Final: Part 14. Make America Great Again? Fascism, It Can’t Happen Here. A Warning From The Past – Sinclair Lewis – (Chapter 38).

“As he came out of the hotel, a squad of Minute Men were marching by. They were farm boys, newly recruited for service in Mexico; they looked as scared and soft and big-footed as a rout of rabbits. They tried to pipe up the newest-oldest war song, in the manner of the Civil War ditty “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again”.

It Can’t Happen Here is a semi-satirical 1935 political novel by American author Sinclair Lewis.

Published during the rise of fascism in Europe, the novel describes the rise of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a demagogue who is elected President of the United States, 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.

-38-

His packing was done. it had been very simple, since his kit consisted only of toilet things, one change of clothes, and the first volume of Spengler’s Decline of the West. He was waiting in his hotel lobby for time to take the train to Winnipeg. He was interested by the entrance of a lady more decorative than the females customarily seen in this modest inn: a hand-tooled presentation copy of a lady, in crushed levant and satin doublure; a lady with mascara’d eyelashes, a permanent wave, and a cobweb frock. She ambied through the lobby and leaned against a fake-marble pillar, wielding a long cigarette-holder and staring at Doremus. She seemed amused by him, for no clear reason.

Could she be some sort of Corpo spy?

She lounged toward him, and he realized that she was Lorinda Pike.

While he was still gasping, she chuckled, “Oh, no, darling, I’m not so realistic in my art as to carry out this role too far! It just happens to be the easiest disguise to win over the Corpo frontier guards, if you’ll agree it really is a disguise!”

He kissed her with a fury which shocked the respectable hostelry.

She knew, from N.U. agents, that he was going out into a very fair risk of being flogged to death. She had come solely to say farewell and bring him what might be his last budget of news.

Buck was in concentration camp, he was more feared and more guarded than Doremus had been, and Linda had not been able to buy him out. Julian, Karl, and John Pollikop were still alive, still imprisoned. Father Perefixe was running the N.U. cell in Fort Beulah, but slightly confused because he wanted to approve of war with Mexico, a nation which he detested for its treatment of Catholic priests. Lorinda and he had, apparently, fought bloodily all one evening about Catholic rule in Latin America. As is always typical of Liberals, Lorinda managed to speak of Father Perefixe at once with virtuous loathing and the greatest affection. Emma and David were reported as well content in Worcester, though there were murmurs that Philip’s wife did not too thankfully receive her mother-in-law’s advice on cooking. Sissy was becoming a deft agitator who still, remembering that she was a born architect, drew plans for houses that Julian and she would some day adorn. She contrived blissfully to combine assaults on all Capitalism with an entirely capitalistic conception of the year-long honeymoons Julian and she were going to have.

Less surprising than any of this were the tidings that Francis Tasbrough, very beautiful in repentance, had been let out of the Corpo prison to which he had been sent for too much grafting and was again a district commissioner, well thought of, and that his housekeeper was now Mrs. Candy, whose daily reports on his most secret arrangements were the most neatly written and sternly grammatical documents that came into Vermont N.U. headquarters.

Then Lorinda was looking up at him as he stood in the vestibule of his Westbound train and crying, “You look so well again! Are you happy? Oh, be happy!”

Even now he did not see this defeminized radical woman crying. . . . She turned away from him and raced down the station platform too quickly. She had lost all her confident pose of flip elegance. Leaning out from the vestibule he saw her stop at the gate, diffidently raise her hand as if to wave at the long anonymity of the train windows, then shakily march away through the gates. And he realized that she hadn’t even his address; that no one who loved him would have any stable address for him now any more.

Mr. William Barton Dobbs, a traveling man for harvesting machinery, an erect little man with a small gray beard and a Vermont accent, got out of bed in his hotel in a section in Minnesota which had so many Bavarian-American and Yankee-descended farmers, and so few “radical” Scandinavians, that it was still loyal to President Haik.

He went down to breakfast, cheerfully rubbing his hands. He consumed grapefruit and porridge, but without sugar: there was an embargo on sugar. He looked down and inspected himself; he sighed, “I’m getting too much of a pod, with all this outdoor work and being so hungry; I’ve got to cut down on the grub”; and then he consumed fried eggs, bacon, toast, coffee made of acorns, and marmalade made of carrots, Coon’s troops had shut off coffee beans and oranges.

He read, meantime, the Minneapolis Daily Corporate. It announced a Great Victory in Mexico, in the same place, he noted, in which there had already been three Great Victories in the past two weeks. Also, a “shameful rebellion” had been put down in Andalusia, Alabama; it was reported that General Goring was coming over to be the guest of President Haik; and the pretender Trowbridge was said “by a reliable source” to have been assassinated, kidnaped, and compelled to resign.

“No news this morning,” regretted Mr. William Barton Dobbs.

As he came out of the hotel, a squad of Minute Men were marching by. They were farm boys, newly recruited for service in Mexico; they looked as scared and soft and big-footed as a rout of rabbits. They tried to pipe up the newest-oldest war song, in the manner of the Civil War ditty “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again”:

When johnny comes home from Greaser Land, Hurray, hurraw, His cars will befull of desert sand, Hurray, hurraw, But he’ll speaka de Spiggoty pretty sweet And he’ll bring us a gun and a sefmrit’, And we’ll all get stewed when johnny comes marching home!

Their voices wavered. They peeped at the crowd along the walk, or looked sulkily down at their dragging feet, and the crowd, which once would have been yelping “Hail Haik!” was snickering “You beggars‘ you’ll never get to Greaser Land!” and even, from the safety of a secondstory window, “Hurray, hurraw for Trowbridge!”

“Poor devils!” thought Mr. William Barton Dobbs, as he watched the frightened toy soldiers . . . not too toy-like to keep them from dying.

Yet it is a fact that he could see in the crowd numerous persons whom his arguments, and those of the sixty-odd N.U. secret agents under him, had converted from fear of the M.M.’s to jeering.

In his open Ford convertible, he never started it but he thought of how he had “put it over on Sissy” by getting a Ford all his own, Doremus drove out of the village into stubee-lined prairie. The meadow larks’ liquid ecstasy welcomed him from barbed-wire fences. If he missed the strong hills behind Fort Beulah, he was yet exalted by the immensity of the sky, the openness of prairie that promised he could go on forever, the gayety of small sloughs seen through their fringes of willows and cottonwoods, and once, aspiring overhead, an early flight of mallards.

He whistled boisterously as he bounced on along the section-line road.

He reached a gaunt yellow farmhouse, it was to have had a porch, but there was only an unpainted nothingness low down on the front wall to show where the porch would be. To a farmer who was oiling a tractor in the pig-littered farmyard he chirped, “Name’s William Barton Dobbs, representing the Des Moines Combine and Upto-Date Implement Company.”

The farmer galloped up to shake hands, breathing, “By goily this is a great honor, Mr. J-”

“Dobbs!”

“That’s right. ‘Scuse me.”

In an upper bedroom of the farmhouse, seven men were waiting, perched on chair and table and edges of the bed, or just squatted on the floor. Some of them were apparently farmers; some unambitious shopkeepers. As Doremus bustled in, they rose and bowed.

“Good-morning gentlemen. A little news,” he said. “Coon has driven the Corpos out of Yankton and Sioux Falls. Now I wonder if you’re ready with your reports?”

To the agent whose difficulty in converting farm-owners had been their dread of paying decent wages to farm hands, Doremus presented for use the argument (as formalized yet passionate as the observations of a life-insurance agent upon death by motor accident) that poverty for one was poverty for all. . . . It wasn’t such a very new argument, nor so very logical, but it had been a useful carrot for many human mules.

For the agent among the Finnish-American settlers, who were insisting that Trowbridge was a Bolshevik and just as bad as the Russians, Doremus had a mimeographed quotation from the Izvestia of Moscow damning Trowbridge as a “social Fascist quack.” For the Bavarian farmers down the other way, who were still vaguely pro-Nazi, Doremus had a German émigré paper published in Prague, proving (though without statistics or any considerable quotation from official documents) that, by agreement with Hitler, President Haik was, if he remained in power, going to ship back to the German Army all German-Americans with so much as one grandparent born in the Fatherland.

“Do we close with a cheerful hymn and the benediction, Mr. Dobbs?” demanded the youngest and most flippant, and quite the most successful, agent.

“I wouldn’t mind! Maybe it wouldn’t be so unsuitable as you think. But considering the loose morals and economics of most of you comrades, perhaps it would be better if I closed with a new story about Haik and Mae West that I heard, day before yesterday. . . . Bless you all! Goodbye!”

As he drove to his next meeting, Doremus fretted, “I don’t believe that Prague story about Haik and Hitler is true. I think I’II quit using it. Oh, I know-I know, Mr. Dobbs; as you say, if you did tell the truth to a Nazi, it would still be a lie. But just the same I think I’ll quit using it. . . . Lorinda and me, that thought we could get free of Puritanism! . . . Those cumulus clouds are better than a galleon. If they’d just move Mount Terror and Fort Beulah and Lorinda and Buck here, this would be Paradise. . . . Oh, Lord, I don’t want to, but I suppose I’ll have to order the attack on the MM. post at Osakis now; they’re ready for it. . . . I wonder if that shotgun charge yesterday was intended for me? . . . Didn’t really like Lorinda’s hair fixed up in that New York style at all!”

He slept that night in a cottage on the shore of a sandy-bottomed lake ringed with bright birches. His host and his host’s wife, worshipers of Trowbridge, had insisted on giving him their own room, with the patchwork quilt and the hand-painted pitcher and bowl.

He dreamed, as he still did dream, once or twice a week, that he was back in his cell at Trianon. He knew again the stink, the cramped and warty bunk, the never relaxed fear that he might be dragged out and flogged. He heard magic trumpets. A soldier opened the door and invited out all the prisoners. There, in the quadrangle, General Emmanuel Coon (who, to Doremus’s dreaming fancy, looked exactly like Sherman) addressed them: “Gentlemen, the Commonwealth army has conquered! Haik has been captured! You are free!”

So they marched out, the prisoners, the bent and scarred and crippled, the vacant-eyed and slobbering, who had come into this place as erect and daring men: Doremus, Dan Wilgus, Buck, Julian, Mr. Falck, Henry Veeder, Karl Pascal, John Pollikop, Truman Webb. They crept out of the quadrangle gates, through a double line of soldiers standing rigidly at Present Arms yet weeping as they watched the broken prisoners crawling past.

And beyond the soldiers, Doremus saw the women and children. They were waiting for him, the kind arms of Lorinda and Emma and Sissy and Mary, with David behind them, clinging to his father’s hand, and Father Perefixe. And Foolish was there, his tail a proud plume, and from the dream-blurred crowd came Mrs. Candy, holding out to him a coconut cake.

Then all of them were fleeing, frightened by Shad Ledue . . .

His host was slapping Doremus’s shoulder, muttering, “Just had a phone call. Corpo posse out after you.”

So Doremus rode out, saluted by the meadow larks, and onward all day, to a hidden cabin in the Northern Woods where quiet men awaited news of freedom.

And still Doremus goes on in the red sunrise, for a Doremus Jessup can never die.

The End

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