A few days ago I finished reading Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here. I have a policy against putting works of fiction on the Recommended Reading list or it would be a candidate. Most of my reading is non-fiction and most of that nerdy. Once in a while I need a break and indulge myself with a novel. It Can’t Happen Here is enjoying a resurgence because it looks eerily similar to the 2016 presidential campaign. Come along for a nickel tour.
In Lewis’ novel a candidate similar to (but more qualified than) Donald Trump wins the election in a country mired in The Great Depression and scared. The day-gone-by Trump character wins largely by promising an income of $5,000 (a lot of money in 1936) for every white man. Of course he never really says how he will make that happen. Can you see the parallels with some of Trump’s promises (very much including make America great again which his followers largely hear as make America white again); the racism and misogyny of his zealots and promises like build the wall? Spoiler alert: The $5,000 salary never happens.
Our villain ends up winning the election. I hope that is the point where the fiction of 1936 and the reality of 2016 part ways! Almost immediately after the inauguration he disbands the Supreme Court and effectively nullifies Congress. Where it is necessary he imprisons and in some cases executes those official who stand in his way.
The new government sets up concentration camps for intellectuals and anyone who disagrees with them. They take over the press and close colleges. Their authoritarian rule is physically enforced by a group they call the Minute Men which are commonly referred to as MM. Am I the only one seeing a parallel with fascism and the SS?
Instead of some sort of utopia the government ends up being a totalitarian dictatorship that favors the plutocrats; anybody for trumped up trickle-down economics?
Fortunately this is fiction and hopefully Americans are too enlightened to make the 2016 version of it fact in 2017. I get my policy from non-fiction. If I got it from fiction you could call me Paul Ryan; after all he devises his economic theories from an Ayn Rand novel.
The scary part is we say it can’t happen here; that is exactly what people said in 1936 in Sinclair Lewis’ book of that title.
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