Just finished reading Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here, about the rise and enforcement of an American dictatorship. I’ll admit that I wanted to see if the dictator had much in common with Donald Trump; but I had wanted to read the book well before Trump entered politics.
And it’s good.
Here’s are some key elements of ICHH, and if you think they sound like George Orwell’s 1984, you’re right:
A writer/editor well past his youthful prime and his lover — a much younger woman — suffer under a home-grown tyranny that starves the people of pleasures and necessities. The couple eventually joins a secret cabal plotting to overthrow the tyranny; but the ruling regime arrests, imprisons and tortures our hero. Nevertheless, he eventually gets out and briefly reunites with his lover.
I don’t know if Orwell had read ICHH, but Lewis’s book reads as if it could be a prequel to 1984. It doesn’t have extravagant flourishes like Orwell’s Big Brother and Thought Police; but it’s consistently intriguing as it shows how politicians sway Americans into imposing a despotism and how various Americans support, oppose and use the new regime.
Since the story’s set in the late 1930s, it’s a tad dated. But it’s still good. In fact, the Berkeley Repertory Company is putting up a staged version.
And since I mentioned Donald Trump: Lewis’s presidential candidate and eventual dictator, Berzelius (Buzz) Windrip, isn’t a Trump (though others may disagree). Buzz is more aw-shucks folksy than Trump, more content with simple pleasures, and more willing to let a scheming top advisor take too much power.
But in his eagerness to oversimplify complex matters, wipe away longstanding rights and laws, and demean women and minority groups, Buzz is even more Trumpian than Trump himself.