The Plot Against America

by Philip Roth

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Phillip sums up his family's feelings in regard to FDR and Lindbergh. He says,

Lindbergh was the first famous living American whom I learned to hate -- just as President Roosevelt was the first famous living American whom I was taught to love -- and so his nomination by the Republicans to run against Roosevelt in 1940 assaulted, as nothing ever had before, that huge endowment of personal security that I had taken for granted as an American child of American parents in an American school in an American city in an America at peace with the world.

This moment, Lindbergh's presidential nomination, shakes both Phillip's faith in America as well as his security as an American. This moment, this realization that he and his family are not as secure as he believed them to be, is both frightening and incredibly easy to relate to. In an era where there is so much hate, and where it is possible for people to do such terrible damage to their neighbors, Phillip's language feels incredibly prescient. This is a major step in his maturation process, realizing that the safety that he once took for granted is no longer a guarantee.

Phillip recalls the first time he saw his father cry. He calls it "A childhood milestone, when another's tears are more unbearable than one's own." Herman, his father, had gone to Canada to visit Alvin, Phillip's cousin, who had gone off to fight in World War II and returned without one of his legs. Herman reports that Alvin looks like a corpse; he refuses to eat and seems to have no will to live. Phillip reports, "A new life began for me. I'd watched my father fall apart, and I would never return to the same childhood."

After the Roths experience discrimination due to their faith while on their visit to Washington D.C., they attempt to prevent this prejudice from ruining their trip. The family goes to visit Mount Vernon, George Washington's home, hoping to be uplifted once again by reminders of his presidency. However, when Lindbergh (or his wife, it's not entirely clear) flies his plane overhead on one of his traditional evening trips, Herman marvels at how the other visitors react. When he recounts the story to his friends back home, he tells them, "'They live in a dream, and we live in a nightmare.'" For those who still feel themselves to be secure, seeing their handsome and daring president fly over head seems like a perfect dream. They feel safe and inspired. However, for those individuals who no longer feel so secure, everything feels like a terrible dream from which they cannot awaken.

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