It Can’t Happen Here
by Lewis Sinclair
For everyone who has said over the past couple of years, “How could this have happened?” (and I was one who wondered …), we were apparently warned of just such an event – way back in 1936 when Sinclair Lewis wrote and published the novel, It Can’t Happen Here. I recently heard about this book, only within this past year when others, mostly journalists, referred to it. I was able to borrow an eBook through the library, and have been reading it, absolutely aghast at how well Lewis predicted our own current times, 80 years later!
Lewis excels at sarcasm and satire, but is also quite adept in pointing out exactly what is wrong with society, with the politicians we choose to elect (or are duped into electing), and how it can all go from bad to extremely worse in such a short time.
Following is a long quote from the book, but necessary in order to give you an idea of exactly how “contemporary” this novel is, and why we should all be reading and heeding what Lewis warned us 80 years ago of what could happen here.
(Doremus Jessup is the editor of a newspaper who sees through the fraud of candidate Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, the demagogue who is elected as President of the United States.)
At 21.16%-21.69%: Doremus Jessup … watching Senator Windrip … could not explain his power of bewitching large audiences. The Senator was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his “ideas” almost idiotic, while his celebrated piety was that of a traveling salesman for church furniture, and his yet more celebrated humor the sly cynicism of a country store.
Certainly there was nothing exhilarating in the actual words of his speeches, nor anything convincing in his philosophy …
Doremus had never heard Windrip during one of his orgasms of oratory, but he had been told by political reporters that under the spell you thought Windrip was Plato, but that on the way home you could not remember anything he had said.
There were two things, they told Doremus, that distinguished the prairie Demosthenes. He was an actor of genius. There was no more overwhelming actor on the stage, in the motion pictures, nor even in the pulpit. He would whirl arms, bang tables, glare from mad eyes, vomit Biblical wrath from a gaping mouth; but he would also coo like a nursing mother, beseech like an aching lover, and in between tricks would coldly and almost contemptuously jab his crowds with figures and facts — figures and facts that were inescapable even when, as often happened, they were entirely incorrect.
But below this surface stagecraft was his uncommon natural ability to be authentically excited by and with his audience, and they by and with him … Aside from his dramatic glory, Buzz Windrip was a Professional Common Man.
Oh, he was common enough. He had every prejudice and aspiration of every American Common Man …
But he was the Common Man twenty-times magnified by his oratory, so that while the other Commoners could understand his every purpose which was exactly the same as their own, they saw him towering among them, and they raised hands to him in worship.
At 25.21%: Most of them [Voters] had, among all the factors in the campaign, noticed only what they regarded as Windrip’s humor, and three planks in his platform: Five, which promised to increase taxes on the rich; Ten, which condemned the Negroes — since nothing so elevates a dispossessed farmer or a factory worker on relief as to have some race, any race, on which he can look down; and, especially, Eleven, which announced, or seemed to announce, that the average toiler would immediately receive $5000 a year.
(More quotes in a second blog post to follow.)
This is the cover of the eBook edition I’m reading from the library. I think I prefer the one at the top of the post that’s posted on Goodreads. It has more of a 30s appearance to the design.