In 1935, Sinclair Lewis wrote a satirical novel entitled “It Can’t Happen Here.” In the book, a democratically elected President transforms the country into a totalitarian, ruthless regime, relying upon patriotic rhetoric and fear to dominate and control a docile populace.
Just as Lewis predicted it would, it has happened here:
1) Those who identify and expose government misconduct are labeled as traitors and criminals.
2) The bankers and corporations who gambled with the money entrusted to them get off Scot free for the theft of untold trillions of dollars, while the world’s people are forced into conditions of austerity and economic survival. The poor are prosecuted for trying to survive, while the rich are immunized from any negative consequences for their crimes.
3) The U.S. government spies on its entire population, and arrogantly insists upon the right to do so.
4) The U.S., and its overseas puppet, NATO, wage war upon every nation that opposes U.S. economic hegemony over the world. The presence of hundreds of U.S. military bases on every continent bolsters U.S. control over the world’s people.
5) Result-oriented judges, appointed by obedient politicians, immunize transnational corporations and military aggressors for every abuse inflicted upon the working and poor people of the world.
6) Health care, education, and retirement security are reserved solely for the rich, while the poor, minorities, and elderly are left to die and suffer in poverty.
7) The so-called “political parties” are merely servants and handmaidens to transnational corporations, serving their economic masters at the expense of everyone else.
8) The mass media mouths the corporate propaganda of the moment obediently and without question.
9) Prisons, violence and war are the primary vehicles used by the State to control an ever more rebellious and dissatisfied population.
10) Civil rights, voting rights and personal freedoms are viewed as privileges reserved for the rich.
11) Dissent equals treason, and those who oppose authoritarian rule are labeled enemies of the state.
In Lewis’ novel, a disillusioned citizenry eventually rebels and takes up arms against the dictatorial regime that has seized control of the United States. In the book, the ultimate outcome is left in doubt.
For those of us who fear the parallels between Sinclair’s nightmare, and the current military-industrial cabal that runs today’s world, the question arises as to whether the military resistance described by Sinclair is the only avenue of recourse available against the government’s common enemy. If so, we are in serious trouble in this country. The Pentagon is not only complicit with the corporate-controlled state, but it’s main proponent.
In Sinclair’s book, it is a rebellious faction of the military that fights back against the repressive state. That has not been the case for other revolutionary struggles almost anywhere during the last century. Instead, revolutionary cadres, underground organizations and unorganized rebellious citizens have initiated struggles against the state, and only when the masses came to their assistance were the revolutionaries able to create and sustain an armed force capable of fighting those in power.
In virtually all of the successful revolutions of the last century, there was a political leadership that put forward a vision of what an alternative state would look like, and how it could avoid the fascist tendencies of the current oligarchy. For many struggles, the resistance adopted the mantle of communist revolution (Russia, China, Cuba), in others it was a nationalist, democratic vision that was put forward (South Africa, Venezuela). But in the U.S., there is no unity as to what a different form of government would or should look like.
Americans realize that our present government represents only the interests of the rich, and uses the “electoral process” as a charade to force the poor to act against their own interests and support the racist, reactionary program put forth by their corporate owners. Nonetheless, Americans are years away from unifying around a politics that would replace those in power with a more democratic leadership. In spite of the reality facing us every day, Americans still believe that the problem lies not with our form of government, but with the people we “elect.” That level of naiveté deserves the beating it is taking.
In fact, there are no forms of government that cannot be twisted to serve the interests of the few against the needs of the many. What is needed is a social consciousness as to how to create a democratic, participatory process that meets the needs of the society as a whole, and not merely a handful of billionaires. It is not so much a question as to what structure will enforce such principles, but rather how to unite the masses of people to pursue a common goal.
Doug Lummis, in his brilliant treatise “Radical Democracy” analyzes the various contexts in which democratic principles can flourish. It is not structures or institutions that determine how the democratic process functions; rather, it is the relationship between people and power. Thus, he demonstrates how totally disparate circumstances have produced some of the most democratic struggles in history: the student movements of the 60s; the civil rights movement; the anti-apartheid struggles throughout Africa; and, Chinese peasant movements, both before and after Mao Tse-Tung. The list of how and why democracy prevails is as long as the history of social uprisings, themselves. The ossified, self-perpetuating autocracy that the U.S. government has become is not an indicia of the success of the “American dream,” rather it is the essence of why the citizens of this country are disenfranchised, disillusioned, and ignored by a corporate autocracy loyal only to its own class interests, and not to any particular nation.
Throughout the world today, one nation after another is rejecting American domination – in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Russia, China and elsewhere. As the Pentagon attempts to coerce the international community to support its repressive efforts against those who speak out against U.S. imperialism, a growing number of nations offer sanctuary and asylum to U.S. “enemies.” The American people themselves would honor and applaud the Bradley Mannings and Eric Snowdens of the world, if this government did not manipulate and monitor the propaganda campaigns against them.
Sinclair’s predictions parallel those of all great writers from Socrates to Marx, to the effect that totalitarian regimes sow the seeds of their own destruction. The oligarchs who have placed themselves above and beyond the laws that apply to the rest of us, should heed the words of Shelley’s prophetic poem:
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Forward looking Americans will reject the patriotic tripe urged upon us by the corporate media and join with other progressive forces worldwide, who seek to dismantle the stranglehold that transnational corporations and their G8 allies hold over the governments of the world. Such actions don’t constitute treason; they represent the only means by which working people internationally can regain democratic control over our lives. Saluting the flag, honoring our mercenaries, and glorifying the rich, are nothing short of collective suicide. The corporate military coup has already happened here, and the true patriotic response is to recognize it and overthrow it.