It Absolutely Can Happen Here

This is still a bit of a political post, I suppose, but if you haven’t read Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here since high school or college (or ever), now is a very good time to re-read or read for the first time.

The Times had a nice overview a week or so ago about the parallels between Lewis’s fictional Buzz Windrip administration and the Trump administration:

Like Trump, Windrip sells himself as the champion of “Forgotten Men,” determined to bring dignity and prosperity back to America’s white working class. Windrip loves big, passionate rallies and rails against the “lies” of the mainstream press. His supporters embrace this message, lashing out against the “highbrow intellectuality” of editors and professors and policy elites. With Windrip’s encouragement, they also take out their frustrations on blacks and Jews.

The architect of Windrip’s campaign is a savvy newsman named Lee Sarason, the novel’s closest approximation of Steve Bannon. It is Sarason, not Windrip, who actually writes “Zero Hour,” the candidate’s popular jeremiad on national decline. Sarason believes in propaganda, not information, openly arguing that “it is not fair to ordinary folks — it just confuses them — to try to make them swallow all the true facts that would be suitable to a higher class of people.”

Not everything in the book is a direct parallel, but there’s enough there that looks familiar to warrant some examination of what Lewis was trying to say–and warn people about. We all know academically that history repeats itself, but it often occurs so slowly that we don’t realize it’s happening in the moment. We wake up in the morning and the world doesn’t seem to be literally falling apart, so what can really be wrong?

To use a recent example, look at the credit crisis of 2008, which affected nearly everyone. There were warning signs, but it was a slow enough burn that many people failed to notice until it was too late.

Now imagine that happening on a much larger scale, and across multiple sectors, both economic and political. Think it can’t happen here?