As Bush beats the war drums today, I am reminded of a novel Sinclair Lewis wrote nearly seven decades ago called "It Can't Happen Here."
It is the story of how fascism came to America. Lewis wrote his novel as Hitler and Mussolini stormed across Europe, bringing a new kind of social order to the fore. Fascism almost came to America -- President Roosevelt knew the country was at a crossroads: facism or communism, and he decided to push for a third way, reforming and democraticizing capitalism to get rid of its worst Robber Baron excesses.
That Roosevelt found a third way does not deny the essential truths of Lewis' book. The forces of fascism, spearheaded by men such as Huey Long, Father Coughlin, Gerald L.K. Smith and others, came close but never fully succeeded during the Great Depression in America.
But the history of America has always been a constant struggle between the forces of authoritarianism and the forces of democracy.
Fascism nearly won in the Œ30s, and again in the Œ50s with McCarthyism, and threaten once again now at the beginning of the new Millennium with the ascendancy of Bush to the presidency.
In "It Can't Happen Here," the president is Buzz Windrip, whose Corpo movement has taken over Washington D.C. at the bottom of the Great Depression. The novel even has counterparts for Cheney and Rumsfield -- a behind-the-scenes manipulator called Lee Saranson.
The protagonist of "It Can't Happen Here" is Doremus Jessup, a somewhat consdervative small-town New Egland newspaper editor.
Jessup was an old-fashioned conservative, but not of the ideological stripe of today's Republicans. He valued a certain independence of thought that turned out to be anathema to the marketing experts of yesterday's fascism.
As the editor of a small and therefore somewhat insigificant daily newspaper, Jessup doesn't deal directly with the powers that be. His contact with the face of fascism is through Shad Ledue, his own drunken, loutish handyman who has risen to the top of the local New England corpos. Ledue is one of the most convincing villains I have ever encountered -- and his violent demise is welcome.
Jessup is a man whose essential honesty makes him a hero, yet the first time that Ledue sends Jessup to jail, Jessup does not feel so brave. He wants to feel like an honorable man for going to jail, because evil men like Windrip, Saranson and Ledue only send honorable men to jail. But Jessup is also a respectable old New Englander to whom jail is a place only bad people go. Jessup is not a superman, he is merely a decent human being who in the end becomes an underground fighter for democracy.
Written in the time of Hitler and Mussolini, Sinclair made fascism a real American phenomenon -- and not just a transplanted European nightmare.
Mr. Bush and his cohorts are taking their lines right out of "It Can't Happen Here," which is why I recommend everyone read the book now.
Under Corpo rule, political dissidents which included not only communists and socialists but political conservatives like Jessup, were thrown willy-nilly into concentration camps, and joined forces there in a new American underground.
Are we going to let today's half-wits lead the war into War and Depression?
Read "It Can't Happen Here" and ponder that question.