The Plot Against America is some of the most gripping television I’ve seen in a long time. Almost every one of the six episodes made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It’s a terrifying, and utterly believable, portrayal of how fascism might have come to America.
The HBO miniseries is a loose adaptation of Philip Roth’s 2004 alternate-history novel of the same name. I read it some ten years ago, so I don’t remember all the details, but I did notice some of the supporting characters have been given larger roles in the series and the ending is significantly changed. (Vulture has a recap of all the differences and Slate has more about why the creators of the miniseries changed the ending.)
The basic plot is the same, though: aviator hero and America Firster (the original) Charles Lindbergh runs in the 1940 presidential election on a promise to keep the United States out of World War II and wins. His victory gives license to antisemites, some of whom are in the cabinet. Lindbergh signs a treaty with Hitler and stays silent when American Jews are killed in pogroms.
If that reminds you of another blond celebrity who became the leader of a xenophobic movement who became president, that’s no coincidence. David Simon, who earlier created The Wire, turned down a proposal to film The Plot of America in 2013 but reconsidered after Donald Trump won the 2016 election.
The story is told from the perspective of an ordinary Jewish family in New Jersey, which is as divided by Lindbergh’s presidency as American families today are by Trump’s. The father is an opinionated New Dealer, who understands the danger Lindbergh poses and is determined to fight him, but doesn’t know how. The mother wants to flee to Canada. Her sister and eldest son are Lindbergh admirers, who explain away his antisemitic rhetoric and initially voluntary programs to “Americanize” Jews.
It’s not pleasant to watch by any means (although most of the violence is off-screen), but you should.