In the past week, there have been two references to Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here.”
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 totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force. The novel’s plot centers on Vermont newspaper editor Doremus Jessup’s opposition to the new regime and his subsequent struggle against it as part of a liberal rebellion.
Critics of President Trump point to eerie similarities to what is happening to our government right now.
Also in the last week, the president has made headlines for suggesting the upcoming election will be rigged, and that fraud will be so rampant that there is no way he can accept the results come Nov. 4.
On Monday, he insisted he has the authority to issue an executive order on mail-in ballots, whose increasing use, he argues, could increase election fraud and uncertainty, though it is unclear what he could do to curtail the practice.
“I have the right to do it,” Trump told reporters. “We haven’t gotten there yet, we’ll see what happens.”
Republicans are planning to file a lawsuit this week to try to block Nevada’s expansion of mail-in voting.
Nearly all election procedures are governed on a state-by-state basis, with the remainder set by Congress or enshrined in the Constitution. There is no precedent or apparent authority for Trump to try to curtail the use of mail-in ballots by executive order, though he could use a document to formalize his opposition to the practice.
Trump’s claimed authority comes days after he publicly floated a delay to the Nov. 3 presidential election, a notion was met with swift bipartisan blowback.
Trump has increasingly sought to cast doubt on November’s election and the expected pandemic-induced surge in mail-in and absentee voting — particularly as he has found himself trailing in public and private polling. Trump has called remote voting options the “biggest risk” to his re-election. His campaign and the Republican Party have sued to combat the practice, which was once a significant advantage for the GOP.
However, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud through mail-in voting and the states that use it exclusively say they have necessary safeguards in place to ensure that a hostile foreign actor doesn’t disrupt the vote. Election security experts say voter fraud is rare in all forms of balloting, including by mail.
But something else happened in the last week, too.
In an episode of “Axios on HBO,” Trump discusses his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the upcoming election and much more with National Political Correspondent Jonathan Swan. It was recorded last week and aired Monday.
Trump does not comprehend how his words and actions might be affecting those who don’t believe the “fake news” and only believe him.
Which is why he disregards the deaths of 1,000 Americans a day, saying “It is what it is.”
Weed out the weak. Keep the fear.
In the same interview, he brags about how many have been arrested at protests, and how unmarked, unnamed ICE and Homeland agents are better than local police, for the safety of those local police.
Weed out objection. Keep the fear.
And repeating that no election can be fair at this time suggests an unwillingness to budge.
Create doubt. Keep the fear.
As chaotic and desperate as his rhetoric feels sometimes, Trump has a plan. He knows what he’s going to do, because he’s creating the perfect context for it.
It feels like ... well ... fiction.
Lewis’ 1935 novel creates an obliteration of America as we know it, with a totalitarian leader. But citizens do not flourish and grow, they are reduced and marginalized and serve only the leader and his minions.
Americans do not know what this administration’s end game looks like. We have not been privy to the overall plan. But we do need to be paying attention, asking hard questions, finding out exactly how what is happening at the highest levels of this nation will affect our lives, our bank accounts and our rights.
We have seen the early chapters. We can’t let it happen here.