Late in last year's presidential campaign, remarks by candidate Donald Trump stirred memories of a novel read long ago and I ordered a copy on line. Weeks later, following the Trump triumph, a battered, contemporary (1935) copy of Sinclair Lewis' "It Can't Happen Here," arrived.
Meanwhile, without my notice, Lewis's 80-year-old best seller had become one once again in 2017, this time on Amazon.com, along with George Orwell's 1984 and other dystopian titles from the past. Anyone familiar with the work of Lewis would recognize that this one was a quickie job, driven by circumstances of the day and a little light in plot and lacking slick editing. But given that it was the middle of America's worst depression, that Hitler and Mussolini were on the rise, proto-fascist Louisiana Senator Huey Long (shortly to be assassinated) was riding high and that the 1936 presidential election was coming up, it understandably won a lot of readers in its day.
Lewis chronicles the rise of a Trump-like anti-establishment candidate: "Few men doubted that the Democratic candidate would be that sky-rocket Senator Berzelius 'Buzz' Windrip --- that is to say, Windrip as the mask and bellowing voice, with his satanic secretary, Lee Sarason, as the brain behind." In the present day, Sarason, a former journalist, bears more than a little resemblance to Trump's "chief strategist and senior counselor," Stephen K. Bannon.
Sarason is the ghostly author of Windrip's supposed autobiography, Zero Hour --- Over The Top. Lewis has a lot of fun with this tome, fabricating quotes that are a mish-mash parody of Hitler's Mein Kampf and the Dale Carnegie-style inspirational and sales literature that was popular at the time. Clearly, those who voted for Windrip could not say they weren't warned in advance, but as with Trump, the message worked --- in the short run. "I want to stand right up on my hind legs and not just admit but frankly holler right out that we?ve got to change our system a lot, maybe even change the whole Constitution...The Executive has got to have a freer hand and be able to move quick in an emergency, and not be tired down by a lot of dumb shyster-lawyer congressmen taking months to shoot off their mouths in debates..." said Windrip in Zero Hour.
Meanwhile, out in the Vermont sticks, Doremus Jessup, lovable old small town newspaper editor, is watching developments with growing dread. His candidate isn't the real life President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but a Republican, "...that loyal yet strangely honest old-line Senator, Walt Trowbridge..."