"Power Without Knowledge...": President Haig and the Era of Bad Feelings

Just for fun: What's a better name for the Gestaltgeist iteration of the Cosmintern?

  • Cosmicist Interstellar (Cosminstel)

  • Cosmicist Intersidereal (Cosminside)

  • Keep it the same! They're still nations even if they're on another planet!

Results are only viewable after voting.

*Editorial Note- Since this has been massaged as I've developed the concept I'll be going back through as I have the time to edit out typos and correct any mistakes that have cropped up!*

"Power without knowledge is power lost!"
- Montesquieu

"Much has been said in these uncertain times about 'generational conflict' in this country and the world, between the generations thinking in and longing for a lost past, more a golden-hued fever dream than an objective view of history, and the generations pushing back against this attitude with the characteristic disorganized rebellion of youth, decrying the past as irrelevant, their elders as out of touch and their societies as behind the times, yet all the while imagining a future that is depressingly mundane. This is a false premise. The true generational struggle that should concern us is the one between the present and the future. The coming future, the evershifting dynamic mass of potential, is a frightening thing to some. It projects itself backwards, so that with every passing moment the world we live in becomes more like the world we will live in. This is naturally terrifying to the kyriarchs of the world, who fear the dramatic shifts that the coming future will force on them, and the loss of privilege they will suffer as a result. And so they dig in their heels, ground themselves in the eternal present, and try to fight the future. They know it is a holding action, and so these corrupt nihilists seeks to poison the future as it comes, seeking to bind and limit it, seeking to turn that potential toward the goals of the preservation of power and the status quo at the expense of the true flowering of humanity as a whole. The essential feature of the kyriarchy and of the oligarchal populism that is its vehicle is that it corrupts knowledge of the past to bolster its legitimacy, and uses the power this affords to corrupt the coming future as well. This is an affront, nothing short of an existential threat to the whole of human endeavor. Something must be done..."
- From the introduction of The Cosmicist Manifesto, Ultima Antarctica centennial edition

"I am in control here, in the White House..."
- President Haig, in a 1984 televised address to the nation after his emergency swearing in following the assassination of Ronald Reagan.

President Haig's first address to the nation in the early days of 1984 would go on to set the tone for the remainder of his time in office. Vowing to "press on with the important work begun by my fallen friend" Haig promised the American people that he would be a steady hand guiding the ship of state, confronting enemies of freedom wherever he would find them. His actions for the remainder of the (only) Reagan term, and the following two won in his own right would have wide and far-reaching impacts around the world, propelling geopolitics into a strange new age. To his supporters Haig would usher in what he himself fondly called the Reagan Revolution but to his many detractors at home and abroad his policies would mark the start of the Era of Bad Feelings.

*Special thanks to @Wolfram for the title card!*
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I've been meaning to do this for some time, and with everything going on there's no time like the present. I've had literary ambitions for a while, and one of the reasons I think I've been procrastinating is that figuring out how to feature the alternate history elements I want in the narrative seems daunting from the ground up. Hence this thread. Over an indeterminate amount of time I'll post updates and snippets meant to bridge the gap between my divergence and the starting point of my story, so that I can have a more cohesive world going into the project to drop my protagonist into. I won't cover plot details for the planned story except in the abstract, using this thread primarily to refine a suitable context for the project.
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A Horse of a Different Color: Political Colors in America
Given how deeply ingrained specific colors are with political parties in the modern imagination it comes as something of a surprise to those short of memory how tied to chance those colors are. While the Reform Party and its ideological descendant (for lack of a better term) the AFP have used yellow since the Perot administration, the colors of choice for the older parties and their successors are of slightly more recent vintage, dating no earlier than the 2000 election.

While red and blue were convenient color signifiers during the days of two-party politics, which was assigned to whom was essentially random, with each news station picking a different color when reporting results, and local politicians picking their own colors and symbols besides. By the 2000 election steps were taken to standardize the system, and by chance red was used for the Republicans and blue for the Democrats. What was at the time a random choice would come to leave a lasting impact on American party politics.

The 2000 election was incredibly hard fought, culminating in the infamous Florida recounts. The constant use of maps and graphics for months on end would sear these particular colors into the public consciousness, and the unofficial association would continue well into the decline of the three-party system. This can be clearly seen in the color scheme embraced by several of the modern parties, particularly the reddish copper color embraced by the Freedom Party, or the sky blue taken up by the Progressives.

From a counterfactual perspective it is improbable that, in a scenario where the parties organically chose colors for themselves (as Reform did) the Republicans would use the same color associations as the Union Communist Party in the USSR or the Mountain faction in the PEC, or that the Democrats would use the same color as the Constitutionalists in the ROC. It's easy to imagine a world where American exceptionalism didn't triumph over common sense in this regard, a world where red Democrats and blue Republicans had remained the dominant parties in a more stable, albeit less diverse, system. But it was not to be.
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The Clock Strikes 13: The Assassination of Ronald Reagan
It's no exaggeration to say that the legacy of Ronald Reagan would be cemented by his death. Although his principled 1976 primary challenge to Gerald Ford had won him great acclaim on the political right, all but guaranteeing him victory in the 1980 Republican contest, the art of being president was far more challenging than the art of running for it. Although making his closest challenger in the race his VP had helped to mend fences within the party, there were several factions in the Republican party, and the country more generally, that felt he wasn't getting enough done, especially in the wake of the 1981 recession. Getting closer to the 1984 election it seemed as if he would surely lose as his base splintered. Walter Mondale wasn't a terribly exciting candidate for a lot of Reagan supporters, but if too many of them stayed home he could still squeak out a win. And then the bomb went off.

Although by his own admission "a staunch and committed anti-leftist", there was one sin of the Reagan administration that Ted Kaczynski could never forgive. It was the Strategic Defense Initiative, and fear of the consequence of its deployment would drive the man known as the Unabomber to kill a president. Compared to OTL (and in spite of Reagan's middling reelection prospects) the SDI had considerably more robust support in this timeline, thanks largely to the constant work of Vice President Haig, who personally argued that his former position as Supreme Allied Commander had convinced him of the necessity of such a program in light of Soviet aggression.

For Kaczynski it was a bridge too far. It didn't take a mathematics prodigy to see that the Soviets would feel backed into a corner. Assuming the system lived up to expectations, what recourse would they have? The only logical move would be to strike first. And the natural state he valued would be the ultimate casualty of the madness of the modern world. So he acted. All it took was one bomb and Reagan was killed instantly. How was he to know how far from operational the project was? That bomb had sapped the public will from the project, his task was complete.

Eventually tracked down after a massive manhunt, the Unabomber was tried and sentenced to multiple consecutive life sentences. He would never be released before his death. Excerpts from his unfinished manifesto would circulate in the cultural underground for years after his capture. In his last interview before his murder, Kaczynski admitted that, in light of the Haig presidency, perhaps Reagan was the lesser evil, but the SDI had been struck dead, and he admitted that that was enough.
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For the curious, the SDI was no closer to being feasible in this timeline, it just had a much better public image. In a quirk of fate Star Wars never got a sequel in this timeline, so the nickname was never coined.
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Media Matters: Ridley Scott's Dune Chronicles
If you ask an average film student to list the most influential movie series ever made, it's a certainty that The Dune Chronicles will be somewhere near the top of the list. Based on the six novel masterwork of the same name written by Frank Herbert, it's interesting to look back on the troubled process of adapting the first novel, and on realizing how unlikely it was that the cinematic Duniverse could be brought to life at all.

Originally released in 1965, the first novel in the series, simply titled Dune, would go on to become the best-selling science fiction novel of all time. Interest in adapting the work began to materialize in 1971, with the most interesting take on the material proposed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Even more ambitious than the product that would eventually take theaters by storm, Jodorowsky's project would collapse, massively over budget, following two years in pre-production. Following two more attempts to line up the project, the task of adapting the novel would fall to Ridley Scott.

Fresh off the cult classic Blade Runner, Scott nearly dropped the project due to a cancer scare in his family. He credited the recovery of his brother Frank with inspiring him to finish the film, and the four hour epic would hit theaters in 1985, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the novel. Full of exotic world building and set design (particularly H.R. Giger's singular Harkonnen aesthetic), as well as deep philosophical themes brought to life by a committed cast, Dune would win rave reviews and prove to be incredibly popular despite its length and perhaps niche appeal.

Bolstered by this success, Scott was able to quickly secure funding to begin adapting the other books in the series, which Herbert was able to complete with the sixth novel in the Dune Chronicles, Sandworms of Dune, just before his death in 1986. As ambitious as the first film was, it was in some ways more amazing that the rest of the Chronicles could be made without a noticeable dip in quality or serious turnover in cast.

The Dune Chronicles would be forever cemented in the annals of science fiction and popular culture, with a wide ranging impact. For example, in 1999 the Wachowski brothers would cite the fully realized world building as an inspiration on the first Transmetropolitan film that would continue throughout the series, despite the radically different setting and tone of the project. On a darker note, the film series would go on to have a profound effect on one group in particular, the terror cell known as Heaven's Gate.
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I'm not going to go into any detail on the cast/plot deviations/etc. for the Dune movies, I leave all that to your imaginations. Suffice to say it all worked perfectly and none of the sequels were terrible. Sandworms of Dune TTL is basically Chapterhouse, but it provides a conclusive ending to the series. Attempts in universe to make prequels or sequels to either the novels or the films have all fallen through. The Transmetropolitan series takes the place of the Matrix movies, but any connoisseurs of mind screw science fiction movies could just watch eXistenZ and its sequel transCendenZ (both starring River Phoenix) back to back.
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Voodoo Heart: The Haig Doctrine in Hispaniola
It's seemingly a natural feature of the twentieth century for presidents to articulate a particular "doctrine" of foreign policy, and the Haig administration was no exception. Billing his foreign policy as a natural continuation of Reagan's anticommunist ideals, the international doctrine Haig articulated was best characterized by a consistent ratcheting of pressure on "the Unfree World". While this would most notably see covert US support in Königsberg and the Republic of China (the Kurdish question being at best tangentially related to the Haig Doctrine), the first inkling of the impact of the doctrine would come in 1985 in Hispaniola.

Having originally been elected democratically in Haiti, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier became increasingly authoritarian in the wake of an attempted coup in 1958, creating a cult of personality and a widely feared secret police, among other oppressive measures. Following his death in 1971, control of the regime would pass to his son Jean-Claude. By 1984, the populace had had enough, and began agitating for an end to the Duvalier reign of terror. President Haig was immediately concerned about the potential fall of a "valued ally so close to the American heartland", and President Duvalier was eager to capitalize on potential aid.

Taking to the airwaves in a radio broadcast seemingly tailor made to win the support of the US, Duvalier denounced "a subversive plot by a communist cabal of enemies of the Haitian people" and laid the blame squarely at the feet of the Dominican Republic under Salvador Blanco. He accused Blanco of plotting the conquest of Haiti, with the goal to create a communist "People's Republic of Quisqueya". While this would win economic support and military hardware from the American government, it would ironically push Blanco, his government and his party further to the left, laying the groundwork for a later treaty of friendship with Cuba, the very thing Haig had feared from the beginning.

Jean-Claude Duvalier would ultimately pass away in 2014, with the presidency in turn passing to his son Nicolas. Often considered the most authoritarian regime in the First World, Haiti is considered an embarrassment by Washington, with an incredibly loose alliance maintained only to counter possible Soviet or Cuban adventurism in Latin America. Often derided as "West Quisqueya" by its opponents in the US and around the world, the regime has adamantly refused all international attempts to dismantle the nation's extensive chemical weapons program, with stockpiles of everything from nerve gas to widespread rumors of more exotic fare inspired by the Duvalier family's extensive fascination with Haitian Vodou.
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Because of Haig's choice of terms we'll eventually get a Department of Heartland Security. In this timeline the term isn't meant to refer primarily to states without sea access as in OTL, but rather to integral US territory.
Writing on the Wall: An Excerpt of the Manifesto
"Because the Cosmicist movement that I advocate for cannot be categorized as wholely of the left or the right, more conventional idealogues denounce my actions as unfeasible or impossible as the mood strikes them. The simple fact is that an understanding of politics and government that used merely two axes of measurement is far too narrow a thing to build a worldview on, though the uninitiated could be forgiven for believing otherwise. It is a terrible moment to wake up to the truth of things, but it is ultimately necessary.

The simple fact of the matter is the nature of the human condition. In one word, the human condition is paradox. To be human is to be awash in contradictions and doublethink even as we strain all our lives to deny this fact, to live in what each of us considers our own perfectly rational world. This is vanity. To bind ourselves to the rationality of machine logic is to deny a portion of our shared human experience, and serves no end but to limit the potential inherent within all of us."

- Daniel Sutter, The Cosmicist Manifesto
The Great Divide: Regionalism and Neofederalism
The divide between large and small government is very old in the United States, dating back to before the founding of the nation. Despite partisan talking points through the generations, a position on the size of government, on federal versus state power, cannot usually be neatly mapped based on political affiliation. A fluid thing, it changes based on the issue under discussion, on the spirit of the day, and on the behavior of whoever manipulates the levers of government power at any given point in time.

This divide is alive and well in the modern American political landscape, with all the inherent contradictions, most clearly represented by the difference of opinion between Manifest Destiny! and the New Federalist Party. Although wildly different in tone, structure, and overall goals, both organizations trace their genesis to the Haig Administration, and to the events of the Era of Bad Feelings which would follow in his wake.

Given adventurism abroad and a growing nationalist fervor at home, voices wandering in the wilderness of political opposition were quick to plant their flag and raise their voices against "executive overreach". While the holder of the Oval Office would change with time (leading to new cries of overreach in turn), certain principled people of all walks of life were sick of it all. Things were clearly flawed with government in America, and changes would have to be made. The only rub was how to do it.

According to the "regionalist school", the problem was that government in general was flawed, not accurately representing the actual people living under it. It wasn't that the federal government was stronger than the states, but that both were insufficient for the needs of the common people. The ultimate result would be Manifest Destiny!, a faction or movement made up of a contradictory mass of Indian tribes, identity groups, and every type of secessionist. They're not much for unified goals or even a more solid organization, but I'm sure that's half the point.

More organized by far, the "neofederalist school" argued that the problem was not in the inherent nature of state or local governments per se, but rather in the flaws in the way that citizens influence their government. Firmly embodied by the New Federalist party (obviously), the most committed neofederalists argue not only for broad changes to voting rights and political districting, but also for changes in legislative composition, the size and selection of the Supreme Court, and the powers and responsibilities of the Executive.

The fact that the New Federalists are considered "the center" of the five Establishment parties, while Manifest Destiny! is forced to share the lunatic fringe with the damn pirate party is either a sign of everything wrong with business as usual or that the system is working exactly as it should. It all depends on who you ask.
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Eventually tracked down after a massive manhunt, the Unabomber was tried and sentenced to multiple consecutive life sentences. He would never be released before his death. Excerpts from his unfinished manifesto would circulate in the cultural underground for years after his capture. In his last interview before his murder, Kaczynski admitted that, in light of the Haig presidency, perhaps Reagan was the lesser evil, but the SDI had been struck dead, and he admitted that that was enough.
That sounds pretty ominous.