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“The Plot Against America”, (2004) by Philip Roth

In a shock election upset, a brash “outsider” and celebrity comes from nowhere, and with nothing much to offer except simplistic answers to complex questions seizes the 1940 GOP presidential election and goes on to defeat incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt in November. Sound familiar?


Philip Roth’s 2004 counterfactual novel catapults Charles Lindbergh into the White House at a time when the US was dealing with the fag end of yet another in a long line of capitalist crises, and when there was a battle for the soul of America underway. One set of protagonists wised to see the US turn it’s back on the rest of the world, no matter what the moral cost maybe (in this case the rise of the Nazis) and concentrate on putting America first.

Unlike the present incumbent at the White House Lindbergh had some traction as a populist American hero when flying the Spirit of St. Louis he became the first solo transatlantic flyer. A real triumph of courage and nerve. But in common with the reality star in the Oval Office Lindbergh, the son of a Congressman came from the elite. These connections, allied to movie star good looks saw him make a huge fortune from his aviation triumph.Tragedy struck in 1932 with the infamous Lindbergh baby murder. Later in the decade he used his money and influence to fund America First, an isolationist movement which FDR accused of fascist tendencies and dalliances with the Nazi regime in Germany.

FDR is defeated and we are party to the changes in Society as seen through the eyes of child narrator Philip. He and his Jewish family begin to realise the way things are going when, on a visit to DC from their home in New Jersey they are refused entry to a pre booked hotel room. On their return home the letters of resettlement begin to land on the doormats of certain neighbours……

Philip Roth, like George Orwell in 1984 must have cheated in his research by nicking the Doctor’s TARDIS from BBC stores such is the unerring accuracy with which he paints life under a demagogue. From the Muslim Travel Ban (if it looks like a duck, and quacks like one it is in fact a duck) to skittish behaviour towards foreign leaders and threats to minorities Roth has identified the strands of what could be knitted into the first modern dictatorship in a developed country this century.

The fear now is that US capitalism desperately needs to create a control economy to stimulate demand. This current phase of capitalism has being going on since the 1973 oil shock and to keep us under control they have trashed wages. The consumption problem was temporarily solved by debt replacing wages. That bubble burst in spectacular fashion in 2008. Another bubble is very close to exploding. They need consumption. Step up the military industrial complex (so called by no other than Eisenhower) which in time of war lets the ruling class to switch to a control economy and demand for weapons and the post war rebuild can then drive consumption and the whole depressing cycle re starts.

The difference this time is nuclear weapons. That’s why the elites fear the current US Administration. Their unpredictability could see things get totally out of control rather than a conventional war which consumes manufactured goods on a massive scale. No matter the fallen as they will be overwhelmingly poor.

Roth’s book is a great read and the family interactions make this tome really fascinating on lots of different levels.




About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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