Mini-series explores the
rise of Fascism in America
The Plot Against America is based on Philip Roth’s alternate history novel
By Byron Toben
Back in 1935, acclaimed novelist Sinclair Lewis wrote a warning about Fascism coming to America, It Can’t Happen Here, which I reviewed for WestmountMag.ca. Based loosely on the rise of Louisiana’s Huey Long’s populism, it was made into a stage play.
In 2004, acclaimed novelist Philip Roth wrote his more contemporary version of such a possibility, The Plot Against America. Like Lewis (and like E.L. Doctorow in Ragtime), it was an alternative history novel blending fictional and real historical characters into the plot (I counted 49 real ones). Plans to make a film of it never really jelled.
Finally, in March 2020, HBO has made a six-part TV series, which has received critical approval and the inevitable comparison to Trump and current events in the USA.
In the novel, Franklin D. Roosevelt is defeated in the 1940 presidential election by Charles Lindbergh, the widely popular aviator pushing an isolationist agenda through his America First Committee. The fortunes of a middle-class Jewish family in New Jersey (as were Roth’s) are traced as events unfold.
Lindbergh signs a treaty with Nazi Germany that the U.S. will not interfere with German expansion in Europe (the Iceland Understanding). This is followed by a similar treaty with Japan (the Hawaii Understanding).
… HBO has made a six-part TV series, which has received critical approval and the inevitable comparison to Trump and current events in the USA.
An Office of American Absorption (OAA) is established to require Jewish boys to live with exchange families in the South and Midwest to Americanize them. A new Homestead Act seeks to relocate whole families to those areas. Some elect to move to Canada instead.
Come 1942, popular radio commentator Walter Winchell decides to run for President but is assassinated while touring Kentucky.
Lindbergh disappears on a flight and vice president Burton Wheeler (Senator from Montana) takes over. German State radio claims that Lindbergh’s disappearance as well as the kidnapping of his son was the work of a Jewish conspiracy to take control of the government. Together with Secretary of Defence Henry Ford, Wheeler orders arrests of prominent Jewish Americans such as Bernard Baruch and Henry Morgenthau Jr. Ku Klux Klan killings and other rioting ensue until First Lady Anne Morrow Lindbergh makes a plea to stop the violence.
Roosevelt runs as an emergency candidate in November 1942 and is re-elected as the Japanese attack Pearl Harbour.
Mrs. Lindbergh, who had been confined to a psychiatric ward, claims that their son was actually kidnapped by the Nazis and raised in Germany, holding his life as a pawn so that Lindbergh would give full cooperation in bringing the Final Solution to America. When he refused, he too was kidnapped and the Jewish Conspiracy theory was pushed forward instead.
I have not seen the mini-series based on the book as yet but hope that it will become available in Canada soon.
Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been WestmountMag.ca’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.