Can it happen?

Online bookclub master Bryan Alexander blogged about It Can’t Happen Here and how it does and doesn’t relate to the present, so I’ll add some personal connections.

On one hand, the novel certainly doesn’t map directly onto the current situation. But on the other hand, trends towards fascism and authoritarianism have been with us for a long time. We may not have a Corpo party, but you could make the case that the Corpos have co-opted both of the parties we have. The above song comes from early 90s alt-rock activists Consolidated, and takes its title from from a 1980 screed by Bertram Gross. The implication is that what can’t happen here has been happening for quite a while. And while we may not have a Corpo militia, we do have militarized law enforcement that has taken aggressive action in response to protests.

And then the day after I finish the book, this came through my Twitter feed:

Which is right out of Buzz Windrip’s campaign platform. The data comes from a survey asking what people would sacrifice for a 10% raise. It indicates to me a sense of desperation, that people feel they really need more money. But while it suggests people don’t value their own vote too highly, the fact that they’re far less willing to give up their children’s right could imply that they think voting is important. They say they won’t stoop to eating Tide Pods, so that’s something.

One thing in the novel that resonates with me is the name of the main character, Doremus. When I was growing up in Rochester, NY, the dean of the local newscasters was Warren Doremus, so it feels like a very appropriate name for a newsman. Another is the title:

I think I was in the ninth grade when I found The Mothers of Invention’s debut album, Freak Out, at the public library. I remember having a WTF fascination with the track, “It Can’t Happen Here.” It’s not something that normal people would sit through willingly, like the Beatles’ Revolution 9, but unlike that one it stuck in my head, so it’s my reference point for the expression. Zappa is saying that the general public didn’t expect that young people across the country would turn into nonconformist hippie freaks. Who could imagine that they would freak out in Minnesota? Who could imagine that they would freak out in the 30s? Given the socio-economic situation of those times, we might expect a freak out.

The decade was marked globally by the Great Depression. In the US, we also had the Dust Bowl. Communists were in power in Russia and had started a revolution in China, and communist parties were active in the US and Europe. Fascism was a reaction to these conditions, most notably in Germany, Italy and Spain. And apparently in the US as well, at least according to USMC Major General Smedley Butler. You also had Huey Long’s populism and William Pelley’s Silver Shirts, so maybe it really could have happened here.

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