Is the television series "The Plot against America" an early sign of the disease of the American democracy? It is a disease which was certainly not caused by Donald Trump, but which he has amplified and worsened, in the midst of a health and economic crisis.
The Plot Against America is the title of a novel by Philip Roth published in 2004, in which History is intertwined with the destiny of a Jewish American family living in New Jersey in the early 1940s. In this dystopian fiction, Roth describes the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism after Charles Lindbergh defeated Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election. This book was powerful and disturbing, but what it suggested seemed too far-fetched. "It Can't Happen Here", to quote the title of Sinclair Lewis' 1935 political fiction, which already denounced the United States’ drift towards fascism.
In 2020, The Plot Against America was made into a miniseries by the creators of The Wire. On the eve of the 2020 presidential election and amidst the coronavirus outbreak, The Plot Against America is alarmingly relevant. Could fiction precede reality, becoming a form of ultimate warning for all those who are burying their heads in the sand, refusing to see America's derailment? Didn't President Frank Underwood, dark hero of the House of Cards series, symbolically "pave the way" for Donald Trump’s victory in 2016?
In 2020, will The Plot Against America help Americans realize the threat that Donald Trump poses to democracy? Keeping in mind the personality of the 45th president, Philip Roth's story doesn’t seem so fictitious after all.
Donald Trump is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the crisis plaguing American democracy (which he has nonetheless accelerated). Each of the decades following World War II have, in one way or another, gradually chipped away at the American democratic model. The 1950s saw the rise of McCarthyism; the 1960s were marked by a series of political assassinations, that started with the killing of John Fitzgerald Kennedy; the 1970s saw the Watergate scandal that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation; the 1980s, the Iran-Contra affair; and the 1990s, the Monica Lewinsky scandal that precipitated the end of the Clinton era.
In the early 2000s, the attacks against American democracy mainly came from outside the country; on September 11, 2001 for instance. However today, the most serious attacks to democracy come from the American president himself. Turning a blind eye on the situation has become impossible. Something is rotten, not in the State of Denmark, but in Washington, DC.
The comparison with decadent emperors of the Late Roman Empire is hard to avoid. And this decadence does not only affect the executive branch. The shifting of the Republican Party towards an ever more radical conservatism did not happen overnight either. But today, Abraham Lincoln's party almost comes across as the heir to the Confederates. Amidst the coronavirus crisis, the President of the United States does seem to be taking up the arguments of the Confederacy against the federal government, by asking the states to be responsible for lifting the lockdown in his place.
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