TIME Books

The Book People Are Saying Predicted Donald Trump’s Rise, as Reviewed in 1935

Detroit Federal Theatre Units "It can't happen here".
Universal History Archive—Getty Images Detroit Federal Theatre Unit of Michigan Works Progress Administration presents It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis.

"He claimed to be just a plain, simple, common man"

A surprising novel is selling out at some retailers, Money reported on Wednesday: Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. The reason for the rush is that some critics of President-elect Donald Trump say that the circumstances of the real-estate mogul’s election are eerily similar to those portrayed in the 1935 novel by Lewis—who, at the time, was the only U.S. writer to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Written as two very different populists rose to power — Louisiana Senator Huey Long in the U.S. and Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany — the semi-satirical novel imagines a Democratic U.S. Senator, Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, appealing to nativists in order to successfully secure the party nomination over Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Windrip then wins the 1936 presidential election by railing against immigrants, the poor and the liberal media. A theatrical adaptation came out in 1936.

“Readers of It Can’t Happen Here who feel that almost anything can happen in the U.S. are likely to be convinced that it cannot happen in quite the way Author Lewis describes,” declared TIME’s 1935 review of the book, which went on to summarize the plot:

Skinny, smiling, bearded Doremus Jessup was editor of the Fort Beulah (Vt.) Daily Informer, an old-fashioned liberal whose paper expressed his independent views. He lived contentedly with his motherly wife, his belligerently outspoken daughter, enjoyed a quiet love affair with the Fort Beulah feminine rebel despite his 60 years. As an alert editor, Doremus was interested in the rise of a Western Senator, Berzelius Windrip, commonly called “Buzz,” a bubbling and buoyant individual whose personality and career closely resembled those of the late Huey Long. Windrip ruled unchallenged in his own State, built roads, enlarged the militia until it became his private army. When he got the support of Bishop Prang of Indiana, whose radio addresses reached millions. Windrip won the Democratic nomination for President in 1936. Thereupon Editor Doremus Jessup knew that history of an obnoxious sort was soon to be made.

Franklin Roosevelt countered by organizing the Jeffersonian Party. Republicans nominated Honest Walt Trowbridge who spoke well but promised little. But “Buzz” Windrip raved like a madman, assisted in his ravings by his creepy publicity agent and fixer, Lee Sarason. His followers got publicity by making speeches in strange places, such as copper mines, fishing fleets, sporting houses. His supporters were organized as the Forgotten Men, sang a goofy campaign song (“Buzz and buzz”), beat up Reds, Jeffersonians, innocent bystanders, lumping them together as the Antibuzz. His program, based on sharing the wealth, was as emphatic as it was meaningless. He claimed to be just a plain, simple, common man. He told bad jokes. He was elected.

Read the full review, here in the TIME Vault: Buzz & Antibuzz

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