Literature: Fear, Loathing and Gumbo on the Campaign Trail '72
An Alternate History
timeline written by user "Drew" on the site AlternateHistory.com
. The title is obviously a reference to the famous Hunter S. Thompson
work Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72
, and concerns the same events... with a twist. It can be read here
In Real Life
("Our Timeline", OTL) the 1972 American presidential election pitted incumbent Republican Richard Nixon against Democrat George McGovern. McGovern was the candidate of the radical anti-Vietnam war far left, and at a time when Nixon's policies seemed to be turning the Vietnam situation around, he failed to woo moderates and the result was a landslide for Nixon. Then came Watergate and everything that ensued with that. But, what if...?
In Fear, Loathing and Gumbo
John Julian McKeithen, a former governor of Louisiana, decides to stand for the Democratic nomination. He's a more moderate figure than McGovern and can appeal to a wider audience, and crucially also comes from a political background that has acquainted him quite as much with dirty tricks as Nixon. He wins the candidacy.
Now it's worth pointing out that there are a lot of timelines out there in which that would be that: McKeithen, the Mary Sue
alternative candidate, would trounce Nixon and then proceed to have an Alternate History Wank
presidency in which all the mistakes that happened in OTL are avoided.Fear, Loathing and Gumbo
is not like that.
The full story will not be given here due to the timeline turning on shocking twists, but thanks to McGovern refusing to step down and standing as a "Peace" candidate, as well as George Wallace staying in the race, the result is that no one wins the Electoral College vote. And then it gets worse. And worse. And worse
... The story ends in 1981, followed by a Sequel Series
called Rumsfeldia: Fear and Loathing in the Decade of Tearsnote
, bringing the woes to The Eighties
. And it very
much lives up to its title. It can be read here
Be wary of spoilers below as the timeline contains some shocking twists.
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: South Africa under the dictatorship of General Malan is rapidly sliding into this, practically becoming The Draka. Not only is it using weapons of mass destruction, up to and including dirty bombs, against its enemies in the rest of southern Africa, but under the influence of Afrikaner nationalists like Eugene Terre'Blanche, it's starting to discriminate against non-Afrikaner whites (particularly the Rhodesian refugees) on top of the existing apartheid system. It's been stated, in updates written from the perspective of the future, that they will break out the nukes before it's all over.
- President Rumsfeld. If there was any doubt, by the late 1980's he's started organizing "Liberty Battalions", which are basically an American SS/SA - up to staging book burnings of "anti-American"/"anti-free market" material.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Spiro Agnew is fond of using this, most commonly describing his political enemies as "the nattering nabobs of negativity".
- Mind you, Agnew was famous for doing this in Real Life as well.
- Allohistorical Allusion: A fair few.
- Artistic License – Economics: It must be addressed, unfortunately. The Rumsfeld administration quite literally slashes wages in half across the board. Yes, really. (The Hand Wave is that the missing 1/2 is put into "investment certificates", but still.) Somehow the United States doesn't instantly collapse into a depression after half of its citizenry's purchasing power goes up in smoke.
- Balkanize Me: Happens to mainland China after the fall of the Lesser Mao. It's also implied that this will happen to India sometime before 2000, but the timeline has not reached that point yet.
- In 1985 California has decided to secede in response to Rumsfeld's tyranny, to which a furious Cheney is advocating a Cuban style blockade coupled with a Berlin style wall. This. Will not. End well.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: A large theme of the timeline is the fall of the two-party system in the US, desired by many people in real life, which causes almost all of the timeline's suffering in one way or another. Also, Word of God specifically invokes this in regards to the hinted military coup being planned against Rumsfeld.
- The Big Rotten Apple: Thanks to the worse economy, New York City goes bankrupt in 1975 and has its finances taken over by the federal government, on top of all the other problems that it faced in The Seventies.
- And as of the Sequel Series, it has Spiro Agnew as its mayor. Sleep tight, New York.
- Chekhov's Gun: Briefly mentioned in the timeline and recently brought up in the discussion was a piece of legislation introduced with the intent to criminalise homosexuality. The author has suggested that it might be important in the future.
- The killer of Kelsey Grammer's sister is killed in a police shoot-out, instead of being arrested and brought to trial. In frustration at justice denied, Grammer abandons acting and studies law, eventually becoming a junior District Attorney. Considering that, in the U.S. at least, the DA's office is often a first step to higher political office...
- Coca-Pepsi, Inc.: Marvel Comics, having gone bankrupt at the end of The Seventies, has been bought by DC Comics and the two are to merge their universes. Also an example of For Want of a Nail, as in OTL Marvel was kept afloat by its Star Wars comics—in Gumbo, Star Wars only exists as an obscure animated film, and though Marvel still produces comics based on it, they're not popular enough to save it.
- Crapsack World: This timeline just gets bleaker and bleaker every update, and scarce few parts of the world are in decent shape as it is, but here are a few of the most badly hit countries.
- China is the worst hit, with the Lesser Mao turning the country into a giant Pol Pot style killing field in the worst mass murder in history, including launching nuclear attacks on his own people. Since then it has crumbled into utter anarchy with no sign of recovery.
- South Africa under Apartheid is a fully fledged Neo Nazi state in all but name, and wields an arsenal of WMDs including dirty bombs which it hurls at it's neighbours with wild abandon and is fully protected by President Rumsfeld as a "bastion of freedom" due to the increasing insanity of his anti-communist paranoia.
- Britain is even worse hit by The Troubles with many more deaths, including the assassination of Queen Elizabeth, and while it momentarily dies down it flares up even worse in the 80s due to a new "Loyalist" terrorist group launching attacks on the British mainland to punish any attempt to end the bloodshed and again this is directly aided by Rumsfeld in order to "punish" Britain for voting in a Labour Government.
- America is getting dragged further and further towards fully fledged authoritarian police state under Rumsfeld, complete with the murder and internment of any and all critics, mass production of propaganda movies to smear the president's enemies, and all kinds of far right and christian fundamentalist fanatics employed and positions adopted by the administration. All while it's economy steadily falls apart. Rumsfeld and Cheney even privately admit they plan to remove each constitutional right save the right to bear arms (in order to keep the right wing happy).
- Ironically the only country which seems to be improving is the Soviet Union which is steadily adopting Real-world China style reforms and is drawing Western Europe into it's orbit with ease given the increasingly psychotic and vindictive Rumsfeld. While it is still an authoritarian regime, it does seem to have a good chance of emerging from the 80s as a freer and more prosperous country than America does.
- Deadpan Snarker: George Wallace.
- Word of God states that the Sequel Series is meant to be this to American conservatives' hero-worship of Ronald Reagan, by having a President in The Eighties with policies more reminiscent of modern-day Tea Party conservatives than those that Reagan actually professed and pushed while in office.
- Some commenters have suggested that the entire saga is meant to be a Deconstruction of the common notion that having stronger third parties would be a palliative to some of America's problems. Here, more third parties end up making those problems even worse.
- Divided States of America: Incoming as of the April 13th update, with California passing an instrument of secession, complete with Declaration of Independence-style condemnations of Rumsfeldia's crimes. All that remains is a referendum.
- Dystopia Is Hard:
- The main reason why the Lesser Mao's China and his rule fall apart in less than one decade.
- President Rumsfeld managed to send the recovering American economy into total freefall through his oppressive and ideological policies in only a few years. His crazed anarcho-capitalist plan to try to salvage the situation by destroying all social services and most government agencies is guaranteed to make the situation worse.
- Dystopian Edict: The Lesser Mao bans literacy at one point.
- Enemy Mine: Despite continuing Cold War brinksmanship, the USA and the Soviet Union join forces to defeat the Bayanouni Islamist regime in Syria, and later collaborate on a nuclear attack on the Lesser Mao's own nuclear programme.
- North and South Vietnam team up to resist the Lesser Mao's China.
- In a lesser example, both the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies are united in protest against the abortive coup against the elected Communist-led government in Italy, albeit for different reasons.
- Everyone Has Standards: Many right wingers from Nixon to Reagan to Tom Clancy are utterly disgusted and horrified by Rumsfeld's America.
- Scarily enough, despite almost being a Card-Carrying Villain far past the Moral Event Horizon, even President Rumsfeld is creeped out by the far right christian fanatic he has employed in his administration Tim Lahaye, the author of the Left Behind series.
- Premier Nikolai Ryzhkov is, despite his own authoritarian positions, deeply disturbed by the madness of Donald Rumsfeld, especially when he informs Ryzhkov in so many words that he knows the USSR kidnapped Richard Nixon, and that he sees it acceptable for them to execute a former US President if they want to, because it will help Rumsfeld garner domestic political support in the wake of his death. Ryzhkov, who was ignorant of and afterwards opposed to the kidnapping for obvious reasons, sees this as beyond the pale and has Nixon released unharmed.
- Evil Chancellor: Dick Cheney is definitely this, at least initially. Eventually, though, even he begins to suspect that President Rumsfeld's plan for America is insane.
- Genre Savvy: Rumsfeld tried to "disappear" Jimmy Carter by having him deemed mentally unfit on account of a "severe nervous breakdown" and dragged away to a Bedlam House. Carter saw it coming, though, and kept the Chief of Psychiatry from a top Atlanta hospital by his side so that, when the "men in white" came to take him away, the good doctor would give him a clean bill of mental health and tell them off.
- The Great Politics Mess-Up: Inverted. It's looking increasingly likely that the Soviet Union is going to survive and reform its system, with some posters speculating that it might very well win the Cold War — or at least, pull ahead of the US in global influence. Already, it's pulling Western Europe into its economic orbit (and making scads of cash) by selling them natural gas and petroleum at cut-rate prices, and it's engaging in a form of "MBA communism" reminiscent of Deng Xiaoping's reforms of OTL's China, cutting back excessive military spending, allowing more free enterprise and trade, and requiring more accountability from state-owned businesses. Meanwhile, the US under Rumsfeld is starting to experience much the same economic, domestic, and military pressures that ultimately did in OTL's USSR, with foreign adventurism and various wonder weapons bloating the defense budget, an aggressive ideological pursuit of the free market at all costs doing severe structural damage to the economy and standards of living, and the two-party system under increasing strain from both sides.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: President Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are way, way worse than their OTL counterparts.
- Hope Spot:
- After months of wrangling, Nixon decides to withdraw for the good of the country and allow McKeithen to become President. Then McKeithen dies in a plane crash.
- Also, ironically through President Agnew blundering back into the Vietnam War and President Gavin being forced to send more troops to shore up their position, the US has more or less won the war, albeit at a bloody cost. Unfortunately, this leaves the US with the exact opposite of the anti-war "Vietnam syndrome" that afflicted it in The Eighties; instead, it gets a bad case of victory disease that sees it stumbling into conflicts in Syria, Cyprus, China, West Africa, South Africa, Greece...
- One good thing that has come out of the political chaos is a limit on campaign funding and advertising, which will at least prevent some of the excesses that American politics has reached today in OTL.
- A retroactive one in the form of the modern day political retrospectives, which all but confirm the partial recovery of China and India's successor states and the fall of Rumsfeldia, with only Newt Gingrich's having any sympathy for what Rumsfeld and Cheney did. The rub is that back in the active flow of the timeline, things just keep getting worse, and worse, and worse, to the point that these eventual victories may be rendered impotent by unaddressed context.
- I Am the Noun: The Iranian Shah, in a closed discussion with President Wallace, declares "I am Iran!" when the latter says he has to go.
- Iron Lady:
- Rhodesian Prime Minister Ina Bursey, who turns the Rhodesian Bush War into a much larger conflict embroiling the entire southern cone of Africa. She gets called "the Iron Bottomed Lady" for her intransigence.
- The Trope Namer herself sees her political career shot after her reaction to an IRA attempt on her life accidentally gets a mother and her child killed.
- Knight Templar: The "Democrat Killer". Claims that his actions are guided by God. Eventually shoots and injures the Democratic nominee for Vice-President in 1976 and turns out to be Mark David Chapman.
- Mega Corp.: TRW, while a far milder and more realistic example than most examples of this trope, is becoming something like a Mega Corp., and one closely affiliated with the Rumsfeld Administration at that.
- Not So Different: Ron Dellums wonders about this in regards to George Wallace.
- Nuclear Weapons Taboo: Officially broken as of the Kwangzi incident, in which the Lesser Mao nuked his own troops in order to put down a mutiny. (The fact that this doesn't even come close to the Lesser Mao's Moral Event Horizon speaks volumes about his rule over China.) This leads the US, in an effort to take down the Lesser Mao, to nuke the Chinese atomic research facility at Lop Nur with the Soviets' blessing. It's also been stated that South Africa will eventually resort to nuclear weapons in order to stave off collapse (they're already using dirty bombs and other WMDs), and that Japan and Taiwan are working on a joint nuclear weapons project out of fear of China. (It's top secret, of course; many Japanese still remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki.)
- Oppressive States of America: The US fell into this rapidly under Rumsfeld, with rampant abuses of Presidential authority used to crush dissent by manipulating the media and murdering (James Gavin) or kidnapping/"disappearing" (George Carlin, Barry Goldwater, Roger Ebert) people who dissent against Rumsfeld. In addition, censorship is ramped up dramatically, and Penthouse and the nascent civilian Internet are shut down in the name of "national security."
- Our Presidents Are Different: President Agnew is an alloy of President Jerkass and President Lunatic. President Gavin is closest to President Personable, while President Wallace is a President Schemer.
- Out-Gambitted: Happens to President Wallace in Iran, as a result of his failed attempt to examine Iranian politics under the Shah through the lens of his background in Southern Dixiecrat politics.
- Private Military Contractors: President Rumsfeld's free-market rhetoric goes so far as a desire to privatize the US military and replace it with these.
- Red Scare: President Agnew's policies are predicated on the idea that the world still works like it did in the McCarthyite 1950s.
- President Rumsfeld's foreign policy operates on the same principle, except much more extreme, so far as to consider democratically elected leftist governments such as Francois Mitterrand's Socialists in France and Enrico Berlinguer's Communists in Italy as fellow travelers of Moscow. In fact, it's so extreme that Western Europe by 1984 has broken from NATO entirely and created a third bloc, loosely affiliated with the Eastern bloc.
- Ripped from the Headlines: People and things that have recently appeared in the news often get to make appearances in the timeline. Weirdly, this also sometimes happens in reverse: Drew was writing about civil wars in Syria and Mali over a year before suspiciously similar wars actually broke out in Real Life.
- Serial Killer: One stalks Washington, DC and targets Democratic politicians.
- Shown Their Work: Drew did his research on this timeline, and it shows. Big time.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Given by George Wallace, of all people, to Spiro Agnew on the latter's show. Arguably, a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- Take a Third Option:
- Some British voters in 1977 are disgusted with the Edward Heath government's catalogue of catastrophe but are unconvinced about Denis Healey's Labour Party. The result is that the Liberal Party has a massive surge from just nine seats to over fifty. Later on, the more left-wing members of Labour resign from the party to protest the UK's complicity in the nuking of Lop Nor, forming True Labour (later renamed to the Social Democratic Party).
- For similar reasons, third parties such as the Socialist Workers Party, the African-American Freedom Party (Black Nationalism ala Malcolm X), the Libertarians, the Christian Values movement (the Religious Right without the association with Reaganomics), and We The People (the New Left as its own political party, broken off from the increasingly Dixiecrat-dominated Democrats) become increasingly important in the American political landscape. Rumsfeld and Cheney exploit this to win the 1984 election.
- One of the modern retrospectives suggests that We The People eventually ceases to be a third option, graduating to major party status after the fall of Rumsfeldia.
- Talk Show: Spiro Agnew gets one after his impeachment. Gets high ratings even though he seems to spend most of the time ranting about "the ludicrous liberals". Compared on the boards to Glenn Beck without a capacity for Self-Deprecation.
- The Troubles: Worse than our timeline, not helped by the re-election of Edward Heath's Conservative government in 1974 and him putting a hardliner in charge of counter-terrorism — Margaret Thatcher.
- Then the you-know-what hit the fan when one of the splinter groups killed Queen Elizabeth II.
- They subsided for a few years, but by the mid-80s are picking up again with a Loyalist bombing that has killed Prime Minister James Callaghan.
- The Vietnam War: Drags on for longer with no American pullout. However, though even more bloody and devastating, it ends with South Vietnam's independence preserved.
- Wham Episode: When the Lesser Mao nukes his own rebelling troops, and then Wallace nukes with the consent of the USSR his main nuclear facility in response.
- As of the April 13 update "Let's all go to the cinema," California has seceded from the Union.
- What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs?: In-universe variation. The Ayatollah Khomeini has LSD slipped into his food, causing him to give sermons which generate this effect.
- Who Shot JFK?: Chicago gangster Sam Giancana survives the attempt on his life in 1975 (which killed him in Real Life) and writes a tell-all book with journalist Dan Moldea, in which he dishes on (among other things) the subject of the JFK assassination. As it turns out, Oswald was just a lone nut. A conspiracy between The Mafia and anti-Castro Cuban exiles tried three times to kill him, but all of them failed, and Oswald's attempt, which ultimately did get him, had nothing to do with their conspiracy. However, Giancana does speculate that another conspiracy wanted JFK dead, and that they had deliberately foiled the Mafia's efforts in order to kill him themselves. He also says that the Mafia wanted to kill Bobby Kennedy as well, but Sirhan Sirhan beat them to it.
- Young Future Famous People: Constantly. For example...
- George W. Bush is a fighter pilot held in a North Vietnamese prison camp (having been unable to avoid the draft) and has, since his release following the end of the Vietnam War, become an actor; his brother Jeb followed him into the Air Force.
- At the same time, Al Gore is an embedded journalist in Syria who is captured by the regime there and held in similar circumstances.
- Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham serve as interns in one of the legal cases surrounding the disputed 1972 election, and Clinton is later posted as a legal officer in the army to Syria. His experiences there encourage him to run (successfully) for Congress... as a Republican. He eventually tries to mount a challenge to Rumsfeld in the '84 Republican primaries, until Rumsfeld goes after him and he is forced to forced to go underground.
- David Petraeus is a lieutenant who leads a stand against Syrian insurgents, which ends up killing Private Walter B. Willis.
- Barack Obama has not featured in person, but he is the author of some of the books quoted in the timeline and is apparently a history professor, as is Newt Gingrich, whose own works obviously offer the opposing slant on certain topics.
- Dan Quayle is an NCO in Vietnam who earns commendations as a war hero and subsequently becomes the face of a campaign highlighting the poor treatment of soldiers and veterans.
- Kelsey Grammer enters politics instead of acting, becoming a junior District Attorney.
- Vladimir Putin is present as the political student of Premier Suslov during his time as an officer, and is the one to council and release Richard Nixon from captivity later on.
- Sarah Palin is apparently involved in a coup against Rumsfeld.