A 1935 novel - “It Can Happen Here” - is timely and prophetic
Published 12:00 am, Friday, February 3, 2017
As I try to make sense of President Trump’s recent executive order, banning immigrants and refugees from seven, so-called terrorist countries from entering the United States, I remain, in a word, appalled…His actions caused chaos in airports across the country, caused businesses to question whether their foreign nationals would remain secure and caused fluctuation in the stock market.
Fortunately a Brooklyn federal judge had the tenacity to put a temporary halt to this order, while the acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates had the courage to stand up to the President and question the constitutionality of these actions and state that she could not defend the order. She was immediately fired, as was the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Meanwhile, the President has accepted no responsibility and probably never will.
I have found the timing of Trump’s executive order, the commitment on the part of Vice President Mike Pence to overturn Roe v Wade and the overall behavior of this administration toward the media and certain legislators to be very disturbing. And after reading a piece in The New York Times two weeks ago about a book by the late Sinclair Lewis called It Can’t Happen Here, released in 1935, I knew I had to read this book. Barely 70 pages into this book, I am finding more parallels to the new administration than I ever imagined. I’ve filled the pages with annotations. This book is a must read.
“It Can’t Happen here, was a frightening book written for frightening times. Sinclair Lewis published the novel as Adolph Hitler was making Germany Great Again (sound familiar?)” violating the Treaty of Versailles by establishing the Wehrmacht” (unified armed forces of Nazi Germany). “Things at home weren’t much better: a race riot in Harlem, dust storms in the Midwest. President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, but the promise of the New Deal remained unfulfilled for many.”
Nazaryan pointed out that “It Can’t Happen Here imagines the improbable election of an authoritarian named Buzz Windrip over Roosevelt…Once in the White House, Windrip institutes a backcountry version of the facism then creeping over Europe. Windrip is clearly modelled after Huey Long, the Louisiana demagogue who was assassinated the month before It Can’t Happen Here was published.”
The protagonist in this powerful book is a Vermont journalist, Doremus Jessup. And journalism, “as a bulwark against tyranny”, according to Nazaryan is a strong theme. Just 35 pages into the book, Author Lewis introduces the reader to comments from a book written by soon-to-be President Windrip - Zero Hour. “I know the Press only too well. Almost all editors hide away in spider dens, men without thought of Family or Public Interest or the humble delights of jaunts out-of-doors, plotting how they can put over their lies, and advance their own positions…”
Another statement that sounded all too real was Windrip’s comments about Russia. According to Sinclair Lewis, “He” (Windrip)”was certain that someday America would have vast business dealings with the Russians…”
Probably the most glaring similarity to many of the promises that Trump has made came in the early days of Buzz Windrip’s campaign when he issued his “Fifteen Points of Victory for the Forgotten Men. Point number 4, for instance, states that “Believing that only under God Almighty, to Whom we render all homage, do we Americans hold our vast power, we shall guarantee to all persons absolute freedom of religious worship, provided, however, that no atheist, agnostic, believer in Black Magic, nor any Jew who shall refuse to swear allegiance to the New Testament, nor any person of any faith who refuses to take the Pledge to the Flag shall be permitted to hold any public office or to practice as a teacher, professor, lawyer, judge..”
Among the other points in the list were mandates that women who were working return to being homemakers; that “All Negroes shall be prohibited from voting, holding public office, practicing law or medicine, or teaching in any class above the grade of grammar school…”
Even Doremus Jessup, who is jailed for his views at one point in the book does succeed in escaping to Canada.
I have to believe that Sinclair Lewis didn’t create It Can’t Happen Here as a blueprint for the current administration, but the book strikes surprisingly close to home for me and is somewhat prophetic. I can’t wait to finish it.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.