Boots or Hearts, They Really Fall Apart

Boots or Hearts, They Really Fall Apart

See when it starts
to fall apart,
man, it really falls apart,
like boots or hearts,
oh when they start,
they really fall apart

The Tragically Hip
Album: Up to Here (1989)

The 2016 United States election may be seen in the future as a historic rupture in the nation’s history. Voter turnout was low, and less than half the population voted, with a historic level of displeasure expressed for both candidates of the two major parties. Bitter rebukes were leveled at those who wanted to vote for third parties. The victory of Donald Trump made his opponents think the republic was doomed, while his supporters saw the attempted sabotage of his inauguration as a sign that respect for democracy was in tragic decline. For the first time in history, Americans seemed to be asking, “Is this how it ends? What next?”
Those who think Donald Trump is an insane narcissist fear that he will stumble into nuclear war when his feelings get hurt, while others have fears about an American holocaust or widespread violent chaos in a nation with both militarized police forces and private militias armed with automatic weapons. As an alternative to these nightmare scenarios, there are some historical precedents that show how the USA could renew itself in a relatively peaceful revolution. Revolution, however, implies a complete reset of the game. America’s sacred constitution would have to be replaced with something entirely new. Consider the following fictional scenario of the near future, then read the explanation that follows of the historical example it is based on.

The Second Republic (fiction)

The trigger for the collapse of the First Republic was the crisis of American forces overseas that arose in early 2022. America was still an imperial power, although rejection of the system had started to increase significantly in East Asia since 2017. The Philippines, Japan and South Korea still allowed US military bases on their soil, but popular resistance was mounting to unprecedented levels. South Korea, in particular, felt rising internal and regional pressure to rid itself of the American presence. The assertiveness of Russia and China in the region caused American forces to balk. The situation was complicated by the utterly dysfunctional and deadlocked politics in the executive and legislative branches of the American government.
Further complications came when a section of the US military rebelled and openly backed a movement to reverse the decline of the American empire. Revolts and riots broke out in 2021 against the US forces in Seoul, Tokyo and Manila, and there were no adequate diplomatic or political initiatives by the US government to win support in those countries for a continuation of American presence, owing to the insolvency of the federal government and political gridlock. Amid this chaos, and the imminent collapse of the North Korean government in December 2021, Russia and China brokered an arrangement for Korean re-unification that required the exclusion of US bases from the Korean Peninsula.
In Europe, disputes over contributions to the NATO budget led to Romania and Poland leaving the alliance and declaring neutrality. For US military leaders, it was obvious that a debacle like that of the Warsaw Pact collapse of 1989 was in the offing, and that the government was sacrificing American honor for political expediency.
This situation prompted a small group of generals to create a patriots’ committee to demand the formation of a new national government under former president Barack Obama, who still advocated a strong military policy. Obama was still making speeches in retirement about America’s status as “the indispensable nation” and the importance of retaining American uni-polar hegemony.
The generals declared that unless Barack Obama was returned to power, the US Army would openly revolt. The generals covertly planned the takeover of Washington, with 50,000 paratroopers preparing to take over airports. Armored units prepared to roll into Washington.
On 24 May, paratroopers landed in Miami, taking the city in a bloodless action called "Operation Flamingo." Miami was chosen as a shock demonstration of what would soon follow in other cities if demands were not met. The operation was cheered by the local population and met no resistance. The generals promised that Operation Resurrection would be implemented if Obama was not approved as leader by Congress, or if Obama asked for military assistance to take power, or to thwart any organized attempt by opponents to seize power or stall Obama’s return.
Barack Obama, who had retired from politics six years before, placed himself in the midst of the crisis, calling on the nation to suspend the government and create a constituent assembly in order to draft a new constitution. On 29 May 2022, Congress agreed upon calling on Obama to take over the government as acting executive. The military’s willingness to support an overthrow of the constitutional government was a significant development in American politics. With military support, Obama’s constituent assembly terminated the First Republic (the last Congressional sessions of the First Republic hastily voted for its dissolution) and drew up a new constitution over the next six months proclaiming the Second Republic in November 2022.
Freed from the traditional constraints on constitutional and electoral reform, the constituent assembly was able to preserve the best aspects of the First Republic while abolishing those unsuited to the 21st century. The electoral college was abolished, and various voting innovations were implemented, such as ranked-choice voting. The influence of corporations on the electoral process was shrunk so much that, as one advisor put it, “it could be drowned in the bathtub.” Experts have questioned whether the Second Republic is actually a republic. They argue instead that it has been reformed into a thing called “a democracy.” The rights to government-funded pensions, health care and education were enshrined in the new constitution.
In spite of the generals’ original intent to preserve America’s global dominance, decline continued while the nation went through an internal renewal. Both international and domestic populations no longer supported American hegemony, and the American treasury could no longer afford the cost of hundreds of foreign military bases. Restoration of “the homeland” became the pressing necessity of American politics for the decades to come. The military officers, to their credit, stood down when the constituent assembly was in place, as they never intended to form a government themselves. Their goal of re-establishing global hegemony was completely overtaken by the dire finances of the republic and popular demand for domestic reform.

This scenario might seem outlandish, and overly-optimistic about the chances of a peaceful and progressive transition, but it is actually an adaptation of events that happened in France in 1958 as the Fifth Republic was created out of the Algerian crisis and the decline of French colonialism. The basic elements are all the same: the military demanded the restoration of the empire and the return of retired president de Gaulle, the military took Corsica as a preliminary step before taking Paris, de Gaulle returned, and the Fourth Republic was dissolved.
France and the United States both had their revolutions in the late 18th century, but France has gone through two Napoleonic empires and five republics while America is still stuck in its first. The chaos that followed the 2016 election should be making it clear that no meaningful change is possible within the constraints of the existing system, and amendments to it under the present rules are practically impossible.
This is not to say that all has been perfect in France since the Fifth Republic was established, and there are risks in depending on a military force to usher in a new constitutional system, but among all the alternatives, it might be the best.
One good outcome for France and other countries was the collapse of the empire, but France continued to exert oppressive control over parts of Africa through neocolonialism. Algeria and Polynesia were forced to suffer the consequences of French nuclear detonations conducted between 1961-1996.
This year, French voters face a similar dreadful choice as Americans did in their presidential election. Viable progressive alternatives are nowhere in sight, while the choice comes down to a conservative and an anti-EU, anti-NATO and anti-Euro conservative nationalist. Perhaps the French can double up with the Americans and they can both get a new republic at the same time, a two-for-one deal shall we say?*
If the French example is not convincing, the Carnation Revolution in Portugal in 1974 is another example to refer to. In that case the Portuguese military was exhausted from fighting in anti-colonial wars in Africa, so they launched a bloodless coup against the Portuguese dictatorship, not to continue the war and the empire but to bring them to an end and usher in democracy. The public in Lisbon reacted by flooding the streets, sticking carnations in soldiers guns and overtaking the military coup with a popular resistance movement.
Perhaps the United States is too conservative, too isolated and too inclined to fetishize its "sacred" constitution to look to such historical examples in other nations for ways out of its present dilemma. However, it would be a good thing if the present raging and rudderless protests against the new president could calm down, get creative, and be turned toward some practical solutions. In the current derangement, some people imagine only nuclear holocaust or civil strife, and in desperation they have indulged in satire and personal insults toward the president-elect, and begged the CIA to conjure up some cabal to bring down this villain who has risen to power. In one of his speeches near the end of his term President Obama said Russians don’t make anything and don’t innovate. The question should be this: can Americans make something new and innovate their way out of this?

* In fact, there is presently in France the Mouvement pour la 6e République which is gathering signatures in support of establishing a 6th Republic. As of January 2017, 108,269 people have signed in support of this statement:

I demand the election of a constituent assembly with which citizens will establish the 6th Republic. This republic will abolish the monarchical presidency and will enshrine the new personal, ecological and social rights that our country needs.

America, what are you waiting for?

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