In 1935, Sinclair Lewis published his political satire, It Can’t Happen Here. It’s about the takeover of the government by the fascist “corpos.” You can guess what corpo stands for. In 1935 people were desperate for change and Lewis’s book is a cautionary tale of what can happen when a gullible populace falls for the party line.
By today’s literary standards, Lewis’s characters seem cartoonish and the plot is a tad over the top, but it’s relevant enough to our current political climate to scare the bejesus out of even those of us who don’t find conspiracies lurking under every rock. Lewis’s fictional President, Buzz Windrip, is a folksy Southern politician who, once he’s elected, becomes a fascist dictator, suspends congress and locks dissenters up in prison camps. Focus on the folksy.
I never had to read It Can’t Happen Here in school, but George Orwell’s 1984 was required reading in tenth grade English back when 1984 seemed like a long way off and the latest technology was a transistor radio the size of a cigarette pack.
The society Orwell depicted, where citizens were constantly spied upon by the government, seemed farfetched to this corn-fed teenager. (BTW, did you hear about the incident in Minneapolis last summer where the FBI, at 7 a.m., broke down the door of an anti-war activist to “execute a search warrant?”)
Or, if last summer seems like ancient history, how about the more recent incident in neighboring Wisconsin where University Professor William Cronon criticized the state’s conservative Republican Governor, Scott Walker, and his gang of union-busting cronies on his personal blog? To punish him for exercising his right of free speech, the state GOP demanded copies of all emails sent to or from his university account containing the word “Republican,” “union,” and “Scott Walker.”
Sinclair Lewis is often credited with the quote, “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a Bible.” And no doubt, wearing a red white and blue lapel pin.