It Can't Happen Here

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Chapter 11

When I was a kid, one time I had an old-maid teacher that used to tell me, "Buzz, you're the thickest-headed dunce in school." But I noticed that she told me this a whole lot oftener than she used to tell the other kids how smart they were, and I came to be the most talked-about scholar in the whole township. The United States Senate isn't so different, and I want to thank a lot of stuffed shirts for their remarks about Yours Truly.

Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip.

 

But there were certain of the Heathen who did not heed those heralds Prang and Windrip and Haik and Dr. Macgoblin.

Walt Trowbridge conducted his campaign as placidly as though he were certain to win. He did not spare himself, but he did not moan over the Forgotten Men (he'd been one himself, as a youngster, and didn't think it was so bad!) nor become hysterical at a private bar in a scarlet-and-silver special tram. Quietly, steadfastly, speaking on the radio and in a few great halls, he explained that he did advocate an enormously improved distribution of wealth, but that it must be achieved by steady digging and not by dynamite that would destroy more than it excavated. He wasn't particularly thrilling. Economics rarely are, except when they have been dramatized by a Bishop, staged and lighted by a Sarason, and passionately played by a Buzz Windrip with rapier and blue satin tights.

For the campaign the Communists had brightly brought out their sacrificial candidates—in fact, all seven of the current Communist parties had. Since, if they all stuck together, they might entice 900,000 votes, they had avoided such bourgeois grossness by enthusiastic schisms, and their creeds now included: The Party, the Majority Party, the Leftist Party, the Trotzky Party, the Christian Communist Party, the Workers' Party, and, less baldly named, something called the American Nationalist Patriotic Cooperative Fabian Post-Marxian Communist Party—it sounded like the names of royalty but was otherwise dissimilar.

But these radical excursions were not very significant compared with the new Jeffersonian Party, suddenly fathered by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

 

 

Forty-eight hours after the nomination of Windrip at Cleveland, President Roosevelt had issued his defiance.

Senator Windrip, he asserted, had been chosen "not by the brains and hearts of genuine Democrats but by their temporarily crazed emotions." He would no more support Windrip because he claimed to be a Democrat than he would support Jimmy Walker.

Yet, he said, he could not vote for the Republican Party, the "party of intrenched special privilege," however much, in the past three years, he had appreciated the loyalty, the honesty, the intelligence of Senator Walt Trowbridge.

Roosevelt made it clear that his Jeffersonian or True Democratic faction was not a "third party" in the sense that it was to be permanent. It was to vanish as soon as honest and coolly thinking men got control again of the old organization. Buzz Windrip aroused mirth by dubbing it the "Bull Mouse Party," but President Roosevelt was joined by almost all the liberal members of Congress, Democratic or Republican, who had not followed Walt Trowbridge; by Norman Thomas and the Socialists who had not turned Communist; by Governors Floyd Olson and Olin Johnston; and by Mayor La Guardia.

The conspicuous fault of the Jeffersonian Party, like the personal fault of Senator Trowbridge, was that it represented integrity and reason, in a year when the electorate hungered for frisky emotions, for the peppery sensations associated, usually, not with monetary systems and taxation rates but with baptism by immersion in the creek, young love under the elms, straight whisky, angelic orchestras heard soaring down from the full moon, fear of death when an automobile teeters above a canyon, thirst in a desert and quenching it with spring water—all the primitive sensations which they thought they found in the screaming of Buzz Windrip.

 

 

Far from the hot-lighted ballrooms where all these crimson-tuniced bandmasters shrillsquabbled as to which should lead for the moment the tremendous spiritual jazz, far off in the cool hills a little man named Doremus Jessup, who wasn't even a bass drummer but only a citizen editor, wondered in confusion what he should do to be saved.

He wanted to follow Roosevelt and the Jeffersonian Party—partly for admiration of the man; partly for the pleasure of shocking the ingrown Republicanism of Vermont. But he could not believe that the Jeffersonians would have a chance; he did believe that, for all the mothball odor of many of his associates, Walt Trowbridge was a valiant and competent man; and night and day Doremus bounced up and down Beulah Valley campaigning for Trowbridge.

Out of his very confusion there came into his writing a desperate sureness which surprised accustomed readers of the Informer. For once he was not amused and tolerant. Though he never said anything worse of the Jeffersonian Party than that it was ahead of its times, in both editorials and news stories he went after Buzz Windrip and his gang with whips, turpentine, and scandal.

In person, he was into and out of shops and houses all morning long, arguing with voters, getting miniature interviews.

He had expected that traditionally Republican Vermont would give him too drearily easy a task in preaching Trowbridge. What he found was a dismaying preference for the theoretically Democratic Buzz Windrip. And that preference, Doremus perceived, wasn't even a pathetic trust in Windrip's promises of Utopian bliss for everyone in general. It was a trust in increased cash for the voter himself, and for his family, very much in particular.

Most of them had, among all the factors in the campaign, noticed only what they regarded as Windrip's humor, and three planks in his platform: Five, which promised to increase taxes on the rich; Ten, which condemned the Negroes—since nothing so elevates a dispossessed farmer or a factory worker on relief as to have some race, any race, on which he can look down; and, especially, Eleven, which announced, or seemed to announce, that the average toiler would immediately receive $5000 a year. (And ever-so-many railway-station debaters explained that it would really be $10,000. Why, they were going to have every cent offered by Dr. Townsend, plus everything planned by the late Huey Long, Upton Sinclair, and the Utopians, all put together!)

So beatifically did hundreds of old people in Beulah Valley believe this that they smilingly trotted into Raymond Pridewell's hardware store, to order new kitchen stoves and aluminum sauce pans and complete bathroom furnishings, to be paid for on the day after inauguration. Mr. Pridewell, a cobwebbed old Henry Cabot Lodge Republican, lost half his trade by chasing out these happy heirs to fabulous estates, but they went on dreaming, and Doremus, nagging at them, discovered that mere figures are defenseless against a dream … even a dream of new Plymouths and unlimited cans of sausages and motion-picture cameras and the prospect of never having to arise till 7:30 A.M.

Thus answered Alfred Tizra, "Snake" Tizra, friend to Doremus's handyman, Shad Ledue. Snake was a steel-tough truck-driver and taxi-owner who had served sentences for assault and for transporting bootleg liquor. He had once made a living catching rattlesnakes and copperheads in southern New England. Under President Windrip, Snake jeeringly assured Doremus, he would have enough money to start a chain of roadhouses in all the dry communities in Vermont.

Ed Howland, one of the lesser Fort Beulah grocers, and Charley Betts, furniture and undertaking, while they were dead against anyone getting groceries, furniture, or even undertaking on Windrip credit, were all for the population's having credit on other wares.

Aras Dilley, a squatter dairy farmer living with a toothless wife and seven slattern children in a tilted and unscrubbed cabin way up on Mount Terror, snarled at Doremus—who had often taken food baskets and boxes of shotgun shells and masses of cigarettes to Aras—"Well, want to tell you, when Mr. Windrip gets in, we farmers are going to fix our own prices on our crops, and not you smart city fellows!"

Doremus could not blame him. While Buck Titus, at fifty, looked thirty-odd, Aras, at thirty-four, looked fifty.

Lorinda Pike's singularly unpleasant partner in the Beulah Valley Tavern, one Mr. Nipper, whom she hoped soon to lose, combined boasting how rich he was with gloating how much more he was going to get under Windrip. "Professor" Staubmeyer quoted nice things Windrip had said about higher pay for teachers. Louis Rotenstern, to prove that his heart, at least, was not Jewish, became more lyric than any of them. And even Frank Tasbrough of the quarries, Medary Cole of the grist mill and real-estate holdings, R. C. Crowley of the bank, who presumably were not tickled by projects of higher income taxes, smiled pussy-cattishly and hinted that Windrip was a "lot sounder fellow" than people knew.

But no one in Fort Beulah was a more active crusader for Buzz Windrip than Shad Ledue.

Doremus had known that Shad possessed talent for argument and for display; that he had once persuaded old Mr. Pridewell to trust him for a .22 rifle, value twenty-three dollars; that, removed from the sphere of coal bins and grass-stained overalls, he had once sung "Rollicky Bill the Sailor" at a smoker of the Ancient and Independent Order of Rams; and that he had enough memory to be able to quote, as his own profound opinions, the editorials in the Hearst newspapers. Yet even knowing all this equipment for a political career, an equipment not much short of Buzz Windrip's, Doremus was surprised to find Shad soap-boxing for Windrip among the quarry-workers, then actually as chairman of a rally in Oddfellows' Hall. Shad spoke little, but with brutal taunting of the believers in Trowbridge and Roosevelt.

At meetings where he did not speak, Shad was an incomparable bouncer, and in that valued capacity he was summoned to Windrip rallies as far away as Burlington. It was he who, in a militia uniform, handsomely riding a large white plow-horse, led the final Windrip parade in Rutland … and substantial men of affairs, even dry-goods jobbers, fondly called him "Shad."

Doremus was amazed, felt a little apologetic over his failure to have appreciated this new-found paragon, as he sat in American Legion Hall and heard Shad bellowing: "I don't pretend to be anything but a plain working-stiff, but there's forty million workers like me, and we know that Senator Windrip is the first statesman in years that thinks of what guys like us need before he thinks one doggone thing about politics. Come on, you bozos! The swell folks tell you to not be selfish! Walt Trowbridge tells you to not be selfish! Well, be selfish, and vote for the one man that's willing to give you something—give you something!—and not just grab off every cent and every hour of work that he can get!"

Doremus groaned inwardly, "Oh, my Shad! And you're doing most of this on my time!"

 

 

Sissy Jessup sat on the running board of her coupe (hers by squatter's right), with Julian Falck, up from Amherst for the week-end, and Malcolm Tasbrough wedged in on either side of her.

"Oh nuts, let's quit talking politics. Windrip's going to be elected, so why waste time yodeling when we could drive down to the river and have a swim," complained Malcolm.

"He's not going to win without our putting up a tough scrap against him. I'm going to talk to the high-school alumni this evening—about how they got to tell their parents to vote for either Trowbridge or Roosevelt," snapped Julian Falck.

"Haa, haa, haa! And of course the parents will be tickled to death to do whatever you tell 'em, Yulian! You college men certainly are the goods! Besides—Want to be serious about this fool business?" Malcolm had the insolent self-assurance of beef, slick black hair, and a large car of his own; he was the perfect leader of Black Shirts, and he looked contemptuously on Julian who, though a year older, was pale and thinnish. "Matter of fact, it'll be a good thing to have Buzz. He'll put a damn quick stop to all this radicalism—all this free speech and libel of our most fundamental institutions—"

"Boston American; last Tuesday; page eight," murmured Sissy.

"—and no wonder you're scared of him, Yulian! He sure will drag some of your favorite Amherst anarchist profs off to the hoosegow, and maybe you too, Comrade!"

The two young men looked at each other with slow fury. Sissy quieted them by raging, "Freavensake! Will you two heels quit scrapping? … Oh, my dears, this beastly election! Beastly! Seems as if it's breaking up every town, every home… . My poor Dad! Doremus is just about all in!"

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