By pure coincidence, maybe, I was reading Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here during the 2016 campaign season. I picked it up mainly because I’m a fan of dystopian adventures, having previously read Alas Babylon, (Pat Frank) which quickly became one of my top 10 favorite books.
Yes, ICHH is heavy handed and a bit preachy at times, but it’s an interesting and foreboding tale and, even before the current presidential administration, it was believable enough as a cautionary work.
The question of how modern Americans would handle a fast-talking, full-of-shit, downright mean son-of-a-bitch as its POTUS got me to thinking, and the idea for a book of my own began to brew.
Of course, the characters in my novel—tentatively entitled Scumbag, USA—were much more flawed than the clever, kindly old editor Doremus Jessup, who fought against fascism and tyranny in ICHH. [My finished product has a much better title but, out of sheer paranoia, I shan’t share it unless it’s published. I know, I’m a weenie.]
Rather than lean on a David and Goliath trope, the presidential race in my novel is more of a backdrop. True, the main characters are the Trumpian POTUS, as well as his foil—an Independent LGBTQ/religious minority, his press secretary and main campaign staff.
But, instead of this merely being a simplistic fight of the “good guys” versus the “bad guy,” my book focuses on the choices these flawed characters make in trying to do what they think is right.
After all, every one of us thinks we’re the hero of the story, and that our chosen or learned ideology is the one true path.
Yet, even the folks we hold up as the best among us often falter—both accidentally and purposely—through foolishness, greed, allegiance, and desperation.
And, really, if you have to weigh the lesser of two evils, somebody’s probably gonna get hurt … or at least inconvenienced.
The antagonist in my novel is definitely a “bad” person but in fighting against him and in effort to stop him from doing awful things, my protagonists find themselves making some morally questionable choices and maybe even going against their own strongly held beliefs.
We’re all familiar with the Nietzsche quote, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”
And, that’s really a central theme in my novel.
Of course, as over-the-top nasty and foolish as I wrote the POTUS in my book, he pales in some respects to Donald J. Trump. I don’t say that to be partisan or shitty.
I’m no big fan of either major party. It’s just an observation that, people who do the kinds of things he does, aren’t folks you’d want at your dinner table or around your kids or spouse or dog.
I have to believe that, when Lewis created the character Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, the vile despot in It Can’t Happen Here, he did so in hopes of waking America up to the idea that such a person might someday hold high office in America.
Yet here we are. And who could’ve imagined such a thing? Other than Lewis that is.
For the interest of fairness and not wishing to turn my audience off with some cartoonish villain, I gave my wicked POTUS some redeeming qualities. He’s handsome. He makes choices which help the economy. He really does love his country.
I introduced some balance because, you know, the notion of a completely repulsive person, even as the star reprobate in a work of literature, is just plain ridiculous.
Of course, two years into the United States of Are You Fucking Kidding Me, and it seems we’ve all flown too close to the satire and had our wings and b-holes irreparably singed.
Regardless where our current reality takes us, my story is a solid (I hope) political thriller.
It might not be on par with Robert Penn Warren’s masterpiece All The King’s Men but what is.
I guess my main point is … oh shit. What was my point?
Well, I guess the point is that it can happen here because it did.
And, like I scream at the television news anchors every morning, those of us disgusted by the current political climate should use this opportunity to look at ourselves because, after all, guys like Buzz Windrip, Donald Trump, and my villain Irv Gardner, are symptoms of a bigger problem.
They’re not the disease itself.
America doesn’t have a Donald Trump problem.
America has an America problem.