Sunday, February 19, 2017

It Can't Happen Here

It seems 45 has unwittingly inspired a book club -- not the kind he would probably give a thumb's up too as many of the titles are apocalyptic in theme.  One of the books that has emerged at the top of the list is Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here.  It used to be fun back in the old days to speculate what the country would be like under a "bumbling, repressive and democratically elected American President," safe in the belief we would never be so easily deceived.  But, sadly it has happened.

The book followed pretty closely on the heels of the elevation of Hitler to Chancellor of Germany in 1933.  Other tyrants had come to power in Italy and Spain but there wasn't much of a democratic process in these countries, as they came to power through civil war.  Germany accepted Hitler, although at the time of Lewis' writing it was hard to tell how bad things would turn out.

That's kind of where we are now.  Trump is more laughing stock than tyrant, but given time he has the ability to consolidate power and the result could be much more grim, which is what transpired in the second half of Lewis' book as President Windrip strengthened his grip on power.  A prescient book in that it was written four years before war broke out in Europe, and an instructive one given the increasingly uncivil environment we find ourselves currently living in.

We've definitely had our share of populist candidates over the years, but they had either self-destructed on the campaign trail or the public grew weary of them and they failed to carry their candidacy all the way through to the end.  Trump is new ground, and one we must wrestle to come to terms with, which is why so many book references are coming up.

It's just too bad we have a president who doesn't read.  Maybe then he would be more aware of the limits of power.  Alas, this is a man who has never had to want for anything in his 70 years on earth, born into an extremely wealthy New York family and given all the fine things in life from a very early age.  The world was literally his oyster.

When Megyn Kelly asked Trump what his favorite book was (21:15 mark), he said All Quiet on the Western Front.  She asked him what he was currently reading and all he could come up with was that he read "passages."  No book in specific.   He rarely offers a quote from a book and when he does he usually botches it, as was the case when he tried to reference a chapter from the Bible at a Liberty University rally.  In true Trump fashion, he blamed his adviser Tony Perkins for the mistake.

George Bush had been similarly derided for not being much of a reader, although Karl Rove would have us believe the President read 90 books per year.  I don't think Rove thought about the math here, as that would mean almost two books per week, which would make Bush a veritable book worm.  Bush had a similar problem as Trump when asked to cite his favorite childhood book and came up with The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which was first published in 1969, when W was 23 years old.  In all fairness, it was probably a book he read to his girls later on.

Trump hasn't been pressed too much on his reading habits.  He's given the press much more to chew on.  But, I think it is cause to worry.  Most presidents have been avid readers, whether it was to provide a literary escape from the duties of their office, or to help inform them on issues and cultural events they had to address.  The one and only book Trump has repeatedly referenced is his own, The Art of the Deal, although one has to wonder if he even read it as it was ghostwritten by Tony Schwartz.

In fairness to our President, I tried to read his "classic work."  It is an insufferable account of Trump's daily habits that offers very little in the way of insights, other than the degree of his narcissism.  You would be much better off reading John Brooks' Business Adventures, which is considered a classic by many in the business world, including Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

Now that we are in presidential territory, you would think that our commander-in-chief would at least pick up a biography about a past president that inspires him.  He claims to be a big fan of Andrew Jackson, which leads one to suggest The Age of Jackson by Arthur Schlesinger, but Trump is probably waiting until Bill O'Reilly catches up with Jackson is his serial killing series.  Baba has already provided him Lincoln, Kennedy and Reagan to pour over.  However, the best we can hope for is that 45 might check out the movie on cable, but that too is unlikely as he is drawn mostly to fake news and reality shows.

Sadly, in his own odd way he reflects the tastes of his electorate.  You would never think a young man who grew up in a wealthy New York family and went to one of the "best business schools" would turn out to have the intellectual curiosity of Al Bundy.


  1. A started re-reading this gem of a book just a few days ago. It is an obvious attack on right wing extremism that existed at that time and, evidently, has re-emerged today. Since I am using an audio book, it is difficult to comment on the individual chapters. But I am definitely open to a discussion on the book.

  2. Good, will download a copy and start reading. Been reading Mary McCarthy's The Company She Keeps. Her chapter on a pathological lying boss, Rogues' Gallery, is pure Trump.

  3. I'm up to ch 37 but, sad to say, find the book terribly boring. Yes, it does make some interesting and illuminating political points but it is largely a snooze fest. Small wonder why there is so little online discussion about it.

    Re Mary McCarthy, I also remember her for the way she changed her political leanings with the change in wind directions. At first a liberal, then a conservative - she made friends who later became her enemies and vice versa. Strange but interesting person back in the day.