insight into this post):
When the renowned aviation hero and rabid isolationist Charles A. Lindbergh defeated Franklin Roosevelt by a landslide in the 1940 presidential election, fear invaded every Jewish household in America. Not only had Lindbergh, in a nationwide radio address, publicly blamed the Jews for selfishly pushing America toward a pointless war with Nazi Germany, but, upon taking office as the thirty-third president of the United States, he negotiated a cordial 'understanding' with Adolf Hitler, whose conquest of Europe and whose virulent anti-Semitic policies he appeared to accept without difficulty. What followed in America is the historical setting for this startling book by Pulitzer Prize winner Philip Roth, who recounts what it was like for a Newark family---and for a million such families all over the country---during the menacing years of the Lindbergh presidency, when American citizens who happened to be Jews had every reason to expect the worst.---from the book jacket
The Plot Against America is one of those thought-provoking alternative histories where the bones are accurate but some of the facts are twisted. In this book all the facts are the same except Lindbergh decides to run for president and wins the election. Suddenly everything shifts, and shifts fast. Within a very short period of time, Jews are being treated as second class citizens, being told they need to relocate, being stripped of jobs and privileges, being bullied and harassed by their formerly nice neighbors.

Sounds like I've just ripped the above paragraph from today's headlines, doesn't it? Just replace the word "Jew" with "Muslim."

At one point Seldon, one of the book's protagonists, thinks about all the negative changes in his life since Lindbergh became president. To have enslaved America with this hocus-pocus! To have captured the mind of the world's greatest nation without uttering a single word of truth! Oh, the pleasure we must be affording the most malevolent man on earth!"

It is chilling to read these words in a book of fiction when it seems like we are living them today.
Trump, who was elected without a majority of the popular vote, has spent the first eleven days of his presidency writing executive orders to ban Muslims from entering the country, nominating people for cabinet positions who hope to actually dismantle the agencies they will head, removing any language about global climate change from the White House webpage, blaming the media and women for all the country's problems, and antagonizing leaders from other countries. Trump appears to be friends with the ruler of Russia. It is amazing how fast and recklessly he has been dismantling the rules and laws we have been governed by for decades. And his blatant disregard for the U.S. Constitution is, frankly, terrifying. And just like Lindbergh in the book, Trump doesn't tell the truth but wants us to believe his "alternative facts."

When Trump was elected, over half the nation went into a paralyzing fear of what he would do, but experts assured us that the Constitution was strong and the divided form of government would provide the checks and balances needed to keep everything in order. Well, so far Trump has not informed Congress of his moves and actions until after the chilling news was made public, and he has already thumbed his nose at the judiciary by firing the acting Attorney General who said she could not litigate his Muslim ban because it wasn't constitutional. So much for the oversight of the checks and balances. I feel like Philip who wonders, “How can people like these be in charge of our country? If I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I’d think I was having a hallucination.” Every morning I wake up from my restless night of sleep hoping I just had a nightmare but soon I realize I am not living a hallucination, what we are experiencing in America is actually happening.

Lindbergh in The Plot Against America
Trump in reality, USA 2017
Friends with Adolf Hitler
Friends with Vladimir Putin
Anti-Semite
Some of his advisers are anti-Semitic;  anti-Muslim
Isolationist
Seemingly isolationist wanting to destroy NATO and get rid of NAFTA
Believer in eugenics
Acts like he believes in eugenics based on the comments he has made about people he thinks are ugly
Elitist, very popular in his day for flying feats
Elitist, tells people he isn’t, but all of the people he has nominated for cabinet positions are millionaires or billionaires, popularity stems from reality TV show: The Apprentice.
Liar
Liar

In an interview recorded before his death, William Golding, author of The Lord of the Flies, said he wrote the book to explore the nature of boys. What would happen if all societal controls and laws were removed, how would the boys govern themselves? Well, if you recall reading that book in school, things fall apart. That is what happens. Things fall apart for the boys on the island in very short order and chaos and destruction reign. What strikes me about both that novel and The Plot Against America is how FAST thing fall apart. It takes days, not months or years, for things to go from bad to worst. Remove man from the constraints previously set up by society and the true ugliness emerges from inside individuals. Neighbors who were nice now are unkind. Words which were taboo are spoken proudly. Prejudices kept in check are now unleashed.

In my Sunday Salon post of last week I reflected how it feels like we are currently living inside the prequel of a dystopian novel. We are viewing the initial steps which will lead us to a country we don't recognize, one where only the privileged few will flourish. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a Katniss Everdeen poised to save us.

Elections have consequences, as we are learning in real time. Unfortunately we just had our election so it will be at least four years before we have another chance at an autocorrect, hoping we survive until then. In The Plot Against America FDR wins the election in 1944 and order is slowly repaired. At least we can hope the same thing happens in this dystopian-type life in which we appear to be living. There is always hope.

"You had to be there to see what it looked like. They live in a dream, and we live in a nightmare." from The Plot Against America, pg. 76.

-Anne

8 comments:

  1. There are several literary novels that warn us of the price of misguided power and ignorance. Sadly, I don't think a lot of people who voted for Trump read much literature especially literature that challenges its reader to look at ideas different than their own. It's a frightening concept and it has been accomplished within days. Yikes. It's my job to stay as politically active as I can, no matter how depressing things seem. Keep reading, Anne. Your observations are spot on.

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    1. Thank you. I have a hard time being too publicly political but I do try to RESIST in my own way.

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  2. It sure does feel like we are living in a dystopian world. Great review!

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  3. Philip Roth is an amazing author, and his book is seemingly prescient, telling the story of our current times.

    I've often thought of the Hitler comparison when listening to or watching the actions of Trump. I am truly frightened for our futures...and seeing how he cuts through our lives is like watching a bomb blast.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  4. From what I've read, even many of Roosevelt's advisors were anti-Semitic and that's part of why we sat back and watched what happened in Europe until we were personally attacked at Pearl Harbor.

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  5. I have only read one other Philip Roth and it was a long time ago. This one sounds like a good one to read given the times. Thank you

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  6. This is a strong post Anne; and I'm totally with you on it. I'm glad you posted it. Every day I think when will this end? It just seems to get worse. And I don't know what will happen ... I think alternative history stories can often be quite powerful. I will look to reading Roth in the future.

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