IT IS "HAPPENING" HERE
Sinclair Lewis is considered a very good satirical writer. But could he have been trying to warn Americans about the delicate balance of democracy, and how easily a nation can slip into a dictatorship almost without it being realized until it's too late to stop it? Was he warning us to start paying attention to the signs, and learn how to take action should it start to happen?
Consider that Sinclair Lewis wrote "It Can't Happen Here" in 1935. Seventy years ago, Lewis warns America, through satire, about how precious democracy is, and how to not take it for granted that we would always have it. How valuable democracy is, to the point that we should always be ready to fight for and defend it. For those of you who didn't get this book as assigned reading in high school, it's an absolute necessity now (you can purchase it as a premium on Buzz Flash). It is the story of how a candidate for President of the United States, seemingly a "man of the people" was elected to the highest office in the land on the basis of slickly packaged snake oil that hoodwinked the masses, while appealing to the basest instincts of personal needs and avarice. Once elected, he proceeds to reverse every law under the Constitution, kill or imprison any dissidents and remove those who had jobs, homes and businesses and place them into mass slavery, while further facilitating mass poverty when the people didn't get the money they were promised (think "a chicken in every pot" here). There were no more states, but regional territories with Commissioners and Militia Troops; private institutions were eliminated and state schools became institutions for the dictatorship propaganda. Media was government controlled; any signs of dissent and the media outlet was shut down, and publishers either swore a loyalty oath or got thrown in jail after trial in a Kangaroo Court.
Could Sinclair Lewis really have known just how fragile democracy is? Was "It Can't Happen Here" a warning for all of us in this country to be alert and vigilant to such insidious coup d'tat?
It is easy to take for granted something or someone you always believe and trust will be around. But what happens when that person, place or thing is gone? If the person dies? If the place is decimated? If the thing is destroyed? You begin thinking "If I get it back, I will never act so foolishly or rashly ever again." If we get a second chance, some of us are wise to be ever cognizant of what was nearly lost; we remember how foolish we were and are too scared to be that foolish again. The rest of us, well, sometimes, we don't make good use of second chances and then what we value, or say we value, is completely and irrevocably taken from us, and we are totally devastated. Espically when the opportunities for another chance are dried up.
We have taken democracy for granted; that the concept and practice will always be here. But with a government that stifles dissent; ignores any event or news report that paints them in an unfavorable light; creates additional hardships for those who can't take any more; promised to keep us safe while continually exposing us to the danger of terrorists - willfully dismisses what is the truth while dressing up lies and telling us that the lie is the truth - we, as Americans, have taken democracy for granted, and it totters on the brink of mass destruction. It has taken five years of the Bush Administration to wake up the rest of America to the fact that our democracy crawls on spider's legs and can be eliminated with one legislative act.
Throughout history, it has been reported how devastating facist governments and dictatorships were to entire populations and their effects on a global scale. As we read about them in history books; Russia, China, Italy, Germany, South Africa - the rise of charismatic leaders like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Benito Mussolini; their atrocities recorded in the eviceration of entire races of people, or dissidents being imprisoned or executed - those of us in America felt like we had bragging rights as we claimed to be the heralds of democracy and gleeful in our desire to spread what we had in America to countries abroad. We looked in facinated horror at the atrocities commited in the name of leadership by the leaders of foreign lands. We shook our heads, while thinking, always thinking, "It Can't Happen Here".
Fast forward to 2005 - where we have an Administration that essentially forced a national publication to retract a factual report because it painted the Administration in an unfavorable light regarding the abuse of Iraqi and Afghani war prisoners. We don't get to find out what has really happened in the prisons in Gitmo or Abu Ghraib, because the sources are always discredited. We can't tell the President how we really feel about the attempts to privatize Social Security, or wrecking Medicare, because the Secret Service has orders to throw protesters in jail and deny them due process of the law. The news that anyone receives is information that is running through the spin and rinse cycles of Fox News, Hannity & Colmes, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. How dare you say you don't support the war in Iraq - why, "that's being un-American and unpatriotic", you are told! This, from despots who belong in what Kos refers to as the "101st Fighting Keyboardists" - and used any and all excuses to avoid going to fight in Vietnam. This, from the same group of infidels that slimed Sen. John Kerry, a man who could have used the same excuses to defer serving in Vietnam, but went and fought for his country. Thank you, Swift Boat Liars, for the trashing of Kerry's war record - talk about the truth being turned into a lie for a good sound bite and the purpose of confusing people when election time came.
Just when you think our democracy's safe, along comes Bill Frist with his "nuclear option" to eliminate the last constitutional option to facilitate debate and engage in lawful dissent, and he has the President, James Dobson and Pat Robertson as cheerleaders; egging him on to blow up the last element that keeps our fragile democracy in place...the filibuster. While the band of 14 Senators who brokered a deal to sustain the filibuster (for now) recognized that this faction of democracy needed to be protected, just how well does their brokered agreement does that? Three of the worst jurists ever, will still get consideration; one (Priscilla Owen) has actually been confirmed. The attempt to turn the Federal Courts into Kangaroo Courts didn't just happen; it's been in the making since 1984. It is being manifested 20 years later. Send the Gipper a "thank You" card, why don't you?
While all of these attacks to eliminate democracy are going on, some poor soul, working at Wal-Mart on a minimum wage job while applying for welfare to ensure his family's survival and supplement that check, is still believing that the elimination of democracy can't happen in America. Corruption, in today's Congress, is the norm and not the exception - so much so that the House of Representatives passed a rule to stack the ethics committee with supporters of the Bug Man to give him a free pass. It also allowed for retaliatory investigations of House Members who have issues with the Bug Man, or punish those in the GOP who discovered they have a spine and a conscious when they vote against the shill he's pushing.
We really want to believe that the horror that is America, as described by Sinclair Lewis in 1935, couldn't possibly happen here. It is really to frightening to contemplate, and it makes my head hurt, not to mention my heart. We can't continue to think that "It Can't Happen Here" when the reality is, it's already "Happening" Here as I write this.
Our democracy is valuable, and we must fight to preserve it with everything within us. Otherwise, what Sinclair Lewis perceived satirically; It Will Happen Here.