It Can't Happen Here: Chapter 7

7


When I am protestingly dragged from my study and the family hearthside into the public meetings that I so much detest, I try to make my speech as simple and direct as those of the Child Jesus talking to the Doctors in the Temple.
                                                       Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip.
Thunder in the mountains, clouds marching down the Beulah Valley, unnatural darkness covering the world like black fog, and lightning that picked out ugly scarps of the hills as though they were rocks thrown up in an explosion.
To such fury of the enraged heavens, Doremus awakened on that morning of late July.
As abruptly as one who, in the death cell, startles out of sleep to the realization, "Today they'll hang me!" he sat up, bewildered, as he reflected that today Senator Berzelius Windrip would probably be nominated for President.
The Republican convention was over, with Walt Trowbridge as presidential candidate. The Democratic convention, meeting in Cleveland, with a good deal of gin, strawberry soda, and sweat, had finished the committee reports, the kind words said for the Flag, the assurances to the ghost of Jefferson that he would be delighted by what, if Chairman Jim Farley consented, would be done here this week. They had come to the nominations--Senator Windrip had been nominated by Colonel Dewey Haik, Congressman, and power in the American Legion. Gratifying applause and hasty elimination had greeted such Favorite Sons of the several states as Al Smith, Carter Glass, William McAdoo, and Cordell Hull. Now, on the twelfth ballot, there were four contestants left, and they, in order of votes, were Senator Windrip, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Senator Robinson of Arkansas, and Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins.
Great and dramatic shenanigans had happened, and Doremus Jessup's imagination had seen them all clearly as they were reported by the hysterical radio and by bulletins from the A.P. that fell redhot and smoking upon his desk at the Informer office.
In honor of Senator Robinson, the University of Arkansas brass band marched in behind a leader riding in an old horse-drawn buggy which was plastered with great placards proclaiming "Save the Constitution" and "Robinson for Sanity." The name of Miss Perkins had been cheered for two hours, while the delegates marched with their state banners, and President Roosevelt's name had been cheered for three--cheered affectionately and quite homicidally, since every delegate knew that Mr. Roosevelt and Miss Perkins were far too lacking in circus tinsel and general clownishness to succeed at this critical hour of the nation's hysteria, when the electorate wanted a ringmaster-revolutionist like Senator Windrip.
Windrip's own demonstration, scientifically worked up beforehand by his secretary-press-agent-private-philosopher, Lee Sarason, yielded nothing to others'. For Sarason had read his Chesterton well enough to know that there is only one thing bigger than a very big thing, and that is a thing so very small that it can be seen and understood.
When Colonel Dewey Haik put Buzz's name in nomination, the Colonel wound up by shouting, "One thing more! Listen! It is the special request of Senator Windrip that you do not waste the time of this history-making assembly by any cheering of his name--any cheering whatever. We of the League of Forgotten Men (yes--and Women!) don't want empty acclaim, but a solemn consideration of the desperate and immediate needs of 60 per cent of the population of the United States. No cheers--but may Providence guide us in the most solemn thinking we have ever done!"
As he finished, down the center aisle came a private procession. But this was no parade of thousands. There were only thirty-one persons in it, and the only banners were three flags and two large placards.
Leading it, in old blue uniforms, were two G.A.R. veterans, and between, arm-in-arm with them, a Confederate in gray. They were such very little old men, all over ninety, leaning one on another and glancing timidly about in the hope that no one would laugh at them.
The Confederate carried a Virginia regimental banner, torn as by shrapnel; and one of the Union veterans lifted high a slashed flag of the First Minnesota.
The dutiful applause which the convention had given to the demonstrations of other candidates had been but rain-patter compared with the tempest which greeted the three shaky, shuffling old men. On the platform the band played, inaudibly, "Dixie," then "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again," and, standing on his chair midway of the auditorium, as a plain member of his state delegation, Buzz Windrip bowed--bowed--bowed and tried to smile, while tears started from his eyes and he sobbed helplessly, and the audience began to sob with him.
Following the old men were twelve Legionnaires, wounded in 1918--stumbling on wooden legs, dragging themselves between crutches; one in a wheel chair, yet so young-looking and gay; and one with a black mask before what should have been a face. Of these, one carried an enormous flag, and another a placard demanding: "Our Starving Families Must Have the Bonus--We Want Only Justice--We Want Buzz for President."
And leading them, not wounded, but upright and strong and resolute, was Major General Hermann Meinecke, United States Army. Not in all the memory of the older reporters had a soldier on active service ever appeared as a public political agitator. The press whispered one to another, "That general'll get canned, unless Buzz is elected--then he'd probably be made Duke of Hoboken."

Following the soldiers were ten men and women, their toes through their shoes, and wearing rags that were the more pitiful because they had been washed and rewashed till they had lost all color. With them tottered four pallid children, their teeth rotted out, between them just managing to hold up a placard declaring, "We Are on Relief. We Want to Become Human Beings Again. We Want Buzz!"
Twenty feet behind came one lone tall man. The delegates had been craning around to see what would follow the relief victims. When they did see, they rose, they bellowed, they clapped. For the lone man--Few of the crowd had seen him in the flesh; all of them had seen him a hundred times in press pictures, photographed among litters of books in his study--photographed in conference with President Roosevelt and Secretary Ickes--photographed shaking hands with Senator Windrip--photographed before a microphone, his shrieking mouth a dark open trap and his lean right arm thrown up in hysterical emphasis; all of them had heard his voice on the radio till they knew it as they knew the voices of their own brothers; all of them recognized, coming through the wide main entrance, at the end of the Windrip parade, the apostle of the Forgotten Men, Bishop Paul Peter Prang.
Then the convention cheered Buzz Windrip for four unbroken hours.

In the detailed descriptions of the convention which the news bureaus sent following the feverish first bulletins, one energetic Birmingham reporter pretty well proved that the Southern battle flag carried by the Confederate veteran had been lent by the museum in Richmond and the Northern flag by a distinguished meat-packer of Chicago who was the grandson of a Civil War general.
Lee Sarason never told anyone save Buzz Windrip that both flags had been manufactured on Hester Street, New York, in 1929, for the patriotic drama, Morgan's Riding, and that both came from a theatrical warehouse.

Before the cheering, as the Windrip parade neared the platform, they were greeted by Mrs. Adelaide Tarr Gimmitch, the celebrated author, lecturer, and composer, who--suddenly conjured onto the platform as if whisked out of the air--sang to the tune of "Yankee Doodle" words which she herself had written:

                                Berzelius Windrip went to Wash.,
                             A riding on a hobby--
                             To throw Big Business out, by Gosh,
                             And be the People's Lobby!

                               Chorus:
                               Buzz and buzz and keep it up,
                               Our cares and needs he's toting,
                               You are a most ungrateful pup,
                               Unless for Buzz you're voting!
                              The League of the Forgotten Men
                              Don't like to be forgotten,
                              They went to Washington and then
                              They sang, "There's something rotten!"

That joyous battle song was sung on the radio by nineteen different prima donnas before midnight, by some sixteen million less vocal Americans within forty-eight hours, and by at least ninety million friends and scoffers in the struggle that was to come. All through the campaign, Buzz Windrip was able to get lots of jolly humor out of puns on going to Wash., and to wash. Walt Trowbridge, he jeered, wasn't going to either of them!
Yet Lee Sarason knew that in addition to this comic masterpiece, the cause of Windrip required an anthem more elevated in thought and spirit, befitting the seriousness of crusading Americans.
Long after the convention's cheering for Windrip had ended and the delegates were again at their proper business of saving the nation and cutting one another's throats, Sarason had Mrs. Gimmitch sing a more inspirational hymn, with words by Sarason himself, in collaboration with a quite remarkable surgeon, one Dr. Hector Macgoblin.
This Dr. Macgoblin, soon to become a national monument, was as accomplished in syndicated medical journalism, in the reviewing of books about education and psychoanalysis, in preparing glosses upon the philosophies of Hegel, Professor Guenther, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and Lothrop Stoddard, in the rendition of Mozart on the violin, in semi-professional boxing, and in the composition of epic poetry, as he was in the practice of medicine.
Dr. Macgoblin! What a man!
The Sarason-Macgoblin ode, entitled "Bring Out the Old-time Musket," became to Buzz Windrip's band of liberators what "Giovanezza" was to the Italians, "The Horst Wessel Song" to the Nazis, "The International" to all Marxians. Along with the convention, the radio millions heard Mrs. Adelaide Tarr Gimmitch's contralto, rich as peat, chanting:

                   BRING OUT THE OLD-TIME MUSKET
      Dear Lord, we have sinned, we have slumbered,
          And our flag lies stained in the dust,
         And the souls of the Past are calling, calling,
        "Arise from your sloth--you must!"
         Lead us, O soul of Lincoln,
         Inspire us, spirit of Lee,
        To rule all the world for righteousness,
              To fight for the right,
              To awe with our might,
       As we did in 'sixty-three.
Chorus: 
See, youth with desire hot glowing,
   See, maiden, with fearless eye,
           Leading our ranks
          Thunder the tanks,
   Aeroplanes cloud the sky.
                   Bring out the old-time musket,
                  Rouse up the old-time fire!
                  See, all the world is crumbling,
                  Dreadful and dark and dire.
                  America! Rise and conquer
                  The world to our heart's desire!

"Great showmanship. P. T. Barnum or Flo Ziegfeld never put on a better," mused Doremus, as he studied the A.P. flimsies, as he listened to the radio he had had temporarily installed in his office. And, much later: "When Buzz gets in, he won't be having any parade of wounded soldiers. That'll be bad Fascist psychology. All those poor devils he'll hide away in institutions, and just bring out the lively young human slaughter cattle in uniforms. Hm."
The thunderstorm, which had mercifully lulled, burst again in wrathful menace.

All afternoon the convention balloted, over and over, with no change in the order of votes for the presidential candidate. Toward six, Miss Perkins's manager threw her votes to Roosevelt, who gained then on Senator Windrip. They seemed to have settled down to an all-night struggle, and at ten in the evening Doremus wearily left the office. He did not, tonight, want the sympathetic and extremely feminized atmosphere of his home, and he dropped in at the rectory of his friend Father Perefixe. There he found a satisfyingly unfeminized, untalcumized group. The Reverend Mr. Falck was there. Swart, sturdy young Perefixe and silvery old Falck often worked together, were fond of each other, and agreed upon the advantages of clerical celibacy and almost every other doctrine except the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome. With them were Buck Titus, Louis Rotenstern, Dr. Fowler Greenhill, and Banker Crowley, a financier who liked to cultivate an appearance of free intellectual discussion, though only after the hours devoted to refusing credit to desperate farmers and storekeepers.
And not to be forgotten was Foolish the dog, who that thunderous morning had suspected his master's worry, followed him to the office, and all day long had growled at Haik and Sarason and Mrs. Gimmitch on the radio and showed an earnest conviction that he ought to chew up all flimsies reporting the convention.
Better than his own glacial white-paneled drawing room with its portraits of dead Vermont worthies, Doremus liked Father Perefixe's little study, and its combination of churchliness, of freedom from Commerce (at least ordinary Commerce), as displayed in a crucifix and a plaster statuette of the Virgin and a shrieking red-and-green Italian picture of the Pope, with practical affairs, as shown in the oak roll-top desk and steel filing-cabinet and well-worn portable typewriter. It was a pious hermit's cave with the advantages of leather chairs and excellent rye highballs.
The night passed as the eight of them (for Foolish too had his tipple of milk) all sipped and listened; the night passed as the convention balloted, furiously, unavailingly . . . that congress six hundred miles away, six hundred miles of befogged night, yet with every speech, every derisive yelp, coming into the priest's cabinet in the same second in which they were heard in the hall at Cleveland.
Father Perefixe's housekeeper (who was sixty-five years old to his thirty-nine, to the disappointment of all the scandal-loving local Protestants) came in with scrambled eggs, cold beer.
"When my dear wife was still among us, she used to send me to bed at midnight," sighed Dr. Falck.
"My wife does now!" said Doremus.
"So does mine--and her a New York girl!" said Louis Rotenstern.
"Father Steve, here, and I are the only guys with a sensible way of living," crowed Buck Titus. "Celibates. We can go to bed with our pants on, or not go to bed at all," and Father Perefixe murmured, "But it's curious, Buck, what people find to boast of--you that you're free of God's tyranny and also that you can go to bed in your pants--Mr. Falck and Dr. Greenhill and I that God is so lenient with us that some nights He lets us off from sick-calls and we can go to bed with 'em off! And Louis because--Listen! Listen! Sounds like business!"
Colonel Dewey Haik, Buzz's proposer, was announcing that Senator Windrip felt it would be only modest of him to go to his hotel now, but he had left a letter which he, Haik, would read. And he did read it, inexorably.
Windrip stated that, just in case anyone did not completely understand his platform, he wanted to make it all ringingly clear.
Summarized, the letter explained that he was all against the banks but all for the bankers--except the Jewish bankers, who were to be driven out of finance entirely; that he had thoroughly tested (but unspecified) plans to make all wages very high and the prices of everything produced by these same highly paid workers very low; that he was 100 per cent for Labor, but 100 per cent against all strikes; and that he was in favor of the United States so arming itself, so preparing to produce its own coffee, sugar, perfumes, tweeds, and nickel instead of importing them, that it could defy the World . . . and maybe, if that World was so impertinent as to defy America in turn, Buzz hinted, he might have to take it over and run it properly.
Each moment the brassy importunities of the radio seemed to Doremus the more offensive, while the hillside slept in the heavy summer night, and he thought about the mazurka of the fireflies, the rhythm of crickets like the rhythm of the revolving earth itself, the voluptuous breezes that bore away the stink of cigars and sweat and whisky breaths and mint chewing-gum that seemed to come to them from the convention over the sound waves, along with the oratory.

It was after dawn, and Father Perefixe (unclerically stripped to shirt-sleeves and slippers) had just brought them in a grateful tray of onion soup, with a gob of Hamburg steak for Foolish, when the opposition to Buzz collapsed and hastily, on the next ballot, Senator Berzelius Windrip was nominated as Democratic Candidate for President of the United States.

Doremus, Buck Titus, Perefixe, and Falck were for a time too gloomy for speech--so possibly was the dog Foolish, as well, for at the turning off of the radio he tail-thumped in only the most tentative way.
R. C. Crowley gloated, "Well, all my life I've voted Republican, but here's a man that--Well, I'm going to vote for Windrip!"
Father Perefixe said tartly, "And I've voted Democratic ever since I came from Canada and got naturalized, but this time I'm going to vote Republican. What about you fellows?"
Rotenstern was silent. He did not like Windrip's reference to Jews. The ones he knew best--no, they were Americans! Lincoln was his tribal god too, he vowed.
"Me? I'll vote for Walt Trowbridge, of course," growled Buck.
"So will I," said Doremus. "No! I won't either! Trowbridge won't have a chance. I think I'll indulge in the luxury of being independent, for once, and vote Prohibition or the Battle-Creek bran-and-spinach ticket, or anything that makes some sense!"

It was after seven that morning when Doremus came home, and, remarkably enough, Shad Ledue, who was supposed to go to work at seven, was at work at seven. Normally he never left his bachelor shack in Lower Town till ten to eight, but this morning he was on the job, chopping kindling. (Oh yes, reflected Doremus--that probably explained it. Kindling-chopping, if practised early enough, would wake up everyone in the house.)
Shad was tall and hulking; his shirt was sweat-stained; and as usual he needed a shave. Foolish growled at him. Doremus suspected that at some time he had been kicking Foolish. He wanted to honor Shad for the sweaty shirt, the honest toil, and all the rugged virtues, but even as a Liberal American Humanitarian, Doremus found it hard always to keep up the Longfellow's-Village-Blacksmith-cum-Marx attitude consistently and not sometimes backslide into a belief that there must be some crooks and swine among the toilers as, notoriously, there were so shockingly many among persons with more than $3500 a year.
"Well--been sitting up listening to the radio," purred Doremus. "Did you know the Democrats have nominated Senator Windrip?"
"That so?" Shad growled.
"Yes. Just now. How you planning to vote?"
"Well now, I'll tell you, Mr. Jessup." Shad struck an attitude, leaning on his ax. Sometimes he could be quite pleasant and condescending, even to this little man who was so ignorant about coon-hunting and the games of craps and poker.
"I'm going to vote for Buzz Windrip. He's going to fix it so everybody will get four thousand bucks, immediate, and I'm going to start a chicken farm. I can make a bunch of money out of chickens! I'll show some of these guys that think they're so rich!"
"But, Shad, you didn't have so much luck with chickens when you tried to raise 'em in the shed back there. You, uh, I'm afraid you sort of let their water freeze up on 'em in winter, and they all died, you remember."
"Oh, them? So what! Heck! There was too few of 'em. I'm not going to waste my time foolin' with just a couple dozen chickens! When I get five-six thousand of 'em to make it worth my while, then I'll show you! You bet." And, most patronizingly: "Buzz Windrip is O.K."
"I'm glad he has your imprimatur."
"Huh?" said Shad, and scowled.
But as Doremus plodded up on the back porch he heard from Shad a faint derisive:
"O.K., Chief!"

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