C.M. Your 2004 novel, “The Plot Against America,” seems eerily prescient today. When that novel came out, some people saw it as a commentary on the Bush administration, but there were nowhere near as many parallels then as there seem to be now.
P.R. However prescient “The Plot Against America” might seem to you, there is surely one enormous difference between the political circumstances I invent there for the U.S. in 1940 and the political calamity that dismays us so today. It’s the difference in stature between a President Lindbergh and a President Trump. Charles Lindbergh, in life as in my novel, may have been a genuine racist and an anti-Semite and a white supremacist sympathetic to Fascism, but he was also — because of the extraordinary feat of his solo trans-Atlantic flight at the age of 25 — an authentic American hero 13 years before I have him winning the presidency. Lindbergh, historically, was the courageous young pilot who in 1927, for the first time, flew nonstop across the Atlantic, from Long Island to Paris. He did it in 33.5 hours in a single-seat, single-engine monoplane, thus making him a kind of 20th-century Leif Ericson, an aeronautical Magellan, one of the earliest beacons of the age of aviation. Trump, by comparison, is a massive fraud, the evil sum of his deficiencies, devoid of everything but the hollow ideology of a megalomaniac.
C.M. Looking back, how do you recall your 50-plus years as a writer?
P.R. Exhilaration and groaning. Frustration and freedom. Inspiration and uncertainty. Abundance and emptiness. Blazing forth and muddling through. The day-by-day repertoire of oscillating dualities that any talent withstands — and tremendous solitude, too. And the silence: 50 years in a room silent as the bottom of a pool, eking out, when all went well, my minimum daily allowance of usable prose.
I love Philip Roth’s writings, and if I am allowed to embarrass myself, I would aspire to be Philip Roth if it weren’t for my irrevocable, passionate love affair with myself, my failings, my inabilities and my unfulfilled dreams.
This being said, I have enjoyed Roth’s many metaphorical soliloquies in all his novels which I have read. They are all the same – brilliant, staccato, historical, philosophical, religious and sacrilegious at the same time – which is the superhuman touch that he brings to his literary work.
But about Trump compared with Lindbergh, I can’t agree. Of course he doesn’t care whether or not I agree which is what makes this exercise so much fun.
Linbergh’s huge achievement of flying over the Atlantic was doing it, first. Second, he lit up all of mankind for a brief shining moment by connecting the continents in a way that no one ever did in the past and likely will ever do in the future.
Lindbergh’s fascination with the Nazi’s is well documented, as well documented as his heroic flight that made of him a modern Magellan, as Roth has written so eloquently and with regard for an understanding of history.
Columbus was a more gifted navigator than Magellan but Lindbergh’s epic flight, although not a circumnavigation of the world, was as big an accomplishment as the world could then imagine.
Roth in the book mentioned above makes Lindbergh president even though he is a Fascist, a Jew-hater and a racist.
But at least, Roth writes, he did something meaningful with his life before he dropped to the level of all that.
Trump, he sees, as a massive fraud, the sum of his deficiencies, devoid of everything but the hollow ideology of a megalomaniac.
Brilliantly thought out and written.
Quintessential Roth at his very best.
Yet I don’t believe Trump is a racist or a Fascist.
He is a bit of a megalomaniac but he won’t blow up world any more than Kim Jung Un is planning to blow up the world.
Trump’s cunning, Trump’s lack of proper tone, and we have grown to expect tone that is just right from our president, his tendency to change his mind or the deal with the politicians in Washington from hour to hour and his use of language are all deplorable.
But like the Nazi loving American hero Lindbergh who triumphed over the Atlantic, Trump became the elected American president for better or worse, and remains so even if you revile him.
As for Roth’s bits about what it has been like to be a writer, these thoughts, my friends, are about as good as they get by one of the best to have come down the line.