If President Trump loses the election, there have been indications he has no intention of going quietly — or going at all if he can help it. For a glimpse of what this might look like, we had a similar attempt in 1935.
The warning arrived with the publishing of “It Can’t Happen Here.” It can’t happen here? Guess again, a fictional book by Sinclair Lewis describing what America would look like if fascism, which was gripping Europe, got a foothold in our country. Taking over the press, the justice system and using the military to maintain domestic control were based on interviews that Lewis’s wife, an AP correspondent, had with Adolf Hitler in the early 1930s. Lewis combines all this and more in a gripping narrative that throws in concentration camps for dissident citizens and machine gun towers on the Canadian border to prevent “enemies of the people” from leaving the country. This book, published in 1935, became a national bestseller and was credited by one reviewer as having “saved our democracy.” Lewis went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
At about the same time, a fascism attempt was set in motion by a collection of America’s captains of industry and their Wall Street counterparts. Their main concern was that America would abandon the gold standard and, as one participant said at the time, “I would gladly contribute $15 million of my $30 million if that meant saving the other half.” The total commitment of this group was supposedly $300 million (in 1935) to establish a dictator in the White House in place of Roosevelt.
Their plan involved enlisting Marine Corps Gen. Smedly Darlington Butler to lead what would be their militia, the core of which would have been members of the American Foreign Legion. The legion in those days had been founded by industrialists and were often used as strike-breakers.
But the conspirators picked the wrong guy. Smedley Butler was a renowned Marine Corps hero who rivaled the race horse “Seabiscuit” in any national popularity contest at the time. Butler was, by then, the only American to have earned two Medals of Honor for his bravery and leadership in campaigns in China, the Philippines and several Latin American countries. Another source of his popularity was his support of the Bonus Arm y— former soldiers who had earned a pension after fighting in World War I. The government reneged on making good on the promise, so the vets, many disabled and poverty stricken, marched on Washington and camped out until Douglas MacArthur drove them out with troops. General Butler supported them in every possible way, further burnishing his reputation — but to no avail.
The book “The Plot to Seize the White House,” by Jules Archer, chronicles the attempt to bribe Butler and set him up as “the American dictator.” Bottom line: He refused the money and turned them in when he felt he had enough evidence to be assured that his contacts were, in fact, backed by American luminaries like J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller. Newspapers at the time were firmly in the grip of big business, so the findings of the McCormack-Dickstein Committee investigating the allegations were never publicized. Instead, front-page headlines were the denials from the principals that any of it was true — that it was a figment of Butler’s imagination.
The committee concluded otherwise after reviewing check records of the plotters and a wide variety of hard evidence. Butler’s vindication was mentioned only in very small print. Unfortunately, a government preoccupied by a national crisis declined to pursue the powerful perpetrators of a failed plot.
So, it’s déjà vu all over again. If polls mean anything, it looks as if the last hope for Donald Trump is to make a case for voter fraud to render the results null and void. This explains the “voter fraud” harangue in all of his recent speeches. The list of similarities with 1935 offers an indication of what “Dark Money” has planned for us. The Republican National Committee plans to spend $20 million on litigation over voting rights. That’s on top of the money spent by organizations like the Honest Elections Project and Judicial Educator Project. The results of litigation will be adjudicated by courts stuffed with sympathetic judges — with William Barr’s finger on the scale.
The only hope for a fair outcome may be an overwhelming result that makes any dispute just laughable. And that’s something “that could happen here.”
Stephen J. Butler is a Springfield native now residing in California. He is the author of three books on retirement plans and investing.