"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.
So, because 1991 is a pretty busy year with a lot of major long-term consequences, it'll be told in a series of updates covering an overlapping time period, rather than in strict chronological order. Some stuff will be self contained to that year, while others span over several years but are traced to an origin point in this year, hence the rather dramatic name.
I've been rethinking my approach to this set of updates. I mean they're all important to the story but the idea of doing five or so separate updates covering one year is a little much, because there'll be a pretty big difference in length between chapters, among other things. I'm gainfully employed by an "essential business" and work's been rather hectic, so I'll shoot for one (maybe two) long updates on the Year of Calamity on my day off, since all these things will tie together and feed into one another.
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As Germany began rising again in Europe and China began to devour itself in an orgy of corruption and privatization in Asia, the writing was on the wall. It was a time for action. After years of quiet resistance and subversion, all the work and planning of the Soviet hardliners would finally pay off. 1991 would be a hell of a year. The first step would be to take a page out of Washington's book.

Since the mid-eighties a cabal in the upper echelons of the Red Army had been hard at work discretely laying the groundwork for action in Africa. They had supported the consolidation of the regime in Angola, and their investment had paid off handsomely, giving them a stable and well supplied proxy force to support communist insurgents in southern Africa. Always on the cusp for forty years, 1991 would finally see the end of apartheid, and the horrifying breakup of South Africa.

With the death of Nelson Mandela under suspicious circumstances, communists within the African National Congress gained an increasingly large influence to the terror of the white minority and the National Party that represented their interests. This would lead to a reactionary crackdown on the ANC that would push its members into more desperate acts of resistance, creating an escalating cycle as both sides continued a steady slide toward violent radicalism. This escalation would reach its ultimate conclusion in February of 1991 when State President du Plessis would be killed in a car accident.

Forced to chose a new leader and in the grips of an existential fear of growing Soviet influence in the country, the party would make the only choice they felt they could: Eugène Terre'Blanche, formerly of the AWB, was selected to lead the party and defend South African tradition. His first act would be to bring in his former movement as a sanctioned paramilitary. Reprisals against the ANC were swift and savage, retaliatory bombings and attacks by Angolan auxiliaries followed in turn, and they were of to the races by the start of March. The South African Race War had begun.

Closer to home, traditionalists in the diplomatic bureaucracy set to work winning allies in Europe to counter a perceived threat on their western flank. Much less flashy than the overtly military support offered in Africa, these moves would in many ways be considered the higher achievement, and with far fewer crimes against humanity involved to boot. These diplomatic victories would seal the Iron Curtain and render it impermeable for decades to come, with only one unforseen chink in the armor.

First and foremost was the growing crisis in Yugoslavia. An ungainly frankenstate at the best of times, the nation had been under escalating strain since the death of Tito in 1980. There was simply no-one else who could step in and keep the nation united through charisma and sheer force of will. Although Gorbachev would attempt mediation, the distractions at home would prevent him from taking a more active hand. And so it fell to Soviet diplomats, secretly the same people who were hamstringing him domestically, to offer aid to the negotiating parties of the simmering conflict.

Meanwhile, the Republic of Turkey was driving itself insane with worry over Kurdistan. Given their own Kurdish insurgency it was completely unthinkable that they could maintain a partnership with the United States in the wake of such a betrayal. Despite the fact that the rebellious PKK was a more ideologically-aligned ally there was no way the Soviet deep state would look this gift horse in the mouth, and they would begin an extensive effort to lure away the disgruntled nation from the NATO umbrella, right under Haig's nose.

Certain their actions had made their position more secure and convinced the public was on their side in the face of American bellicosity and the hideous capitalism beginning to ravage the PRC, the conspirators knew it was time to act, lest all these geopolitical moves pay off while that weakling Gorbachev was still around to reap a political windfall. After months of frantic action, while the world looked on in horror at the mounting death toll in South Africa, the shadow government of the Soviet Union would launch a coup.

On August 19th, the so-called State Committee on the State of Emergency would seize control of the airwaves. Declaring that General Secretary Gorbachev had "over his tenure threatened the peace and stability of the Soviet Union" and "laid bare [its people] to the capitalist depredations of American imperialism, German aggression, and bourgeois immorality" (referencing the situation in China), Gennady Yanayev declared himself "President of the Soviet Union" and called on "all true New Soviet People" to "take to the streets in defense of the Revolution of Lenin and Stalin" to "usher our shared grand proletarian experiment into the twenty-first century".

The people would answer his call, and in what some observers called a Velvet Revolution the hardliners were able to quickly consolidate power. Yeltsin would be shot "attempting to leave house arrest" and what popular resistance their was would be quickly suppressed by the new regime. There would be some setbacks in the chaos, of course. The Baltic states would secede, but the new Baltic Federation remained a firm member of the Warsaw Pact. More troublesome was Kaliningrad.

Caught off guard by the coup and distracted propping up the government in South Africa, the Haig administration had missed the chance to do to the Evil Empire what it had done in the PRC. Ultimately, American arms would only enable the newly renamed Königsberg to escape the Soviet yoke under a German aegis, though the nation assured the world that it would merely protect, rather than reabsorb, the region. It would fuel Soviet resentment well into the next century, but could be allowed to wait for a time.

It would be Pat Buchanan that would coin the term Year of Calamity, as in the seeming blink of an eye the Unfree World was surging, devouring territory in Africa and consolidating behind the Iron Curtain. Turkey would announce its withdrawal from NATO in mid-November, becoming an observer nation, rather than a member, of the Warsaw Pact. For magnate Ross Perot it was too much. The Republican Party had failed America, and only he could set it right.

The question was how, the Democrats were anemic in the wake of repeated losses and Haig's massive program of domestic subversion, and going left wouldn't be the answer anyway. The two party system was a joke, so he resolved himself to seek the presidency, with new ideas and a new movement. Ruling out running as an independent, he decided he would shatter the old system. He had to reach the White House, and so he founded the Reform Party to get him there.

Although overlooked at the time, with hindsight the most important moment of the Year of Calamity would occur near its end. Daniel Sutter would be born December 11, 1991, an average baby to average parents. A date that would come to live (for some) in infamy. Cosmicism was inevitable now.

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I'll do one post to wrap up the immediate effects of the Year of Calamity, then it's on to the 1992 election (in the US) and the foundation of the PEC (in Europe (obviously)).
Aftershocks: The USS and Vanguard Pluralism
Contrary to the mood in the West, the Year of Calamity produced cautious optimism in the USSR and the Soviet sphere more broadly, with some wry commentators coining the term "Soviet Restoration" both to inflate the magnitude of the coup and its geopolitical correlates and also to undermine the frankly apocalyptic negativism that Buchanan's phrase embodied. Even in the grips of triumph, however, President Yanayev and the rest of the State Committee knew some changes were necessary to prevent all their good works from coming undone. Unlike Gorbachev's liberalisation, however, these would be correct reforms, fully in line with Marxist-Leninism and the entire Soviet experiment.

Having been far too busy dealing with mounting crises at home and abroad, Gorbachev had never been able to propose his "Union of Sovereign States" concept, and with his arrest he never would. The State Committee would, instead, modify the plan, and shamelessly introduce it as their own idea. The trick, of course, would be to devolve enough power to the individual SSRs without leaving the Union so weak that it would fragment. In his first major speech in the wake of the coup, Yanayev would present his answer to the nation and the world, a concept he would call "Vanguard Pluralism".

Under his proposal, the USSR would be reformed into a new entity, the Union of Soviet States, but would remain a one party state. Although the component states would be allowed more leeway, ideological supremacy was to be kept paramount, even if the various branches of the CPSU did have some room to diverge from one another as conditions warranted. In theory this would maintain national cohesion while allowing practices pioneered successfully in one area to spread organically, strengthening the Union as a whole.

Vanguard Pluralism would gradually spread to several allies in the Soviet sphere of influence, with Yugoslavia an early adopter. After a long period of internal tensions and Soviet-backed mediation, Belgrade was closer to Moscow than it had been since Stalin was alive, so in some ways this was natural. Already existing in a federal structure, the negotiations of the so-called "Reconciliation Commission" would see the number of Yugoslav Republics go from six to eight, as well as changes to investment and education in the nation. Although a little shaky in the beginning (and despite the cries of some Serb nationalists) the new structure would hold despite expectations, further validating the Vanguard Plurality model championed by the USS.

The far more intense test for the approach would come with its application to the bifurcated South Africa. In the wake of a five year civil/race war, the portion of the former nation allied to the Soviets encompassed several distinct ethnic groups and languages, all with historical grievances. The approach ultimately adopted by the new Union of Azania would see the development of an even looser structure than in Yugoslavia. Internal tensions would remain high, but given the bellicosity of the Kaap it made sense none of the constituent states would want to be the first to pull their finger from the dyke. By the turn of the century continued cooperation would be seen as the only reasonable path forward, and Azania is relatively stable outside of election years.

These two early success stories would further enable the spread of the concept, although the coming Cuban crisis in particular would demonstrate that maybe there was such a thing as "ideologically unfit", even with the looser hand taken by the USS. Meanwhile, further south and decades later, the Antarctic Revolution would see the adoption of a refined form of Vanguard Pluralism by the victorious Cosmicist forces.
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Among other positive results of the whole "more local autonomy" thing, local cuisine in the various Soviet States will enjoy a long renaissance. Also, with Turkey as an ally and with a bit more power spread around locally, the Chechen Wars get butterflied away. I'll cover the other South African successor in a later update.
A Horse of a Different Color: Reform and Ross Perot!
Given the intense fragmentation that characterizes the modern American political system, it is easy for a certain class of nostalgic to hearken back to "the good old days", when politics were amicable and third parties never had a chance. While the former point was an illusion at the best of times, the latter one was an ironclad fact for much of the American experiment, which would only make the Reform victory more surprising. It is therefore crucial that we examine the factors that contributed to this electoral upset.

While the winner take all system naturally depressed political factions with minor popular support, exacerbated by active efforts by the Republicans and Democrats both to avoid giving a stage of any kind to potential ideological rivals, the other issue was one of substance. While the major parties were "big tent" containing a wide spread of factions and interest groups that granted a certain organic resilience, minor parties tended to be animated by specific goals, which left them vulnerable to having their support devoured. The fact that national Prohibition had been passed without the actual Prohibition Party winning major support at any level nicely illustrates this point.

So how could one man found a party and ride it to the presidency in less than a year? The answer is complex and has gotten several long books devoted to it. In brief: Although the parties were still diverse, the trend of ideological purity and partisan sorting had been accelerating rapidly in the wake of Nixon's Southern Strategy and the start of the Sixth Party System. If anything, Haig's presidency had only made the division more extreme, opening a middle ground between the two rapidly diverging parties. The taint of scandal made Perot's run that much easier.

Although the conservatism advanced by Haig had seemed untouchable for a decade, the Year of Calamity had brought all of that to a sudden and shocking end. Suddenly it was as if the floodgates had opened, with a series of whistleblower reports on the illegal foreign actions of the Haig Doctrine and the domestic crusade of subversion aimed at liberal organizations causing a nauseated wave of public outrage.

In other circumstances the Democrats might have capitalized on this sudden discontent, but the resurgence of the Unfree World and the revelation that several major ringleaders in the progressive grassroots were FBI plants cast the party adrift, dooming them to a soul-searching wander in the wilderness that would last the better part of two decades. Into the breach stepped Ross Perot.

Having used his own money to bankroll the expansion of his Reform Party, Perot would campaign on a platform of government reform (partially in response to the newly discovered abuses of the Haig years), combined with a drive for fiscal responsibility, technological advancement, and an aversion to the foreign adventurism that characterized his predecessor. In a three-way race between Secretary of State Bush in the Republican camp and Democrat Bill Clinton (derisively called "the Great Triangulator" for his attempt to adjust his platform to attract Republican and Reform voters), Perot, offering a radical change to the status quo, would successfully bolster his coalition with disaffected voters from across the political spectrum.

In the end it would be enough, and Perot would gain the White House, though his Reform Party was unable to capture the Congress. Always a party of one man, the Reform contingent was ideologically fluid enough that it could pivot from issue to issue, caucusing with whichever party they agreed with most on a given problem. Although this fluidity would allow President Perot to enact parts of his agenda, this same fluidity would be the undoing of Reform.

In future elections without Perot on the ticket, the party would pivot wildly based on whoever happened to capture the imagination of the party's ever-changing base, as seen in the drastic shift seen in the party from Perot, to Nader, and on to Buchanan. While Reform had been conceived to shatter the status quo, it was unlikely that anyone knew on that fateful November day in 1992 just what had been set into motion.
I promise despite the toxic stew of hyperpartisanship on the way there will be genuine positive reforms in the American political system. Does anyone have any thoughts or questions so far? I won't answer anything spoilery but I'd like to hear your opinions.
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The Sacred Bull: The Maastricht Treaty and the Paneuropean Community
With recent events in the aftermath of the Year or Calamity and the rise of Reform, many Europeans would consider themselves trapped in the worst of all worlds: not only were the Soviets on the surge (again!) but it was happening right as a new American administration was moving away from foreign meddling. Although much of the Continental intelligentsia had critiqued the Haig Doctrine, President Perot's marked aversion from foreign involvement, even in the short term, was the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction to many.

To the major powers of Europe, particularly UN Security Council members France and the UK, a more involved arrangement would be needed to stabilize and secure European affairs in the face of the red menace. This did come with one major problem: the question of what to do with Germany. Although France and Germany had certainly grown closer in the postwar world, there was no question that the annexation of Austria and the reclamation of Königsburg (no matter what diplomatic fictions were maintained) alarmed many of the same people up in arms against the Iron Curtain.

It was clear than any European united front would have to include Germany, both to maintain stability and to prevent an independent Germany from growing too strong to be contained. The end result of these deliberations would be the Treaty of Maastricht, signed in January of 1993 and ushering in the creation of the Paneuropean Community.

Building on several preexisting treaties between the three distinct European Communities, the Maastricht Treaty would weave together the various member nations into a tightly woven political and economic alliance, eliminating barriers to trade and movement within the alliance while creating (most alarmingly) a shared European military aimed at defending against what many at the time considered an almost inevitable invasion from the Eastern Bloc. While matters of funding and national troop quotas would be a source of debate for decades to come, the utility of the European Defense Forces and the institution's avowed avoidance of national favoritism and partisan politics would make it one of the most robust organs of the PEC.

Even at the time, many German nationalists (and what a world where they could call themselves that again!) knew their resurging nation was only being asked to the table to keep them from going out on their own. This lingering sense of discontent would surge and recede over the years, eventually driving the nation from the PEC following an especially fraught vote early in the new century. Attempts to force a second referendum are currently ongoing.
A Horse of a Different Color: Politics and Symbology in the PEC
Comparatively speaking, the PEC is a looser alliance than OTL EU, all things considered, with the multiple attempts to introduce a common currency regularly defeated. The PEC has its own flag, a blue field featuring a white bull crowned with a sun disk of stars standing over an arrangement of three arrows. Harking back to symbolism early in the century, the three arrows are meant to represent the bloc's commitment against totalitarianism in general but many consider it a targeted gesture aimed square at Germany. Norway is a member of the PEC.

Politics in the PEC is dominated by two major factions that began in the two dominant founding members. TTL references to the "Franco-British Union" is the pointed remark of choice aimed at a meddling PEC.
  • The Mountain: Originating in France, the Mountain is a coalition of the left-leaning parties of the PEC, generally favoring strong social welfare, protection for unions, and enforced laïceté on a continental level achieved through a strong federal government. Accused of being appeasers and apologists to the USSR, the Mountain is distrusted by the Levellers, and despised by the Underground. The Mountain favors a dull red color.
  • The Levellers: The second major pole of Paneuropean politics and originating in the UK, the Levellers focus much more on preserving the rights of the national governments of the PEC against centralized encroachment and favor religious pluralism in public and private life. Taking a hard line against encroachment by the USSR, the Levellers are firm supporters of the military, viewing a strong defense as the supreme guarantor of national liberties in Western Europe. The Levellers use sea green.
  • "The Underground"- A populist movement in West Germany, the Underground does not compete at the federal level on the continent, and is considered to the extreme right on the European political spectrum. Viewing the entire Paneuropean project as a shadowy path to Communist style tyranny, the Underground opposes what it views as "government overreach by a bloated corps of continentalist apparatchiks". After over twenty years of repeated calls to take Germany out of the alliance, a recent successful referendum has thrown the nation into upheaval. The Underground uses black to barely subdued alarm from outside observers.
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My ideas for this TL have come to me in fits and starts (and quite a few have been fleshed out as I write an entry for this very thread), but it's probably a damning indictment of my apathy that in my first draft of my story concept the election that was the focus would have been 2016, and the German referendum to leave the PEC would have been ambiguous. Whatever, I think the extra time to think things over really has helped me in the end, if only to figure out how many main characters should wear masks. I really would welcome any comments or concerns before I go forward though, if only to take the public pulse.
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So my rough idea for the thread going forward is to keep going with the timeline until the late 2010's or so, then skip way ahead for some encyclopedia-style updates about Cosmicism and the culture that will sprout in the deglaciated future Antarctica. I've also been kicking around ideas for a piece of in-universe fiction, but when I get around to it that'll get its own thread over in the ASB forum.
I'll shoot for an update tomorrow. Next up is the Republic of China Mark II, followed by a culture update with big ripples. I'm serious about soliciting questions in the meantime, solipsism is okay in short bursts but idk.
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Media Matters: Looking for Lemuria
In this timeline, the death of George Lucas in a 1980 car crash strangled the Star Wars franchise in its cradle, depriving the world of its influence and opening the door to decades of fan speculation about what the hypothetical series may have been. They're wide off the mark, of course, but that isn't the point of this entry. Aside from its cult popularity, the major influence of Star Wars was to lay the groundwork for one of the most iconic film franchises: it's time to talk about Indiana Jones.

Having convinced George Lucas to cast Harrison Ford as Han Solo in the role that would kickstart the actor's career, Steven Spielberg was convinced he wanted to work with Ford to honor his fallen friend. Deciding he couldn't do the Star Wars story justice, Spielberg decided (after many long conversations with Ford) to work to bring to the screen a collaborative project he had kicked around with Lucas, a homage to old adventure fiction called Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Released in 1981 and dedicated to Lucas, the film was an instant success, propelling Ford to the height of popularity and making Indiana Jones an icon of popular culture almost overnight. The film would go on to inspire several sequels (The Temple of Doom in 1984 and The Last Crusade in 1989), a prequel television series, and a popular series of novels. And that was where the matter rested. For awhile, at least.

In 1993, Paramount decided once again to utilize the character, and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Lemuria, once more starring Ford, would be released the following year, to much critical and popular success. Set in 1943 and featuring a Japanese expedition to the lost island of Lemuria, the film had been reworked from an earlier concept involving Nazis in Atlantis, the events in South Africa at the time leading to a creative decision that using Nazis as one-note villains diminished the inherent horror of their racial policies. Despite some protest in the Japanese market, the film would be avidly popular in the Republic of China, and the franchise would go on to become a staple of the "new" country's movie theaters.

By the late 90's, Ford would move on to other projects for a time, and (not willing to pass up on a proven moneymaker) Paramount would cast Dennis Quaid to film a prequel, in the vein of Temple of Doom. Although critics were divided on the new film, Indiana Jones and the Hex of the Hydra would go on to recoup its budget and even turn a modest profit. Once more featuring the Japanese (and marking the only time an antagonist would reappear in a second film), Hex would revolve around the search for a legendary dragon statue with mystical properties, with Brandon Lee serving as deuteragonist.

Although he had been praised for the role, Quaid would ultimately turn down a request to film another prequel, opening the door for Ford to reprise his role in 2008's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Industry buzz is that another film is in the works as of this writing, with popular speculation that it will continue the juxtaposition between "sequels" and "prequels". Whether there is any truth to this (or who would play the character if that were the case) remains to be seen.
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This wasn't my planned media update, but it popped into my head and seemed to fit, both to show the ramifications of recent events TTL (a shift in focus to the Japanese in installments set during World War II, an extremely unflattering portrayal of the Soviets both due to recent and future events) and to divide the legacy of an absent Star Wars. Dune basically came away with the series' space opera dominance, and Indy got the questionable prequels/sequels. In this case there are fewer of both, and Hex and Crystal Skull have the vocal support of a significant segment of the fan base.
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Special bonus points if anyone can guess the dark turn I have planned for the lunatic fringe of the Unfree World, given the couple of ominous hints I've dropped and with the understanding that the plot of Crystal Skull is largely the same 🤔
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Writing on the Wall: Cosmicist Symbolism
Although one of the most notable symbols of global Cosmicism in the modern day is the Southern Cross, this is a relatively recent addition to the movement adopted only in the wake of the Antarctic Revolutions and the foundation of the first Cosmicist commonwealth. The Cosmicist Manifesto describes only three symbols, which would be adopted as the movement grew and spread through the twenty-first century.

  • The first symbol of political Cosmicism is of course the geometric Struggle, meant to represent a stylized black hole. An interlocked enneagram, the Struggle represents several concepts at once. Most obviously it can be interpreted to represent the three partitions of the Cosmicist Manifesto, or the tripartite Volksgeist/Zeitgeist/Weltgeist model of global Cosmicist development, or on the dynamic interconnection of social and political forces in a Cosmicist society.
Daniel Sutter also frequently referred to the symbol as reinterpreting the Eye of Providence. "Like all products of human endeavor the Manifesto was a product of the world in which it was made. I looked into the future and was horrified by what I saw. And then I had my realization, and the Struggle was looking back at me, a beacon through the fog of a fallen world. And I knew the future could be better, if only we all had the will to fight for it."​
  • Political colors are nothing new, and there are certain global commonalities, although the United States, as previously mentioned, was the most glaring exception on the world stage. Cosmicism was no exception, and a political color was needed that lacked strong associations with a competing ideology. The ultimate decision would be burgundy.
The association of purple in ancient days with royalism and in the late Liberal stage of the Volksgeist with populism nicely symbolized the union of opposites that Cosmicists embraced, while the modern blend of ideological red and blue nicely left the color underutilized and a perfect "radical centrist" vehicle for Cosmicist Thought. When asked about the use of burgundy in particular, Sutter would remark that "To be a Cosmicist is to seek simultaneously to learn from the past and to reach out eagerly for the future. We are all mariners adrift in a wine-dark sea."​
  • Animal symbols for global ideologies are comparatively unusual, but given the fact that Sutter had his epiphany during the 2020 election, it is somewhat less surprising given that the five (or six or seven...) parties contesting the election all had animal symbols. The animal adopted as a perfect representation of Cosmicist Thought would be the octopus, long used, in a dose of knowing irony, in the popular consciousness for sinister, grasping, nebulous forces.
In stark contrast, the Cosmicist Manifesto drew heavily on the octopus for an entire chapter as a symbol of ideal social organization. Sutter would extoll the octopus repeatedly. "With a brain partially distributed in its limbs, the octopus, like the ideal state, is decentralized and able to better manage a body, material or civic, that under a centralized control would be unwieldly."​

In another segment he would describe octopus skin as a "a shifting, swirling kaleidoscope of color- just as every cell is capable of changing independently to serve the needs of the body as a whole, so to does each citizen of the body politic grow and change. As they explore themselves and reach for the limit of their potential, they too form a unified whole, all struggling together for a brighter world."​
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