Literary precursors

When it dawned on me in August that Trump could conceivably pull it off, a book came to mind — Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, which is an imaginative speculation on what would have happened if Charles Lindbergh, aviator hero and Nazi sympathiser, had beaten FDR to the Presidency in 1940. So I downloaded and read it. The novel chronicles the fortunes of the (Jewish) Roth family as anti-semitism becomes more mainstream during Lindbergh’s tenure of office. It’s imaginative and clever and persuasive. But then I forgot about it as the election campaign proceeded.

A few days before the election, I noticed a colleague smugly brandishing another book — this time Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here — a cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy which describes how easily fascism could take hold in America. When I checked on Amazon I discovered that my colleague was clearly not the only person with a premonition — Amazon had run out of stocks of the volume.

And now I find that another book — this time by a famous philosopher — seems eerily prescient. It’s Richard Rorty’s Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-century America, excerpts from which have been going viral across the Net. For example:

The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for – someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucratics, the tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.

Or this:

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words “n—-r” and “kike” will once again be heard in the workplace. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

Rorty wrote that in 1999.