I would have imagined Lindbergh's not mentioning the Jews in his acceptance speech to be a promising omen, an indication that he had been chastened by the outcry that had caused him to relinquish his Army commission or that he had changed his mind since the Des Moines speech or that he had already forgotten about us or that secretly he knew full well that we were committed irrevocably to Americathat though Ireland still mattered to the Irish and Poland to the Poles and Italy to the Italians, we retained no allegiance, sentimental or otherwise, to those Old World countries that we had never been welcome in and that we had no intention of ever returning to. If I could have thought through the meaning of the moment in so many words, this is probably what I would have been thinking. But the men out on the street thought differently. Lindbergh's not mentioning the Jews was to them a trick and no more, the initiation of a campaign of deceit intended both to shut us up and to catch us off guard. "Hitler in America!" the neighbors cried. "Fascism in America! Storm troopers in America!" After their having gone without sleep all night long, there was nothing that these bewildered elders of ours didn't think and nothing that they didn't say aloud, within our hearing, before they started to drift back to their houses (where all the radios still blared away), the men to shave and dress and grab a cup of coffee before heading for work and the women to get their children clothed and fed and ready for the day.
Roosevelt raised everyone's spirits by his robust response on learning that his opponent was to be Lindbergh rather than a senator of the stature of Taft or a prosecutor as aggressive as Dewey or a bigtime lawyer as smooth and handsome as Willkie. When awakened at four a.m. to be told the news, he was said to have predicted from his White House bed, "By the time this is over, the young man will be sorry not only that he entered politics but that he ever learned to fly." Whereupon he fell immediately back into a sound sleep or so went the story that brought us such solace the next day. Out on the street, when all anyone could think about was the menace posed to our safety by this transparently unjust affront, people had oddly forgotten about FDR and the bulwark he was against oppression. The sheer surprise of the Lindbergh nomination had activated an atavistic sense of being undefended that had more to do with Kishinev and the pogroms of 1903 than with New Jersey thirty-seven years later, and as a consequence, they had forgotten about Roosevelt's appointment to the Supreme Court of Felix Frankfurter and his selection as Treasury secretary of Henry Morgenthau, and about the close presidential adviser, financier Bernard Baruch, and about Mrs. Roosevelt and Ickes and Agriculture Secretary Wallace, all three of whom, like the president, were known to be friends of the Jews. There was Roosevelt, there was the U.S. Constitution, there was the Bill of Rights, and there were the papers, America's free press. Even the Republican Newark Evening News published an editorial reminding readers of the Des Moines speech and openly challenging the wisdom of Lindbergh's nomination, and PM, the new left-wing New York tabloid that cost a nickel and that my father had begun bringing home with him after work along with the Newark Newsand whose slogan read, "PM is against people who push other people around"leveled its assault on the Republicans in a lengthy editorial as well as in news stories and columns on virtually every one of its thirty-two pages, including anti-Lindbergh columns in the sports section by Tom Meany and Joe Cummiskey. On the front page the paper featured a large photo of Lindbergh's Nazi medal and, in its Daily Picture Magazine, where it claimed to run photographs that other papers suppressedcontroversial photos of lynch mobs and chain gangs, of strikebreakers wielding clubs, of inhuman conditions in America's penitentiariesthere was page after page showing the Republican candidate touring Nazi Germany in 1938, culminating in the full-page picture of him, the notorious medal around his neck, shaking the hand of Hermann Göring, the Nazi leader second only to Hitler.
>From The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. Copyright by Philip Roth 2004. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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