IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE VII–Sinclair Lewis on the press and on fascism

Doremus [and so Sinclair Lewis] on the press (from chapter 20):

“All these years he had heard responsible men who weren’t being quite honest–radio announcers who soft-soaped speakers who were fools and wares that were trash, and who canaryishly chirped, ‘Thank you, Major Blister’ when they would rather have kicked Major Blister, preachers who did not believe the decayed doctrines they dealt out, doctors who did not dare tell lady invalids that they were sex-hungry exhibitionists, merchants who peddled brass for gold–heard all of them complacently excuse themselves by explaining that they were too old to change and that they had a ‘wife and family to support.'”

and Doremus [and so, Sinclair Lewis] on the commonality of fascism and communism (from chapter 36):

“He was afraid that the world struggle today was not of Communism against Fascism, but of tolerance against the bigotry that was preached equally by Communism and Fascism.  But he saw tooth in America the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst Fascists were they who disowned the word ‘Fascism’ and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty.  For they were thieves not only of wages but of honor.”


Doremus’s realization (chapter 19):

“The tyranny of this dictatorship isn’t primarily the fault of Big Business, nor of the demagogues who do their dirty work.  It’s the fault of Doremus Jessup!  Of all the conscientious, respectable, lazy-minded Doremus Jesups who have let the demagogues wriggle in,without fierce enough protest.”



It Can’t Happen Here quote of the day.  From Chapter 19:

“An honest propagandist for any Cause, that is,one who honestly studies and figures out the most effective way of putting over his Message, will learn fairly early that it is not fair to ordinary folks–it just confuses them–to try to make them swallow all the true facts that would be suitable to a higher class of people.  And one seemingly small but almighty important point he learns, if he does much speechifying, is that you can win over folks to your point of view much better in the evening, when they are tired out from work and not so likely to resist you, than at any other time of day.”
Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip



The Sinclair Lewis It Can’t Happen Here quote of the day:

In chapter 7, at the political convention at which Windrip is nominated to run for president, one of his cohorts reads out a letter purportedly making Windrip’s platform clear:

“…the letter explained that [Windrip] was all against the banks but all for the bankers–except the Jewish bankers, who were to be driven out of finance entirely; that he had thoroughly tested (but unspecified) plans to make all wages very high and the prices of everything produced by these same highly paid workers very low; that he was 100 percent for Labor, but 100 percent against all strikes; and that he was in favor of the United States so arming itself, so preparing to produce its own coffee, sugar, perfumes, tweeds, and nickel instead of importing them, that it could defy the World…and maybe, if that World was so impertinent as to defy America in turn, Buzz hinted, he might have to take it over and run it properly.”

IT Can’t Happen Here III

In Sinclair Lewis’s novel, It Can’t Happen Here, Doremus’s son, Philip, defends Windrip, who is running for president. (see chapter 5):

“‘Now listen, Dad.  You don’t understand Senator Windrip.  Oh, he’s something of a demagogue–he shoots off his mouth a lot about how he’ll jack up the income tax and grab the banks, but he won’t–that’s just molasses for the cockroaches.  What he will do, and maybe only he can do it, is to protect us from the murdering, thieving, lying Bolsheviks that would–why, they’d like to stick all of us that are going on this picnic, all the decent clean people that are accustomed to privacy, into half bedrooms, and make us cook our cabbage soup on a Primus stuck on a bed!  Yes, or maybe ‘liquidate’ us entirely!  No sir, Berzelius Windrip is the fellow to balk the dirty sneaking Jew spies that pose as American Liberals!’

“‘The face is the face of my reasonably competent son, Philip, but the voice is the voice of the Jew-baiter, Julius Stretcher,” sighed Doremus.”

[Later, once Windrip takes over as president and turns the country into a fascist dictatorship, Philip, a lawyer, goes along, making excuses for the dictators, rationalizing away what they do, and so succeeding within that system–even becoming a judge himself.  His only concern about his father is that his father’s opposition will harm his own prospects.]




As noted in my last post, for the next several posts, I am going, quite simply, to set out quotes from Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here.  As you read them, their relevance to today’s political scene should be apparent, and I hope they will inspire you to obtain and read the entire book.  So, here’s the second excerpt (this one is from chapter eight.  Doremus Jessup is considering the appeal of the presidential candidate, Berzelius Windrip):

“Doremus Jessup, so inconspicuous an observer, … watching Senator Windrip…could not explain his power of bewitching large audiences.  The Senator was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his ‘ideas’ almost idiotic, while his celebrated piety was that of a traveling salesman for church furniture, and his yet more celebrated humor the sly cynicism of a country store… .

“…[Berzelius] was an actor of genius.  There was no more overwhelming actor on the stage, in the motion pictures, nor even in the pulpit.  He would whirl arms, bang tables, glare from mad eyes, vomit Biblical wrath from a gaping mouth; but he would also coo like a nursing mother, beseech like an aching lover, and in between tricks would coldly and almost contemptuously jab his crowds with figures and facts–figures and facts that were inescapable even when, as often happened, they were entirely incorrect.

“But below this surface stagecraft was his uncommon natural ability to be authentically excited by and with his audience, and they by and with him.  He could dramatize his assertion that he was neither a Nazi nor a Fascist but a Democrat-a homespun Jeffersonian-Lincolnian-Cleveandian-Wilsonian Democrat–and (sans scenery and costume) make you see him veritably defending the Capitol against barbarian hordes, the while he innocently presented as his own warm-hearted Democratic inventions, every anti-libertarian, anti-Semitic madness of Europe.”

On Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here

I’ve been away from this blog for a few months–family illnesses to deal with, but they are, for now, dealt with–and I’m back!

I’ve just finished reading Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here.  The novel was written in 1935, using the ambitions of the demagogue Huey Long as its basis.  But, it reads, at times, as if Lewis had used a time machine to come forward to 2017, had taken what is happening now in America, and returned to his own time to write his work. (Of course, one could argue that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  But that would only indicate that Lewis understood something about the weaknesses in the nature of man and in American society that is universal and not unique to his era.)

The book’s nominal protagonist is a mild-mannered, liberal, small town Vermont newspaper owner/editor by the name of Doremus Jessup.  But the true main character of the novel is our society as a whole.  The book uses the novel form as mechanism to present a thinly veiled treatise on the way in which fascism and totalitarianism can happen here.  This use of the novel form seems to have fallen out of fashion in the last half of the 20th century, the concept of what a novel should be and do having narrowed considerably.  But, that is a subject I will address separately in a later post. Today, and for the next several days, I am going to present some quotes from It Can’t Happen Here, which I expect may strike a chord of familiarity with the reader, as they did with me.

Here is the first.  (A number of chapters begin with an excerpted quote from the  fictional book, Zero Hour, by Berzelius Windrip, the demagogic senator who becomes president in the novel.  This one precedes Chapter 11.):

“When I was a kid, one time I had an old-maid teacher that used to tell me, ‘Buzz, you’re the thickest-headed dunce in school.’  But I noticed that she told me this a whole lot oftener than she used to tell the other kids how smart they were, and I came to be the most talked-about scholar in the whole township.  The United States Senate isn’t so different, and I want to thank a lot of stuffed shirts for their remarks about Yours Truly.
Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip”