This is a tie-in to an earlier diary of mine titled The World in 2100
This is a synthesis of early 22nd century historians' views on the events following the Republican ending of the filibuster, the unintended consequence of the Congressional slowdown, the rise of a tractable court that supports rule by executive decree, and the impasse that occurs when the elective monarchy the Pubs built for themselves falls into Democratic hands.
In this universe, the country threads the minefield and finds its true path -- by resolving to find a new path together, by holding a Second Constitutional Convention, and renewing, both as individuals and as factions, the commitment to be one nation...contentious curmudgeons, all, but one nation, under one flag, bound by one law, honoring no faith over all others, save perhaps for good faith.
A century ago, a coalition between internationalist corporate interests and ultranationalist religious sects dominated politics in the United States of America, the sole global power at that time.
In retrospect, much of what made the rise of this alliance possible was the preponderance of power enjoyed by the Americans over the rest of the planet, and the gathering perception in conservative circles that not only commercial but national security interests were advanced by mating promotion of U.S. business overseas with missionary work, a motif first articulated in the 1930s by writer Olaf Stapledon in The Last and First Men.
The percussion of the September 11, 2001 attack on New York and Washington by Al-Qaida introduced a third participant in this coalition -- the American military, which was given wide latitude to make war and otherwise punish enemies of the United States abroad. In fact, the brief was so generous that by the late 2000s, only 1 out of every 10 combat arms soldier was stationed in the Continental United States.
This created a domestic security vaccuum that was filled by a combination of law enforcement, intelligence, partisan, sectarian and what can only be called mercenary organizations. While none were remotely capable of challenging the duly-constituted and constitutional armed forces of the United States, with the incessant war commitments overseas and volunteerism for armed service almost nonexistent.
Despite the acrimony between the Republicans and the Democrats of the early 21st century, and the high level of distress placed on procedures, conventions and customs (see: Frist's Filibuster Fight), neither party was in a hurry to flout rule of law, at least not in a fashion that harmed the country in the long run.
Still, many Early Republic historians argue that this is because (a) the Democrats, being out of power, lacked the means to abuse it, and (b) the Republicans, as dominant as they were, had an easier time writing new rules and phasing out inconvenient statute and procedures -- and quashing investigation of abuses, where any such incidents occurred.
However, flouting of statute, procedural conventions, cultural norms, and judicial rulings became prevalent starting in 2005, and as the leadership of the United States did, so the rest of the country followed, as what was once just hothead radio talk became words with will and action behind them.
It was in this context that the security situation on the home front became increasingly questionable, and the prospect of a partisan or sectarian-based civil conflict, with one boot in the halls of power and the other in the streets, became very real, indeed.
The greatest test to the Early Republic, and the ultimate cause of its demise, was combination of simple majority approval of presidential appointments, a profound abrogation of institutional power from the Senate to the Presidency, and the subsequent breakdown in the ability of Congress to promulgate any legislation whatsoever.
The result was a period whereby the country was effectively run without an elected legislature by executive decree, with its pronouncements upheld by an increasingly tractable Federal bench.
Historians of our time call this time of unchallenged presidential authority the Directory. At no point were elections suspended, nor were rights of any group given special curtailment or privileges...save by how the tractable judiciary interpreted such rights and privileges.
The Republicans would retain control of this apparatus for a sufficient number of years to not only fill vacancies in the judiciary but force sitting judges into early retirement when possible, and de-fund lower courts while grandfathering the salaries and greatly reducing (to zero) the caseload of justices seen as ideologically incompatible.
Not a dozen but hundreds of judges were forced through in this fashion. Despite the end of the filibuster, due to the paralysis of Congress, most such positions were filled by executive writ, and recognized by friendly judges already in place.
Public reaction to rule by de facto decree was strongly polarized; by 2006, there were no weak sentiments, either for or against then-President George W. Bush. Furthermore, with such a strong hand on the courts, curtailment of criticism, both from within the govermment and from external media sources was not only tempting, but possible.
A halfhearted attempt was made to use the charge of ethics violations to demonize the minority-party Democrats as the villains in the effective end of checks and balances...until it was perceived that having the Democrats around being obstructive was in fact making the Bush Administration even more powerful than would be the case otherwise.
The real constitutional crisis came in 2009, when President Clark assumed office opposite a Republican Senate, and immediately began to use Bush-era judicial appointment doctrine to purge the bench of extremists, many of whom would never have passed a conventional board.
After eight years of deference to the Oval Office, the Republican Senate suddenly became very protective of its privileges against 'executive encroachment', though sufficient numbers of Democrats were in Congress to prevent GOP attempts to override a Clark veto, and rein in rights they so freely granted to the former President, who along with many of his Cabinet were being investigated by a Judiciary that was easily converted from the business of holding a Presidency above the law to holding a former Presidency accountable to its own laws.
The GOP Senate in late 2009 insisted on its privilege to advise and consent to Clark judicial appointees; Clark insisted on remedying the egregious and extra-constitutional abuse of partisan patronage conducted by the former administration -- by using machinery ceded to its by the same Republican Senators who now wanted to dismantle their old project.
At this point in time, the GOP House of Representatives weighed in, saying that 'such Presidential arrogance' could not be abided, and that it would table indefinitely any budget for 'Clark's illegal, radical activist kangaroo courts'.
Simultaneously, several of the more populous states, California among them, had suffered under caprice of GOP partisan-packed courts, and other states, Texas among them, feared a sudden shift to Dem-packed courts. Calls were made at the state level to devove the hearing of a wider range of cases and making interpretation of constitutional law into a matter for the states.
What the Republicans were acutely aware of was that at some point in the 2010s, there was a strong chance of the Democrats taking back not just the Senate but both houses of Congress, at which point all of the powers aggrandized under the Bush Presidency would reside firmly in Democratic hands.
Further, the Democrats under Clark were already showing that their episode in the political wilderness had made them into a much more formidable adversary than the Republicans had feared, and were not going to be in a mood to deconstruct 'The White House that George Built' until they had the opportunity to try it out for a while.
Suddenly, whose ox was getting gored was very important, indeed. Moderates in both parties advised reconciliation; Clark and most Americans who had voted for him were for two things (1) bringing more focus -- and success -- to U.S. foreign policy, and (2) making the Presidency accountable to the American people, starting with the previous administration.
Spontaneous fights were breaking out between armed partisans; a shadow feud was brewing in the backways of the national security community; sale of light arms, as well as arms smuggling within the United States, was soaring; preparations were underway in many corners of the country for heavier fighting. Dems feared a Republican-instigated military coup to evade investigations against former Bush administration officials including the (among the Red states) still-revered President Bush. Pubs feared 'the Clark junta'; a widespread persecution of Republicans and rollback of what they thought of as 'the values society', though transparency, integrity, honor and accountability of elected and appointed officials were not on their list.
The situation was spiraling out of control. Two centuries of political culture, were falling apart, bent backward and forward like a thin section of strong metal, until it had snapped.
Someone remarked idly, "It'd be a pity if we had to go through another Revolution, if we're headed for a new Constitutional Convention, anyway."
It would turn out to be just what the Early Republic needed -- an easy and dignified way to declare victory, and pass the baton to the newer, less process-minded, more positive basic document that has been the Constitution for the past eighty-seven years.
The only choice was to convene a Second Continental Congress, the Second Convention, to review and amend the basic law of the land, for too much damage had been done to both the substance and custom of the prior document.
In this the year 2100, there are dozens of interactive VR scenarios portraying in chilling detail the breakdown of rule of law, civility and humanity in the a 2010s United States that had not seen fit to enter the Great Reconciliation, the series of conventions and bipartisan conferences, the first realtime participation of significant millions of citizens of a society in the debate, assessment and drafting of a newer, nobler constitution.
Chauncy Gardener, a singular wit from the late 20th century, once posited that there is a season for all things, that some plants must wither and die, and make room so that other things may grow strong.
The scenarios suggest that lacking an episode such as the Reconciliation, the United States would have ended in devastation, a Rwanda-style failed state on a massive scale, enabled by widely-available weapons -- including weapons of mass destruction. The violence would have continued for decades, and globe-spanning ecological ruination would have persisted for millennia.
Much would have withered indeed, Chauncy, and scarce little would have grown, in the absence of a good gardener.
As it turned out, in the real universe the good gardeners came along, and took care of the weeds - -- a whole nation of them, in fact.