"When Fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and bearing the cross."
It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis is a speculative fiction novel published in 1935. In the novel, the United States succumbs to a totalitarian government headed by Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip, a charismatic politician who wins over the voters through populism and empty promises. With his cadre of advisors and a brutal militia of Minute Men (M.M.s), Windrip oversees a new era of poverty, oppression, and fear. Women and minorities are stripped of their rights, dissent is outlawed, and those who displease the government are imprisoned in concentration camps or killed.Meanwhile, a New England newspaper publisher named Doremus Jessop watches these developments in horror. Doremus is torn between his own safety and the safety of his family, and his moral responsibility to speak out against the regime. After one of Windrip's advisors murders two innocent men in a drunken rage, Doremus is galvanized into using his voice.
This novel provides examples of:
Bilingual Bonus: When Doremus asks Lorinda about translating German, she replies that the only German she knows is a phrase Buck taught her: "God bless you" (Verfluchter Schweinehund). Verfluchter Schweinehund actually means "damned pig-dog".
Bittersweet Ending: Doremus returns to America to encourage dissidents, thereby playing a vital role in the resistance against the government. However, he's constantly on the move to evade Corpos and unable to see his loved ones. Even in a best case scenario, it will likely be years before he can settle down with Lorinda and Sissy again.
Book Dumb: Much of the American populace after the Windrip regime's educational "reforms", book burnings, and censorship campaigns. Institutions of higher learning have been evicerated, and the remaining schools only teach practical or useless classes, meaning that much of the populace is ignorant of history, literature, and civics. When citizens revolt against the Corpos, this works against them as well as the Corpos.
So, after the first gay eruptions of rioting, the revolt slowed up. Neither the Corpos nor many of their opponents knew enough to formulate a clear, sure theory of self-government, or irresistibly resolve to engage in the sore labor of fitting themselves for freedom ... Even yet, after Windrip, most of the easy-going descendants of the wisecracking Benjamin Franklin had not learned that Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" meant anything more than a high-school yell or a cigarette slogan.
Civil War: A large-scale resistance mounts after Haik takes power.
Cold-Blooded Torture: The M.M.s delight in torturing detainees at the concentration camps. A favorite torture at Trianon is whipping prisoners and force-feeding them castor oil.
Deadly Decadent Court: Windrip's administration. His closest advisors are constantly vying for power, and coups abound by the end of the novel. They also aren't slouches in the "decadent" department; Macgoblin once hosts meetings with business leaders in a Roman-era ship with nude hostesses, while Saranson hosts orgies with handsome young men after he exiles Windrip.
La Résistance: Lorinda, Doremus, and several members of the Jessop household disseminate forbidden news that they receive from Canada. At the end of the novel, a full-blown rebellion against the Haik regime has erupted across the country.
Mexico Called; They Want Texas Back: Inverted. The regime invades Mexico as a means of spreading its empire and encouraging patriotism among the masses. Played with in that the regime falsely claims Mexico attacked America as justification for the war. (This being aomething of a Historical In-Joke as the real Mexican-American War was justified by a similar imaginary invasion.)
The Migration: American refugees have been steadily pouring into Canada.
A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Windrip regime is lead by a charismatic dictator and characterized by racism, jingoism, vicious suppression of dissent, concentration camps, and foolish wars of conquest. To boot, the Corpo Youth is reminiscent of the Hitler Youth.
Noble Demon: Some of the higher-minded Corpos, who joined for noble reasons.
They were the idealists of Corpoism, and there were plenty of them, along with the bullies and swindlers; they were the men and women who, in 1935 and 1936, had turned to Windrip & Co., not as perfect, but as the most probably saviors of the country from, on one hand, domination by Moscow and, on the other hand, the slack indolence, the lack of decent pride of half the American youth ... They were proud of new Corpo roads, hospitals, television stations, aeroplace lines; they were touched by processions of the Corpo Youth, whose faced were exalted with pride in the myths of Corpo heroism and clean Spartan strength and the semi-divinity of the all-protecting Father, President Windrip.
No Woman's Land: The Windrip regime robs women of many rights and bars them from most occupations. Lorinda and Sissy chafe under the regime's misogyny.
Politically Correct History: The regime uses propaganda to teach their version of history. Not helped by its book burnings and evisceration of the educational system.
Prayer of Malice: Before being executed at Trianon, Falck cries out a vengeful prayer against his oppressors.
"Father, Thou hast forgiven so long! Forgive them not but curse them, for they know what they do!"
Propaganda Machine: The fascist regime exerts rigid control over all media, reporting rose-colored news to the masses. The media leaves out inconvenient stories such as revolts against M.M.s, refugees fleeing to Canada, and global events. One of the tasks of the resistance is importing factual news from Canada and secretly disseminating it to citizens.
Reign of Terror: When Windrip's regime takes power, the M.M.s perpetrate atrocities against minorities and dissenters. When Haik takes power, it gets even worse.
Spiritual Successor: George Orwell's 1984, published fifteen years after ''It Can't Happen Here". Both depict formerly democratic nations that succumb to totalitarianism. Both novels feature protagonists who find salvation in their lovers, rebel against the government through the written word, and endure torture and incarceration.
The Starscream: Saranson is this to Windrip. Haik is later this to Saranson.
Torture Always Works: Subverted. Doremus and other characters are deeply traumatized from torture at Trianon, but they do not betray each other or abandon their convictions.