Liberal Fallacies. Part II of the “It Can’t Happen Here” Series.
This is a provocative piece. It’s meant to make you think. I titled it “Liberal Fallacies,” but my original title idea was “How Did it Come to This?” In the wake of the 2016 election, a lot of people in America found themselves asking this question. Maybe you were one of them. Or maybe not. It doesn’t matter to me. Let’s dig in.
This is the second entry in this series. And I do mean for people to read this as a series, so I highly recommend that you pop over to Part I and give it a read before you read on here. Up to you, though!
At any rate, suffice to say that Part I is a poem. And if you’ve read it, you might remember that in my notes I talked about how I wrote the poem after a conversation with a group of family friends about Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here. Actually, we were talking about the play — some church friends of my parents had invited my family over to dinner to eat and do a reading of selections from It Can’t Happen Here, the play version adapted by Lewis and John C. Moffitt during the height of fascism in Europe.
The fifth and final entry in this series will be a review of It Can’t Happen Here. But for now I’ll tell you some basics — about what I knew when I went to that discussion/play reading, since I’d never read the novel before.
In It Can’t Happen Here, fascism comes to America. The novel chronicles the rise of politician “Buzz” Windrip, who most critics have tied to presidential candidate Huey Long. In the novel, Windrip foments discord and fear, promises wide-reaching economic and social change, and promotes patriotism and “traditional” American values. With his strong-arm tactics, Windrip beats out FDR for the Democratic nomination and goes on to win the presidential election of 1936.
Let me stop for a moment and say that in 1935, people had reason to believe that “it might happen here.” Because of Huey Long, that guy Windrip is probably based off of. Huey Long used strong-arm tactics and was preparing a bid for the 1936 election. But in 1935, not long after the publication of It Can’t Happen Here, Long was assassinated.
Most of the conversation at dinner that evening had to do with how amazing it was this novel had virtually predicted the events of the 2016 election. I sat there mum. Because to me this fact, although true, was not amazing. Here’s why.
I study history. But even before I declared it as my major, I would’ve called myself a student of history. Which means…
… not exactly what you might be thinking. I will not claim that through my study of history, I’ve averted any grave mistakes in my life or for the world. People love to say that by studying history, we’ll “learn from our mistakes.” Well, first of all, they weren’t ours. And second of all, there are usually more things to consider in the moment of a decision than history. History is usually the last thing on someone’s mind when they have to act, and act fast. It’s not history hanging over their head. It’s stress.
I call myself a student of history not because by learning history I stop potential mistakes, but because by learning history I’m able to predict mistakes that can and will happen.
Some of us, you see, saw the writing on the wall a long time before Donald Trump actually became president. Now, I’m not going to claim that I knew it was set in stone, but I will say that I had an inkling a long time before most people seemed to. They were all stuck in their own reality: an “it can’t happen here” reality.
Well, folks, let me break it to you. It happened here. Trump got elected. He became president. The thing you were so sure wouldn’t happen happened. And my question to anyone who thought, who felt, who knew it couldn’t happen here is why you thought, felt, knew that in the first place. It nearly happened in 1936. Why couldn’t it happen to us in 2016?
The discussion gave me the answer.
In short, the family friends (and my mother) thought that it shouldn’t have happened here because we were better. We were apparently better than the people of America back then and better than the Germans who allowed themselves to slip under the Nazi regime. We were apparently so enlightened that it never should have happened here, and the only reason it had was because not everyone in America was as enlightened as the people sitting in that room around that table.
Yeah. Okay. Great way to go about having a discussion. Call a good half the country stupid, and you’ll definitely get your way. You’ll definitely get your candidate elected. Yeah, totally. That sort of thing went through my mind. Then I took a moment to think a little more deeply about the beliefs they were expressing.
These people had a belief that struck me as crazy.
They believed that people nowadays — some eighty years after World War II — were fundamentally different than the people who had existed back then. Were different in a way that made them better than the people who had existed back then.
Let me tell you about my problems with Christianity for a moment. This might seem totally unrelated, but I promise you it connects.
Here’s the thing about Christianity. If you’re going to believe that there’s one God, and that He is the Christian God, then you have to believe that people of all other religions, past and present, were either wrong, or they were deluding themselves, or they were led on by the Devil.
All those Greeks and Romans worshiping a pantheon that they really did believe in? Wrong. All those people who spent millennia worshiping spirits? Wrong.
Now, some people who go to my church claim that these two beliefs don’t have to go together. But I don’t see how that is. I don’t think you could claim that the Greek gods are the same concept as the single Christian God. More commonly, I hear Christians refer to the Greek gods as “ways the Greeks explained the world around them.” Yeah. And what makes Christianity any different?
I have no problem with Christians. This is personal for me. I personally am unable to reconcile these two facts. I have nothing against people who have it figured out for themselves. I’m just not there yet.
And the liberal fallacies are similar to me. It seems to me, that while many liberals live in a world where things can and do happen here all the time, they continue to believe that things can’t and won’t happen here. And I’m sorry, but the belief that you’re fundamentally better or different than someone who lived eighty years ago is just plain self-righteous. I wish people would think about what they’re saying when they say something like that. They’re saying that they and the people they choose to surround themselves with are just that much better than everyone.
It was this sentiment that lost the Democrats the 2016 election and cost the country valuable years. They thought they were so much better that they didn’t bother trying to convince anyone.
Now, it’s not that I think people are evil, evil, evil and will always remain that way. It’s that, from a careful look at history, I’ve come to the conclusion that human nature has not changed very fundamentally over the very brief period of recorded human existence. And from what we know of pre-history, human nature hasn’t even changed that much since then. In my eyes, to claim otherwise is at best naivete. At worst, it’s self-righteousness, arrogance, and that best of Greek words: hubris.
Reckless pride lies at the root of most modern liberal fallacies. This is problematic, because we are at a point in our country’s history at which we have no use for either pride nor recklessness.
We’ve destroyed the climate. We’re continuing to destroy the climate. We live in a world that becomes more and more precarious by the day. We’ve dug a hole for ourselves. We don’t deserve to be arrogant about anything.
And now’s not the time to stand up and call your neighbor stupid or misguided or unenlightened. Sorry, but things are more complicated than that. Have some empathy. Try to figure out what people were thinking. Because many of them were, as much as you think they couldn’t have been. If you were one of the people who thought it couldn’t happen here, please reconsider. And if you’re someone like me, then please speak out. We might be millions.
But we don’t know, because moderates in this country have long been a “silent majority.” And in this polarized political climate, voices on the far right and far left have risen, and the silent majority stays exactly that — silent. Rumor runs through the city streets and reason flees. People scream faster than they think.
I call for reason. I call for discussion based in reality. Agree or disagree with me, but I think we can agree that American political discourse has gotten out of hand. It’s no longer discourse. It’s a screaming contest to see who can scream the loudest. It’s dangerous to democracy.
I hope you’ve found something valuable here. I welcome any and all comments about any of the issues I’ve addressed here. Do you see the things I brought up as liberal fallacies, or not? Why or why not?
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