That's more than just the title of a suddenly highly relevant Sinclair Lewis novel about the rise of an American dictator, written in 1935 — another era when despots were on people's minds, for some weird reason. No, "it can't happen here" long been the national motto of a United States of America that has long thought itself immune to the slings and arrows of everyone else's world history.
An authoritarian president with nothing but contempt for 242 years of democratic norms, a free press, and a judicial system untainted by political interference? It can't happen here, the American exceptionalists all told us. An unqualified narcissist gaining the Oval Office with the help of crimes committed by a foreign adversary? Of course it can't happen here!
And there's a flip side to all of this denial. The notion that the will of the people can regain control of the plot narrative — that also could never happen here, not in America. Remember what just happened in South Korea in late 2016 and early 2017 (coincidentally, the same months that America was electing and inaugurating Donald Trump) — the so-called Candlelight Revolution in which as many as two million people, fed up with their corrupt president, Park Geun-Hye, took to the streets of Seoul? Those protests continued until Park was impeached and removed from office and a new president (who's conducted a Nobel Prize-worthy campaign for peace on the Korean Peninsula, by the way) replaced him.
That could never happen here, right?
Why the hell not?
In many ways, July 16, 2018, will be another day that will live in infamy in American history. So much has been written and said about President Trump's performance in Helsinki as he stood next to Russia's Vladimir Putin, a ruthless autocrat who makes a mockery out of elections and murders investigative reporters and political opponents with impunity, which apparently makes him a role model for America's 45th president. Before the two rulers had even walked away from their podiums, CNN's Anderson Cooper said, "You have been watching perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader certainly that I've ever seen."
Harsh but right on the money. The Donald Trump who on Monday said he believed Putin more than he believed either American intelligence agencies or the prosecutors who've indicted more than two dozen Russian operatives working to tip the 2016 election to Trump with illegal hacking, "fake news" and even infiltrating the NRA, and who responded to this assault on U.S. democracy by spouting insane Fox-fried scandals about finding "servers" and Hillary Clinton's emails, was — to paraphrase the famous words of Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green — exactly who we thought he was.
Caring more about saving himself than about saving the integrity of the United States.
Weak, impotent and obsequious in front of a savvy and amoral adversary.
More willing to believe either a Russian dictator or the half-baked conspiracies of a quasi-state-TV-network called Fox News than to believe the powerful government that he is supposed to lead.
Seemingly deep in debt — for reasons speculated upon but as yet not fully known — to the foreign power that worked to install him as leader of 320 million Americans, an adversary that is now reaping the benefits of inevitable chaos.
A man who is uniquely and totally unfit to serve as president of the United States.
Of course, as has been so often the case during Trump's 18 months in the White House, his Helsinki performance managed to be both shocking and — in the spirit of a man who prefers golf to presidenting — completely par for the course. There have been many other times when Trump has proved his unfitness. His "both-sides-ing" of lethal neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville. Calling African nations "shithole countries." Calling journalists "enemies of the American people" — even after five were massacred in an Annapolis newsroom. Conducting a "family separation" campaign on the southern border that has all but permanently tarnished the idea of America as a human-rights beacon.
The unfortunate events of July 16, 2018, had the feeling of both a major turning point but also no turning point at all. The handful of Republicans who'd been mildly critical of Trump in the past offered much harsher words — Sen. John McCain, suffering from terminal brain cancer at home in Arizona, accused the president of "naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats" — while those who've been loathe to utter a bad word about their fellow Republican now at least expressed their vague disappointment.
But missing from this new conversation so far is any serious talk of action. None of the Republicans who control Congress seems willing to go beyond mere words — to even introduce a morally powerful if non-binding resolution of censure, let alone begin the process of impeachment and removing Trump from office as a clear and present danger to American democracy.
This is nothing new. Remember Newtown … and then Las Vegas … and finally Parkland?
Doing nothing of any substance is the default position for a democracy that barely functions. But after Newtown, there was some progress toward making assault weapons harder to get, and in making it harder for those under 21 to purchase weapons. That pressure came not from voters, but from consumers. Companies like Dick's Sporting Goods, Walmart and Kroger supermarkets stopped selling high-powered weapons not because the government told them to, but because their customers demanded it, and would vote with their wallets if the corporations didn't listen. That's where we're at in America in 2018; Corporations are only afraid of consumers — and politicians are only afraid of corporations.
There is a way to take back the real America from the impostor presidency of Donald Trump, but the road doesn't go through our failed democratic institutions — not directly, anyway. Americans are going to have to hit the oligarchy in the only place it really hurts them: Its bankbooks. What's more, everyday people can't expect the reward of a Trump-free America without taking some risk.
Since congressional Republicans won't take serious moves to restrain Trump, it's time to boycott the large corporations that the GOP needs need to finance its fall campaigns, not to mention the handful of big companies that actively support the short-fingered vulgarian living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Do you buy a lot of stuff at Home Depot, the nation's largest home-repair store chain? Well … don't. That's because the Home Depot's co-founder, Bernard Marcus, not only gave $7 million to aid Trump in 2016, but is spending nearly $5 million more, so far, to keep the House and Senate in GOP hands and even gave $300,000 to the Super-PAC of Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton. Until Marcus tells his clients in Congress to remove Trump, there's a Lowe's just down the street the sells the same stuff — or you can patronize your friendly local hardware store.
Do you have Dixie Cups or Brawny paper towels at home? Replace them with a different brand, because those products are manufactured by Georgia-Pacific, which is owned by the most powerful GOP donors of all, David and Charles Koch, who plan to spend up to $400 million (!!) on the midterms and who could thus get rid of Trump with one phone call.
You can stop buying your gasoline from Chevron or Valero, which are also spending millions to keep in power those Republicans who are keeping Trump in the White House, and for God's sake don't answer the door when Amway — founded by the Republican-financing family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — comes ringing. Unless they successfully convince their wholly owned members of Congress to move on Trump. That is when the boycott ends.
But that's not all. Helsinki showed the rising danger posed by Trump means that the American people are going to have kick things up a notch, in a hurry. It's time to begin the planning for a general strike — perhaps right after Labor Day, when school is back in session and vacation season is over — that would show our ability to shut down the American economy while this unfit and arguably treasonous president insists on clinging to power.
That means that millions of workers — on the docks, in the classrooms, on factory floors, in sweltering warehouses and manning the checkout line and, yes, in newsrooms — walk off their jobs . Maybe for a day, maybe for longer, and maybe more than once depending on the political fallout — but until the comatose American system wakes up. The general strike is a recognition that while massive weekend protest marches since Trump's inauguration have been a thing of beauty, they don't strike fear into a corrupt system, either. A general strike is much more potent.
And it's not particularly unusual. They've happened everywhere else in the world, from the UK to Italy to Spain to nations in South America or Africa. It can't happen here, you say? It did — right here where I sit, in Philadelphia, where workers who walked off the job across the city in 1835 and won a 10-hour workday and higher wages. This year, a wave of unauthorized teacher strikes from West Virginia to Oklahoma won remarkable gains. That's because the strike is perhaps the most effective tool that everyday people have. There's no reason why it can't be used to end this Trumpian nightmare.
A couple of points and caveats. The general strike needs to be about Trump, and it needs to be about more than Trump, to include the other existential threats that far too many people are feeling in Trump's America. The powerful student movement against gun violence. Black Lives Matter. Immigrant activists fighting for entire neighborhoods where people are afraid to leave their homes. A general strike must include these powerful movements and their demands. And the nation's labor unions will have to get on board to make it work.
And then there are those who say, why now? Why not wait and focus 100 percent of our efforts on November's midterm elections? Why fight so loudly for American values, when that might scare off the elusive moderate voters? Personally, I understand these arguments — and yet I am not convinced. Some of them are the same folks who told us not to go overboard with Trump alarmism in the fall of the 2016, who insisted that Hillary's got this. How'd that work out? I think back on Martin Luther King and his 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail, in which he condemns the moderate "who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.'"
The "more convenient season" for ousting Donald Trump from the White House is right now — not to wait until he unilaterally decides that an invasion of Venezuela would be a nice diversion, or when he realizes he's been double-crossed by Kim Jong-Un and reaches for the nuclear football, or when he hands over the Baltic States to Putin, or when he opens up massive internment camps for Central American refugees.