By Andrew Hager, Historian-in-residence
PPM Picks is a weekly feature offering film, book, or music recommendations from our staff. The links provided in the article go to product listings on Amazon. Purchases made using these links support the Presidential Pet Museum. That said, we were not paid to review or promote any of the items mentioned. We just legitimately like them.
Imagine, if you can, a president who justifies war crimes, attacks America’s allies, condemns politically outspoken professional athletes, and enrages the Boy Scouts. Difficult, I know.
Meet President Trick E. Dixon, the star of Philip Roth’s scathing 1972 satire, Our Gang. Dixon is a scheming, sweaty doppelgänger for, of course, Richard Nixon. Roth’s takedown–written in the form of a play, with stage directions and dialogue–goes beyond superficial parody and into hilarious absurdity, following its own logic to almost insane depths of cruel brilliance. Very few satires have a better claim on the adjective “Swiftian.”
When I first read this fifteen years ago, I was impressed by the dark belly-laughs and Roth’s prescience in gutting Nixon before Watergate, when the president was widely popular in the country at large. Our Gang, despite positive reviews upon publication, had little cultural impact. It was overtaken by real scandal and considered a minor work in Roth’s highly esteemed bibliography. In 2003, it was funny but (arguably) dated.
How times have changed! As the Absurd has supplanted Reality in American politics, Our Gang has gained relevance yet again. Dixon is deranged and self-serving, unwilling to admit defeat even as his position becomes increasingly untenable. Certainly the parallels between 1972 and 2018 would have been apparent to Roth. Even a cursory reading of the book’s summary underscores the terrifying truth of that. The novel deserves anothee chance. So does the country.