Out of the Blue: The plot against America (opinion)

Mike Restaino
Out of the Blue

It’s a shame, but the full-on-idle surreality of the last six weeks would make a great movie.

After poring over articles on Monday morning about the electoral college and whether it’s an imperative function of the American system or an antiquated, misrepresenting disgrace, I began considering the last quarter of 2016 as grade-A fodder for political fiction, which reminded me of one of the most unnerving novels of the last couple decades.

In Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, it’s 1940 and national hero Charles Lindbergh has joined the American First Party, an entity whose major focus is staying out of the ever-escalating European war.

He’s quickly promoted to lead the institution and becomes the public face of the movement, using troubling terminology when describing the “Jewish race” and their intentions to draw America into military conflict.

The left-leaning U.S. population finds a horrifying vitriol in Lindbergh’s approach, citing both brazen anti-Semitism and a base appeal to barely-latent discrimination simmering within white populations of southern and midwestern states, but Lindbergh nevertheless surges, becoming the Republican candidate for president, eventually beating FDR after exploiting a wildfire-popular campaign slogan: “Vote for Lindbergh, or vote for war.”

Once in office, Lindbergh makes deals with both Adolf Hitler and Imperial Japan, inking treaties that will keep the USA out of WWII at any cost.

It’s easy to take the tracing paper of Roth’s plot and place it over our current affairs. Hillary Clinton is a stoic, capable longtime politician whose perspectives toward Russia are well-catalogued, so it makes sense that an aggressive Russian set of characters would go to any end to make sure she never got sworn in as president.

All Democrats know she had weak spots in terms of appealing to voters — I wrote about fake news last week, and how repeating the same old lyin’ story about Benghazi or emails or was probably enough on its own to cripple HRC’s campaign odds.

But for our invented story to be truly indelible, things need to be more complicated than just the activity of a cadre of computer programmers forcing false news stories down the throats of American social media enthusiasts.

That’s where something like the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey comes in.

With unmistakable echoes of the Franz Ferdinand affair that lit the fuse of World War I, this act on Monday will force our fictional (oh, were it so…) President Trump to interact with Russia officially, which goes against what the guy has been saying for weeks.

Trump is angry that major news outlets keep lingering on the idea that a subversive Russian force swayed the election his way, but we all know that while he has his knickers in a bunch over it, at the end of the day, he’d rather be popular than esteemed, which means that behind closed doors, the guy was happy to get all the votes he could, regardless of their motivations or true tallies.

On Twitter, he complains about the “non-news” of the issue, but high up in Trump Tower, he’s stoked that he won, plain and simple.

As a pivot point in our spy tale, though, this puts Donald in a pinch. As president, he needs to address the severity of this act, to let Russia know that their aggressions in Asia and Europe cannot continue to go unchecked.

But if there are liaisons established out of plain sight, whether it’s Russia moving things Trump’s way to make him more of a lap dog than a potentially adversarial international rival or Donald merely looking the other way while he takes the presidential oath in January, this implies that Russia and the United States are in bed together, which (shocker!) might not work out well.

So where will this saga take us? In The Plot Against America, Philip Roth internalizes the events of his alternate history within his central family characters as he concludes his narrative.

I don’t want to ruin the book for those who haven’t read it, but big, violent events occur, implying that normalcy and global status quo can’t stand in the face of seismic international change. That seems to be repeating itself again now.

For our twist ending, though, we can’t forget that Trump is a turkey when it comes to fiction narratives. At the 1990 The Golden Raspberry Awards — honoring the worst films of the year since 1980 — Trump beat both Gilbert Gottfried and Wayne Newton for Worst Supporting Actor in the implicitly terrible Ghosts Can’t Do It, opposite Bo Derek.

Not even a writer as good as Philip Roth could have made that one up.

Mike Restaino is a writer and filmmaker based out of Incline Village. He is also a Vice Chair of the North Tahoe Democrats. He can be reached at

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