“It Can’t Happen Here”

(Note: In case you are concerned or even annoyed, The Curmudgeon has no intention of turning this into either an anti-Trump blog or an all-politics, all-the-time blog. He is interested in learning whether his readers would like more or less of this Trump business, but if he decides to do that, he would probably launch a separate blog for that purpose. He has too much fun with the other aspects of this blog – ordinary observations about our society and culture, some humor, some snark, and yes, some politics, too. For right now, though, this is the last planned Trump-related piece he is posting at this time. Oh, there will be others, to be sure, and maybe even soon, too, but rest assured that he is not going to inundate you with anti-Trump pieces because, among many other reasons, he believes he would largely be preaching to the choir anyway. If you have some thoughts on this, he welcomes your views.

Also, this piece is pretty long, and The Curmudgeon apologizes for that. He tries not to do that too often but in this case he had a lot of ground he wanted to cover. If it’s any comfort, the first draft was nearly twice as long but he decided to take pity on his readers and took out his red pen and removed things mercilessly rather than risk wearing out his welcome.   Here’s a quick clip of someone else who had a problem shortening a too-long piece.)

*            *            *

Several weeks ago The Curmudgeon published a piece comparing Donald Trump’s candidacy to the story in Philip Roth’s novel The Plot Against America. In that novel, Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential election and quickly takes the U.S. down the road toward fascism; you can refresh your memory about that piece here, if you’re so inclined, although you don’t need to reread it to understand this piece.

In the course of doing some research to write that piece – these things don’t all write themselves, you know – The Curmudgeon came upon a reference to a novel by Sinclair Lewis, who is better known for works like Main Street and Babbit, called It Can’t Happen Here. It Can’t Happen Here is a political novel in which, yet again in 1936, a windbag of a U.S. senator, a strange amalgam of wild-eyed liberal and racist improbably named Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip – political satire was once much less subtle than it is today – defeats Roosevelt for the Democratic nomination and proceeds to win the general election and become president.

The Curmudgeon decided he had to read this book. He hasn’t finished it yet – it’s seriously funny but not a page-turner – but he would like to present some of the highlights: specifically, the candidate’s campaign platform, a newspaper editor’s interpretation of that platform, and things that happen when this blowhard takes office.

And, of course, offer a little commentary about how It Can’t Happen Here mirrors some things we’ve seen lately.

*            *            *

During the very first week of his campaign, Berzelius Windrip – how can you not spell out the whole name every time – presented his platform: “The Fifteen Points of Victory for the Forgotten Men.” [Note: this is a reference to the “League of Forgotten Men,” a group of 27 million people all over the country whose only allegiance is to a charismatic religious leader.] The fifteen planks, in his own words… were these:

(1) All finance in the country, including banking, insurance, stocks and bonds and mortgages, shall be under the absolute control of a Federal Central Bank, owned by the government and conducted by a Board appointed by the President, which Board shall, without need of recourse to Congress for legislative authorization, be empowered to make all regulations governing finance. Thereafter, as soon as may be practicable, this said Board shall consider the nationalization and government ownership, for the Profit of the Whole People, of all mines, oil- fields, water power, public utilities, transportation, and communication.

(2) The President shall appoint a commission, equally divided between manual workers, employers, and representatives of the Public, to determine which Labor Unions are qualified to represent the Workers; and report to the Executive, for legal action, all pretended labor organizations, whether “Company Unions,” or “Red Unions,” controlled by Communists and the so-called “Third International.” The duly recognized Unions shall be constituted Bureaus of the Government, with power of decision in all labor disputes. Later, the same investigation and official recognition shall be extended to farm organizations. In this elevation of the position of the Worker, it shall be emphasized that the League of Forgotten Men is the chief bulwark against the menace of destructive and un-American Radicalism.

(3) In contradistinction to the doctrines of Red Radicals, with their felonious expropriation of the arduously acquired possessions which insure to aged persons their security, this League and Party will guarantee Private Initiative and the Right to Private Property for all time.

(4) Believing that only under God Almighty, to Whom we render all homage, do we Americans hold our vast Power, we shall guarantee to all persons absolute freedom of religious worship, provided, however, that no atheist, agnostic, believer in Black Magic, nor any Jew who shall refuse to swear allegiance to the New Testament, nor any person of any faith who refuses to take the Pledge to the Flag, shall be permitted to hold any public office or to practice as a teacher, professor, lawyer, judge, or as a physician, except in the category of Obstetrics.

 Does this not recall the attitude of a certain presidential candidate toward Muslims or even an American-born judge of Mexican ancestry? 

(5) Annual net income per person shall be limited to $500,000. No accumulated fortune may at any one time exceed $3,000,000 per person. No one person shall, during his entire lifetime, be permitted to retain an inheritance or various inheritances in total exceeding $2,000,000. All incomes or estates in excess of the sums named shall be seized by the Federal Government for use in Relief and in Administrative expenses.

(6) Profit shall be taken out of War by seizing all dividends over and above 6 per cent that shall be received from the manufacture, distribution, or sale, during Wartime, of all arms, munitions, aircraft, ships, tanks, and all other things directly applicable to warfare, as well as from food, textiles, and all other supplies furnished to the American or to any allied army.

(7) Our armaments and the size of our military and naval establishments shall be consistently enlarged until they shall equal, but—since this country has no desire for foreign conquest of any kind—not surpass, in every branch of the forces of defense, the martial strength of any other single country or empire in the world. Upon inauguration, this League and Party shall make this its first obligation, together with the issuance of a firm proclamation to all nations of the world that our armed forces are to be maintained solely for the purpose of insuring world peace and amity.

(8) Congress shall have the sole right to issue money and immediately upon our inauguration it shall at least double the present supply of money, in order to facilitate the fluidity of credit.

(9) We cannot too strongly condemn the un-Christian attitude of certain otherwise progressive nations in their discriminations against the Jews, who have been among the strongest supporters of the League, and who will continue to prosper and to be recognized as fully Americanized, though only so long as they continue to support our ideals.  

Hmmm, tolerating “different people” – but only as long as they “continue to support our ideals.” Sound familiar?

(10) All Negroes shall be prohibited from voting, holding public office, practicing law, medicine, or teaching in any class above the grade of grammar school, and they shall be taxed 100 per cent of all sums in excess of $10,000 per family per year which they may earn or in any other manner receive. In order, however, to give the most sympathetic aid possible to all Negroes who comprehend their proper and valuable place in society, all such colored persons, male or female, as can prove that they have devoted not less than forty-five years to such suitable tasks as domestic service, agricultural labor, and common labor in industries, shall at the age of sixty-five be permitted to appear before a special Board, composed entirely of white persons, and upon proof that while employed they have never been idle except through sickness, they shall be recommended for pensions not to exceed the sum of $500.00 per person per year, nor to exceed $700.00 per family. Negroes shall, by definition, be persons with at least one sixteenth colored blood.

This suspicion of all people of color seems like something we’ve all witnessed recently, doesn’t it? Well, at least Buzz doesn’t refer to his Negroes as “the Blacks.”

 (11) Far from opposing such high-minded and economically sound methods of the relief of poverty, unemployment, and old age as the EPIC plan of the Hon. Upton Sinclair, the “Share the Wealth” and “Every Man a King” proposals of the late Hon. Huey Long to assure every family $5000 a year, the Townsend plan, the Utopian plan, Technocracy, and all competent schemes of unemployment insurance, a Commission shall immediately be appointed by the New Administration to study, reconcile, and recommend for immediate adoption the best features in these several plans for Social Security, and the Hon. Messrs. Sinclair, Townsend, Eugene Reed, and Howard Scott are herewith invited to in every way advise and collaborate with that Commission.

(12) All women now employed shall, as rapidly as possible, except in such peculiarly feminine spheres of activity as nursing and beauty parlors, be assisted to return to their incomparably sacred duties as home-makers and as mothers of strong, honorable future Citizens of the Commonwealth.
And of course, no one who has run for president in our country lately can possibly be accused of such disrespect and disregard for women, right?

(13) Any person advocating Communism, Socialism, or Anarchism, advocating refusal to enlist in case of war, or advocating alliance with Russia in any war whatsoever, shall be subject to trial for high treason, with a minimum penalty of twenty years at hard labor in prison, and a maximum of death on the gallows, or other form of execution which the judges may find convenient.

(14) All bonuses promised to former soldiers of any war in which America has ever engaged shall be immediately paid in full, in cash, and in all cases of veterans with incomes of less than $5,000.00 a year, the formerly promised sums shall be doubled.

(15) Congress shall, immediately upon our inauguration, initiate amendments to the Constitution providing (a), that the President shall have the authority to institute and execute all necessary measures for the conduct of the government during this critical epoch; (b), that Congress shall serve only in an advisory capacity, calling to the attention of the President and his aides and Cabinet any needed legislation, but not acting upon same until authorized by the President so to act; and (c), that the Supreme Court shall immediately have removed from its jurisdiction the power to negate, by ruling them to be unconstitutional or by any other judicial action, any or all acts of the President, his duly appointed aides, or Congress.

 This reflects a fundamental lack of understanding of the constitution. The American people would never vote into high office someone who doesn’t understand the constitution, would they?

*            *            *

The author then has one of his characters, a newspaper editor, explain what some of these “principles” mean.

I’ll tell you just what it all means: Articles One and Five mean that if the financiers and transportation kings and so on don’t come through heavily with support for Buzz they may be threatened with bigger income taxes and some control of their businesses.

Eight means that by inflation, big industrial companies will be able to buy their outstanding bonds back at a cent on the dollar, and Nine that all Jews who don’t cough up plenty of money for the robber baron will be punished, even including the Jews who haven’t much to cough up. Ten, that all well-paying jobs and businesses held by Negroes will be grabbed by the Poor White Trash among Buzz’s worshipers—and that instead of being denounced they’ll be universally praised as patriotic protectors of Racial Purity… Twelve, that women will later lose the vote and the right to higher education and be foxed out of all decent jobs and urged to rear soldiers to be killed in foreign wars. Thirteen, that anybody who opposes Buzz in any way at all can be called a Communist and scragged for it.

One might wonder if this also means threatening to jail one’s political opponents.

 … they’ll all be convinced that, even if our Buzzy maybe has got a few faults, he’s on the side of the plain people, and against all the tight old political machines, and they’ll rouse the country for him as the Great Liberator…

Sound familiar?

*            *            *

So what happened when Buzz took office?

His third, in his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, was to order that the Minute Men [note: a private network of first the candidate’s and then the president’s troops] be recognized as an unpaid but official auxiliary of the Regular Army, subject only to their own officers, to Buzz, and to High Marshal Sarason; and that rifles, bayonets, automatic pistols, and machine guns be instantly issued to them by government arsenals.

Fourth coup was a special message, next morning, to Congress (in session since January fourth, the third having been a Sunday), demanding the instant passage of a bill embodying Point Fifteen of his election platform—that he should have complete control of legislation and execution, and the Supreme Court be rendered incapable of blocking anything that it might amuse him to do.

By Joint Resolution, with less than half an hour of debate, both houses of Congress rejected that demand before 3 P.M., on January twenty-first. Before six, the President had proclaimed that a state of martial law existed during the “present crisis,” and more than a hundred Congressmen had been arrested by Minute Men, on direct orders from the President. The Congressmen who were hotheaded enough to resist were cynically charged with “inciting to riot”; they who went quietly were not charged at all. It was blandly explained to the agitated press by Lee Sarason that these latter quiet lads had been so threatened by “irresponsible and seditious elements” that they were merely being safeguarded. Sarason did not use the phrase “protective arrest,” which might have suggested things.

And President Windrip spoke.

I am addressing my own boys, the Minute Men, everywhere in America! To you and you only I look for help to make America a proud, rich land again. You have been scorned. They thought you were the ‘lower classes.’ They wouldn’t give you jobs. They told you to sneak off like bums and get relief. They ordered you into lousy C.C.C. camps. They said you were no good, because you were poor. I tell you that you are, ever since yesterday noon, the highest lords of the land—the aristocracy—the makers of the new America of freedom and justice. Boys! I need you! Help me—help me to help you! Stand fast!

And no one in the recently completed presidential campaign EVER said anything like this.

Anybody tries to block you—give the swine the point of your bayonet!”

A machine-gunner M.M. [note: Minute Man], who had listened reverently, let loose. The mob began to drop, and into the backs of the wounded as they went staggering away the M.M. infantry, running, poked their bayonets. Such a juicy squash it made, and the fugitives looked so amazed, so funny, as they tumbled in grotesque heaps!  

It may not be gunfire and bayonets, but consider the way some people have reacted in the wake of last week’s election, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Police are investigating the discovery of swastikas, an anti-gay slur and references to Donald Trump scrawled in bathrooms at Council Rock North High School in the aftermath of Tuesday’s presidential election.

 “One incident occurred in a girls’ restroom, where on a hanging piece of paper someone wrote ‘I Love Trump,’ a derogatory comment about people who are gay, and drew three swastikas,” Superintendent of Schools Robert Fraser wrote in an email to the community Thursday.

 In a separate boys bathroom, Fraser wrote, someone had scrawled two swastikas in a stall. And in another girls’ restroom, someone wrote “If Trump wins, watch out!” on a toilet paper dispenser.

In yet another instance, he said, someone placed a note in the backpack of a Hispanic student that told her to return to Mexico.

And elsewhere, too.

In Philadelphia, police said a woman in Bella Vista found “Trump 2016” and “Black Bitch” spray-painted on her car Wednesday morning. They also were probing the discovery of a swastika, and the phrases “Sieg Heil 2016” and “Trump,” painted on a storefront in Point Breeze, and another swastika next to the word “Trump” painted on a utility box a few blocks away. 

York, Pa., police said school officials there disciplined two students who “paraded a Trump sign through the halls” of York County School of Technology, and another student who yelled “white power.” A widely shared video of the chants sparked outrage on social media. 

And at Southern Lehigh High School near Bethlehem, Pa., administrators held a student assembly late last week to address racist and homophobic slurs against students, and incidents including the carving of swastikas onto bathroom stalls, according to the Allentown Morning Call.

The Curmudgeon knows a charming ten-year-old who lives in Texas and whose teacher, as part of a day-after classroom discussion about the election, asked her students if they knew whom their parents supported in the election. The ten-year-old turned out to be the only child in the class whose parents supported Hillary Clinton, which led to her being taunted and threatened by her classmates. Her parents even felt the need to keep her out of school for a day, ideally until cooler heads prevailed, while her father sat down with the school’s principal to have a few much-needed words with him.

But back to It Can’t Happen Here.

When the remnants of Congress ventured to the Capitol, they found it seeded with M.M.’s, while a regiment of Regulars, under Major General Meinecke, paraded the grounds. The Speaker of the House, and the Hon. Mr. Perley Beecroft, Vice-President of the United States and Presiding Officer of the Senate, had the power to declare that quorums were present. (If a lot of members chose to dally in the district jail, enjoying themselves instead of attending Congress, whose fault was that?) Both houses passed a resolution declaring Point Fifteen temporarily in effect, during the “crisis”—the legality of the passage was doubtful, but just who was to contest it, even though the members of the Supreme Court had not been placed under protective arrest … merely confined each to his own house by a squad of Minute Men!

*            *            *

Despite strikes and riots all over the country, bloodily put down by the Minute Men, Windrip’s power in Washington was maintained. The most liberal four members of the Supreme Court resigned and were replaced by surprisingly unknown lawyers who called President Windrip by his first name. A number of Congressmen were still being “protected” in the District of Columbia jail; others had seen the blinding light forever shed by the goddess Reason and happily returned to the Capitol.

*            *            *

The title of the novel, again, is It Can’t Happen Here.

But here’s the question:

Hasn’t it?

Time will tell.

 

 

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