IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE by Sinclair Lewis

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis has too may excellent quotes for me to leave it to Goodreads and Facebook, which is where most of what I used to post here on the blog goes, nowadays. But sometimes I want a little more space, and so, here I am.

It Can’t Happen Here, about a Vermont newspaperman who is moved to political action for the first time in his life, is both terrific, and not so great. Terrific, because it’s timely after the 2016 election, and the election of a charismatic but ethically weak man who is a puppet for a more militaristic and grim advisor. Buzz Windrip is not exactly Donald Trump, but Lee Sarason is scarily like Steve Bannon.

One of the things that’s interesting about the book is that it predicted the rise of a popular leader like Trump based on Huey Long, who was assassinated, and didn’t rise to power. So Lewis’ era missed out, but here we are, 80 or so years later with so very much of this book that could be ripped from the headlines. And while it’s satire, it’s often not funny, because right now, it’s too close, too soon.

For example, his description of how many voters

“had turned to Windrip & Co., not as perfect, but as the most probable saviors of the country from, on the one hand, domination by Moscow, and, on the other hand, the slack indolence, the lack of decent pride of half the American youth whose world (these idealists asserted) was composed of shiftless distaste for work and refusal to learn anything thoroughly, of blatting dance music on the radio, maniac automobiles, slobbering sexuality…(350)

The paragraph is ironic given the current regime’s entanglement with Russia, and with how the description of youth could be taken from any piece on Millennials in the past several years.

I had to laugh at the following, about a group of states who later try to take things into their own control:

There were bubbles from an almost boiling rebellion in the Middle West and Northwest, especially in Minnesota and the Dakotas, where agitators, some of them formerly of political influence, were demanding that their states secede from the [Union] and form a cooperative (indeed almost socialistic) commonwealth of their own. (346)

Forming a co-op is SO Minnesotan.

The book is quite uneven. It’s long, it drags in the middle, some of the characters are flat or caricatures, and yet, I am glad I read it, and I recommend it, because otherwise I wouldn’t have read this, which rings deep and true for me:

More and more, as I think about history,…I am convinced that everything that is worth while in the world has been accomplished by the free, inquiring, critical spirit, and that the preservation of this spirit is more important than any social system whatsoever. But the men of ritual and the men of barbarism are capable of shutting up the men of science and of silencing them forever. (359)

It’s an imperfect novel, but it’s a nearly perfect political snapshot. Now if only it was been less descriptive of the problem, and more prescriptive of what we might do about it. I guess we’ll find out, since it did in fact happen here.

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