Introduction to the broadcast by CBC ‘Ideas’:
Donald Trump has been called a buffoon, an entertainer, a circus clown. He’s also been called a fascist. But he’s aiming to called Mr. President. What does the Trump campaign, and the voters it’s mobilized, have in common with Fascism, not only in Europe but in America’s own dark past?
It Can’t Happen Here by American writer Sinclair Lewis was published in 1935 and later mounted as a play. Lewis was the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1930. His novel captures how fascist thinking demonizes entire groups of people, how it tacitly or explicitly sanctions political violence — and how its rhetoric privileges emotionality over rationality, and charisma over substance. As fascism rose in Europe, Sinclair’s view of American politics darkened — hence the ironic title: it could happen in the U.S.
The hurling of the f-word — ‘fascist’ — has happened a lot since Donald Trump entered the American political stage. But name-calling is facile — and imprecise. So how do we distinguish fascism from authoritarianism, populism, ethnic nationalism?
Guests in this episode:
Adam Gopnik, staff writer for The New Yorker.
Charlotte Canning, Professor of Performance as Public Practice, University of Texas at Austin, Theatre and Dance. Historian of American theatre including the 1930s production of the play It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis.
Chris Vials, Director of American Studies, Department of English, University of Connecticut, author of Haunted By Hitler: Liberals, The Left and the Fight Against Fascism in the United States, published by University of Massachusetts Press 2014.
Related websites & further reading (prepared by CBC ‘Ideas’):
It Can’t Happen Here, Upton Sinclair’s 1935 novel, on Wikipedia
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