"Who controls the past controls the future; Who controls the present controls the past" -- George Orwell, "1984"
One of the more-unfortunate consequences of Quarantine is that one must find a means of filling the countless hours of the endless days with something to do that is ultimately worth the effort. In this day-and-age of boundless online fritterware this is more-difficult than it would at first appear.
I have been spending most of my downtime doing things that would bore the shit out of most people, and when I say that, I mean even the deep-seeded shit that is trapped in the dank and dark recesses of one's bowels. The kind of shit that decided, of it's own accord, that having found wonderful accommodation in the forgotten realms of the human colon, to remain there forever, as if it had hit the jackpot of landing a rent-controlled apartment. If it were possible, that shit would leave that precious internal real estate to future generations of shit to come in its will.
It would bore even THAT shit out of you.
A good deal of it revolves around watching classic documentaries on YouTube, but one can only stand so many English accents waxing poetic upon the newly-appreciated virtues of Nero, Caligula, Thucydides, and Ho Chi Mihn for so long before this, too, becomes a bore, despite one's love of historical fact (English television seems to do this better, or at least it once did, than American).
And it is FACT that we will concern ourselves with here.
I do not watch much television, as a rule. Unless there is a hockey game on I rarely watch any, at all. I have something on the order of 500 channels available and discovered long ago that much of it is complete nonsense, so I do not bother. I probably only still have cable because Mrs. Overlord can't seem to go a day without her "reality" television which bears no resemblance to any reality in which I would like to live.
There are some occasions, though, when sheer boredom will cause me to pick up the remote just to see if there's anything worth an hour or two. I thought I had found one of these rare gems among the rockpile with HBO's "The Plot Against America"...but I was wrong.
A little background (spoilers to follow).
The series is based on the book of the same name by Phillip Roth. I have not read the book (and this series puts me in a mind not to, which may be unfair), a "What If..." story revolving around the Second World War, as seen through the eyes of a Jewish family living in Newark, New Jersey. If I'm not mistaken, according to some of the (slight) research I've done on this, the novel is somewhat auto-biographical (which is wild, considering its a) a work of fiction and b) if the author was alive for some of these events, he seems to have had a faulty -- but more likely selective -- memory).
The story begins in a a world where the Nazis are on the rise, and the greatest tragedy that could ever occur from the point-of-view of the extremely left-wing patriarch of this family comes to pass: Franklin Delano Roosevelt loses the 1940 election. Worse, he loses the election to a militantly-isolationist republican party which has tossed up a known Nazi sympathizer -- in the form of Charles Lindbergh -- for the presidency. Lindbergh wins the election, and so we're led to believe, delivers American neutrality against Nazi Germany in a pretty box, with a bright red ribbon, and a card with "Dear Adolph, Love Charles XOXOXO" written on it.
What follows is a systematic aping of Nazi practices in the United States, complete with the FBI being turned into a Gestapo (alas, that seems to have happened, re: "Russian Collusion"), Antisemitism as official government policy -- an American version of the Nuremburg Laws -- a cast of collaborationist Jews, and American Stormtroopers (the German-American Bund) roaming the streets beating, killing and intimidating everyone who stands in their way.
As stated, I have not read the book; the author, Mr. Roth, is dead, so I have no means by which to judge just how much "artistic license" has been taken by the producers of this otherwise-well-acted pile of dogcrap. The disjointed nature of the episodes, which take place in something of a chronological order of seemingly-arbitrary dates, are otherwise devoid of context.
And this is my issue with the series: the context is missing on a monumental ("mental" being the operative word) scale. It becomes little more than a leftist's nightmarish wish list and a recitation of the vices which every leftard believes are present in Modern American Life. Vices the left believes were always present in the very founding of the country, and which both the passage of time and the benefit of experience have yet to scour from their tiny brains. There is bad history and bad ideology, poorly expressed, smeared all over this production.
Mind you I am aware that the series is supposed to be fiction, a "What if...", but it is taking place against an historical background. A background which can be empirically studied. Something the producers apparently failed to do, or felt they didn't have to. After all, they have to find some way of equating this fantasy American Fatherland with Trump's Reign, and in the process recycle every leftist trope that ever existed.
The best place to start is with the very bad idea that if one was objectively Isolationist in the late-1930's that this made one subjectively pro-Nazi.
This is a common misunderstanding (deliberately pushed) held by people who still believe Communism is a good system that has, to date, just been poorly implemented. This is a common charge made by lefties across a broad spectrum of issues -- if you oppose Gay Marriage it is because you hate homosexuals; if you oppose Feminism, it is because you hate women; if you oppose Abortion on Demand it is because you want children to suffer. Apply the same stupidity to subjects of race, religion, politics, economics, etc. If you're against something the left is in favor of -- and in this case, the left is opposed to Isolationism ONLY AFTER THE FACT (I'll get to this in a minute) -- then you are automatically a champion of whatever evil the left has invented.
The series takes it as axiomatic that American Isolationism against the Nazis is one of the "sins" that America must atone for. It places the blame for this isolationism on the American Right, specifically, on the republican party. While it is true that much of the Right opposed American military intervention in the early stages of World War II, it is never mentioned that the Left opposed intervention, as well. The reason for this is that to reveal this fact is to admit the (international) left's own culpability in Hitler's rise. It is also to reveal the extent to which the left, particularly the sainted Soviet Union, collaborated with Hitler (one must ignore the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, which allied Germany and the USSR, who between them would carve up Poland, attack Finland and the Baltic States, and take it upon themselves to reorder the map of the Balkans to Russia's benefit).
In Leftist Mythology (do they ever have anything else?) the Soviet Union, and especially Stalin, must be always portrayed as an innocent victim of unjust Nazi aggression and not as Hitler's Handmaiden. So long as Hitler and Stalin were allies, the Left -- worldwide -- stood against anything that would have stopped the Nazis, including early American entry into the war on behalf of Capitalist France and Britain. The left was isolationist, too, and in a way that was far-more conducive to Hitlerian need than any American republican. The left only began to detest the Nazis after the German army crossed the Polish frontier to attack Russia.
A second historical beef is that the fact the Nazis were SOCIALISTS is never mentioned. The current fad among historians of the leftward bent is to pooh-pooh the idea that the Nazis were "real" socialists; that the Nazi program for running Germany was a "sham" socialist fig leaf intended to hide the rabid, right-wing tendencies of the Nazis, that dovetails nicely with the other leftist lie that Fascism is an ideology of the Right. Fascism, properly understood, is not an ideology: it is a method of conducting politics, and it knows no ideological bounds -- there have been right wing fascists and left wing fascists, but the left wing does it all so much better,
"NAZI" is a shortening of the German National Socialist German Worker's Party (NSDAP). It's program was most-certainly socialist and far from "a scam" in this regard. Social Security, unemployment insurance, public works, state-provided food, housing, education, medical care, and even vacations (The "Strength Through Joy" program), a "planned" economy, coercion of the capitalist class (and not dispossession -- remember, the Nazis had the example of the Soviet Union to draw upon and figured out that if you destroy the capitalist and bourgeoisie, you get an economy that fails, and so bribery, terrorism and coercion were better tools than Red Revolution).
Why, the system worked so well that it survives to this day in the forms of the "Democratic Socialist" state (something leftists always point to with pride) and the European Union. It has just been stripped of its overt racism and dreams of military conquest.
The Nazis were in the vanguard of the "Progressive" movement; the perfection of Man by his subordination to the State. The Soviets crowed about "the New Soviet Man", the Nazis lifted their ideas about eugenics, the struggle for survival of the fittest, and "racial purity" straight from the pages of the American Progressives. They implemented a regime of socialism, but for Germans only -- hence "National Socialism" (as opposed to the Soviet-backed "international" kind) and their obsessions with race.
The Nazis were LEFTISTS. Do not forget this, ever.
A third concern is the secondhand sainthood bestowed upon FDR. "If only..." is the thread that runs through this tale. It is assumed that Roosevelt was really pro-interventionist all along but was prevented from acting to save the planet from the scourge of the goosestep by nasty obstructionist, Nazi-sympathizer republicans and their stormtroopers in New Jersey. My own reading of history (and it is extensive) paints FDR as a political naive in the mold of Barack Obama.
Roosevelt has no policy for war; he has no policy to deal with the economic depression still gripping America (in fact, he made that worse, and the "New Deal" is in every detail almost exactly the same as the Nazi blueprint for "rejuvenating" Germany, sans the racist/victimhood bullshit); he is very often credited with a Machiavellian power he, in reality, did not obviously possess. We're supposed to believe the when it came to the Axis Powers, Roosevelt was playing some form of 3-D chess while everyone else was playing checkers.
The record is clear: Roosevelt was determined to stay out of the European conflict, but every policy he implemented pushed the country closer to it. In addition, while he's taunting Hitler, practically daring him to attack us, he's also giving the purple shaft to the Japanese on a regular basis, and in both instances, he's doing so with policies that cannot be explained in reasonable, logical or strategic terms, only emotional ones. He's not a very decisive man, and while he gives a hell of a speech (second only to Churchill, in my opinion), it is also clear that the explosion of words exists merely to obscure the lack of a coherent policy.
We are, indeed, fortunate, that Roosevelt left details of military planning and execution to his Generals and Admirals: if he exercised the same power over military operations that Tojo, Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin had, we would have lost. Badly).
But, to get back to the series...
If you can't even get the background material right, then the "What If..." falls apart, at least for the well-informed viewer. If you can't do this, you lose me.
This thing is obviously aimed at the uninformed viewer.
Despite the fact that it is well-acted, it is poorly-written. Normally, I love John Turturro in just about anything, a damned fine actor. In this pile of rubbish you hate him, and it's difficult to decide whether the hatred is driven by a brilliant portrayal of a self-centered, duplicitous, traitorous, collaborating Rabbi (a figure that almost demands hatred), or that he has to stretch his considerable skills to such an extent to make the character believable.
The rest of the cast puts in fantastic work, although Wynona Ryder grates on my nerves, Her portrayal of a petty, social-climbing guttersnipe drawn into a web of deceit and betrayal of her own family by her selfish ambition and soppy feels is extraordinarily trite.
Give this one a miss.
And now I am obligated to read the book.