I wonder how near the United States is to a revolution. No one ever sees revolutions coming. They just happen. It’s like spontaneous combustion. One day people are merely disgruntled and the next they are gathering in the streets. I see several ways a revolution could happen in the United States in the near future.
I have a bet with a Republican friend about the outcome of the Presidential election. He predicts that Romney will win the election and President Obama will find a legal pretense to stay in office, effectively becoming a Putin-like dictator.
Is that impossible? All it would take is for the exit polls to show Romney winning while the official vote count goes President Obama’s way. That would create a plausible-enough conspiracy theory to mobilize the well-armed segment of the population. It won’t matter if the cause of the discrepancy is that the exit polls are wrong, or perhaps only the FOX News exit polls are wrong. Half of the population will believe something fishy happened with the vote tabulation. The streets will be filled with gun-toting conservatives demanding the President’s resignation. That could happen.
Another way that President Obama could lose the election and retain power is if the country is in an unprecedented military or economic crisis at the end of this year and a leadership transition would be a mortal risk. I could see that happening if banks collapse, there’s a huge natural disaster, or a war with Iran escalates out of control. That could happen.
Another risk of revolution is that Romney gets elected and stacks the Supreme Court with conservatives who subsequently rule abortion to be unconstitutional. That would trigger a revolt the next day. That could happen.
Another path to revolution – and the one I think most likely – is that the approval rating for Congress will sink so low that confidence in the system will simply drift below the minimum level necessary for a republic to function. That could happen if the budget problems aren’t solved and our economic hole becomes bottomless. If a quarter of the population stopped filing federal income taxes out of principle, the toxic effect would make the government collapse like a fat man with clogged arteries. There wouldn’t be enough jail cells for all of the conscientious objectors. That could happen.
A straight-forward economic meltdown could bring down the government. Liberals would blame the government for spending all the money on wars while under-taxing the rich. Conservatives would blame the government for giving away all of their hard-earned money to the lazy poor. If the financial system breaks down entirely, and both Republicans and Democrats see it as the government’s fault, citizens will take to the streets. That could happen.
The most boring scenario for revolution is that the federal government becomes so bloated, useless, and constipated that it simply ceases to do anything, good or bad. No laws are passed, no judges are ratified, and no budgets are approved. Everything just stops. In that scenario the government would be committing a sort of Congress-assisted suicide. Citizens would just wake up one day and realize their government had evolved from ineffective to non-existent. That could happen.
There’s also the “spark” scenario for revolution. That happens when some high-profile injustice is in the headlines and the public starts seeing it as a symbol of the government’s larger evil. That could happen.
Given all of the risks of revolution, it would be prudent to designate an Emergency Backup Leader (EBL). If the country gets to the point where its elected leaders are deposed, ignored, or thoroughly discredited, we need a charismatic figure to step in and keep some sort of order until the system is repaired. I hereby nominate myself for EBL.
I’m under no illusion that I’d be a good leader. I’m sure you’d agree on that point. But the thing that matters most in a crisis is not so much the talent of the leader as the fact that one exists at all. The first step in reclaiming order out of chaos is to know who is in charge. If no one else volunteers for the job – which seems likely – I’m all you have.
I’m assuming that if all Hell breaks loose and the country is falling apart, there might be failures in our communications systems. The country won’t have the time or the capacity to find a more capable temporary leader than me. I’ll be the default choice simply because no one else volunteered and the country would be too fractious and disorganized to come up with someone more acceptable.
I do have a few advantages as an Emergency Backup Leader. For starters, I’m neither a liberal nor a conservative; I go where the data leads me, with a bias for what has worked in the past. I’m pro-religion, because the data says it makes people happy and healthy, but I’m not a believer, so I won’t be discriminating against your faith. One big risk in a crisis is that a crazy religious leader emerges. That wouldn’t be me.
On day one of my emergency leadership I will suspend all laws regarding drugs, prostitution, and gun ownership. I’d make it legal for anyone to operate a business without a permit. In a financial crisis the public will need to make money any way it can, and defend itself any way it needs to. Law enforcement will be busy enough without chasing the small stuff. Once the economy is restored we can have adult conversations about what needs to be regulated.
If the federal government falls apart, state governments are likely to be intact. As your future and potential EBL I pre-authorize governors in each state to ignore any federal laws and run things as if they are their own kingdoms at least until the federal government becomes functional.
I also pre-authorize the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to make his own military decisions until an elected civilian leader is back in charge. That should keep the Canadians from launching a sneak attack.
I haven’t worked out the rest of my emergency leadership plan yet, so if you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments. Assume that in a crisis situation there won’t be effective communication within the country, either for technical reasons or because there is too much “noise” in the political atmosphere. So your suggestions should be the sort where people know in advance what the drill is, the same way that occupants of a building learn where the emergency exits are before the emergency.