Some of the most ominous commentary on Donald Trump's election came from retired novelist Philip Roth in this week's New Yorker.
In "The Plot Against America," published in 2004, Roth imagines anti-Semitic Republican Charles Lindbergh defeating incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt in FDR's bid for a third term.
As the New Yorker's Judith Thurman says in her piece on talking with Roth, the historical Lindbergh espoused the "America First" slogan that Trump used in his inaugural screed. Trump in his ignorance might have been unaware of the term's dark history, but his right-wing speechwriter Steve Bannon surely knew.
Thurman asked Roth, 77, to compare Lindbergh's fictional victory in "The Plot Against America" with Trump's win, not an" alternative fact" as much as we wish it to be.
Roth answered through e-mail, "Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero who had displayed tremendous physical courage and aeronautical genius in crossing the Atlantic in 1927. He had character and he had substance and, along with Henry Ford, was, worldwide, the most famous American of his day.
"Trump is just a con artist. The relevant book about Trump's American forebear is Herman Melville's "The Confidence Man," the darkly pessimistic, daringly inventive novel - Melville's last - that could just as well have been called "the Art of the Scam."
Although Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and George W. Bush had disastrous administrations, "neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of 77 words that is better called Jerkish than English."
Roth does express hope that unlike in Eastern Europe under communism, American writers will continue to have the freedom to criticize Trump. However, he said,, "Writers here don't live enslaved in a totalitarian police state, and it would be unwise to act as if we did, unless - or until - there is a genuine assault on our rights and the country is drowning in Trump's river of lies."
For Roth fans depressed that he's stopped writing books, his stand against Trump gives a bit of solace. I can think of no other American writer of Roth's stature, outside of perhaps Don DeLillo, who pointed out that American reality outstrips writers' imaginations.