“It Can’t Happen Here”

Think “freedom fries,” creationist textbooks, corporate personhood, and Tea Party types are anything new? Here’s what Sinclair Lewis wrote in his 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here:*

Why, there’s no country in the world that can get more hysterical—yes, or more obsequious!—than America. Look how Huey Long became absolute monarch over Louisiana, and how the Right Honorable Mr. Senator Berzelius Windrip owns HIS State. Listen to Bishop Prang and Father Coughlin on the radio—divine oracles, to millions. Remember how casually most Americans have accepted Tammany grafting and Chicago gangs and the crookedness of so many of President Harding’s appointees? Could Hitler’s bunch, or Windrip’s, be worse? Remember the Kuklux Klan? Remember our war hysteria, when we called sauerkraut ‘Liberty cabbage’ and somebody actually proposed calling German measles ‘Liberty measles’? And wartime censorship of honest papers? Bad as Russia! Remember our kissing the—well, the feet of Billy Sunday, the million-dollar evangelist, and of Aimée McPherson, who swam from the Pacific Ocean clear into the Arizona desert and got away with it? Remember Voliva and Mother Eddy? . . . Remember our Red scares and our Catholic scares, when all well-informed people knew that the O.G.P.U. were hiding out in Oskaloosa, and the Republicans campaigning against Al Smith told the Carolina mountaineers that if Al won the Pope would illegitimatize their children? Remember Tom Heflin and Tom Dixon? Remember when the hick legislators in certain states, in obedience to William Jennings Bryan, who learned his biology from his pious old grandma, set up shop as scientific experts and made the whole world laugh itself sick by forbidding the teaching of evolution? . . . Remember the Kentucky night-riders? Remember how trainloads of people have gone to enjoy lynchings? Not happen here? Prohibition—shooting down people just because they MIGHT be transporting liquor—no, that couldn’t happen in AMERICA! Why, where in all history has there ever been a people so ripe for a dictatorship as ours! We’re ready to start on a Children’s Crusade—only of adults—right now, and the Right Reverend Abbots Windrip and Prang are all ready to lead it!”

“Well, what if they are?” protested R. C. Crowley. “It might not be so bad. I don’t like all these irresponsible attacks on us bankers all the time. Of course, Senator Windrip has to pretend publicly to bawl the banks out, but once he gets into power he’ll give the banks their proper influence in the administration and take our expert financial advice. Yes. Why are you so afraid of the word ‘Fascism,’ Doremus? Just a word—just a word! And might not be so bad, with all the lazy bums we got panhandling relief nowadays, and living on my income tax and yours—not so worse to have a real Strong Man, like Hitler or Mussolini—like Napoleon or Bismarck in the good old days—and have ’em really RUN the country and make it efficient and prosperous again. ‘Nother words, have a doctor who won’t take any back-chat, but really boss the patient and make him get well whether he likes it or not!”

* Berzelius Windrip is a character in the book, apparently a stand-in for Louisiana Senator Huey Long. Prang, Doremus Jessup, and Crowley also are characters.

One Response to “It Can’t Happen Here”

  1. Amir Bey says:

    Someone floated an Email about Tea Partiers carrying guns which posed the question as to why it was tolerated. To answer tolerance of right-slingers carrying guns, I’d like to remind folks that the Black Panther Party of Self Defense did just that in California, where at the time, it was legal to carry guns as long as they weren’t concealed. However, when the Panthers took their guns to the state capitol in Sacramento to protest police brutality, the legislaters ran for cover, and later passed legislation that changed that law.
    Well, let’s face it: this country has been what could be called center-right throughout its history, and the establishment’s pendulum is swinging as far left as it’s going to go with Obama before it returns “home”. I do have some criticisms about certain things that Obama’s done, but when I consider the likely alternatives that we may soon see crawling back, I wholeheartedly endorse his re-election. Hey, when he goes on vacation one of the stops he often makes is at a bookstore to buy his daughters and himself books. That’s better than Mr. Rich Bush at his fake ranch clearing brush, Palin hunting moose, or Chaney shooting his friends in the face.
    Speaking of dictatorships, a democracy is only as good as how informed its electorate is, and likewise with a dictatorship: how informed is the dictatorship. In terms of what may ultimately be good for its people, I see China as having more direction, albeit sans human rights than our electorate.

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