The Plot Against America: Counterfactual History and Historical Consciousness

 

What Might Have Been: President of the United States

 

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth is a counterfactual historical novel. The story focuses on a Jewish family by the name of Roth living in an alternative history in which Charles Lindbergh, the Nazi sympathizer, wins the 1940 election on the platform of keeping America out of the war. Despite the consternation of many Jews across America, some prominent rabbis become convinced (not without good reason as it turns out) that Lindbergh’s “Nazism” is calculated to put America in a better negotiating position vis a vis Hitler. Call it politics. Call it the ambiguous future.

Roth’s book emphasizes the unknown. If his story was straight historical fiction, we’d all be able to look up how the story ends. Instead we get familiar ingredients (Nazis, Jews, America, Hitler) but an unclear finale haunts the proceedings. Continue reading

The Senator

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“Nothing is more unreliable than the populace, nothing more obscure than human intentions, nothing more deceptive than the whole electoral system.”
-Marcus Tullius Cicero

 

 

“How are the polls?”

“Holding for now.”

“Should I be worried?”

“You always ask that as though there is a definite time one ought to worry.”

“When I go down in the polls, far enough down that you would be worrying in my shoes.”

“Well that depends. Are you self-destructive?”
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All Hail Walter Benjamin

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A bit of fiction from an election in which the truth is often stranger . . .

 

I had blinked and rubbed my eyes a number of times as though the repeated acts would offer some new shot of clarity. They did not, and I muddled on in confusion and in the sweat and noise of the bodies all clustered around me humming with excitement audible and otherwise, an electrical charge which seemed poised to arc between to conductive points. The man crouched over the podium raised his hands again and charged into a new tirade. I squinted as the light caught the morphing of his facial muscles. The jury was still out as they say, but my suspicions had gone into overdrive as had the crowd. Why had I been drawn out of California and halfway across the nation to, of all things, a political rally? Had it all started as a simple act of kindness and morphed into something else? Was it obsession?

About a year back, my friend Trey had asked me to look in on his uncle, an older man who lived by himself with the daily invasion of a well-meaning but beleaguered healthcare worker. Business took Trey all around the country, and his uncle was the only family he had. He had explained that he felt guilty and could pay me a little for the service, since I was between jobs. The old man didn’t live too far from my apartment, so I assented and gave Trey that superior satisfaction garnered from killing two birds with one stone. I guess he figured that he was doing his uncle and I both favors, and he was not wrong. Continue reading