Can It Happen Here?
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Can It Happen Here?

Cass R. Sunstein

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eBook - ePub

Can It Happen Here?

Cass R. Sunstein

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About This Book

"What makes Trump immune is that he is not a president within the context of a healthy Republican government. He is a cult leader of a movement that has taken over a political party – and he specifically campaigned on a platform of one-man rule. This fact permeates " Can It Happen Here?... which concludes, if you read between the lines, that "it" already has." – New York Times Book Review

From New York Times bestselling author Cass R. Sunstein, a compelling collection of essays by the brightest minds in America on authoritarianism.

With the election of Donald J. Trump, many people on both the left and right feared that America's 240-year-old grand experiment in democracy was coming to an end, and that Sinclair Lewis' satirical novel, It Can't Happen Here, written during the dark days of the 1930s, could finally be coming true. Is the democratic freedom that the United States symbolizes really secure? Can authoritarianism happen in America?

Acclaimed legal scholar, Harvard Professor, and New York Times bestselling author Cass R. Sunstein queried a number of the nation's leading thinkers. In this thought-provoking collection of essays, these distinguished thinkers and theorists explore the lessons of history, how democracies crumble, how propaganda works, and the role of the media, courts, elections, and "fake news" in the modern political landscape—and what the future of the United States may hold.

Contributors include:

  • Martha Minow, dean of Harvard Law School
  • Eric Posner, law professor at the University of Chicago Law School
  • Tyler Cowen, economics professor at George Mason University
  • Timur Kuran, economics and political science professor at Duke University
  • Noah Feldman, professor of law at Harvard Law School
  • Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business
  • Jack Goldsmith, Professor at Harvard Law School, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and co-founder of Lawfare
  • Stephen Holmes, Professor of Law at New York University
  • Jon Elster, Professor of the Social Sciences at Columbia University
  • Thomas Ginsburg, Professor of International Law and Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • Cass R. Sunstein, Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard University
  • Duncan Watts, sociologist and principal researcher at Microsoft Research
  • Geoffrey R. Stone, University of ChicagoLaw school professor and noted First Amendment scholar
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Chapter 1
  1. 1. University of Chicago Law School. The first part of the title is filched from Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith, The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good (New York: Public Affairs, 2012), whose book also provided some general inspiration for this piece.
  1. 2. Eric A. Posner and Adrian Vermeule, The Executive Unbound (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).
  1. 3. See Thomas B. Edsall, “What Does Vladimir Putin See in Donald Trump?” New York Times, January 19, 2017 (quoting political scientist Brendan Nyhan),
  1. 4. See Ozan O. Varol, “Stealth Authoritarianism,” Iowa Law Review 100, 1673 (2015).
Chapter 2
  1. 1. Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003), 459.
  1. 2. Max Farrand, ed., The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1911, revised edition 1966), 641.
  1. 3. Stephen M. Griffin, Broken Trust: Dysfunctional Government and Constitutional Reform (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2015).
  1. 4. For the most recent version of this argument, which was well known to the framers, see Ganesh Sitaraman, The Crisis of the Middle Class Constitution (New York: Albert A. Knopf, 2017).
  1. 5. See, e.g., John Voorheis, Nolan McCarty, and Boris Shor, “Unequal Incomes, Ideology and Gridlock: How Rising Inequality Increases Political Polarization” (2015), at
  1. 6. Daryl J. Levinson and Richard H. Pildes, “Separation of Parties, Not Powers,” Harvard Law Review 2311 (2006): 119.
  1. 7. See Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, trans. George Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).
  1. 8. See Dylan Matthews, “The GOP Health Bill Is a $600 Billion Tax Cut—Almost Entirely for the Wealthy,” Vox, March 7, 2017, at
  1. 9. Caitlin Owens, “Senate GOP Won’t Release Draft Health Care Bill,” Axios, June 12, 2017, at
  1. 10. Sanford Levinson and Jack M. Balkin, “Constitutional Crises,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 707 (2009): 157.
  1. 11. Theodore Roosevelt, “Address of President Roosevelt on the Occasion of the Laying of the Corner Stone of the Pilgrim Memorial Monument, Provincetown, MA,” August 20, 1907 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1907), 47.
Chapter 3
  1. 1. See Andic and Veverka (1963/64, p. 183). See also Tanzi and Schuknecht (2000, pp. 6–7), and for background information, Tooze (2006).
  1. 2. Paxton (2005, p. 133).
  1. 3. Paxton (2005, p. 147).
  1. 4. On Nazis and the welfare state, see Paxton (2005, p. 146). On fiscal policy, see Ritschl (2002).
  1. 5. On Nazi privatization and its motives, see Bel (2010).
  1. 6. On the 1993 figure, see Wong and Bird (2008, p. 440).
Chapter 4
  1. 1. Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989).
  1. 2. Herbert Storing, ed., The Complete Anti-Federalist (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).
  1. 3. See vol. 6 of The Complete Anti-Federalist, 201.
Chapter 5
  1. 1. “Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion,” Pew, December 2016,
  1. 2. Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West (New York: Penguin Press, 1999), 315–17; Comrade Kryuchkov’s Instructions: Top Secret Files on KGB Foreign Operations, 1975–1985, eds. Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993), 97; and Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, KGB (New York: HarperCollins, 1990), 589–91.
  1. 3. Comrade Kryuchkov’s Instructions, 100.
  1. 4. For an overview, see Kevin O’Brien, “Interfering with Civil Society: CIA and KGB Covert Political Action During the Cold War,” in Strategic Intelligence: Windows Into a Secret World, eds. Loch K. Johnson and James J. Wirtz (Los Angeles: Roxbury Publishing Company, 2004), 265–68.
  1. 5. Andrew and Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive, 317.
  1. 6. “Soviet Active Measures: Hearing Before the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, July 13–14, 1982,” US Government Printing Office, 1982, 206.
  1. 7. Andrew and Gordievsky, KGB, 489.
  1. 8. For example, 40 percent of Trump voters and only 3 percent of Clinton voters made Fox News their primary news source for the 2016 election. There was also a significant difference among Trump and Clinton voters with regard to reliance on online outlets like the Drudge Report and Breitbart. See “Trump, Clinton Voters Divided in Their ...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Can It Happen Here?
APA 6 Citation
Sunstein, C. (2018). Can It Happen Here? ([edition unavailable]). HarperCollins. Retrieved from (Original work published 2018)
Chicago Citation
Sunstein, Cass. (2018) 2018. Can It Happen Here? [Edition unavailable]. HarperCollins.
Harvard Citation
Sunstein, C. (2018) Can It Happen Here? [edition unavailable]. HarperCollins. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Sunstein, Cass. Can It Happen Here? [edition unavailable]. HarperCollins, 2018. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.