“And what rough beast, its hour come at last/slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”

— “The Second Coming,” W.B. Yeats

It’s Thursday, and as we sweat it out in the steam emanating from the boiling waters of the political election year maelstrom, J.P., the humorist, takes a pause.

Today, liberals and right-wingers alike are suddenly shocked — shocked, do you hear — to find that a golden haired, scary, “unabashed racist, potty-mouthed, misogynistic, demagogue, loser” has emerged full-blown from their gardens.

Have we all been asleep for the past eight years? Yes, of course we have. We on the left and middle left having elected the first black president, had wine for dinner, watched television and went to sleep.

Everyday American voters, blocked off from the sounds of reality by their iPhone earbuds, have a tendency to nap between elections; while those whose livings depend on actual survival go to their laptops to concoct the political witches’ brew for the next go-around. Opportunism never sleeps.

Mr. Trump is surely not the first Gollum to appear on the landscape. American history is full of them, Father Coughlin, the anti-semitic priest of the ’30s; David Duke; George Wallace; and Joe McCarthy, to name a few.

And indeed, you would think that Americans, being avid moviegoers and readers, would have taken advantage of the free cinematic warnings given us by great writers and filmmakers.

The warnings were all there.

While I was working for Bobby Kennedy’s campaign in the ’60s, a fellow door-knocker from UCLA film school gave me a copy of Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here,” a satirical political novel that got a lot of attention, as fascism was on the rise in Europe in 1932.

It’s about a Trump-like character, Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, (thanks, Wikipedia, for the spelling) a populist U.S. senator who was elected to the presidency on a wave of passionate patriotic fervor and all sorts of vague promises (sound familiar?) and then, once in office, grabbed control of the government.

He then imposed a ruthless fascist takeover with the help of a paramilitary force, as Lewis observed of Hitler and his brownshirts in Germany, thugs who, on orders of Joseph Goebbels, took protesters out of the rallies and beat them. See if you can pick up a copy. You’ll be stunned.

The movies — that’s where you find that past is, indeed, prologue. The movies have always been on the alert to the inchoate demagogues lurking in the rafters of American politics. The ’30s and ’40s gave us a raft of great Cassandras, left-wing writers who “infiltrated” the movies and laced them with warnings.

Of course, some were unapologetic communists; but back then, being a communist was more ingenuous, similar to the millennial passion for Bernie Sanders’ “democratic socialism.”

Unfortunately, with the rise of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the ’50s, writers, some of whom I came to know — such as Edward Dmytryk, Walter Bernstein, Cliff Carpenter, Dalton Trumbo and others — were silenced, hustled off to prison and rendered unemployable.

And so comforted by the “protection” of our government “daddies,” we went back to sleep again.

Check out some of the movies, mostly rentable or downloadable, that featured startlingly lifelike “Trumpish” characters:

• George Cukor’s 1942 “Keeper of the Flame,” a dark thriller with Spencer Tracy as an investigative reporter and Katherine Hepburn as the widow of Robert Foster, a wealthy American industrialist who has just died in an “accident.” With Tracy’s help, Hepburn discovers that her husband was secretly American Fascist No. 1, and that his legend was being perpetuated deliberately by other fascists who wanted to hold the mob together.

• Blacklisted writer/director Elia Kazan’s 1957 “A Face in the Crowd,” written by the blacklisted Budd Schulberg, starred Andy Griffith as Lonesome Rhodes, a populist country-western singer who is discovered in a Southern jailhouse by Patricia Neal. Once Rhodes is famous, he becomes a symbol to millions of his “little people” and a hero to right-wing politicians. Soon his show is a national hit, his image blows large, and before long, Lonesome becomes a beloved “monstrous national demagogue” and the White House looms. How he is brought down in the end is classic.

As I write this, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and other anti-Trumpists are ringing the fire bells. Grab your hats. It’s gonna be a rocky ride.

As W.B. Yeats wrote in similarly troubling times:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. His book, “Will Write for Food,” is a collection of some of his best Morning Sentinel columns.

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