Divvying Up

So, I have this idea. It’s probably a bad one. And it’s entirely possible that its outcome would be one I find undesirable in the extreme. But I keep going back to it and wondering what if….

What if the Republicans nominate Cruz, and Trump sulks off in a huff to run as an independent candidate? And then, what if the Democrats nominate Clinton, and Sanders also does a flounce? It seems to me that this could very well deal the death blow to the two-party system that has had a stranglehold on our elections for…I don’t know…ever? But then I start to wonder if that would actually signal the imminent death of the United States of America.

I should point out here that this is not intended as a political post. I am not a political expert, and while I am not afraid to tell you that I identify as a Berniecrat (and am pretty much done with the DNC), I have no interest in discussing politics per se, not even my own, not even with people who agree with me. So any comments to that effect will be summarily deleted.

No, this topic interests me as a writer (and reader) of alternate history. I’m constantly mucking about with the 19th century, trying to figure out things like what 1858 would be like if I were to go back and tromp on the butterfly that is the Missouri Compromise. So now I’m playing future historian, and I’ve decided that the USA might be more interesting as a squashed bug circa 2016. “Interesting” in the Chinese-curse sense of the word. I sure as hell don’t want to live in this reality I’m summoning.

But no, really, what would we get in November if we had four candidates of similar robustness on the ballot? With only three such candidates, the side with the split voting base would lose by a landslide to the party that remained unified. (That’s why I think the DNC is not properly appreciative of Bernie’s decision to run as a Dem.) But with two strong candidates on each side, I think the American voters might finally run the risk of voting their hearts. Sure, their party might be split as a result, but so’s the other one. And those who don’t like any of the Big Four will be less apprehensive about voting for their long-shot candidates. I’ve often voted against a candidate instead of for one, but when you’re trying to vote against two or more candidates by choosing the least evil of four, it seems far more like throwing away a vote than just voting for the candidate you really want.

So now the question is what happens when Americans vote honestly? The Republicans and Democrats will both lose more supporters than usual to those long-shot and fringe candidates, whose respective parties may then actually find themselves being taken seriously on a decent scale. And those of us who feel strongly about Trump or Sanders will be delighted that our independent votes could make a real difference for the first time in pretty much ever. ::pausing briefly to consider and dismiss Ross Perot:: This election cycle has also shown that pollsters are essentially clueless, so what we would have in November is one hell of a crap-shoot.

Clinton would probably be our nation’s most stable option. Though that really isn’t saying much. She’d be all about maintaining the status quo, but say it with me, kids, “The status is not quo!” She might slow our descent into the freakshow of history, but not by a whole lot. I (obviously) like Sanders, but I’m not sure how much actual success I would expect him to have, at least in the crucial first stages. I mean, he already has both parties cock-blocking him.

Trump bothers me — don’t get me wrong, he bothers me a lot — but he strikes me as being far too lazy to actually do any of the stupid bullshit he shouts about. (Speaking of which, does any of these candidates have an inside voice??) I think Trump would spend a few weeks being all smug that he won, then he’d figure some way to wriggle out of the whole deal. So now I have to figure out who his running mate is if I want to predict the future. Damn, ain’t nobody got time for that. And Cruz? Well, if you’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale, you have a pretty good idea what he’s shooting for.

So my point, ultimately, is this: What if Lincoln was wrong? As a nation, we’ve been teetering on this divisive edge for well over a century, much like a couple who stay in a shitty marriage “for the kids’ sake.” Well, our spoiled brats (the DNC and the GOP) are now snotty teenagers with their very own hellspawn, so maybe the Union has outlived its dubious usefulness and it’s time to call it quits. But yeah, this is going to be one insanely messy divorce.

Fortunately, dismantling and reassembling history is my idea of fun. I’ve never tried it with future history, but this could be entertaining. Want to comment? Tell me how you think the Americans of this particular 2017 will carve up the nation, its assets, and its liabilities.

Fieldwork Prep

Well, it seems that the Internet only gets you so far in world-building research. Even when you’re making history up as you go along, like I am. Because writing an alternate timeline still requires some common ground with the timeline we inhabit, so readers can have some sort of frame of reference. My current steampunk project may be set in an 1859 that has differed wildly from our history ever since Jefferson failed to get full funding for the Louisiana Purchase, but everything is still colored and flavored by the history preceding that point of divergence. And without a certain degree of commonality even after that point, the reader has no sense of continuity, nothing to connect my alternate 1859 with a possible 2012 that is not completely unrecognizable. (It would be way cooler than our 2012, though, rest assured.)

So, I need to learn my history. And that, my friends, means research. And lots of it. Yay, Internet! But like I said, there’s only so much you can get online. I have chosen to set my story in a real place, and I am finding that it makes my job easier and harder at the same time. Arrow Rock is a real town in the Missouri River Valley, and it has a great deal of history to it. So much, in fact, that much of it has been restored to its frontier appearance, and it even served as a stand-in for the too-modern Hannibal, Missouri, in a musical version of Tom Sawyer. Finding the history of Arrow Rock in books and online is a cinch. But as I flesh out the details of the story, I find myself perplexed to discover that the facts I need are not recorded anywhere. Because I need to know really oddball things. How long does it take a woman in steampunk attire to walk the length of the boardwalk? Or from the post office to the tavern? And how much steam-powered equipment could Godsey fit in his Diggings? 

So, into the field I go! I will get but a few hours next month to explore the village, so I am furiously scribbling down all the bits of trivia I need to scavenge while I’m there. And I’m debating the wisdom of dressing in full steampunk attire while I wander about, pacing off distances and muttering to myself. Maybe I should go ahead and get that MWA membership card. I’m told it excuses (or at least explains) all sorts of odd behavior.