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Literature / The Ruins of an American Party System

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The Ruins of an American Party System is an AlternateHistory.com timeline by user Emperor Julian.

The timeline starts with Woodrow Wilson deciding to run for a third term in 1920. Wilson's decision leads to the breakdown of the Democratic Party, followed by a series of rape scandals involving the KKK that severely weaken it, and ultimately leads to a much bloodier and nastier 1920s. And that is before the Great Depression. Suffice it to say that American politics will never be the same again.

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The full timeline will not be described, due to many twists. The first part, having been completed, can be read here. The second part, which is also complete, is here. Part three, which is an ongoing project, can be found here.

Part three eventually ground to a halt due to the author having trouble keeping up the pace on the complex storyline. Instead, the timeline is being continued through a faux-documentary style set up, the first "episode" of which can be found here.

Beware of spoilers below.


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The Ruins of an American Tropes' system:

  • The Ace: President Floyd Olson is definitely this. He successfully leads the Progressive Party to victory and forms a coalition of center-left and left-wing parties that, in a matter of years, salvaged the American economy, restores law and order, and implements a liberal program that went beyond what the New Deal and Great Society ever accomplished. note .
  • Adaptational Heroism: Roy Cohn who here is a Radical Progressive, former Mayor of New York City and seeminly openly gay.
  • The Alliance:
    • The Anti-Communist Alliance, a coalition of fascist states in Europe and South America dedicated to stopping the spread of communism (and spreading their own power).
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    • The Alliance of American States, the US-led coalition that fights the South American ACA states during the Great South American War. Post-war, they form the League of American Republics as a long-term plan.
    • The US, Britain, France, and China work together to defeat Japan in the Great Pacific War.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Nazis do exist in this TL, but they never rise to power. Subverted with the pseudo-fascist restorationist absolute monarchy that won the German Civil War.
  • Artistic License – Economics: President Andrew Mellon goes full steam ahead with this. Suffice to say it doesn't work.
  • Base-Breaking Character: In-Universe, Huey Long. A documentary piece set decades after his death show how the country either remembers him as a white supremacist and tyrant, or a champion of civil rights and the common man.
  • Big Bad:
    • Huey Long is almost certainly one of these. As Floyd Olson's Attorney General, he arranged the extrajudicial killings of many of Olson's rivals. He uses his influence to extend a massively corrupt political machine throughout the South, and consistently works to obstruct civil rights legislation. By part 3, however, Reality Ensues, and a lot of his power base is eroded by other political factions and his own ailments.
    • The Agent Nixon storyline has "the Prophet" (aka George Van Horn Moseley), the leader of the revived Silver Legion, behind numerous domestic terrorist attack on US government holdings. And manipulating the Germans and Soviets into war.
  • Blackmail: Huey Long maintains the bulk of his power base with a massive amount of this. When he's recovering from the attempt on his life, LaGuardia has his home raided and all his material stolen, severely weakening Long.
  • Blood on the Debate Floor: A fight breaks out in the Senate between Huey Long and Glen Taylor at one point.
  • Chummy Commies: The general policy of the ruling Soviet Troika. When the Red Army invades Fascist Italy, Grand Marshal Tukhachevsky gives explicit orders that historic buildings to be respected, as to not offend the sensibilities of Catholics everywhere.
  • Civil War:
    • A three-way in Germany in the 20s, between the Nazis, Communists, and more centrist authoritarian main government. The latter eventually wins.
    • During the partial decolonization of Africa following the Second Great European War, civil wars break out in Libya and Ethiopia between their pre-war royal governments and very strong Soviet-backed Communist movements.
    • After Gandhi's assassination, tensions in India boil over, leading to open conflict between the British and their loyalists, Hindu and Muslim nationalists, and Communist revolutionaries.
  • Crapsack World: Both played straight and subverted. While the early portions of the timeline has dystopian elementsnote , ultimately the Great Recovery Coalition manages to restore law and order to the United States.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: This is the fate of the Anti-Communist Alliance when it goes to war with the Soviet Union.
  • Deal with the Devil: Fiorello LaGuardia strikes this with Hiram Johnson by cutting most Federal funding for California's socialist experiment under Upton Sinclair (eventually leading to the collapse of the Great Recovery Coalition) in order to secure Johnson's support for a universal healthcare bill, thereby passing the bill and granting Americans universal healthcare.
  • Democracy Is Bad: Gloriously subverted. Most of TTL's problems were caused by external factors and single, power-hungry individuals. On the other hand, the Great Recovery Coalition composed of center-left and left-wing parties successfuly managed to salvage the collapsing American economy and restore both social and political stability. By the early 1940s, the United States has completely recovered.
    • Played straight in the 1940s. Not only is President Robert Taft incapable of pushing his anti-union agenda foward, but the 1946 midterm election for the House of Representatives ends with both the Progressives and the Republicans winning a majoritynote , with large amounts of seats going to the Americans, Socialists, Communists, People's Coaltion and the Commonwealth remnant.
  • Destroy the Evidence:
    • As the government prepares to transition from a Progressive government to a Republican one, the State Department burns all files that serve as evidence of the illegal support being given to the Soviets and other left-wing militants around the world.
    • When the government starts cracking down on Huey Long and other Commonwealth Party hardliners, Gerald L. K. Smith takes pains to eliminate all proof of financial ties between himself and Long's less than legal acts. In the rush to do this, however, he fails to properly dispose of evidence connecting him to a white supremacist terror group.
  • Different States of America: Alaska is deemed too sparsely inhabited to become a state. Puerto Rico, on the other hand is elevated to statehood.
  • Disaster Democracy: Mere trifles like a succession crisis or a far worse Great Depression will not prevent the US from holding elections.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: When Huey Long is facing the end of his political career and jail time for corruption charges, he decides to go out on his own terms. First, he votes for the Civil Rights Act (partly because he's always personally wanted it but fought it for political reasons, partly as a "fuck you" to his opponents both within and without his own party). Then he overdoses on morphine in his home before he can be formally charged with anything.
  • Enemy Mine:
    • When the hung 1940 presidential election heads into an equally divided House of Representatives, Alf Landon throws his support behind LaGuardia in order to prevent Huey Long from winning.
    • During the 40s, the Progressives and Republicans form an emergency coalition to see the country through the wars against Japan and the South American fascists.
    • The incredibly complicated political setup of the 1946 midterms (brought about by fusion ballots and deep idealogical divides in all the parties), results in factions from the Republicans, Progressives, American Party, Socialists, and People's Coalition coming together to form a centrist grand coalition in the House of Representatives to oppose the more radical elements on both the left and right from possibly taking power.
  • Fallen States of America: A far worse Great Depression, which was preceeded by a much nastier and bloody 1920s, results in widespread poverty, homelessness, a deteriorating economy and no social services. Fortunately it doesn't last.
  • Fictional Political Party:
    • The Progressive Party (officially Progressive-Farmer-Labor), a merger of several real groups that never organized on a national level in OTL, which emerges as the main center-left/left wing party.
    • The Conservative Coalition, an alliance of the rump Democrats and the various state-level parties that splintered off from it in the 20s. It serves as the main Southern regional party until being usurped by...
    • The Commonwealth Party, a populist social conservative/fiscal liberal group founded by Huey Long. Initially just a state party of Louisiana, it grows to be the party of the South through the 30s. In the 40s, however, the rise of the AP and internal ideological divisions cause the Commonwealth to start to fall apart, with the final nail being Long being indicted for corruption, which causes the party to collapse.
    • The American Party. Not to be confused with several OTL parties of the same name, it's the successor to the Conservatives that emerges in the 40s, due to a combination of the faltering CC factions totally unifying to regain power in the South, and a Red Scare swinging a lot of the rest of the country back to the right wing.
    • The People's Coalition, aka the "New Populists". After the Commonwealth collapses, Lyndon Johnson and other members of its left wing found this new organization, which is designed as an umbrella for various state-level populist parties, like the Mississippi Free Labor Party, the Arkansas Farmers League, and Texas' Liberty, Bravery, and Justice Party.
  • Fictional United Nations: LaGuardia proposes a Congress of Nations, that aside from the name appears to be the exact same as the RL United Nations. Unlike the UN, it doesn't go through.
  • For Want of a Nail: The Troika's more proactive foreign policy leads to a large Communist movement in India. This is turn kills any ideas of carving out a Muslim-dominated country separate from the rest of India for fears of the Communists exploiting Divide and Conquer.
    • The situation in India in turn pulls British forces and resources away from resolving the Arab–Israeli Conflict as peacefully as possible, which combined with the Soviets' outreach causes the situation to deteriorate even further.
  • Four-Star Badass: Grand Marshal Tukhachevsky is the head of the Soviet military, and singlehandedly fights off a German assassin, killing him in a one-on-one fight.
  • The Fundamentalist: This timeline is full of them, most notably William Dudley Pelley, a white supremacist cult leader who takes Hitler's place in this TL as the "most evil man in history". The so-called "Prophet" who takes over Pelley's movement after his death also appears to be one but is actually just using them for his own vendetta on the government.
  • Fun with Acronyms: At his wife's suggestion, when Lyndon Johnson founds a new party, he names it with an acronym based on his own initials — Liberty, Bravery, and Justice.
  • Government in Exile:
    • The Kingdom of Italy is forced to flee the mainland for Sardinia after the Soviet invasion and conquest.
    • For a given definition of "government", the event above also forces the Catholic Church to relocate its headquarters to Portugal.
  • Great Offscreen War: A political version, in which we never witness the actual fall of Joseph Stalin and the rise of the Troika in the Soviet Union. By the time there's an update about the Soviet Union, those events have already happened.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Subverted. While there are many dictators in TTL, neither Stalin nor Hitler, the two worst dictators of the 1930s, ever got to power.
  • Handicapped Badass: Huey Long becomes this after a failed assassination attempt.
  • The Klan: A major backer of the Democrats, until a notorious rape case completely destroys them.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: As the far right factions of the Commonwealth Party defect to the American Party, and Long's arrest taints the image of the rest, Johnson outright abandons the party.
  • Landslide Election:
    • In 1932, Floyd Olsen wins 39 out of 48 states, with the remainder being split among the other candidates.
    • This gets outmatched in 1936, when Fiorello LaGuardia wins all but four states.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: A short story post has Johnson, Gore, and other former Commonwealthers discussing what to name their new party, reflecting an actual debate going on amongst the timeline's commentators at the same time.
  • Lesser of Two Evils: Per Word of God, this is Robert Taft's view on the American Party. He disagrees with them on most things, but he despises the Commonwealth Party personally and politically, so if it comes to a choice between the two of them, he'd go with the AP.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Both fascism and communism become this.
    • On one hand, the Nazis never rise to power but fascism is still an authoritarian ideology, just not a psychotic mass-murdering one hellbent on racial genocide. Subverted, however, with the Peruvian fascists.
    • Communism is still a revolutionary and violent ideology, but the Soviet Union has remained true to the Marxist ideals. While the Soviet Union is still a one-party dictatorship, economic freedom and limited workers' self-management still exists. Also, the lack of forced collectivization means that the horrible famines and disastrous agricultural policies have not happened, making the Soviets a much stronger nation as a whole.
  • Mêlée à Trois:
    • As noted above, the German Civil War is a three-way affair.
    • The Indian Civil War is even more complicated. On the surface, it's the British and their loyalists vs Hindu nationalists vs Muslim nationalists vs the Communists. However, both nationalist groups are further divided into factions that are willing to work with each other against the Communists, and those who are willing to work with the Communists against the British. And then there are the maharajas, who are playing the field between the British and both sets of nationalists against the Communists.
  • Military Coup: The Troika come to fear Tukhachevsky staging one of these thanks to his immense popularity with and control of the Red Army. He doesn't initially, but when they try to preempt this by ousting him from the Party, he and his enraged followers do stage a successful one.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Floyd Olson says a variant of this when he realizes that Huey Long has used him as a puppet.
  • No Poverty: California (briefly) achieves this under the socialist administration Governor Upton Sinclair in the 1930s. Deconstructed, however, as this is only achieved with immense funding from the Olson Administration to demonstrate the possibility of a successful, near-utopian socialist society. This achievement is eventually lost after Fiorello LaGuardia agrees to cut most of California's funding in order to pass a bill that would grant Americans universal healthcare.
  • Operation: [Blank]: Operation Azrael, the allied plan to both blockade the Japanese Home Islands and perform air strikes on their food supplies, to coerce a surrender.
  • Our Presidents Are Different:
    • Warren G. Harding is President Corrupt which is Truth in Television.
    • Nathan Miller is President Personable.
    • Edwin Morrow is President Focus Group.
    • Calvin Coolidge is President Iron showing no interest in doing anything to change the economy during the Great Depression.
    • Andrew Mellon is a dangerous combination of President Lunatic, President Jerkass, and President Iron (with a small dose of President Strawman mixed in).
    • Bertrand Snell is President Action basically saving the nation from both Communist rioters and a right-wing coup.
    • Floyd Olson is President Mary Sue which is subverted when in his last months in office, he turns out to be an unwitting President Puppet for Huey Long.
    • Fiorello LaGuardia is both President Minority and President Personable, with a little bit of President Geek (he was known for loving the popular comic strips and movies of he day).
    • Robert Taft is both President Personable (for supporting civil rights) and President Iron (for his staunch libertarian viewpoints).
  • Playing Both Sides: "The Prophet"/George Van Horn Moseley convinces the remaining Nazi sleeper agents in both the German and Soviet intelligence services to manipulate both nations into a war he expects the Soviets to win, in some insane belief that the resulting fear will turn America back to the right wing.
  • Poisonous Friend: Huey Long serves as this to President Olson.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: When it becomes public that the Indiana KKK's leader, D.C. Stephenson, had raped and abused a white woman, it shatters the KKK and unravels the Democratic Party, due to his endorsement of the Democratic candidate for president, William Gibbs McAdoo for the 1924 presidential election.
  • Red Scare: The Soviet Union of course as it avoided Stalin's disastrous hyperindustrialization and forced collectivization, is now a much stronger nation.
    • In the US, the Socialist Party is this to the American Party.
    • After the Soviets' sweeping conquest of Europe, a new wave of anti-Communism hits the US, leading to a surge of support of the AP. However, this ends up subverted, as by the mid-40s, there are more concerns about right-wing extremists than leftists, which the Communist-friendly politicians are ironically taking advantage of.
  • Regime Change: The Olson and LaGuardia administrations both encouraged a few of these in support of left-wing political movements and militias around the world.
  • The Remnant: After being thoroughly defeated by the Soviets, Germany is reduced to just the Rhineland.
  • The Republic: After all the chaos of the 20s and 30s, the United States had become by the 1940s a properous, stable and foward-thinking nation with a mostly functional multi-party system.
  • Richard Nixon the Used Car Salesman: Subverted with the Trope Namer, who instead becomes an FBI special agent.
  • Shout-Out: When President LaGuardia visits New York City, he takes a picture with Republican mayor Franklin Roosevelt, in a reversal of their OTL relationship.
    • When Lyndon Johnson is naming his new party, he indulges in a little Fun with Acronyms based on his own initials, in a reference to Emmanuel Macron doing the same with En Marche! in OTL.
  • Sleazy Politician:
    • President Harding is hit early on the story by corruption scandals. Of course, this was Truth in Television.
    • Subverted with Fiorello LaGuardia, who was forced to make a Sadistic Choice bargain to ensure the United States gains universal healthcare. Unfortunately the Socialists are not listening.
    • Huey Long is a textbook example of this, extending his fraudulent Commonwealth Party machine throughout the South and at one point covering up a politician's death for days to prevent a special election from happening.
  • The Starscream: When Huey Long's political power starts to collapse in the 40s and the government starts cracking down on him, Gerald L. K. Smith starts making plans to oust him from the Commonwealth Party and seize control of it himself. He gets arrested for religious extremism before he gets a chance.
  • Strawman Political: The fictional reviewers of a documentary about Robert Taft's life where they accused it of being socialist or right-wing propaganda, while the most sensible reviews just say it's average.
  • Taking You with Me: A purely coincidental example. When Long votes for the Civil Rights Act as a final political act before killing himself, the shock causes his ideological rival Governor Eugene Talmadge to drop dead of a heart attack.
  • TV Documentary: One is done about President Robert Taft's life in the future.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Floyd Olson is manipulated by Huey Long in such a way to allow the latter to build up his own personal political empire within the government, with aid from the Mafia. However, after realizing this, Olson spends the last months of his life gathering information that LaGuardia is later able to use to dismantle much of Long's power base.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Pretty much defines the American political system:
    • The Great Recovery Coalition was formed by the Progressives, Socialists and the Commonwealth. After Floyd Olson's death, the coalition falls apart due to personal disagreements on policy and on whether they should compromise or push for a more radical agenda.
      • The Progressive-Farmer-Labor Party, which itself is a merger between the real life Non-Partisan League and the Farmer Labor Party, is the leader of the Great Recovery Coalition, initially led by Olson and then led by LaGuardia after his death, but the party is being torn in two between a moderate faction that is becoming friendly with the Republicans and the Socialist-leaning Radical faction, which feels that LaGuardia note  has sold them out. By the 40s, the radicals are becoming predominant, much to the chagrin of the moderates.
      • The real life Socialist Party of America, a multi-tendency democratic socialist party which benefited greatly with the collapse of the Democrats and managed to remain afloat. It's the most left-wing of the three parties and has broken off of the Great Recovery Coalition after LaGuardia's "corrupt bargain".
      • The Commonwealth Party, a Deep South party led by Huey Long and whose economic policies are Long's "Share Our Wealth" on steroids, and was one of the key players in the Coalition. However it's increasingly challenged from the right by the American Party, for not being conservative enough. Eventually, the divide between the AP friendly and more left-leaning factions causes the party to collapse.
    • The Republicans remain a moderate party, which is being torn apart in a conflict between fiscal conservatives and moderates who acknowledge that the extensive welfare state is not going anywhere.
    • The American Party is the most recent party. It is a conservative, right-wing party whose policies are all over the place but are increasingly fearful of the rising Soviet Union, to the point of accusing conservative icons like Robert Taft of being closet socialists.
    • When civil rights legislation starts getting pushed through Congress in the 40s, the Commonwealth starts splitting between racial moderates willing to settle for heavily amending the Civil Rights Act so that it's barely effective, and hardliners who want to block the bill altogether.
    • In a non-American example, it's noted that Gandhi's peaceful and calming leadership is the only thing keeping the Indian independence movement from breaking out into violence between its Communist wing and its various religious-based nationalist groups. When he dies, civil war breaks out.
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