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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

‘The Plot Against America’ presents a dire warning for democracy in 2020

Although “The Plot Against America” is set in the 1940s, it is a timely warning about the danger of fascism and intolerance in America today, according to Professor William Flesch (ENG). At a talk, Flesch talked about both the 2003 novel written by Phillip Roth and the 2020 television adaptation on HBO as reactions to the eras in which they were created through the lens of American history. The story centers around an alternate timeline in which celebrity pilot Charles Linddbergh defeated President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1940 election by running on an “America First” platform of racism, antisemitism and populism. In office, Lindbergh is friendly to Nazi Germany on the international stage, while domestically implementing fascist policies. The story is told through the perspective of a young, fictionalized Phillip Roth living in Newark, New Jersey.

Lindbergh was not only a real historical figure, he really did hold the views portrayed in the novel and ran for president on a platform of  “America First,” although historically Roosevelt won all of his reelection campaigns overwhelmingly and Lindbergh stopped advocating for friendly relations with the Axis powers after the Japanese Empire attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i. However, the novel and the show are not really about America’s past, but the present day in which they were written and filmed, according to Flesch. The original novel was a response to the presidency of George W. Bush, while the TV adaptation is a historical reflection of Donald Trump’s administration. The story, he continued, is a pointed refutation of the idea that America is immune to the threat of fascism, that “it can’t happen here.”

It would be dishonest, Flesch added, to pretend that fascism is only a foreign threat, something that would be brought to America by an invading foe. The people of this country are just as susceptible to the base impulses that lead people to fascism. Americans need to be constantly vigilant against their fears and darker impulses, and guard democracy carefully, or it will be vulnerable to a figure like Lindbergh or “some other contemporary politicians I could mention,” added Flesch. The novel ends on a hopeful note, with the reelection of Roosevelt, but the show has a much darker tone. Created in 2018, the series ends with an election in which the Lindbergh administration is revealed to be invalidating and destroying the ballots of voters in majority minority districts.

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