Earlier this week, I posted the speech I wouldn’t give at Thursday’s Turkish Cultural Center’s Friendship Dinner. A number of folks made me promise I’d give a report on what I actually did say, once I’d said it. Before I do, though, I have to say how gratified I was by the reception I received. Despite my inability to maintain high seriousness, the guests gave me a standing ovation. (As evidence of that gravitas drought, I am tempted to call it a standing “ovulation,” then go into a lighthearted discussion of how men participate in such a practice.) I was deeply moved by this, and want to thank everyone in attendance, which includes my three daughters, making the moment one of the most moving in my life. Thank you all.
As for what I said, I can only give my recollection, since I spoke form no notes but entirely in the moment. As background, the evening’s keynote speakers, Katrina Lantos Swett and Y. Alp Aslandogan, spoke specifically and movingly about Turkey’s transformation to dictatorship under President Erdogan. Each of them outlined how fascism is introduced into a country—first through insults and demonization of the opposition, then through expulsion/detention of the “other,” then through emergency measures that become the norm, and so on.
My memory of what I said follows:
My introduction said I’m known for doing the unexpected. I’m afraid you may be disappointed with what I’m about to say, but it will be unexpected. In listening to this evening’s speakers talk of the rise of fascism in Turkey, I could only think of one of my favorite book by one of my favorite authors, a book I first read 40 year ago. Sincalir Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, written in, I think, 1936, tells the story of the rise of fascism in America, a fascism different in some flavor from that in Europe, but not in its deadliness. I don’t think our current administration is leading to fascism, but the similarities amog Lewis’ book, the story of Turkey and events today are too great to ignore. When you hear It Can’t Happen Here, the only proper response is: the Hell it can’t if we don’t stand up!
Given my general longwindedness, I’m sure I’ve left some things out, especially since I have vague memories of laughter at some things I said.
My daughter Libby turns 21 on Monday and Thursday is Thanksgiving, so I’ll be staying down south in Manchester for the next week. This shouldn’t bring a break in my communiques here, but it likely will. I promise I’ll return to offering daily 500-1500 word essay kinds of things after Thanksgiving.
Those of you with a paranoid bent can rest assured: Sam (is a dog) is with me, not trapped alone in Pittsburg and the Tiny White Box is securely locked up so no criminals will intrude.