It Can't Happen Here describes an America under a fascist dictatorship. The idea seems far-fetched, but it is actually quite believable. A convergence of a charismatic candidate, backed by a ruthless brain trust, endorsed by radio religious personalities with the tough times of the Depression facilitates a Fascist occupation of the White House. It shows how the masses can be manipulated by a set of overwhelmingly favorable campaign promises that push all the right buttons. One fascinating thing is that in the 15 planks of the candidate's platform actually describes how he will throw out the US Constitution and set civil and women's rights back to the stone age. And he wins. Clearly it can happen here and it does.
Sinclair Lewis has made his name in the American canon by writing novels based on the foibles of Middle Class America. According to the forward written by Michael Meyer in my edition of this novel, the Great Depression's devastating affect on the middle class left Lewis searching for new material. He turned to the events happening across Europe and wrote this novel.
This novel almost seems prophetic. I continually drew parallels to Bush administration and how, with some alignment of other factors, the horrors of this novel could happen in the US today. Lewis is saying that if we, as a people, stand by and just let power-hungry politicians take charge without resistant forces holding them accountable can simply run amok. And if allowed too far afield, we could get caught in a position where the people cannot regain control. Lewis selects a newspaper editor in rural Vermont as his protagonist and its his conscience and sometimes his lack of action that drives the novel. It ends with hope and becomes a somewhat maudlin tribute to the spirit of the American people
The novel may not have much appeal to foreign readers, but it should be must reading for Americans.