Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"It Can't Happen Here" by Sinclair Lewis

"It Can't Happen Here" by Sinclair Lewis
Amazon customer review by
Charles Häberl (Cambridge, MA United States)
Surprisingly, Sinclair Lewis' darkly humorous tale of a fascist takeover in the US, "It Can't Happen Here," is not merely out-of-print, but also quite hard to find. As dated as it is (1935) its themes will be quite familiar to Americans today. It starts with the highly contested election of an oafish yet strangely charismatic president, who talks like a "reformer" but is really in the pocket of big business, who claims to be a home-spun "humanist," while appealing to religious extremists, and who speaks of "liberating" women and minorities, as he gradually strips them of all their rights. One character, when describing him, says, "I can't tell if he's a crook or a religious fanatic."After he becomes elected, he puts the media - at that time, radio and newspapers - under the supervision of the military and slowly begins buying up or closing down media outlets. William Randolph Hearst, the Rupert Murdoch of his times, directs his newspapers to heap unqualified praise upon the president and his policies, and gradually comes to develop a special relationship with the government. The president, taking advantage of an economic crisis, strong-arms Congress into signing blank checks over to the military and passing stringent and possibly unconstitutional laws, e.g. punishing universities when they don't permit military recruiting or are not vociferous enough in their approval of his policies. Eventually, he takes advantage of the crisis to convene military tribunals for civilians, and denounce all of his detractors as unpatriotic and possibly treasonous.I'll stop here, as I don't want to ruin the story -- I can imagine that you can see where all this is going.

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