It Can Happen Here


In 1935, Sinclair Lewis wrote It Can’t Happen Here. It was a warning that fascism can happen in the USA. Jack London presaged the fascist upsurge of the 1930s and 1940s with his seminal book, The Iron Heel (1908). The underbelly of our country has always had these stirrings, with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) being the historic example of fascistic terror.

Do recent events and voices in the electoral arena indicate a qualitative turn to the barbaric happenings of the mid-20th century? Let’s probe.

The “West’s Weimar Moment” by German editor Jochen Bittner (NYTimes 5/31/2016) raised some of the above. He made four good points about Germany before fascism and compared them to present-day realities.

  1. Economic depression (1929) and the 2008 financial crisis.
  2. Loss of trust in institutions e.g. banks, governments, media.
  3. Social humiliation e.g. job loss, homes foreclosed.
  4. Political blunder. You pick ‘em for the present e.g. lack of legislative relief, bailing out banks, immigration, the gun imbroglio etc.

What scares me is what he left out. Where is the continual push toward militarism and never ending war(s)? The Priorities Project says military spending is over 50% of the federal budget’s discretionary spending while federal spending for schools is at 5%. One candidate suggested carpet-bombing areas in ISIS held territory. Another candidate stated that there should be a no fly zone in Syria. All spell out war.

Bittner also say we should set “aside the debate about whether the rise of Nazism was built into German DNA.” What? Was fascism in Mussolini’s Italy and Tojo’s Japan due to DNA too? The fact that this is being raised as a “debate” is a danger signal in itself. It was settled long ago that fascism grows out of the economic and social factors, not biology.

When politics fail to untie the socioeconomic knots, fascist ideology finds fertile ground. Denigrating women, xenophobia, and great power chauvinism – Make America Great Again – appeal to ignoble ways. Who does that sound like?

There are other historical signposts. Ruling circles in 1930s Germany thought they could contain Hitler and the fascist movement. So is the ultra right in our country, represented by Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R), now willing to go with the neofascist Trump and the “containment” idea?

Donald Trump’s racist and super-nationalist statements about Mexicans and Muslims are not new to politics. Dividing people, especially white workers against people of color, were the hallmark of Republicans running for the presidency in the 20th century. Examples abound.

In the 1960s, violence was mainly aimed at civil rights and peace activists during the U.S. War in Vietnam. Rebellions in black communities occurred with the assassination of Martin Luther King. President Richard Nixon (R) turned these happenings into a “law and order” campaign in the 1968. It was aimed, ideologically and practically, at white democratic voters in the south. It worked.

President Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign gave this racist approach a new twist. He implicitly attacked black males as purchasers of steaks with food stamps while whites ate hamburgers. This, along with megadoses of anticommunism, allowed for the massive increases in the military budget and deep cuts in social spending that hurt everyone, black, white, and brown. It worked.

The 1988 electoral campaign of President George Bush Sr. gave this yet another racist twist. The Willie Horton T.V. ad showed a black man, who escaped jail while on a work furlough and raped and killed a white woman. Bush blamed the Democratic candidate. The criminalization of the black male began in earnest. It worked. He gave us the first oil war in Iraq. Remember “Slam Saddam”?

In 2003, Bush’s son “W” continued the war in Iraq claiming a connection to 9/11 events. He lied. It worked. He was reelected in 2004. Combined with the inability to solve the Palestine / Israeli conflict, this proved to be a deadly combination and a watershed happening. It further enraged an already enraged Muslim world.

Threats against the Presidency escalated with the election of Barak Obama. Militia groups quadrupled, like the one that occupied the wildlife refuge in Oregon. Police violence in black communities has been exposed for all to see.

The racism, brutal trade policies, and never-ending wars have had a qualitative effect. Along with the economic factors outlined above, Donald Trump (R) organized these sentiments into a successful, primary bid for the Presidency. It has worked . . .so far.

Neofascism is knocking on our door. It will be up to the peoples’ movements to prevent that door from opening. The Sanders campaign and the Black Lives Matter movement will be important components. A record 27 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote. All these give indications of a potential mass base to put a collective shoulder against a neofascist toehold on our democracy. Can we build that unity in time? Let’s discuss this here and now. Join in. We need everyone.