In 1935 Sinclair Lewis wrote a novel titled It Can’t Happen Here about Senator Buzz Windrip who rose to popularity and became President of the United States by running on a ticket of social and economic reforms and a return to patriotism and traditional values. After he’s elected he imposes a plutocratic/fascist regime with the help of a paramilitary force called the Minute Men, much like Hitler’s SS. The title of the book comes from the idea that such an event can’t really happen in America.
Yes, it can. We’ve gotten close on several occasions, most recently in the mid-1930’s when, out of the depths of the Depression and in the fear of Bolshevism in Europe, Huey Long — on whom Lewis based Windrip — came very close to running for president in 1936 only to be stopped by an assassin in 1935. And now Donald Trump is doing it again, and if yesterday’s declaration of banning the admission of “every” Muslim, including American citizens coming back from a trip to Toronto, is any indication, he’s just getting warmed up. He’s already demonized blacks, veterans, the disabled, women, and anyone who raises an objection to his rhetoric, so of course picking on the religion that is being portrayed as the enemy — another pickup from you-know-who — is the next step.
Of course everyone with the sense nature gave a goose will condemn him, including his rivals for the GOP nomination, but he’s going to get a bump in the polls and he’s going to roll on as the establishment Republican Party reels in horror and asks, with no sense of irony or self-awareness, “How could this happen?”
Charlie Pierce thinks that Mr. Trump has reached the stage of desperation and this plan to ban all Muslims from coming into the country is his last flail before he gets taken over by the comparatively moderate Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.
It is utterly immoral, completely unworkable, incredibly expensive, and the person proposing it admits he has no idea of the nature of the problem this proposal was designed to combat—except that it was designed by He, Trump, which apparently makes all the difference.
We keep saying that this won’t last, that certainly Donald Trump is going to go too far and the country will finally turn against him and he’ll drop off the screens. We thought that after he dissed John McCain’s time as a P.O.W. in Vietnam, after he tangled with Fox News, and after any number of declarations that heretofore would have killed off any other presidential campaign, but unless we’re waking up this morning to nation that has finally had enough, he’s going to keep on stomping.
Footnote: See also All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, which truly follows the life and death of Huey Long. The film version with Broderick Crawford is stunning and scary as hell.