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American Prophet
December 28, 2005 10:59 PM   Subscribe

PICTURE THIS: A folksy, self-consciously plainspoken Southern politician rises to power during a period of profound unrest in America. The nation is facing one of the half-dozen or so of its worst existential crises to date, and the people, once sunny, confident, and striving, are now scared, angry, and disillusioned. Through a combination of factors -his easy bearing chief among them (along with massive cash donations from Big Business; disorganization in the liberal opposition; a stuffy, aloof opponent; and support from religious fanatics who feel they've been unfairly marginalized)-he wins the presidential election. Ripped from today's headlines? Nope. Sinclair Lewis, Circa 1935: "It Can't Happen Here" has been recently reissued. But you can read it here (with free registration) at American Buddha (possibly NSFW). first link via Arts & Letters Daily
posted by spock (44 comments total)

 
Trivia from Wikipedia entry: Novel was presented as a possible NBC mini-series. Producers swapped in aliens and we got V. Another V infuence was Brecht's The Private Life of the Master Race.)
posted by ao4047 at 11:10 PM on December 28, 2005


Amazon reader reviews for the reissued "It Can't Happen Here". Also a Blog entry and comment about the American Buddha Online Library.
posted by spock at 11:13 PM on December 28, 2005


If you don't want to register, Project Gutenberg comes through.
posted by tehgubner at 11:14 PM on December 28, 2005


that buddha site sucks donkey.
posted by delmoi at 11:17 PM on December 28, 2005


Excellent. Thanks for the Gutenberg link. I think American Buddha (despite it's wacky-looking web design) might be a place that MeFites might want to check out for other content. It probably merits a FPP of its own (if it hasn't had one already).
posted by spock at 11:19 PM on December 28, 2005


Thank you for this post. This book should be required reading for anyone who was on the fence in 2000 and 2004.
posted by Rothko at 11:20 PM on December 28, 2005


Except that required readings are fascist.
posted by spock at 11:23 PM on December 28, 2005


but what's a little fascism if we're all safe annd terror-free eh? btw... the excerpt is eery. i fear words of unintentional prophets.
posted by Doorstop at 11:33 PM on December 28, 2005


Good read. I read it right after the 2004 election.
posted by orthogonality at 11:48 PM on December 28, 2005


Warning, the American Buddha site use the marquee tag. Side scrolling hyperbole has been known to induce aesthetic dysphasia in laboratory web users. That is all.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:13 AM on December 29, 2005


from spock's initial description, i thought he was talking about jimmy carter for a minute until i got to the sinclair lewis link.
posted by 3.2.3 at 12:46 AM on December 29, 2005


Double, but a good one.
posted by Navek Rednam at 1:10 AM on December 29, 2005


all is coordinated by a behind-the-scenes political maestro sometimes called "the brain."

huh. I wonder if Alan Moore owes any inspiration here for The Eye, The Ear, The Nose, The Finger and The Mouth in V for Vendetta.

I'll have to read this.
posted by ScottMorris at 1:20 AM on December 29, 2005


all is coordinated by a behind-the-scenes political maestro sometimes called "the brain."

huh. I wonder if Animaniacs owes any inspiration here...
posted by doctor_negative at 1:46 AM on December 29, 2005


It was hysterical fiction when it appeared, and did not remotely predict the actual future (which was Roosevelt, Roosevelt and more Roosevelt, plus the defeat and death of the real, actual, true Hitler.) It didn't happen. It remains hysterical fiction to this day, and isn't going to happen any more now than it did then. (That, of course, won't prevent any of you from working yourselves into a froth over the delicious fantasy of approaching facism--which you cherish a delicious fantasy of opposing. Some people imagine they're Spiderman, some people imagine they're Rosa Luxemburg.)
posted by jfuller at 4:40 AM on December 29, 2005


jfuller: It didn't happen.

I haven't read it, so maybe I'll come to agree with you that it's hysterical. But the simple fact that it didn't happen doesn't tell us much. History is a series of moments, and at any given moment any number of things might have happened, some more likely than others.

Someone who wrote in July 2004 of a Yankees or Cardinals World Series victory at the end of the season wasn't necessarily hysterical.
posted by ibmcginty at 4:54 AM on December 29, 2005


> Someone who wrote in July 2004 of a Yankees or Cardinals World Series victory at
> the end of the season wasn't necessarily hysterical.

If the moral of the article, intended by the sportswriter and well taken by his audience, was "We must all rise up now and do something to prevent this enormity from taking place" then...hysterical. (Especially if the writer was all panicked about the Cubs winning the Series, which would put him right up there with Lewis in the prescience department.)
posted by jfuller at 5:19 AM on December 29, 2005


That, of course, won't prevent any of you from working yourselves into a froth over the delicious fantasy of approaching facism--which you cherish a delicious fantasy of opposing.

This facism, it vibrates?

To deny that the new GOP, with it's close links to corporatism (read Mussolini for how this is true fascism) presents challenges that must be met would be "the delicious fantasy."
posted by nofundy at 5:32 AM on December 29, 2005


Ripped from today's headlines? Nope.

Indeed. Apart from the polarization you see on the Web (notably here in the blue) and some TV (FOX News?), how much hysteria do you really see in contemporary America? How much anger, disillusionment and fear? Mostly, I just see weariness tempered by frequent distraction by shiny things.
posted by alumshubby at 6:03 AM on December 29, 2005


I tend to agree with alumshubby. There was lots more anger, disillusionment and fear back in the 90s, when those antigov't militias were rattling their sabers. I particularly second alums' last sentence.

And I love me some Sinclair Lewis. He's my hero.
posted by scratch at 6:25 AM on December 29, 2005


did not remotely predict the actual future (which was Roosevelt, Roosevelt and more Roosevelt, plus the defeat and death of the real, actual, true Hitler.) It didn't happen.

Yeah, and that book 1984? Bunch of hysterical crazyness. Turns out Margaret Thatcher, not "Big Brother" ruled Britain that year.
posted by PlusDistance at 6:32 AM on December 29, 2005


It's a scary book as the descent into fascism seems all too plausible. As a novel it leaves much to be desired; the plot drags on and the characters are a bit wooden, but as a cautionary tale about what could be it is masterful.

It certainly could happen here. As a democracy we can vote for any kind of government we want, communism, fascism, theocracy. Toss in some fear, a power hungry president, and a state of emergency and we don't even need to vote for it. The president just assumes dictatorial powers and the people are happy that he is keeping them "safe." The oppressed are just considered unpatriotic bad actors and malcontents. It could take a long time before the realization of what was lost sinks in to the average citizen. Look how long it took for the public to get a bead on Bush's foibles and many of them still support him. His current legal arguments that we are in some sort of extended state of war which gives him, as commander in chief, unprecedented powers to set aside portions of the constitution that conflict with keeping the country "safe" is particularly worrisome. Where are we headed?
posted by caddis at 7:27 AM on December 29, 2005


A folksy, self-consciously plainspoken (pretend)Southern politician rises to power during a period of profound unrest in America.
posted by Atreides at 7:33 AM on December 29, 2005


Where are we headed?

Careful, who know who could be listening. Ixnay on the eedomfray alktay.
posted by Navek Rednam at 7:46 AM on December 29, 2005


I like Lewis and consider him highly underrated (hell, it might be fair to say that he's pretty much forgotten). His stories and characters are interesting and highly critical of "mainstream America," but my sense is that formal innovators overshadowed his fairly conventional style.

That said, I consider Main Street, Babbitt, and Elmer Gantry to be far more scary in terms of what can and has happened in America. jfuller has a point. Then again, his notion that a work of fiction should be judged on its predictive power is ridiculous.
posted by bardic at 7:58 AM on December 29, 2005


jfuller -- Huey Long got assassinated. But man, read up on how he ran Louisiana while he was Governor and Senator, and tell me that there was no reason for Sinclair Lewis to be concerned.
posted by Bryant at 8:25 AM on December 29, 2005


I mean it seems to me that it already did happen here.

Unless Bush is impeached and/or brought to heel over the NSA wiretaps, we've lost our Republic already.
posted by empath at 8:35 AM on December 29, 2005


I'm still waiting to hear that Bush is studying the Constitution to "find a way to protect the people from the outmoded language therein".
posted by mephron at 8:47 AM on December 29, 2005


the amazon reviewers are hilarious.. like a gaggle of 90 year olds arguing, using language out of t. herman zweibel
posted by yonation at 9:08 AM on December 29, 2005


Disagree with you, almshubby - the fear is here, it's real. It amazes me how many conservative types seem to spend their days cringing in corners, cowering in the face of the brown terrorist menace, eager to toss the antiquated notion of civil liberty into the fire that we might somehow, someday, achieve security.

When might that be, do you think? Year from now? Twenty? Or will we always be at war with Eurasia?

Check your local newspaper, make a note of how many people write letters to the editor about how the terrorists want to saw all of our heads off and will unless we get these ACLU types out of the way and let the gub'mint to whatever the gub'mint says it needs to do in order to keep us "safe."
posted by kgasmart at 9:44 AM on December 29, 2005


That said, I consider Main Street, Babbitt, and Elmer Gantry to be far more scary in terms of what can and has happened in America.

Bardic, what's scary about Main Street or Babbitt? Those are funny. It's "scary" that people like Babbitt and all those yahoos in Gopher Prairie exist in the real world, but not scary scary. Elmer Gantry leaves me unimpressed because a preacher is a much too easy target.
posted by scratch at 10:00 AM on December 29, 2005


kgasmart, your hometown paper's Letters to the Editor section is obviously far more entertaining than mine!
posted by alumshubby at 10:54 AM on December 29, 2005


Here's one from yesterday's paper:

"It seems to me too many of our leaders - and one would be too many - don't understand who our enemy is.

"There is nothing too deadly, too catastrophic, too costly in human lives (western lives) for Muslim extremists to attempt.

"Why there is conversation about doing what it takes to catch these extremists and prevent another 9/11 is beyond my understanding.

"As far as I am concerned, the politicians and news media that are unmasking the government's efforts to protects us are traitors."

Welcome to Red State America, folks, where however much power government has, it isn't nearly enough to protect us from them eee'vil brown terrorists.
posted by kgasmart at 11:31 AM on December 29, 2005


What I love most about this book is that hee puts the Liberal, in all his unpopularity, in the position of having to stick to principle and not currupt his ideals for efficacy.

It had that uniquely American trait of needing to sound hopeful at the end. Seeing how quickly a Katrina can be swept away from popular consciousness in our age of instant information retrieval doesn't bode well.

Interesting also that he would so nail the sheer incompetence of every level of government the American fascist would operate on, with no post being safe from political crony appointments. And which of the tortue descriptions were not outdone by actual events in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay or god knows where else the U.S. has decided to set up its secret outposts of the new freedom.

Reading the virtues of liberalism praised instead of apologized for is
posted by Space Coyote at 11:55 AM on December 29, 2005


made me resolve to proudly label myself as a 'liberal' (small 'l') and not be shy about it.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:06 PM on December 29, 2005


Babbitt gives up on his "boosterism" only to have his dreams crushed under the weight of his fear of being seen as different. Main Street is similar, but deals with a woman. Maybe scary isn't the right term, but Lewis' look at the "tyranny of the majority" is always worth remembering. Yes, there is humor in these two books, but look again--there's a hell of a lot of pathos as well. The 60's counterculture was never as eloquent as he was writing 40 years earlier, IMHO.
posted by bardic at 12:40 PM on December 29, 2005


Metafitler: Hyperbole overload
posted by TetrisKid at 1:13 PM on December 29, 2005


> I mean it seems to me that it already did happen here.

If it had happened, you would not be allowed to say so. Been arrested yet for saying so? No? Then it hasn't happened.

> Unless Bush is impeached and/or brought to heel over the NSA wiretaps, we've lost our
> Republic already.

You lost that Republic back when the sainted Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus the first time.
posted by jfuller at 2:27 PM on December 29, 2005


jfuller, don't play these childish fake-outs. Suspending the writ of habeas corpus was, first of all, done by proclamation, not secret executive order. Second of all, that is an explicit delegation in the Constitution. Third, habeas corpus has not been invoked as a justification for bypassing the courts explicitly designated for foreign suspect wiretaps; the authorization of military force in Afghanistan has, by the Attorney General, which is as nonsensical a thing as an attorney general has said since Meese's "most suspects are guilty". (There have been numerous other flavor-of-the-day justifications brought forth by cesspool-dwellers on blogs and FOX News, but none of them has been cited by the USAG, so they're obviously just being used as flak.) Fourth, the precedent that Lincoln eventually restored habeas corpus is no argument that Bush will restore full Fourth Amendment rights to U.S. persons without the intervention of the Supreme Court; saying so is a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. There is no transparent and accountable procedure, to give the people comfort that their rights are well cared-for while they have been stored away in a warehouse.

Really. You should be ashamed of yourself.
posted by dhartung at 3:34 PM on December 29, 2005


Nice links. Sure, these things are hyperbole but they are important. 1984 and A Brave New World are also like that, but they are fine books.

The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance. There are real problems with the NSA in the US. How do you stop an organisation like that from 'mission creep' whilst using it to the fullest? How do you balance the power of the executive to save people whilst stop it from abusing that power?

The doubts about the extensions of the Patriot Act are great to see. Let us just hope they are not political poses before the 2006 midterms.

Sinclair Lewis was such a fine writer. He wrote so well about so many things. Martin Arrowsmith is another great book. It's nice to read writers who didn't ram in magic realism whenever they get in trouble, wrote so they were accessible and didn't just write about the lives of writers.
posted by sien at 3:38 PM on December 29, 2005


jfuller: If it had happened, you would not be allowed to say so. Been arrested yet for saying so? No? Then it hasn't happened.
Right, because if we all just wait until we reach that point, where people are arrested just for internet posts or contrarian viewpoints... well no worries then, eh!!! Whiny liberals will still have the opportunity to work with the Ghost of the Spirit of St. Lincoln to fix that, and make it all better? And what was with that "sainted Lincoln" crap, anyway- are you pissed that the South lost the War of Northern Aggression or something?

It's no wonder Hitlers can take power- authority-fellating fools like you are legion! The friggin' point of learning from history is so that we can recognize patterns and trends that have occured before, and change course before the really bad shit goes down. What, we should keep going down the tubes, wait until we've got Final Solutions and psychotic leaders pogroms and camps and corporate/government strangledhold on all media and speech, where we dutifully watch two-minute hate segments on Fox News before we finally say "Golly gee whiz- this isn't good, is it?!"

Whenever I hear the bleatings of your kind, jfuller, I have to wonder: could you even have the decency to commit to a milestone? Could you have the last tiny shred of humanity left in you to declare, and be faithful to, a warning sign that would make you sick? Is there ANYTHING those in power could EVER do that would make you upset (I mean, besides blowjobs from fat Jewish girls?)? It's only been 60 years, have you forgotten that Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao take power by laying the ground work first, eroding any resistance slowly at first until there is too little left to stop them? And that to avoid similar situations, a free people must be vigilant that they don't allow fear or stupidity to make them surrender the democratic protections against such tyrants before it's too late?

Goddamn you, you fucktard. I hate your fucking soul.
posted by hincandenza at 3:41 PM on December 29, 2005


Now there's a fact of no importance! Is there anything as pleasant as seeing someone like hincandenza corked up in a bottle of his own burning bile? Not hardly. I'm sure it's sinful and damaging to enjoy it but I'm going to take a chance and repent tomorrow. If I should die before I wake, OOPS.


Nofundy:

> To deny that the new GOP, with it's close links to corporatism (read Mussolini
> for how this is true fascism) presents challenges that must be met would
> be "the delicious fantasy."

nofundy, you're right, you're absolutely right, and you're right to clamor about it. The thing is, your party is always clamoring and always right, and so no effective action ever takes place. The day you apply dialectic to yourself and apprehend that some--who knows what, but some--of what you believe and cling to is wrong--on that day you'll become dangerous. Until that unlikely day, well, the oppressor classes rj0oL.
posted by jfuller at 5:56 PM on December 29, 2005


Man, I do love Sinclair Lewis Posts! As one post said, he has all but been forgotten these days.

As I read my way through his works in college, I began to get a different view of how Americans were viewed by the rest of the world. It wasn't only all the 'hard work' and 'ingenuity' that I had been taught for years, it was also the anti-intellectualism, boosterism and just plain middle class pretentiousness like that seen in 'Babbitt', 'Dodsworth' and 'Cass Timberlane'. There was a dark undercurrent to this country and quite frankly, it wasn't pretty.

This book, "It Can't Happen Here", takes these ideas to their worst conclusions. The President (Buzz Windrip) and his party embrace all things 'Babbitt' and disdain anything resembling thinking and intellectualism or art, and instead give the people gossip, platitudes and parades. Soon, the country is in the grips of facisim and anyone who disagrees is locked up in a 'camp' and often tortured and starved.

When I first read this book back in the early 1990's I never thought anything like that could ever happen and really just supposed that Lewis was speaking to the populists like Huey Long from that era. But, then came 9/11 and strange things started occuring, almost ripped from the book. The Patriot act wasn't in "It Can't Happen Here", but all the dark work of those bent on destroying the country was coached in terms that are similar (e.g. the group of thugs who went around 'enforcing' the will of the new party were called 'Minutemen').

The press was subverted and the congress was neutralized. People turned on anyone who dared to question what was happening, calling them traitors and such. Now, I won't say that today we are living the book, but this administration HAS set out to subvert the press. This administration HAS said that executive powers are too weak. People who question the war HAVE been called traitors. This book was a wake up call that even in the land of 'freedom' and democracy you have to be vigilant.

This is also a relevant message for today.
posted by UseyurBrain at 6:09 PM on December 29, 2005


jfuller could you try and be less predictably young-republican-ish? Just to give the rest of us something worthwhile to reply to, other than "look, he's out of the mainstream".
posted by Space Coyote at 11:16 PM on December 29, 2005


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