File Under: Remember when Republicans didn’t mind Hitler?

Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America documents the creeping American fascism that almost was. While fascism is commonly associated with goose-stepping soldiers, book burnings, and Mussolini podium-poundings, the bureaucratic brand of autocratic governing can be far more frightening. Wrapped up in red tape like a Christmas gift, institutional fascism’s deceptive everyday banality can render its doubters Chicken Littles — even as the stratosphere plummets to earth.

From the perspective of his seven-year-old self, Roth imagines the Nazi-sympathizing aviator Charles Lindbergh beating Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election and the Hitler-collaborating administration that ensues. The Roths’ New Jersey household — father Herman, mother Bess, brother Sandy, and Philip — reacts with fear and revulsion to America’s possible slither toward Nazi pogroms, finding solace solely among other Jews and in gossip columnist Walter Winchell’s weekly Lindy-baiting radio show.

But when new federal policies result in Sandy being shipped off to Kentucky, the Roth nest begins to crumble: daily rituals disappear, friends leave for Canada, and the FBI begins investigating the family. The hysteria cuts to Philip’s aching heart as he vacillates between trusting his father’s increasingly paranoid rants and the government’s patronizing reassurances to the Jewish community, which are readily accepted by the goyim. 

Waking up a stranger in a familiar land is trying enough for adults, but for children — who grasp at familiarity like it was a life preserver — the ordeal is doubly hard. Especially when your nation’s flag becomes a villain’s cape billowing beneath swastika fireworks.