Sunday, 12 March 2017

For Sinclair Lewis, It can happen here on fascism in US

Sinclair Lewis, the 1930s author who predicted (without knowing) the rise of charismatic authoritarian leader to rule the United States 80 years after his prophetic book was published.

Following up on George Orwell's foreshadowing of alternative facts and Big Brother in 1948, another author and journalist from the past appeared to have prophesied the likes of Trump and a creation of a uniquely fascist America. Sinclair Lewis, the first American to win a Nobel Price for Literature was the author of It Can't Happen Here, a fictionalized account of how America becomes a Fascist country in the aftermath of the hotly contested 1936 Presidential elections. The book was published in 1935. Flash forward 80 years later and the book's plot resembles the plot of a TV series. See The Man in the High Castle series by Philip K. Dick based on the novel of the same name where in alternative history, the United States looses World War II and is occupied by both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan respectively. The fear of a possible Nazi-Japanese occupation was a real and imagined fear by many Americans throughout the 1930s-40s. The book was published as a play in 1936 and was and is still performed across the country even today. Depended on the region, the story's settings and characters change to fit a specific region but the basic storyline remains the same.

The first cover of Lewis' magnum opus. It was meant to be a satire of American politics. 

One of the main characters of It Can't Happen Here is a charismatic presidential candidate by the name of Bezlius "Bez" Windrup who defeats the real life President Franklin Roosevelt. Windrup takes up the cause of the common man and emphasizes the forgotten man now has a leader who won't ignore them any longer. The fascism in It Can't Happen here, is distinct from the then Fascist Italy. It is uniquely American inspired by American exceptionalism no doubt. The story itself was inspired by the attitudes of ordinary Americans who suffered greatly during the Great Depression and the immediate aftermath of the 1929 stock market crash. It was also inspired by the rise of Fascism occurring in Western Europe in the 1930s. There was also the American Nazi Party (it still exists as one of many US terrorist groups), pro-Nazi and pro fascist Americans who didn't see any wrong in doing business see IBM, cooperating and even exchanging ideas with Germany, Italy and Spain. Nor downplaying Jewish refugees' plight. It wasn't until the start of World War II, that the non chalant appeasement attitudes toward Hitler and Mussolini changed. As the story goes a long, terms that are used today pop up the Minuteman, resistance, peace through defence, the country needs discipline read the country needs law and order and even mentions people fleeing to Canada! Again, this is in 1935, some 13 years before Orwell's best seller. No wonder the pundits don't like to bring up history to explain current events. Historical mistakes have been made too many times and many lessons unlearned since the 1930s.

Berkeley Reportoire Theatre reads It Can't Happen Here 

At the Yolo County Library near Sacramento, CA. Known colloquially as the Berkeley Rep, the theatre has been performing both cultural and political plays, novels and spoken word for decades.

A Different kind of Fascism

In 1930s, the atmosphere and the public's general anxiety over the possibly of a fascist government taking over the United States wasn't as different as it is today. The only difference being that the rise of authoritarianism is in its infancy with Trump and is being watched closely by the right wing and ultra nationalists politicians and parties in Europe. When fascism comes to the United States, how fascist is the Trump presidency is still being debated, it will not be the like fascism of the 1930s with Fascist thugs i.e. the Nazi Brown shirts and Fascist beating up opposition and critics of the government. It will be more subtle, more digitized and on-line as well as more discreet. But the signs and racism are there. Yes there are a few clashes going on between the Trump supporters and the more violent left wing militants known as the Black Bloc and Anarchists in Berkeley and at the Inauguration. Most of the past weekend's pro-Trump rallies across the country were relatively peaceful and had less of a crowd than the large hundred of thousands protests against the White House. Most of the President's supporters spend more of their time on-line on various comment boards, forums, video sites, producing their own news channels, newspapers and berate the mainstream media as "fake news." It is well known that there have been mainstream news outlets have produced major false news stories to enforce real politik American Foreign Policy. Fox News is notorious for its own fake and exaggerated news. The extremists (motivated by apocalyptic political and social fear not religion) among the Trump supporters (including neo Nazi and openly racist groups) have said such reporters who criticize the president should be fired and replaced by "real patriots." Trump doesn't help ease people's anxiety by removing home grown, white extremists and terrorists from the Countering Violence and Extremism or CVE anti extremist program to focus solely on Islamic extremism. Keep in mind that American terrorists are more of a threat and immediate danger to U.S. society than ISIS. Like ISIS recruits and fighters, the home grown terrorists monitor and pay attention to mainstream news and the White House in addition to independent news too.

Black Bloc protesters wrecked up parts of the UC Berkeley campus following the cancellation of Right Wing provecautor and self describe troll Milo Yiannpoulous' speech at the campus in February 2017. Berkeley has always had large and small protests and often protests against fascism and militarism. That is what the city and university is known for. It wasn't a surprise for the larger Bay Area or the state as a whole.

The more non violent moderates, liberal and progressive protesters and activists have moved themselves from associating with the Black Bloc altogether. Even the Marxists and anarchists have critiqued Black Bloc's violence and fringe elements wanting to be disconnected from the larger protest organizations. There's always been the question of if armed resistance for liberation works better than non violent action. The Black Bloc has been around for at least 30 years but has tried to stay on the fringes of protests. The group originally emerged in Germany and has historically been made up of university students who are not the stereotypically spoiled college brats the right wing pundits often portray the left militants to be. Until Trump came into office, the Bloc militants would appear in larger violent police brutality protests ie the various G8 summits Genoa 2001, 1999 World Trade Organization protest in Seattle, Anti-NATO, Fergueson, Oakland Oscar Grant protests, Anti-Trump inauguration protests and now the most recent the cancelled speaking event at UC Berkeley by the disgraced Far Right former editor Milo Yiannpolous. For the Right wing commentators, journalists and pundits who say Liberals are violent and are fascists themselves, the self titled resistance against Trump across the U.S. have reiterated the Black Bloc doesn't represent the genuine resistance movement.

Lewis passed away in 1951 one year after Orwell.

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