I have good news! Help is on the way! Some time this month, a book too long out of print will be reprinted. It could not come at a better time.
The book? Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here. The book was first published in the 1930s, and will be reissued this month by Penguin USA.
What happens when the characters in Babbitt, Elmer Gantry and Main Street collide, merge and take power? An authoritarian take over by the narrow-minded, self-righteous, oh-so-certain-that-God-is-on-our-side set. Yeah, you got it, the sort of nimbobs in Congress that buckled to the religious right to convene this past weekend to make a complete and utter mockery of the deliberative process by passing, no pun intended, legislative flatus on behalf of Terry Schiavo.
You think I am exaggerating? Read this morning's New York Times and listen to the sound of gloating Bible-thumpers chortling over the hijacking of Congress. "One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo," House leader Tom DeLay told the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group. We lesser mortals view the poor woman as the victim of a cruel accident. The God-intoxicated set sees fingerprints of divinity where it serves their purpose.
And don't forget presidential wannabe, Senator and good doctor Bill Frist. He, too, thumped his chest for the believers. Side note: For what work did Lewis win the Pulitzer? Answer: Arrowsmith, a work about a physician.
Lewis was a powerful critic of the forces of social conformity, and the tendency of orthodoxy of any sort to press a culture and group to the lowest common denominator. A culture devoted to monism, the view that there is but one legitimate view of the good, true and beuatiful is one in which there is no room for creativity, and where fear and self-righteousness compress and kill the creative spirit.
Hence, the fundamentalist Christian crusade to hijack our culture and transform it into the shabby sort of trust and obey ethos that would make Jesus weep.
It Can't Happen Here is sorely needed. It is happening here. I can see it now: Chief Justice Antonin Scalia and his buddies on Opus Dei strike a deal with the fundamentalist Protestants. On the dollar bill a new slogan, one long seen in the bleachers or behind the plate at baseball games: John 3:16. "For God so loved the world, ..."
And for refusing to heed God's voice? For the sin of pride? For refusing salvation? Something like second-class citizenship. Perhaps spiritual re-education. And why not, orthodoxy means toeing the straight and narrow.
I have been collecting out of print editions of Lewis' book for years. Now I plan to buy 100 copies of the new edition, and sell them in my bookstore. Set Yourself Free Of course, there is no telling how long an independent bookseller can remain in business. Main Street beckons, pushing us all in but on direction. It is happening here.