It Can Happen Here Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush

Joe Conason

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

256 Pages



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"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross."—Sinclair Lewis, author of It Can't Happen Here, 1935

For the first time since the Nixon era, Americans have reason to doubt the future—or even the presence—of democracy. We live in a society where government conspires with big business and big evangelism; where ideologues and religious zealots attack logic and the scientific method; and where the ruling party encourages xenophobic nationalism based on irrational, manufactured fear. The party in power seems to seek a perpetual state of war to hold on to power, and they are willing to lie, cheat, and steal to achieve their ends. The question must be asked: Are we headed toward the end of American democracy?

Nobel Prize-winning author Sinclair Lewis depicted authoritarianism American-style in his sardonically titled dystopian novel It Can't Happen Here, published in 1935. Now, bestselling political journalist Joe Conason argues that it can happen here—and a select group of extremely powerful right-wing ideologues are driving us ever closer to the precipice.

In this compelling, impassioned, yet rational and fact-based look at the state of the nation, Conason shows how and why America has been wrenched away from its founding principles and is being dragged toward authoritarianism.


Praise for It Can Happen Here

"A masterfully rational and lucid writer . . . [this is] a serious, focused, and well-reasoned call to awakening."—Daily Kos

"[Conason] ably catalogs the Bush administration's attempts to subvert civil liberties."—The New York Times Book Review
"[Conason] offers pithy insights into each central character in the post–September 11 drama, including Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, and John Yoo [and] a well-written account of an administration bent on establishing authoritarian executive power."—The New York Review of Books

"Conason eloquently warns of the danger of American authoritarianism."—Naomi Wolf, The Guardian (U.K.)

"Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here envisaged a right-wing populist president, advised by a cunning political strategist and backed by a cynical alliance of religious fundamentalists and corporations, who uses security threats to consolidate dictatorial powers, destroy civil liberties and establish folksy fascism. This is a virtual blueprint for the current Bush administration, a 'corrupt and authoritarian ruling clique' that accords the president 'the prerogatives of a king,' argues political columnist Conason . . . He surveys a long list of what he sees as Bush administration affronts to freedom and democracy: military tribunals, torture, warrantless wiretapping, politically motivated terrorism alerts, a war based on fraudulent pretexts, the Abramoff scandals, the handover of policy making to business interests and Christian zealots, tight secrecy coupled with a dissemination of propaganda through the right-wing media and a lawless contempt for constitutional constraints on the presidency."—Publishers Weekly

"Conason follows Sinclair Lewis' 1935 book It Can't Happen Here with a firm assertion that fascism can indeed take root and blossom in the U.S. if Americans aren't more vigilant about freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Although we are not facing full-blown fascism, Conason sees a 'gradual and insidious turn toward authoritarian rule' for the first time since the Nixon administration. He explores how and why Lewis' grim and amusing tale resonates today as Americans watch an increasingly secretive Bush administration usurp the power of the legislature and disregard provisions of the Constitution by stoking fear of terrorism. Conason, author of Big Lies (2003) and The Raw Deal (2005), points to periods throughout history when nations have been tempted by tyrants to turn over the reins of government, and the factors in U.S. history and culture that make us vulnerable to similar impulses now, in the midst of manufactured fears. However readers might feel about Conason's political viewpoints, his caution is worth considering."—Vanessa Bush, Booklist

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It Can Happen Here

No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
MADISON'S WARNING, DELIVERED during the early...

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  • Joe Conason

  • Joe Conason writes for Salon and has written a popular political column for The New York Observer since 1992. He is the author of Big Lies, The Raw Deal, and, with Gene Lyons, The Hunting of the President. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, The Nation, and many other publications. He is a regular commentator on Air America Radio.

  • Joe Conason
    Joe Conason