The brilliant American novelist Philip Roth was asked by the New Yorker in January whether Donald J. Trump in any way mirrors U.S. aviator Charles Lindbergh in Roth’s dystopian novel, The Plot Against America, published in 2004.
In that novel, Lindbergh’s election precipitates anti-Jewish measures and other decrees, while historically he was an isolationist, used the phrase “America First” in his inaugural address, and, like Trump, expressed admiration for a murderous European dictator.
Here is Roth’s emailed reply, as published in the magazine: “It is easier to comprehend the election of imaginary President like Charles Lindbergh than an actual President like Donald Trump.
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.’ ”
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Asked if Trump outstrips the novelist’s imagination, Roth replied: “It isn’t Trump as a character, a human type – the real-estate type, the callow and callous killer capitalist – that outstrips the imagination. It is Trump as President of the United States.
“I was born in 1933, the year that F.D.R. was inaugurated. He was President until I was twelve years old. I’ve been a Roosevelt Democrat ever since. I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, 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 recognising subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”