It Can’t Happen Here is my second post-election read (after The Plot Against America by Philip Roth) that some political writers have been saying might foreshadow the United States under the presidency of Donald Trump.
Sinclair Lewis wrote this book in 1935, and the writing style of that era (or maybe just his personal writing style in general) made this a tougher read for me. It’s also more politically complex than The Plot Against America, in some points getting into explanations of differences between socialism and communism, etc. Analysis of this book could go several different directions, but I’m going to keep things simple here.
In a nutshell, ‘Buzz’ Windrip, a populist candidate emerges in the Democratic party and wins the party’s 1936 Presidential nomination from FDR. The Republicans field an uninspiring alternative, and Roosevelt decides to run on his own as a third party candidate. Windrip (supposedly based on Huey Long), promises a $5,000 yearly income for each citizen. If elected, he also demands control over Congress, and that the Supreme Court become subservient to his will. His demands also include marginalizing African-Americans, Jews and labor unions.
Windrip wins the election, and as you can probably guess from his demands, things go downhill. The ruling party begins calling themselves Corporatists, or often simply “Corpos.” The government forms a paramilitary force separate from the regular U.S. military to enforce the party’s rules.
The story is told primarily through the eyes of Doremus Jessup, a Vermont newspaper owner-editor who prints articles critical of the Corpos, which leads to hardship and tragedy for himself, his family, and his friends. Even after it’s clear that Fascists have taken over, Jessup remains in denial. “It can’t happen here,” he says at several points in the story.
I gave It Can’t Happen Here three stars on Goodreads – primarily because of the difficulty I had in reading it.