Monday, November 23, 2009

Wrapped in the Flag

An eternal favorite of mine (and a book that should be required reading for every American), Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here (1935).

"Buzz" Windrip, a power-hungry politician, is elected President of the United States on a populist platform. He promises to restore the country to prosperity, as well as promising each citizen five thousand dollars a year.

Once in power, however, he becomes a dictator who outlaws dissent, putting his enemies in concentration camps, and creating his own militia force called the Minute Men who terrorize dissenting citizens. By making changes to the Constitution, he gives himself sole power over the country and renders Congress obsolete.

This is met by protest from outraged citizens, but Windrip declares a state of martial law, throwing protesters in jail with the help of his Minute Men. As Windrip dismantles America and democracy, most Americans either support him wholeheartedly or reassure themselves that surely this is not fascism, and if it is, it surely cannot happen in America.

A brief excerpt:

"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, feet of Billy Sunday, the million-dollar evangelist...

"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 illegitimize their children?

"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 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? It might not be so bad. I don't like all these irresponsible attacks on bankers....Why are you so afraid of the word 'Fascism'? Just a word- just a word! And might not be so bad, with all those 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 ol days - and have 'em really run the country and make it efficient and prosperous again.

"Cure the Evils of Democracy by the Evils of Fascism!

"But- it just can't happen here in America.

"The hell it can't!"

My favorite quote by Sinclair Lewis, from It Can't Happen Here:

Remember Mr. Lewis and his only semi-satirical book of 1935 when you read of tea parties and death panels, and watch those hysterical American people marching in front of the U.S. Capitol carrying Nazi swatikas.

1 comment:

astraea said...

"Remember." That's the problem: people don't know history in the first place, people who think the sun goes around the earth, the earth, 6,000 years old. Glenn Beck is now selling his own especial history, dividing the patriots into 13 sections which he and his 9/12 "Patriots" will visit, teach, organize. To what end? Meanwhile, the do-it-yourself militias grow.

Yes, it can happen here. I saw it at the Rocky Mount townhall meeting last August, the smug-faced woman carrying a poster quoting Jefferson, urging revolution. The history these smug ones need to read is very recent: Bosnia.

Order is precious. They throw it away for the lie of hot dogs in heaven with god, all in a golden house, a (per)version of Jesus as invisible friend who sees into your deepest desires and makes sure you adhere to Fundamentalist Church doctrine. This is a “Jesus” a long way from the Beatitudes. A long way gone from truth, heart, and history.