Philip Roth Slams Donald Trump as 'A Humanly Impoverished Con-man'

In remarks to New Yorker, famed American-Jewish novelist says Trump 'wields a vocabulary of 77 words better called Jerkish than English.'

U.S. First Lady Melania Trump and U.S. President Donald Trump, on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol after the 58th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.
Jack Gruber/Bloomberg

In a devastating put-down of the new U.S. president, American Jewish novelist Philip Roth describes Donald Trump as a humanly impoverished con-man “destitute of all decency and wielding a vocabulary of 77 words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

Roth’s remarks, in the form of emails, were published on Monday in the New Yorker magazine. The 83-year-old Roth, one of America’s most prolific and respected writers, was responding to questions about the similarities and differences between the recent election of Trump as president and his famous 2004 alternate history novel “The Plot Against America”, in which pro-Nazi Charles Lindbergh becomes president in 1940. The book depicts the Roth family’s fictional confrontation with rising anti-Semitism, persecution and anti-Jewish measures and decrees instituted by the Lindbergh administration.


According to Roth, however, Lindbergh was a much more plausible president than Trump. The famous aviator, who became an American hero after crossing the Atlantic in a solo flight in 1927, was “a man of substance” who, together with carmaker Henry Ford, “was the most famous American of the day”. Trump, on the other hand is “just a con artist”.

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The cover of Philip Roth's 'The Plot Against America.'

“I was born in 1933,”Roth wrote, “the year that F.D.R. was inaugurated. He was president until I was 12-years-old. I’ve been a Roosevelt Democrat ever since. 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.”

Asked if he viewed his book as a prophetic warning, Roth replied that he hadn’t meant it to be.  “I was just trying to imagine what it would have been like for a Jewish family like mine, in a Jewish community like Newark, had something even faintly like Nazi anti-Semitism befallen us in 1940, at the end of the most pointedly anti-Semitic decade in world history.”

What is most terrifying about Trump, he adds, “is that he makes any and everything possible, including, of course, the nuclear catastrophe.”