You might be wondering about the future of human rights in our country. If you have some concerns, you’re not the first.
Sinclair Lewis’s ironically titled satire It Can’t Happen Here gives a thought-provoking look at the United States slipping under authoritarian control. In contrast to novels like 1984 or Brave New World which seem other worldly, Sinclair Lewis fills It Can’t Happen Here with American references and humor to show a slide into authoritarianism that seems like a normal part of American life.
Much of the book takes place in the progressive state of Vermont. There the agnostic reporter Doremus Jessup tries to maintain his commitment to free inquiry and civil liberties. Meanwhile, the country makes a shift with talk radio, people demanding shows of allegiance to the flag and Bible, anti-intellectualism, extreme wealth inequality, union busting, glorification of the military, and militarized police called the “Minute Men.” Finally, Buzz Windrip takes the presidency.
Buzz Windrip portrays himself as a Christian man of the people and claims to save freedom by becoming a dictator. Buzz fails to respect freedom of religion for people who are not Christian, puts racist policies in place, and insists that women leave the workplace. His Minute Men police violently attack dissenters. In spite of the dangers, Jessup publishes an editorial against the Buzz presidency and from there the story quickly moves toward its conclusion.
Humanists might recognize Sinclair Lewis for his book Elmer Gantry which satirizes religious fundamentalism. Sinclair Lewis was offered both the Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize, and many of his books have been made into movies. Whether It Can’t Happen Here is turned into real life depends on the commitment of people to checking the evidence, thinking carefully, caring about others, and respecting human rights.