Reading Group: It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis (1935)

It Can't Happen Here is a semi-satirical 1935 political novel by American author Sinclair Lewis, and a 1936 play adapted from the novel by Lewis and John C. Moffitt. Published during the rise of fascism in Europe, the novel describes the rise of Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip, a Democrat and United States Senator who is elected to the presidency after fomenting fear and promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and "traditional" values. After his election, Windrip takes complete control of the government and imposes a plutocratic/totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force, in the manner of Adolf Hitler and the SS. The novel's plot centers on journalist Doremus Jessup's opposition to the new regime and his subsequent struggle against it as part of a liberal rebellion.  (Wikipedia)

Join us in reading and discussing Lewis' prescient 1935 satirical novel--in its own right, in the context of its time, and in light of the election of Donald Trump to be President of the United States.

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Chapter 1  Chapter 2   Chapter 3  Chapter 4  Chapter 5  Chapter 6  Chapter 7  Chapter 8  Chapter 9 Chapter 10  Chapter 11  Chapter 12  Chapter 13  Chapter 14  Chapter 15  Chapter 16  Chapter 17 Chapter 18  Chapter 19  Chapter 20  Chapter 21  Chapter 22  Chapter 23  Chapter 24  Chapter 25
Chapter 26  Chapter 27  Chapter 28  Chapter 29  Chapter 30  Chapter 31   Chapter 32  Chapter 33
Chapter 34  Chapter 35   Chapter 36  Chapter 37  Chapter 38

Afterward: Overall discussion of the book and the issues it raises


  1. An old friend from high school (Class of '61) wrote me recently (July 1, 2018) to say: "Oh, Peter, I remember when you sent [this reading group of "It Can't Happen Here"] before [December 2016, a month or so after Trump's election, but almost 2 months before his inauguration] but I thought it was too extreme and could not happen. And now it is happening and I think I am getting some sort of anxiety attacks. May I share with some friends? [See next comment for my response.]

  2. My July 1, 2018 response: Yes, you are right that Lewis’ satirical tragic-comedy (written hurriedly in 1935) is “extreme,” deliberately so; he wanted to get the attention of what he perceived to be the naive and self-satisfied American citizenry who either ignored or (like Lindbergh) approved of the rise of fascism in Spain, Italy, and Germany.

    Lewis, accompanying his journalist wife, Dorothy Thompson, had observed first-hand the rise of fascism in Europe, as well as Communist totalitarianism in the Soviet Union, and military dictatorships throughout South and Central America. And, from his own observations of American society, especially in the towns and small cities where so many Americans lived at the time, he understood the appeal of fascism to both businessmen and the underclass of America and the naivete of liberals and moderates who thought that it can’t happen here— not in exceptional and democratic America

    But, of course it can…and for people of color and the poor who live in “the colony” within the nation, it (police/military/vigilante fascism) has ruled their lives since the first colonists arrived in Jamestown through 350+ years of brutal slavery, generations of post-Civil War Jim Crow laws and lynchings throughout the south and similar de facto segregation and police control in the north (like the town [Westport, CT] we both grew up in), to the post-Civil Rights era we live in today with its highly segregated communities (by race, class, and income strata), its highly militarized police, and the creeping fascism taking over all levels of government in the name of what was once the party of Lincoln and is now the party of Trump.

    As an eternal optimist, I don’t think it will happen here, but as a student of history and a keen observer of our fellow citizenry, I am convinced that it can. And as the son of a mother who fled the fascism of Nazi Germany in 1938 and a father whose family fled the Tsarist-inspired pogroms of Eastern Europe in the early 1900s, I know that unless citizens and the media of our country and those of other democratic countries awaken to this threat and act against it (at the ballot box, in the media, and yes, in the streets) it will happen.

    We can already see the re-birth of fascism and other totalitarianism throughout the world. Such regimes already exist in Asia (North Korea, China, Myanmar), Russia and certain of the former Soviet Republics, the Middle East (Syria, Iran, many of the Arab States), most of the countries of Africa (where dictators come and go, but mostly come and stay fo years and years), and most of the countries of Latin America (where dictators and military coups are a well-worn tradition). And now, we can also see creeping fascism spreading throughout the citizenry of democracies in Europe.

    It is up to us to "keep our country great.” We must elect new and true leaders; we must educate our fellow citizens to the dangers of the creeping fascism in our society and about the true meaning of our Constitution and all of its amendments, especially the Bill of Rights; and we must actively oppose every government action that deprives others --immigrants, people of color, women, LGBT people, the poor---of their human rights, whether these actions be judicial nominations or executive orders by the President or federal and state regulations or judicial rulings, or congressional and state laws.

    So, yes of course, please do share "It Can’t Happen Here" with your friends and, if you are so moved, also please share my comments above. And encourage them to share these all with their friends as well. We need as many people as possible to awake to the threat of fascism in our country and to act in any way in which they are comfortable to oppose this.