Born OTD in 1885, American novelist, short-story writer, & playwright, Sinclair Lewis. Published during the rise of fascism in Europe, the novel describes the rise of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a demagogue who is elected President of the United States, after fomenting fear & promising drastic economic & social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism & “traditional” values. After his election, Windrip takes complete control of the government & imposes a plutocratic/totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force, in the manner of Adolf Hitler and the SS.

It Can't Happen Here

The novel’s plot centers on journalist Doremus Jessup’s opposition to the new regime and his subsequent struggle against it as part of a liberal rebellion.

Though having previously foreshadowed some authoritarian measures in order to reorganize the United States government, Windrip rapidly outlaws dissent, incarcerates political enemies in concentration camps, and trains and arms a paramilitary force called the Minute Men, who terrorize citizens and enforce the policies of Windrip and his “corporatist” regime. One of his first acts as president is to eliminate the influence of the United States Congress, which draws the ire of many citizens as well as the legislators themselves. The Minute Men respond to protests against Windrip’s decisions harshly, attacking demonstrators with bayonets. In addition to these actions, Windrip’s administration, known as the “Corpo” government, curtails women’s and minority rights, and eliminates individual states by subdividing the country into administrative sectors. The government of these sectors is managed by “Corpo” authorities, usually prominent businessmen or Minute Men officers.

Those accused of crimes against the government appear before kangaroo courts presided over by military judges. Despite these dictatorial (and “quasi-draconian”) measures, a majority of Americans approve of them, seeing them as necessary but painful steps to restore U.S. power. Others, those less enthusiastic about the prospect of corporatism, reassure themselves that fascism cannot “happen here”, hence the novel’s title.

Open opponents of Windrip, led by Senator Trowbridge, form an organization called the New Underground, helping dissidents escape to Canada in manners reminiscent of the Underground Railroad and distributing anti-Windrip propaganda. One recruit to the New Underground is Doremus Jessup, the novel’s protagonist, a traditional liberal and an opponent of both corporatist and communist theories, the latter of which Windrip’s administration suppresses. Jessup’s participation in the organization results in the publication of a periodical called The Vermont Vigilance, in which he writes editorials decrying Windrip’s abuses of power.

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