Sinclair Lewis Predicted Trump—And Us

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tags: election 2016, Trump



It’s an election year, in a time of economic uncertainty. Running for president is a ranting populist type who has a bestselling book that is part biography, and part shameless boasting. He promises to “make America a proud, rich land again,” rails against blacks, Jews, and Mexicans, and makes it a point of criticizing the press, whose editors he accuses of “plotting how they can put over their lies, and advance their own positions.”

No, this is not a description of 2016, and the candidate is not Donald Trump—although you can be excused for thinking so. This is, instead, a character named Berzelius Windrip in Nobel Prize-winning author Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here, a cautionary tale about how fascism comes to America. Although published over 80 years ago, Lewis’s novel seems especially relevant in the age of Trump. So relevant, in fact, that it recently became Amazon’s number one bestseller in the Classic American Literature category.

“The thing most resonant about the novel is it identified the conditions that were operative in 1935, and operative in the summer of 2016,” says Susan Medak, managing director of the Berkeley Repertory Theater, which staged a theatrical version of Lewis’s book in September. “What we wanted to share with the audience was there were high stakes in the election,” she adds. “[Trump’s] message of real hatred and bigotry spoke to this particular time again. The issue of gender is even in the original novel. The issues of freedom of the press were powerful. It took little effort to draw those parallels.”





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