• Ilana Davis

The (Failed) Plot Against America

Undying nationalism and a misplaced sense of righteousness in action were, in part, the cornerstones for the rise of the Nazi Party in 1930s Germany. What else must the ordinary citizen do when a ruling power calls for insurrection, coups, or unlawful action against his fellow man? This has happened before. Can it happen again? Could it even happen in America?

HBO’s miniseries, The Plot Against America, is the fictional tale of the Holocaust taking place within the borders of the United States after the 1940 election of a known fascist. The show’s trajectory follows a steadily escalating nation gripped with racism, misinformation, and the fight for supremacy amidst rising turmoil and acts of violence.

Based on a 2004 novel by the same name, The Plot Against America ushers in an alternative reality within America’s history; one where the widely-known xenophobic populist, Charles Lindbergh battles for presidency against Franklin Roosevelt… and wins.

The election is closely followed through the eyes of a working class Jewish family, living in a large Jewish community in northern New Jersey. The fear of retaliation and attacks based on religion and appearance come slowly; even the characters on the show don’t recognize the danger of Lindbergh’s presence until it's too late. Anti-semitism and attacks on minorities are masked by the unaldutared support for a racist man who has yet to even take office.

Yet, this rhetoric is strong. A great leader sees suffering and turmoil within his people, and seeks new ways for redemption and reconciliation. A weak leader exposes these very same facets of a failing society, and uses it to encourage violence and insurrection as a form of fractured remedy.

Quickly, “the other” becomes the enemy; any man or woman who does not look or act, speak or think like I do must be a threat and must be eliminated. And so, Lindbergh is elected, because he supposedly stands for the common man; the misinformed, misplaced, misguided man capable of retreating into those dark corners of society that threaten collective wellbeing at its essence.

I first watched The Plot Against America this past summer, when the pandemic ushered millions into living in isolation; when the streets were stormed by marches and protests, and the common man felt unheard by authorities and institutions put in place to protect him. I watched the show like scripture, all the while thinking that’s where this nation is heading.

When a mob of angry Trump supporters stormed the capitol and their invigorated leaps up the actual steps of the historic building led the world to a standstill, I was frightened. I was infuriated. But I was not surprised.

I’m currently living in DC, just ten minutes from the Lincoln Memorial and a short drive from the capitol building. When news broke on January 6th, I followed closely and kept a time log of everything I was observing: the number of police cars that drove down the avenue below my balcony; how many unmarked secret service cars were stationed on the streets; which of Trump’s supporters were walking away from the direction of the capitol, waving flags and shouting to one another without their masks on. These supporters would no less return to their hotel rooms or flights back home, feeling as though they had been a part of something great… a movement, a mindset. Only to realize they had left the rally before any real action was taken, the kind of action that recalls one to the past and towards darker times.

During election season, I had the same questions plague my mind: what if there’s retaliation against the outcome? What if violence, or even war ensues in the process? What if martial law is declared and my city then has to be put under strict lockdown? Are the string of sirens I’m hearing pass below that of a presidential motorcade ushering Trump from one destination to the next? Or are they something greater, speeding to diffuse a bomb or disrupt an ongoing riot? Was somebody killed? Am I next?

This is where I must distinguish fact from fiction. The Plot Against America tells of a nation struggling to understand itself; it’s misplaced values and morals become the catalyst for future action. Lindbergh’s following grew over the course of the series; Trump’s has seemingly dispersed and his allies have come to lose respect for a man we can now all deem as a weak leader. This is not a partisan battle; it’s a fight against a singular man’s words, his actions have proven little else but failure and despair.

I suppose it’s also foolish to think this way; there are decades if not generations of opinion and experience coming to the forefront of America at this point in time. But that’s where the fun begins; to recognize and acknowledge the difference in thought ushers in an era of reasoning which exists outside the bounds of faithless leadership. The power returns to the people, who then guide those meant to represent a nation as a whole. These things come gradually. After the events of January 6th, nothing is as clear: the road towards freedom is fought long and hard; but the path towards societal decay begins quickly with a singular bomb, bullet, or even the right rhetoric spoken at the worst of times.

With the end of Trump’s presidency nearing, the time comes again to fight long and hard and build something greater than these last four years. It’s also time to fight for the future; to not be tethered to memories of the past and broken dreams of failed leaders. Because as I write this, the next leader is stirring somewhere out there, and his or her exposure to truth and reason must follow suit.

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