Past and prescient: The Plot Against America

A fascist-appeasing, alternative history of 1940s America has eerie parallels with the present. Please take note, says Sam Delaney

I’ve been watching The Plot Against America on Sky Atlantic. It’s based on the Philip Roth novel, set in an alternate 1940s America, adapted by the creators of The Wire. It’s about Roosevelt losing the election to populist airman Charles Lindbergh (a real-life American hero and anti-Semite). The States don’t enter the war, Lindbergh befriends Hitler, American Jews are steadily victimised and the country collapses into a rancid quagmire of race hate. It’s horrible. Mostly because it’s so believable: fascism takes hold not with any fanfare but by subtle increments.

This is all very timely. In America, fascism is now hiding in plain sight. But in the UK the hints of it are there too. It’s in the government’s increasingly flagrant contempt for the public. It’s in the public’s growing mistrust of the media. It’s in the way the police charge into protests on horseback waving their truncheons. It’s in the Prime Minister laughing off his racism, misogyny and homophobia as banter. And it’s in the systemic neglect of the poor and vulnerable by politicians in thrall to tax-dodging corporations, crooked businessmen, foreign finance with shady agendas and, of course, the iffy spivs they went to their daft public schools with.

Dim-witted, power-hungry politicians possess no qualms about stirring the pot with the sort of populist messages that are catnip to the angry and disenfranchised

Are Tories evil? I don’t know about that. Certainly, they are routinely shit at running the country. Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and all the other aspiring Dragons’ Den contestants in the cabinet have lost thousands of British lives because they simply couldn’t organise a response to Covid-19 as quickly or efficiently as their counterparts in Denmark, New Zealand, South Korea or pretty much anywhere else in the world you care to mention (other than the US, our last remaining mates). They froze, they dithered, they panicked, they lied, they threw billions of pound of public money at one of their mates to build an app that didn’t work. Then they told us all to go back to work.

This is not the first time Tory claims of sober, steady governance have been exposed as a laughable delusion. This is the party that tried to introduce the poll tax. That crashed us out of the ERM. That have presided over every major recession of the past 40 years – and are about to navigate us into the biggest one yet. They made a mess of Covid-19. Forget their lack of compassion, everyone understands and – it seems – even accepts that. It’s the sheer incompetence of third raters like Johnson, Patel, Hancock, Cummings and Raab that is the real scandal.

But incompetence breeds something darker: a broken society is fertile ground for bitterness, anger and division. And dim-witted, power-hungry politicians like the ones we have now possess no qualms about stirring the pot with the sort of populist messages that are catnip to the angry and disenfranchised. That is how fascism takes hold. Not by cruel and calculated design, but by the stumbling opportunism of crappy, entitled men with their eyes on the main chance.

Anyway, watch The Plot Against America if you don’t believe me. If you don’t join a union after the viewing the last episode, I will eat my hat.

The Plot Against America is on Sky Atlantic and Now TV