Philip Roth, the Donald & The Plot Against America

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In a piece from the January 30, 2017 issue of The New Yorker, staff writer Judith Thurman wrote an intriguing article on Philip Roth and the American president entitled “Philip Roth E-mails on Trump.”

The question that Ms. Thurman poses is nothing short of staggering: Did Roth, somehow, through his book The Plot against America, inadvertently augur the rise of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States?

Since “retiring” from writing (or at least publishing) in 2010 at the age of 77, Mr. Roth has been fairly quiet in the public eye. Yet when asked if his novel “has happened here,” the Titan of Letters responded:

“It is easier to comprehend the election of an imaginary President like Charles Lindbergh than an actual President like Donald Trump. Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero who had displayed tremendous physical courage and aeronautical genius in crossing the Atlantic in 1927. He had character and he had substance and, along with Henry Ford, was, worldwide, the most famous American of his day. Trump is just a con artist. The relevant book about Trump’s American forebear is Herman Melville’s ‘The Confidence-Man,’ the darkly pessimistic, daringly inventive novel—Melville’s last—that could just as well have been called ‘The Art of the Scam.’ ”

When later asked by e-mail if “this warning” has befallen the United States – and by extension the rest of the world – Mr. Roth wrote:

“My novel wasn’t written as a warning. I was just trying to imagine what it would have been like for a Jewish family like mine, in a Jewish community like Newark, had something even faintly like Nazi anti-Semitism befallen us in 1940, at the end of the most pointedly anti-Semitic decade in world history. I wanted to imagine how we would have fared, which meant I had first to invent an ominous American government that threatened us. As for how Trump threatens us, I would say that, like the anxious and fear-ridden families in my book, what is most terrifying is that he makes any and everything possible, including, of course, the nuclear catastrophe.” 

Gulp.

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