Philip Roth Admits He Never Imagined a President as Grotesque as Trump

The acclaimed author opens up on “The Plot Against America,” #MeToo and more.


Published in 2004, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America imagines an alternate history in which Charles Lindbergh, the famed pilot and spokesman for the America First Committee, captures his party’s nomination after making a dramatic entrance at the 1940 Republican National Convention. He later rides a surge of support in the South and the Midwest to the White House, defeating Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a stunning upset on a campaign of “Vote for Lindbergh, or Vote for War.” As president, Lindbergh nominates industrialist and notorious anti-Semite Henry Ford as secretary of the interior, and the United States begins its slow descent into authoritarianism.

Sound familiar?

Roth’s days as a prophet are likely finished—he officially announced his retirement from writing in 2012—but as a recent interview with the New York Times reveals, he “still has plenty to say” about his award-winning novel (which is currently being adapted by The Wire‘s David Simon), the #MeToo movement and our present political crisis. The conversation is worth reading in its entirety, but here are a few highlights.

On the parallels between The Plot Against America and the U.S. today

“No one I know of has foreseen an America like the one we live in today. No one (except perhaps the acidic H. L. Mencken, who famously described American democracy as ‘the worship of jackals by jackasses’) could have imagined that the 21st-century catastrophe to befall the U.S.A., the most debasing of disasters, would appear not, say, in the terrifying guise of an Orwellian Big Brother but in the ominously ridiculous commedia dell’arte figure of the boastful buffoon. How naïve I was in 1960 to think that I was an American living in preposterous times! How quaint! But then what could I know in 1960 of 1963 or 1968 or 1974 or 2001 or 2016?”

On Donald Trump

“However prescient The Plot Against America might seem to you, there is surely one enormous difference between the political circumstances I invent there for the U.S. in 1940 and the political calamity that dismays us so today. It’s the difference in stature between a President Lindbergh and a President Trump. Charles Lindbergh, in life as in my novel, may have been a genuine racist and an anti-Semite and a white supremacist sympathetic to fascism, but he was also — because of the extraordinary feat of his solo trans-Atlantic flight at the age of 25—an authentic American hero 13 years before I have him winning the presidency. Lindbergh, historically, was the courageous young pilot who in 1927, for the first time, flew nonstop across the Atlantic, from Long Island to Paris. He did it in 33.5 hours in a single-seat, single-engine monoplane, thus making him a kind of 20th-century Leif Ericson, an aeronautical Magellan, one of the earliest beacons of the age of aviation. Trump, by comparison, is a massive fraud, the evil sum of his deficiencies, devoid of everything but the hollow ideology of a megalomaniac.”

On the #MeToo movement

“Men enveloped by sexual temptation is one of the aspects of men’s lives that I’ve written about in some of my books. Men responsive to the insistent call of sexual pleasure, beset by shameful desires and the undauntedness of obsessive lusts, beguiled even by the lure of the taboo — over the decades, I have imagined a small coterie of unsettled men possessed by just such inflammatory forces they must negotiate and contend with. I’ve tried to be uncompromising in depicting these men each as he is, each as he behaves, aroused, stimulated, hungry in the grip of carnal fervor and facing the array of psychological and ethical quandaries the exigencies of desire present. I haven’t shunned the hard facts in these fictions of why and how and when tumescent men do what they do, even when these have not been in harmony with the portrayal that a masculine public-relations campaign — if there were such a thing — might prefer. I’ve stepped not just inside the male head but into the reality of those urges whose obstinate pressure by its persistence can menace one’s rationality, urges sometimes so intense they may even be experienced as a form of lunacy. Consequently, none of the more extreme conduct I have been reading about in the newspapers lately has astonished me.

Read the full interview at the New York Times

 

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Philip Roth Admits He Never Imagined a President as Grotesque as Trump

The acclaimed author opens up on “The Plot Against America,” #MeToo and more.


Published in 2004, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America imagines an alternate history in which Charles Lindbergh, the famed pilot and spokesman for the America First Committee, captures his party’s nomination after making a dramatic entrance at the 1940 Republican National Convention. He later rides a surge of support in the South and the Midwest to the White House, defeating Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a stunning upset on a campaign of “Vote for Lindbergh, or Vote for War.” As president, Lindbergh nominates industrialist and notorious anti-Semite Henry Ford as secretary of the interior, and the United States begins its slow descent into authoritarianism.

Sound familiar?

Roth’s days as a prophet are likely finished—he officially announced his retirement from writing in 2012—but as a recent interview with the New York Times reveals, he “still has plenty to say” about his award-winning novel (which is currently being adapted by The Wire‘s David Simon), the #MeToo movement and our present political crisis. The conversation is worth reading in its entirety, but here are a few highlights.

On the parallels between The Plot Against America and the U.S. today

“No one I know of has foreseen an America like the one we live in today. No one (except perhaps the acidic H. L. Mencken, who famously described American democracy as ‘the worship of jackals by jackasses’) could have imagined that the 21st-century catastrophe to befall the U.S.A., the most debasing of disasters, would appear not, say, in the terrifying guise of an Orwellian Big Brother but in the ominously ridiculous commedia dell’arte figure of the boastful buffoon. How naïve I was in 1960 to think that I was an American living in preposterous times! How quaint! But then what could I know in 1960 of 1963 or 1968 or 1974 or 2001 or 2016?”

On Donald Trump

“However prescient The Plot Against America might seem to you, there is surely one enormous difference between the political circumstances I invent there for the U.S. in 1940 and the political calamity that dismays us so today. It’s the difference in stature between a President Lindbergh and a President Trump. Charles Lindbergh, in life as in my novel, may have been a genuine racist and an anti-Semite and a white supremacist sympathetic to fascism, but he was also — because of the extraordinary feat of his solo trans-Atlantic flight at the age of 25—an authentic American hero 13 years before I have him winning the presidency. Lindbergh, historically, was the courageous young pilot who in 1927, for the first time, flew nonstop across the Atlantic, from Long Island to Paris. He did it in 33.5 hours in a single-seat, single-engine monoplane, thus making him a kind of 20th-century Leif Ericson, an aeronautical Magellan, one of the earliest beacons of the age of aviation. Trump, by comparison, is a massive fraud, the evil sum of his deficiencies, devoid of everything but the hollow ideology of a megalomaniac.”

On the #MeToo movement

“Men enveloped by sexual temptation is one of the aspects of men’s lives that I’ve written about in some of my books. Men responsive to the insistent call of sexual pleasure, beset by shameful desires and the undauntedness of obsessive lusts, beguiled even by the lure of the taboo — over the decades, I have imagined a small coterie of unsettled men possessed by just such inflammatory forces they must negotiate and contend with. I’ve tried to be uncompromising in depicting these men each as he is, each as he behaves, aroused, stimulated, hungry in the grip of carnal fervor and facing the array of psychological and ethical quandaries the exigencies of desire present. I haven’t shunned the hard facts in these fictions of why and how and when tumescent men do what they do, even when these have not been in harmony with the portrayal that a masculine public-relations campaign — if there were such a thing — might prefer. I’ve stepped not just inside the male head but into the reality of those urges whose obstinate pressure by its persistence can menace one’s rationality, urges sometimes so intense they may even be experienced as a form of lunacy. Consequently, none of the more extreme conduct I have been reading about in the newspapers lately has astonished me.

Read the full interview at the New York Times

 

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Oprah Will Not Save Us—We Have to Save Ourselves


The Golden Globes speech wasn’t a campaign announcement; it was a call to arms.


Despite the post-2016 surge of activism—the protests and the calls to Congress that have been the only silver lining in this cesspool of a presidency—the reaction to Oprah Winfrey’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globes suggests liberals have yet to give up on their dream of an avenging angel. It was not a campaign announcement; it was a call to arms.

Unfortunately, in this Trumpian age of lowered expectations, when a sane adult gives a rousing speech at an awards ceremony, most people are not inspired to lace up their shoes and do some organizing, as Oprah’s friend President Obama said in his farewell address. Instead of doing the work ourselves, we are inspired to tell a celebrity to run for office.

Oprah is not running, at least according to her best friend Gayle King, who should know, more so than the news anchors, pundits and perhaps even Oprah’s longtime partner Stedman Graham. She was not declaring her own presidential run, nor even a foray into politics. Oprah was doing exactly what she has been doing for the last 30 years: giving her seal of approval, this time for activism.

With the same determined enthusiasm she has used for lavishing her audience with free cars and her book club recipients with massive sales, she recounted seeing Sidney Poitier win a Best Actor award at the 1964 Oscars: “I’d never seen a black man being celebrated like that. I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone-tired from cleaning other people’s houses.”

She also praised the press, which she “values more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times,” before highlighting the eight activists actresses brought as their dates, including Tarana Burke, the original founder of the #MeToo movement; Ai-jen Poo, the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance; Rosa Clemente, a former Green Party vice-presidential candidate and community organizer fighting for political prisoners, voter engagement and Puerto Rican independence; and Mónica Ramírez, focusing on sexual violence against farmworkers and empowerment for Latinas.

Oprah said she was “proud and inspired,” by these women, “who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story.” She told the story of Recy Taylor, a critical yet forgotten figure in the civil rights movement who was abducted and raped by white men, before having her case taken to the NAACP where the lead investigator was Rosa Parks. And she expressed deep gratitude for “all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue.”

Inspired by Oprah’s words, by her admonishment to sexual abusers that “your time is up,” Americans, starved for competency in the White House, decided that instead of joining any number of ongoing causes, including organizations started by the aforementioned activists, someone else should get to work—namely Oprah. It’s especially troubling, given white America’s penchant for relying on black women to solve our political and social problems.

As Ira Madison III wrote in the Daily Beast:

When I hear Meryl Streep speak of Oprah’s speech, as she told the Washington Post’s Steven Zeitchick, “She launched a rocket tonight. I want her to run for president. I don’t think she had any intention [of declaring]. But now she doesn’t have a choice,” it seems to miss Oprah’s message about inspiring young black girls to realize their full potential in America in order to force a political narrative she hasn’t asked for. To paraphrase Jessica Williams: Oprah is a black woman and so many things. But she is not yours.

Also, let’s be honest, if you were Oprah, the billionaire owner of a home that has a tea house specifically for drinking tea and reading the New York Times, owner of a magazine in which you appear on every cover, would you want to ruin that by running for president?

It’s not that she’s unqualified. She’s the self-made billionaire Donald Trump wishes he could be; the winner of countless Emmys and a 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom; an Oscar nominee with a 30-year career in television. She has the first-name-only recognition many other famous people, and certainly other potential 2020 candidates, can only dream of. As Jefferson Morley notes, her early support of Barack Obama was politically shrewd:

“Her endorsement of a rookie senator named Barack Obama in December 2007 was a key moment in his rise to power. At a time when black and feminist politicos were gathering around the supposedly inevitable candidacy of Hillary Clinton, she understood that there was a stronger candidate in the race. And she was right.”

But there is a lot of work to do to shore up our democracy before the 2020 election. And do we really want another politically inexperienced celebrity to save us from the politically inexperienced celebrity currently occupying the White House?

The Democratic agenda is long: The 2018 midterm elections, for one. The fight to protect the Dreamers, the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, the Affordable Care Act. There are already countless organizations dedicated to fighting back against the Trump administration.

Even among the left, there is every conceivable flavor of progressivism, ranging from former congressional staffers who started Indivisible to the Democratic Socialists of America to Our Revolution, which came out of the Bernie Sanders campaign; to organizations specifically dedicated to the midterms like Swing Left; to millennials running for office like Run for Something; and others like Collective PAC and Higher Heights that aim to elect more black candidates (and for Higher Heights, black women specifically). That just scratches the surface of the advocacy landscape for 2018. AlterNet’s activism vertical has a few other suggestions.

2020 speculation is fun, and like indulging in palace intrigue stories of the Trump administration in the New York Times and Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, it’s a way to let off steam. But we can take care of ourselves, and even take a break, without throwing up our hands and waiting for a savior.

Don’t wait for a hero to swoop in and save us. Oprah wasn’t announcing her candidacy; if anything, she was encouraging us to announce ours.


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Hollywood Won’t Destroy Sexism, But We Can

The solution isn’t for Oprah to run for president. It’s to listen to women everywhere.


This month’s Golden Globes were the first awards ceremony held since #MeToo went viral. To commemorate it, celebrities brought social justice activists along as their plus-ones, and many more wore black to show support with the Time’s Up movement, a new Hollywood initiative to purge the industry of predators.

While I’m sure they mean well, repairing the damage is going to take more than wearing black.

After all, Hollywood has collectively spent years perpetuating a rape culture, a sexist culture that did absolutely nothing for women of color, working women, women in the gay and trans communities, women of diverse religious backgrounds, and others. In fact, it often did the absolute opposite.

Elite men accused of abusing women have not only repeatedly gotten away with it — they’ve been praised for their work, given awards, and offered new jobs. Men such as Woody AllenCasey AffleckJohnny DeppBill Cosby, and Harvey Weinstein. Only recently have some faced some sort of consequences.

But then there was Oprah.

Oprah Winfrey won this year’s Cecil B. Demille award for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.” The first black woman to get the prize, she accepted her award to a standing ovation — and gave a rousing speech that inspired people only as Oprah can.

Photo by Guian Bolisay, Flickr

She talked about the women who aren’t talked about: the domestic workers, the women working for minimum wage, women who have no choice but to be silent about their abuse because they have a family to feed. “For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up,” she said.

Oprah gave a voice to the voiceless, who don’t have the luxury of being the famous, rich, mostly white women with more power to speak.

No longer will women have to remain silent and endure because “this is what men do” or believe these are experiences that come with being a woman. No longer will women have to be shamed into silence because they aren’t believed, because they’re not rich enough, white enough, pretty enough, whatever enough to be believed.

The solution isn’t, as some are already demanding, for Oprah to run for president. The solution is to listen to women everywhere, and empower female activists in their work.

Women like Tarana Burke, senior director of Girls for Gender Equity and founder of the #MeToo movement, and Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Women like Aniqa Raihan and Leilani Ganser, young activists I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with. They were brave and courageous enough to publicly fight back against their abusers after receiving little to no help from their university campuses where the assaults took place. Despite stigma, backlash, and struggle, Raihan and Ganser continue to fight every day for justice, for themselves and for women everywhere.

The solution is to support organizations that give voice to women of color and other marginalized groups – organizations such as Know Your IXNational Domestic Workers AllianceINCITE!, and Mending the Sacred Hope.

Even Hollywood’s getting wise, the New York Times reports. Time’s Up set aside a $13 million legal fund “to help less privileged women — like janitors, nurses, and workers at farms, factories, restaurants, and hotels — protect themselves from sexual misconduct and the fallout from reporting it.”

“Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have,” Oprah said. Until “nobody ever has to say ‘me too’ again.” A new day is indeed on the horizon.

 

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James Franco Faces Raft of New Sexual Misconduct Allegations

Five women have accused the Academy Award nominee of “inappropriate behavior.”


James Franco has been accused of sexual misconduct by five women, including former students at the actor-director’s New York acting school.

The allegations, which have been reported by the Los Angeles Times, include claims that Franco engaged in inappropriate or sexually exploitative behaviour by the women, four of whom were coached by him at his film and acting school, Studio 4.

Two of the women featured, actors Violet Paley and Sarah Tither-Kaplan, expanded on claims they had made on Twitter in the wake of Franco’s Golden Globes victory for his performance in his latest film, The Disaster Artist. Both women were critical of the actor’s decision to wear a badge supporting the Time’s Up movement at the ceremony. Franco was later forced to deny the rumours during an interview with The Late Show host Stephen Colbert, describing the claims as “not accurate.”

Tither-Kaplan, who has starred in several films directed by Franco, told the LA Times that the actor-director had engaged in an “abuse of power” on the set of his films, alleging that during one sex scene Franco removed protective plastic guards covering the genitalia of female actors while simulating oral sex with them.

Tither-Kaplan also claimed that one actor was sent home from a film set after balking at appearing topless in a scene. “I got it in my head pretty quickly that, OK, you don’t say no to this guy,” she said.

Another student, Hilary Dusome claimed that Franco had created an “unprofessional and hostile atmosphere” during a scene filmed in a strip club by asking a group of female actors: “So, who wants to take your shirt off?” Dusome says that Franco “stormed off” after none of the actors volunteered. Two other female student actors made similar claims, saying that Franco became angry when no women at the shoot would agree to be topless.

“I felt like I was selected for something based on my hard work and my merit, and when I realised it was because I have nice [breasts], it was pretty clear that was not the case,” Dusome said. “I don’t think he started teaching with bad intentions, but he went down a bad path and damaged a lot of people in the process.”

Paley, who had a romantic relationship with Franco in 2016, claims that the actor pressured her into performing oral sex on him while sitting in a car. “I was talking to him, all of a sudden his penis was out,” she told the Times. “I got really nervous, and I said, ‘Can we do this later?’ He was kind of nudging my head down, and I just didn’t want him to hate me, so I did it.” She added that Franco later called to make amends with her, though he insisted that he had done “nothing illegal.”

In a statement to the LA Times, Franco’s attorney Michael Plonsker disputed the claims, directing readers to the comments made by the actor during the Late Show interview. “The things that I heard that were on Twitter are not accurate,” Franco told Colbert. “But I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice because they didn’t have a voice for so long. So I don’t want to shut them down in any way.”

Plonsker also specifically addressed Tither-Kaplan’s allegation regarding the protective guards and those made by Paley, describing both as “not accurate.”

Following the claims made against Franco, the New York Times canceled an event featuring the actor that had been scheduled for yesterday. However, he has otherwise continued to make public appearances. Last night he appeared on Late Night With Seth Meyers, where he was again asked about the allegations.

“I have my own side of this story, but I believe in these people that have been underrepresented getting their stories out, enough that I will hold back things that I could say, just because I believe in it that much,” Franco told Meyers. “If I have to take a knock, because I am not going to try and actively refute things, then I will, because I believe in it that much.”

 

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