“When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross,” goes a saying that is widely attributed to the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Sinclair Lewis. In 1935, Lewis wrote a novel called “It Can’t Happen Here,” positing fascism’s rise in the United States. We were taught that fascism was defeated in 1945, with the surrender of Germany and Japan in World War II. Yet the long shadows of that dark era are falling on the presidential campaign trail this year, with eruptions of violence, oaths of loyalty complete with Nazi salutes and, presiding over it all, Republican front-runner Donald Trump. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” the 20th-century philosopher George Santayana wrote. He lived in Europe through both world wars, and witnessed Italian fascism firsthand. Fascism was the violent political movement founded by Benito Mussolini, who took control of Italy in 1922. Mussolini had his political opponents beaten, jailed, tortured and killed, and ruled with an iron fist until he was deposed as Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943. He was known as “Il Duce,” or “The Leader,” and provided early support to the nascent Nazi movement in Germany as Adolf Hitler rose to power in the 1930s.
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