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Life as performance art

Life as performance art

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By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel

In 1935 novelist Sinclair Lewis wrote “It Can’t Happen Here,” a satirical look at what might occur if a populist candidate was elected to the White House. After years of economic turmoil, social unrest and assorted forms of decadence, Buzz Windrip promises if he’s elected, America will get back on track, return to traditional values and so much stability it will be the envy of the world. The schools will be places of learning, borders all secure.

When not everyone supports President Windrip’s plans and policies, he turns loose his bully boys to intimidate enemies. Instead of order and prosperity, the result is a civil war.

When the book was first published, many readers thought it was an indictment of then Louisiana Gov. Huey Long’s political agenda. Others were convinced Lewis was writing about Hitler and Mussolini. Still others viewed “It Can’t” as a prophecy of something that might happen in the future.

That idea surfaced during President Nixon’s tenure, and some critics believe it influenced Margaret Atwood’s novel “A Handmaid’s Tale.” And yes, some find connections with Mr. Trump. As my old church history professor would often say, “Pay your money and take your choice.”

I’ve always tried to stay out of politics, but the events that took place in Charlottesville, Va., recently — not to mention some of the responses — were frightening and disgusting. Seeing a large herd of men carrying torches through the dark streets reminded me of Leni Reifenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” filmed during Nazi rallies in the 1930s.

Marchers in Charlottesville were not in lock-step goose-stepping. They weren’t wearing uniforms nor openly carrying rifles and grenades. It was far more scary: most were wearing white polo shirts and khaki trousers.

We saw a display of bigotry, hatred and anger from people who dress just like us. It isn’t the black, brown or silver shirts of the 1930s nor jackboots, but a bland ‘business casual’ uniform that would blend in almost anywhere.

We are now forced to realize it isn’t the Far Right religious fanatics, militia members, Klansmen cowering behind pillowcases or camouflaged survivalists who are the racists and xenophobes. It’s folks who look and sound much like we do. The real danger is that it is so easy to get caught up in their vitriol.

The cartoon character Pogo was right: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”