Book Review

Most readers of this newspaper probably would agree we don’t have much to thank the Bush administration for. One exception might be the plethora of excellent books about this most nefarious administration.

But as timely and cogent as these many books are, let’s not overlook their precursors.

Back in 1935, Harry Sinclair Lewis of Sauk Center, Minn., displayed uncanny prescience in his 1935 novel “It Can’t Happen Here.” The rise of a far right-wing fascist dictator, the dismantling of the Constitution and the rights that go with it, fabricated false patriotism, loyalty tests for the citizenry, harsh persecution of dissenters, and the shaping and refinement of The Big Lie technique of political propaganda — all hallmarks of George W. Bush and his criminal co-conspirators — are present in abundance in this remarkable novel.

Lewis’ sources of inspiration are said to have ranged from the rise of Hitler and Mussolini in Europe to the anti-communist Father Coughlin, the Ku Klux Klan, and notorious Louisiana Sen. Huey Long. Lewis might have added fellow Minnesotan Charles Lindbergh, now the subject of a political science fiction book by Philip Roth that resembles Lewis’ novel in many ways.

Although he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930, when “It Can’t Happen Here.” came out, Lewis’ reputation, built largely on a string of highly successful novels such as “Main Street” and “Elmer Gantry,” and numerous short stories, was somewhat in disrepair. But “It Can’t Happen Here” sold over 300,000 copies, restored Lewis’ reputation and sounded the alarm to a large segment of the American public that fascism was just as dangerous a threat here as it was abroad.

“Lewis focuses on the American electoral process in an outlandish and uncannily prophetic way, presaging the media campaigns that we now expect in American politics,” Perry Meisel noted in his brilliant introduction to the 1993 Signet paperback edition. “‘It Can’t Happen Here’ is a particularly relevant text for any assessment of American culture at the present time.”

Besides the novel, I recommend the several biographies of Lewis which touch on this monumental book, including “Sinclair Lewis” by James Lundquist (Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.) and “Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street” by Richard Lingeman (Random House)

It can’t happen here? My friends, it not only can, it is happening. Perhaps we can stop it Nov. 2, but it will take a monumental effort by all peace and justice-loving, democracy-cherishing Americans.

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