Thursday, November 3, 2016

"The hell it can't!"

...Doremus went on: “If Bishop Prang, our Savonarola in a Cadillac 16, swings his radio audience and his League of Forgotten Men to Buzz Windrip, Buzz will win. People will think they’re electing him to create more economic security. Then watch the Terror! God knows there’s been enough indication that we can have tyranny in America…Wait till Buzz takes charge of us. A real Fascist dictatorship!”
            “Nonsense! Nonsense!” snorted Tasbrough. “That couldn’t happen here in America, not possibly! We’re a country of freemen.”
            “The answer to that,” suggested Doremus Jessup, “if Mr. Falck will forgive me, is ‘the hell it can’t!’ Why, there’s no country in the world that can get more hysterical – yes, or more obsequious! – than America. Look how Huey Long became absolute monarch over Louisiana, and how the Right Honorable Mr. Senator Berzelius Windrip owns his State. Listen to Bishop Prang and Father Coughlin on the radio – divine oracles, to millions. Remember how casually most American have accepted Tammany grafting and Chicago gangs and the crookedness of so many of President Harding’s appointees? Could Hitler’s bunch, or Windrip’s, be worse? Remember the Kuklux Klan? Remember our war hysteria, when we called sauerkraut ‘Liberty cabbage’ and somebody actually proposed calling German measles ‘Liberty measles’? And wartime censorship of honest papers? Bad as Russia! Remember our kissing the – well, the feet of Billy Sunday, the million-dollar evangelist, and of Aimée Semple McPherson, who swam from the Pacific Ocean clear into the Arizona desert and got away with it? Remember Voliva and Mother Eddy?...Remember our Red scares and our Catholic scares, when all well-informed people knew that the O.G.P.U. were hiding out in Oskaloosa, and the Republicans campaigning against Al Smith told the Carolina mountaineers that if Al won the Pope would illegitimatize their children? Remember Tom Heflin and Tom Dixon? Remember when the hick legislators in certain states, in obedience to William Jennings Bryan, who learned his biology from his pious old grandma, set up shop as scientific experts and made the whole world laugh itself sick by forbidding the teaching of evolution?...Remember the Kentucky night-riders? Remember how trainloads of people have gone to enjoy lynchings? Not happen here? Prohibition – shooting down people just because they might be transporting liquor – no, that couldn’t happen in America! Why, where in all history has there ever been a people so ripe for a dictatorship as ours! We’re ready to start on a Children’s Crusade – only of adults – right now, and the Right Reverend Abbots Windrip and Prang are all ready to lead it!”
            “Well, what if they are?” protested R. C. Crowley. “It might not be so bad. I don’t like all these irresponsible attacks on us bankers all the time. Of course, Senator Windrip has to pretend publicly to bawl the banks out, but once he gets into power he’ll give the banks their proper influence in the administration and take our expert financial advice. Yes. Why are you so afraid of the word ‘Fascism,’ Doremus? Just a word – just a word! And might not be so bad, with all the lazy bums we got panhandling relief nowadays, and living on my income tax and yours – not so worse to have a real Strong Man, like Hitler or Mussolini – like Napoleon or Bismarck in the good old days – and have ‘em really run the country and make it efficient and prosperous again. ‘Nother words, have a doctor who won’t take any back-chat, boss the patient and make him get well whether he likes it or not!”
            “Yes!” said Emil Staubman. “Didn’t Hitler save Germany from the Red Plague of Marxism? I got cousins there. I know.”
            “Hm,” said Doremus, as often Doremus did say it. “Cure the evils of Democracy by the evils of Fascism? Funny therapeutics. I’ve heard of their curing syphilis by giving the patient malaria, but I’ve never heard of their curing malaria by giving the patient syphilis!”
            “Think that’s nice language to use in the presence of Reverend Falck? raged Tasbrough.
            Mr. Falck piped up, “I think it’s quite nice language, and an interesting suggestion, Brother Jessup!”
            “Besides,” said Tasbrough, “this chewing the rag is all nonsense, anyway. As Crowley says, might be a good thing to have a strong man in the saddle, but – it just can’t happen here in America.”

            And it seemed to Doremus that the softly moving lips of the Reverend Mr. Falck were framing, “The hell it can’t!”

                                                               - Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here, 1935

Image proposed by Atelier Lawnmeadow for unrealized book jacket for It Can't Happen Here
featuring The News Photographer, San Francisco City Hall, John Gutmann, 1935

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