copyright the Chronicle March 23, 2016
by Chris Braithwaite
If you’ve been as gob smacked as I have by The Donald phenomenon, I have a recommendation: Find a copy of It Can’t Happen Here and give it a read.
It’s the most relevant commentary I’ve encountered on this crazy election year. Surprisingly, it is set in Vermont. More surprisingly, the novel will celebrate its eighty-first birthday in October.
Sinclair Lewis holed up in his second home in Barnard, Vermont, in May of 1935 and in four months wrote and revised his cautionary tale about the coming of fascism to America.
The book is set in 1936 when, in reality, the incumbent president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, would claim the Democratic nomination and go on to win his second of four terms. But that’s not how things work out in Lewis’ version.
In both worlds, the country is still deep in the great Depression and FDR’s controversial new policies have yet to make much of a dent. There are other political models to choose from, and a substantial number of Americans see some promise in Germany and Italy, where Hitler and Mussolini have replaced the uncertainties of democracy with something more robust.
Thus, in the novel’s opening scene, retired General Herbert Y. Edgeways tells his audience on Ladies’ Night at the Fort Beulah Rotary Club that “I don’t altogether admire everything Germany and Italy have done, but you’ve got to hand it to ’em, they’ve been honest enough and realistic enough to say to the other nations, ‘Just tend to your own business, will you? We’ve got strength and will, and for whomever has those divine qualities it’s not only a right, it’s a duty, to use ’em!’”