Philip Roth on the Trump Presidency

Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man
Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man

The 30 January 2017 issue of The New Yorker carries a piece where the retired American novelist Philip Roth takes issue with President Donald Trump:

“I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

Responding to comparisons between the Trump presidency and the writer’s own dystopian alternate-history, The Plot Against America (2004), Roth suggests an alternate literary model: “The relevant book about Trump’s American forebear is Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man, the darkly pessimistic, daringly inventive novel—Melville’s last—that could just as well have been called ‘The Art of the Scam.’”


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