It can’t Happen Here:

Sinclair Lewis, like George Orwell, offers a cautionary tale for democracy. As the reader learns about Buzz and his very populist platform which he calls ‘the distinguished proclamation for the forgotten men,’ one should be overcome with a real sense of urgency and panic. Sinclair Lewis describes Donald Trump’s rise and populist movement in America, written a little under a century ago in his book. The title “It can’t happen here” speaks to the historical narrative that the United States has developed solely for themselves—they think they have a political and moral exceptionalism. The train of thought being: Fascism is European, communism is Russian, and American democracy is incorruptible because of its political and legal institutions.  All democracies are faced with challenges with no immediate or obvious answer: increased migrant displacement, increase in automation, drastic changes to post-industrial economies, climate change, and increasing complacency in political processes. What is to be done, or what can we do? Do we blame immigrants by cultivating racial nationalism, or give support when it’s most needed? Do we blame the decrease in industrial labour, but increased industrial output on immigrants, or do we advocate for ‘clean coal’ and invest in retraining and education programs? Do we elect people who divide us, or do we come together and develop a better society? Sinclair Lewis reminds us that even in a democracy, it is possible for the public to elect a fascist or authoritarian leader. To backtrack a little, it must be noted that populism is a very specific term which often gets thrown around and misused. This may seem harmless, but it desensitizes and distracts us from real populism, and the damage it can do. The Alt-right, and another social media have used populism to move the ‘overtone window’, which seems to be a ‘door-in-face’ approach; what was on the political fringe, now looks more reasonable in comparison.

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