Philip Roth published his novel The Plot Against America back in 2004. This mini-series came out in 2020. I haven’t read the book, but since part of the plot here is about a celebrity with no political experience but with some fascist sympathies gaining the White House…well, I can’t help but wonder how much current events influenced David Simon and Ed Burns to make this thing.
Now, before I go too much further, I will take a moment to clarify a few things. While I have read up a bit in the past year about how fascism works, and I do have my own opinions on which modern day political figures have fascist leanings, I won’t be calling anyone alive that right now.
There’s a simple reason for that: fascism is really hard to define as a political philosophy. Basically, it’s a right-leaning reaction against socialism that tends to appear whenever socialism starts to look like a serious option for a lot of people. Beyond that, it doesn’t really matter. There are some commonalities, but fascism takes on very different forms depending on what nation it’s in. Part of that derives from the fact fascists tend to use a country’s national symbols to gain traction while speaking up about a mythical past that never really existed when everything is great. There’s a reverence for tradition that may or may not match actual history. There’s a fear of the outsider, whoever the outsider happens to be, and a constant emphasis on “strength” while a theoretically charismatic leader runs things from the top as a virtual dictator. Those are commonalities, but that isn’t exactly a political philosophy.
The point here is, much of the above paragraph (save the talk of “strength” unless I missed that) is very much on display in Charles Lindbergh’s campaign for president. He’s out there flying The Spirit of St. Louis, making the most of his hero/celebrity status to talk of basically shutting the borders up and ignoring the rest of the world as a massive “not my problem” sort of scenario, and while he’s dropped his more anti-Semitic talk, enough to satisfy the Rabbi Bengelsdorfs of the world–and by extension, Evelyn–that isn’t enough for people like Herman.
That said, knowing what I know about how this series goes, that Lindbergh is going to win the presidency as that’s basically baked into the very premise, much of what I saw and how the various Levins react to Lindbergh’s candidacy could very much mirror what a lot of people thought in 2016 when a reality TV host with no political experience won the presidency over a woman with years of political experience, hence my wondering about Simon and Burns’ motives in the opening of this write-up.
For Herman, there’s denial. He just doesn’t see how anyone would vote for someone with no real experience or even much of a platform, a man who said things that should cost him more votes than it won him but is now pretending he never really said that stuff.
For nephew Alvin, there’s anger. He sees the dangers better than the others, and he knows there isn’t much he can do about it. He doesn’t seem to think Lindbergh can win, but he has a very cynical (and no doubt accurate) view on why Lindbergh’s people let Rabbi Bengersdorf speak at Lindbergh events.
For Herman’s brother Monty, there’s a resigned acceptance. He’s the guy saying Lindbergh really can win and Herman, who only talks to people who he agrees with politically, has no idea how popular Lindbergh really is.
And for Bess, there’s a desire to avoid it. She doesn’t want to talk about it, and someone has to look after the kids. Plus, she alone knows Evelyn is seeing Bengelsdorf. That probably would not go over well with the more politically engaged members of the family.
As I watched this, I couldn’t help but think so many of these people had attitudes and beliefs that mirrored those for a lot of Democratic voters and supporters in 2016 who never believed Trump could win much of anything. And yet, he did.
Then again, the Lindbergh election seems to push Alvin into going the Canadian army to kill him some Nazis.