Yesterday was Harry Sinclair Lewis birthday, an American novelist, short-story writer, and playwright (February 7,1885 – January 10,1951).
In 1930. Sinclair Lewis became the first writer from the United States to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, which was awarded to him "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of characters." His works are known for their insightful and critical views of American capitalism and materialism between the wars. In his Nobel Lecture, Lewis praised Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, and other contemporaries, but also lamented that "in America most of us—not readers alone, but even writers—are still afraid of any literature which is not a glorification of everything American, a glorification of our faults as well as our virtues," and that America is "the most contradictory, the most depressing, the most stirring, of any land in the world today.”
After winning the Nobel Prize, Lewis wrote eleven more novels. The best remembered is It Can't Happen Here, a semi-satirical 1935 political novel about the election of a fascist to the American presidency. Published during the rise of fascism in Europe, the novel describes the rise of Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip, a charismatic and power-hungry politician, who defeats Franklin Delano Roosevelt and 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. Though having previously foreshadowed some authoritarian measures in order to reorganize the United States government, Windrip rapidly outlaws dissent. One of his first acts as president is to eliminate the influence of the United States Congress, which draws the ire of many citizens as well as the legislators themselves. His “Minute Men” (a paramilitary force who terrorize citizens and enforce the policies of Windrip) respond to protests against Windrip's decisions harshly, attacking demonstrators with bayonets. In addition to these actions, Windrip's administration, known as the "Corpo" government, curtails women's and minority rights, and eliminates individual states by subdividing the country into administrative sectors. The government of these sectors is managed by "Corpo" authorities, usually prominent businessmen or Minute Men officers. Those accused of crimes against the government appear before kangaroo courts presided over by "military judges”. Despite these dictatorial (and "quasi-draconian") measures, a majority of Americans approve of them, seeing them as necessary but painful steps to restore American power. Others, those less enthusiastic about the prospect of corporatism, reassure themselves that fascism cannot "happen here", hence the novel's title.
Reviewers at the time of the book's publication, and literary critics ever since, have emphasized the connection with Louisiana politician Huey Long, who was preparing to run for president in 1936.
Nowadays a number of writers compare the demagogue Buzz Windrip to Donald Trump. Michael Paulson wrote in The New York Times that the Berkeley Rep version aimed to provoke discussion about Trump's presidential candidacy. Jules Stewart discussed the similarities between Trump's America with the country as depicted in the book in an article in The Guardian. Malcolm Harris, in Salon stated that "Like Trump, Windrip uses a lack of tact as a way to distinguish himself" and that "The social forces that Windrip and Trump invoke aren’t funny, they’re murderous.” In the Washington Post, Carlos Lozada also compared Trump to Windrip, opining that "it is impossible to miss the similarities between Trump and totalitarian figures in American literature.” Jacob Weisberg in Slate stated that "You can’t read Lewis’ novel today without flashes of Trumpian recognition."