Is The Plot Against America Implausible?

As you might have guessed, Maud Newton and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of political or cultural issues. I regularly read her site, however, because she is smart and funny and posts interesting links. But I do think she is a little too susceptible to the “conservatives are destroying the world” meme. I was reminded of this with her recent post on Phillip Roth’s new novel, The Plot Against America, which posits an alternative history where Charles A. Lindbergh defeats incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election generating successive waves of anti-Semitism and culminating in nationwide pogroms. A friend of Maud’s apparently finds this plot line “implausible.” Maud begs to differ. As proof she sites a Civil War proclamation issued by Ulysses S. Grant which resulted in the harassment and uprooting of over 30 families in western Tennessee, southern Illinois, northern Mississippi and far Western Kentucky.

I am in no way denying the anti-Semitism or the harm and grief this order surely caused, but I fail to see how this isolated incident during the Civil War (the order was rescinded by President Lincoln a few weeks later) shows that it is plausible the Charles Lindbergh could be elected President and generate nationwide pogroms. Just because there is anti-Semitism in one place or time, or even scattered pockets across the country, doesn’t mean that anti-Semitism can easily capture national political power. Roth’s plot seems implausible because history clearly went in another direction: FDR was elected to four terms, the US recognized the state of Israel in 1947, etc. Anti-Semitism existed and continues to exist, but there was never a national following for politics of this nature. I think Maud needs a little more proof that events were likely to follow the lines laid out in The Plot Against America than a tragic but limited incident during the Civil War

It is funny how Roth insists that the book isn’t about the politics of today and yet how many liberal readers seem to want to read it that way. I am not saying Maud is doing that here because she is referring to the past, but I can’t help but get the feeling that her despair over current politics helps explain, or at least inform, her belief in the plausibility of Roth’s fictional scenario.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).