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It Can’t Happen Here

It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis, 1934

Like good health, a reasonably functioning democracy can be taken for granted.  We might snort, guffaw and curse political decisions or politicians with whom we disagree, but we’re much more hesitant to show up at a community meeting or serve on a committee or write a letter or — can you imagine? —  run for office.

68 % of the eligible Canadian population voted in the 2015 federal election, but that was a leap from the last four federal elections that languished at a mere 60% average.

About 60% voted in the 2017 BC elections, up from a measly 58% average in the last four elections.

That means almost half of the population in BC are not doing what is most basic to a functioning democracy – caring enough to vote.  It’s easy to take democracy for granted.

 

Sinclair Lewis’ book, It Can’t Happen Here, reminds us to be politically vigilant.  Written in the throes of the depression in 1934, long before the Trump administration fiasco and “alternative news,” Lewis envisions “a fascist future wrapped in an American flag.”  Though informed by the growing fascism of Germany under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini, the populist politician in Lewis’ book, “Buzz” Windrip, is less a Nazi than a con-man-plus-Rotarian, a manipulator who knows how to appeal to people’s fears, desires and desperation.

The parallels to a Trump-era America are jolting, which is exactly why It Can’t Happen Here surged in sales after the 2016 election, ranking on the Amazon best-seller’s list.  The title is taken from a popular response to the question of a fascist America controlled by a dictator: “Naw, it can’t happen here.”

Called in 1935 “a message to thinking Americans” (and Canadians), Sinclair Lewis depicts the chillingly realistic rise of a fairly elected president who becomes a dictator to save the nation from welfare cheats, sex, crime, and a liberal press.  This book by Lewis, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930, “remains as fresh and contemporary as today’s news”  (from the back cover).

 

Dan Chambers

 

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