Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Maybe it can happen here
By Joe Keohane | December 18, 2005
PICTURE THIS: A folksy, self-consciously plainspoken Southern politician rises to power during a period of profound unrest in America. The nation is facing one of the half-dozen or so of its worst existential crises to date, and the people, once sunny, confident, and striving, are now scared, angry, and disillusioned.
This politician, a ''Professional Common Man,'' executes his rise by relentlessly attacking the liberal media, fancy-talking intellectuals, shiftless progressives, pinkos, promiscuity, and welfare hangers-on, all the while clamoring for a return to traditional values, to love of country, to the pie-scented days of old when things made sense and Americans were indisputably American. He speaks almost entirely in ''noble but slippery abstractions''-Liberty, Freedom, Equality-and people love him, even if they can't fully articulate why without resorting to abstractions themselves.
Through a combination of factors-his easy bearing chief among them (along with massive cash donations from Big Business; disorganization in the liberal opposition; a stuffy, aloof opponent; and support from religious fanatics who feel they've been unfairly marginalized)-he wins the presidential election.
Once in, he appoints his friends and political advisers to high-level positions, stocks the Supreme Court with ''surprisingly unknown lawyers who called [him] by his first name,'' declaws Congress, allows Big Business to dictate policy, consolidates the media, and fills newspapers with ''syndicated gossip from Hollywood.''
Carping newspapermen worry that America is moving backward to a time when anti-German politicians renamed sauerkraut ''Liberty Cabbage'' and ''hick legislators...set up shop as scientific experts and made the world laugh itself sick by forbidding the teaching of evolution,'' but newspaper readers, wary of excessive negativity, pay no mind.
Given the nature of ''powerful and secret enemies'' of America-who are ''planning their last charge'' to take away our freedom-an indefinite state of crisis is declared, and that freedom is stowed away for safekeeping. When the threat passes, we can have it back, but in the meantime, citizens are asked to ''bear with'' the president.
Sure, some say these methods are extreme, but the plain folks are tired of wishy-washy leaders, and feel the president's decisiveness is its own excuse. Besides, as one man says, a fascist dictatorship ''couldn't happen here in America...we're a country of freemen!''
. . .
This is a description of Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel ''It Can't Happen Here" recently reissued.
Why, what did you think it was?