Saturday, January 07, 2012

It Can't Happen Here (Until . . . . )

America's ongoing descent into a corporate state roused me finally to pick up "It Can't Happen Here", Sinclair Lewis' cautionary novel about the rise of a Fascist regime in the United States.  Published in 1935, when Fascism already had rooted itself in Europe, the story captures troubling tendencies in American popular media and popular mentality. Think demagoguery and mob psychology.

The passage below testifies to the timeliness of Lewis' cautions. Senator Windrip is a political rising star who runs for president and whose ascendance is fueled by his skillful exploitation of jingoism and other populist sentiments. Speaking is R. C. Crowley, the local banker of Fort Beulah. He is addressing an informal gathering of the modest town's professional class. But in particular he is addressing a skeptical Doremus Jessup, the local newspaperman and the novel's protagonist.
"I don't like all these irresponsible attacks on us bankers all the time. Of course, Senator Windrip has to pretend publicly to bawl the banks out, but once he gets into power he'll give the banks their proper influence in the administration and take our expert financial advice. Yes. Why are you so afraid of the word 'Fascism,' Doremus? Just a word—just a word! And might not be so bad, with all the 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 old days—and have 'em really run the country and make it efficient and prosperous again."
How well does this shoe fit the politics of the United States in 2012?

Then Lewis comments on the integrity of political campaigns, when a Windrip supporter admits that the candidate's promises amount to air, "just molasses for the cockroaches." 

Then there's this timely partisan snipe, from the mouth of Karl Pascal, the Communist,
". . . Freedom, Order, Security, Discipline, Strength! All those swell words that even before Windrip came in the speculators started using to protect their profits! Especially how they used the word 'Liberty'! Liberty to steal the didies off the babies! I tell you, an honest man gets sick when he hears the word "Liberty' today, after what the Republicans did to it!" 
I'm just sayin'.

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