Archive for the 'Christianity' Category

Sinclair Lewis – Profile of an American Demagogue (excerpt from ‘It Can’t Happen Here’)

Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here, portrays a world where several of the popular Far Right and populist demagogues of the 1930s—including Louisiana Senator and corrupt oligarch Huey Long, antisemitic priest and radio show host Father Coughlin, and  pro-Nazi Kansas minister Gerald Winrod—combine forces. They win the presidency and turn the country into a dictatorship wrapped in a kitschy Americana. (Although Long was assassinated before the 1936 presidential campaign, Coughlin and several others did join together, forming the far right Union Party. Their candidate, William Lemke, received over 900,000 votes in the race.)

It Can’t Happen Here’s protagonist is Doremus Jessup, a liberal who is the editor of a small town Vermont newspaper. Senator Buzz Windrip—based on Long—is the book’s successful presidential candidate and, soon after, the first dictator of the United States. Lee Sarason is Windrip’s Steve Bannon—a circus-show svengali who guides Windrip’s ambitions and later takes the crown himself.

The famous passage below isn’t so much an eerie prognostication of Donald Trump—although it is that, too—so much as a description of the canned shtick of the American right-wing demagogue. Trump is merely the latest incarnation of this hackneyed role, which seems to have a perpetual audience. Far RIght demogaguery allows talented speakers to harness the emotion of the public and tap into their disenchantment at the systemic problems of capitalism. But instead of directing this anger at the system, it is channeled toward Jews, blacks, immigrants, and finance capital; and the the very structures that created these problems are reinforced.

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“Doremus Jessup, so inconspicuous an observer, watching Senator Windrip from so humble a Boeotia, could not explain his power of bewitching large audiences. The Senator was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his “ideas” almost idiotic, while his celebrated piety was that of a traveling salesman for church furniture, and his yet more celebrated humor the sly cynicism of a country store.

Certainly there was nothing exhilarating in the actual words of his speeches, nor anything convincing in his philosophy. His political platforms were only wings of a windmill. Seven years before his present credo—derived from Lee Sarason, Hitler, Gottfried Feder, Rocco, and probably the review Of Thee I Sing—little Buzz, back home, had advocated nothing more revolutionary than better beef stew in the country poor-farms, and plenty of graft for loyal machine politicians, with jobs for their brothers-in-law, nephews, law partners, and creditors.

Doremus had never heard Windrip during one of his orgasms of oratory, but he had been told by political reporters that under the spell you thought Windrip was Plato, but that on the way home you could not remember anything he had said.

There were two things, they told Doremus, that distinguished this prairie Demosthenes. He was an actor of genius. There was no more overwhelming actor on the stage, in the motion pictures, nor even in the pulpit. He would whirl arms, bang tables, glare from mad eyes, vomit Biblical wrath from a gaping mouth; but he would also coo like a nursing mother, beseech like an aching lover, and in between tricks would coldly and almost contemptuously jab his crowds with figures and facts—figures and facts that were inescapable even when, as often happened, they were entirely incorrect.”

But below this surface stagecraft was his uncommon natural ability to be authentically excited by and with his audience, and they by and with him. He could dramatize his assertion that he was neither a Nazi nor a Fascist but a Democrat—a homespun Jeffersonian-Lincolnian- Clevelandian-Wilsonian Democrat—and (sans scenery and costume) make you see him veritably defending the Capitol against barbarian hordes, the while he innocently presented as his own warm-hearted Democratic inventions, every anti-libertarian, anti-Semitic madness of Europe.

Aside from his dramatic glory, Buzz Windrip was a Professional Common Man.

Oh, he was common enough. He had every prejudice and aspiration of every American Common Man. He believed in the desirability and therefore the sanctity of thick buckwheat cakes with adulterated maple syrup, in rubber trays for the ice cubes in his electric refrigerator, in the especial nobility of dogs, all dogs, in the oracles of S. Parkes Cadman, in being chummy with all waitresses at all junction lunch rooms, and in Henry Ford (when he became President, he exulted, maybe he could get Mr. Ford to come to supper at the White House), and the superiority of anyone who possessed a million dollars. He regarded spats, walking sticks, caviar, titles, tea-drinking, poetry not daily syndicated in newspapers, and all foreigners, possibly excepting the British, as degenerate.

But he was the Common Man twenty-times-magnified by his oratory, so that while the other Commoners could understand his every purpose, which was exactly the same as their own, they saw him towering among them, and they raised hands to him in worship.”

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Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here (NY: New American Library/Penguin, 1935/2005), pages 70­–71.

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“Billy Graham Invites Unabomber To Sacramento Crusade” (1995)

Associated Press, October 17, 1995

(Sacramento, California) — Evangelist Billy Graham is inviting the elusive Unabomber to his Christian crusade beginning tomorrow in Sacramento, California.

Graham says he believes violent crime is part of increasing evil in society. But he says spirituality and goodness also are on the increase. The evangelist said yesterday he believes people should pray for the bomber and that he hopes the man will seek salvation.

Law enforcement investigators believe the terrorist, responsible for a string of sometimes deadly bombings, may live in the Sacramento area.

Bouck White and the Church of the Social Revolution

By and large Socialist [[Party of America]] clergymen were among the more conservative party members, but there were a few who were quite radical. One such radical was the flamboyant Bouck White, author of the hilarious The Book of Daniel Drew, a purported autobiography, and of the once very popular The Call of the Carpenter, which portrayed Jesus of Nazareth as a social revolutionist. White’s radicalism embarrassed such relatively staid Socialists as Hillquit, Julius Gerber, once executive secretary of Local New York, and W. J. Ghent. Furthermore, many Socialists were uneasy about the presence of any minister in their party because the clerics hardly fitted the Marxist stereotype. White, minister of the Church of the Social Revolution in New York, became involved in a protest movement aimed at embarrassing the Rockefeller family for the Standard Oil Company’s role in the “Ludlow massacre” in Colorado, in which thirteen members of strikers’ families were killed by state militia. Upton Sinclair organized a group of pickets, wearing black bands of mourning, to parade around the Standard Oil Company building in New York. White invaded the Calvary Baptist Church, where the Rockefellers were members, with the announced intention of challenging its pastor, Dr. Cornelius Woelfkin, to a debate on the subject of the teachings of Jesus regarding men of great wealth. When White arose during the service to make his challenge, he was grabbed and dragged from the church by police and ushers. Subsequently he was convicted in a disorderly conduct charge and sentenced to six months on Blackwells Island, an unusually harsh sentence for such a charge. White was also an ardent opponent of war and nationalism, and, to demonstrate dramatically his contempt for nationalism and its symbols, he sometimes burned the American flag during his speeches.

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from David A. Shannon’s The Socialist Party of America: A History (New York: Macmillan Company, 1955), pp 60–61


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