What if Franklin Delano Roosevelt, instead of winning a third term as president, had been defeated by the Republican candidate Charles Lindbergh, the celebrated aviator and “America First” isolationist?
From that premise, Philip Roth creates a chilling and all-too-plausible counter-history of America in the 1940s. Under “President Lindbergh” the U.S. becomes the ally of Nazi Germany, acceding to Hitler's European conquests and his persecution and mass murder of Europe's Jews.
Back home, the GOP administration embarks on a seemingly benign campaign to “assimilate” American Jews but its real purpose is far more sinister. Roth presents the story through the character of “Philip Roth,” a ten-year-old living in New Jersey with his parents and brother, all of whom bear the real names of Roth's family members.
Roth masterfully weaves the perspective of the frightened and confused boy with that of the adult “Philip Roth” who recalls the terrible events of 1940–1942. Though not an allegory with direct, one-to-one correspondence between the events and characters of Roth's imagined 1940s and the U.S. under George W. Bush, the contemporary implications are unmistakable. (The book was published in 2004, the year Bush won a second term.)
There's a “Mission Accomplished” moment staged by Lindbergh and his handlers, and the authorial comments about Republicans exploiting racial and religious bigotry clearly are intended to have present-day resonance. When the novel was published in 2004, conservative critics got the point, predictably accusing Roth of being tendentious.
But The Plot Against America is a brilliantly imagined and superbly written work, one of Roth's best political novels.