Oh! What a Revolution! And what a heart I must have to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall!
—Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
On the 20th of July in the year 20– of our Lord, Savior and shadow Secretary of War, the city of Detroit officially wrested itself free from the umbilical chokehold of mother Michigan and renounced all filial loyalties to the former constitutional republic known as the United States of America to become its own sovereign state and independent nation. Neither blood nor tears were shed at this announcement, and, in fact, both Michigan and the United States of America, permanent second residence of the Son of Man, seemed indifferent to the move—both were, indeed, happy to get rid of this burden and embarrassing symbol of a once-great city gone bad, real bad. The newborn country, measuring approximately one hundred forty-three square miles and sharing the forty-second parallel north in the austere companionship of North Korea, the Balkans and Inner Mongolia, was an attractive place with abandoned old rowing clubs, small jewel boxes of art-deco architecture and a city center with clean, wide boulevards rendered all the more romantic-tragic by the former capital’s glamorous ghost town aura of magnificent industrial ruin: the Detroit of sepia-toned and silver-framed memories hoarded by those who had lived and loved during the city’s inimitable glory days. Now all eyes were on the future. First of all, the young republic needed a name. The name, “The Republic of Motown,” was given to it by “The Founders” of the young statelet, four anarcho-WASPs of high suburban pedigree who had to offer something to members of the restless minority population of Detroit in order to make them feel included because originally, you see, they were not going to be included at all. It just so happened that one of the more intelligent strategic plans of these Founders was the revival of Detroit’s legendary soul, R & B and jazz music industry—an ambitious project for a new recording industry label to which the four of them began to refer as “The Republic of Motown.” The name was so well-liked by those who started to hear of it that it stuck. Thusly, the young country was introduced to the world.
One day many years later, when the withered giant once admired worldwide as the United States of America ran out of countries with which to go to war and in a fit of resentment and boredom decided to launch an attack against itself, that powerful nation attempted to seize the pint-sized Republic, by then a plump little land of plenty. Matters then got somewhat out of hand, with shocking but entertaining results. We are getting ahead of ourselves, however, and the story of all that will come out presently.
The first task of the country, like that of any healthy being, was to understand the nature of its own existence. This matter inspired several evenings at a grand old private club in downtown Washington, D.C., hosted by the aforementioned quartet and attended exclusively by them. The purpose of these meetings was to decide what the proper political form of the young state should be. For, at the time of Detroit’s self-proclaimed independence from the United States of America, the latter had been quite battered and bruised by a string of many wars, one right after another, putting into doubt the viability of the democratic constitutional-republic model. These various conflicts included: the war on terror, the war on obesity, the war on thinness, the war on grammar, the war on Motherhood, the war on Christmas, the war on illegals who cannot carry a gaucho tune; the war on the war on the war on drugs; the war on Islam, the war on gay divorce; the war on war; the war on literary fiction that does not feature teen vampires, big-city ‘hoes or housewife erotica; the war on Catholics, the war on fashion models who are not real women, and the war on Big Oil, Big Gas, Big Electricity, Big Steel, Big Iron Ore, Big Plastic, Big Carbon Fiber, Big Copper, Big Kevlar, Big Wood, Big Water, Big Cyberspace and Big Air, all meant that the Republic had to arm itself with a form of government immune to such nature of zeitgeisty sensitivities. And this meant something never attempted or something classically tried and true—but, in either case, unlike anything anyone had ever seen or heard of before….
The four of them, each an heir to one of the storybook family fortunes of neighboring Grosse Pointe, great suburb of the Western world, scoured the history of political philosophies West and East for the proper model though one thing was agreed upon: under no circumstances could the new country be a Democracy. Later, it occurred to the four Founders (as they did like to refer to themselves) to comb through the writings of their spiritual ancestors, the first Founders, themselves secretly known to never have been unequivocal fans of the upstart egalitarian impulse of eighteenth-century progressive thought, so they dug up some obscure quotes by Adams, Madison, and Jefferson revealing what those giants really thought of such knee-slapping one-liners as “All men are created equal” and the like. After a while, the men came up with a few proposals. The first proposal was to let the Republic live and let live—communal, classless and flowing free love—as a remote frontierland buffeted by clean Canadian air and clean Canadian socialism and staffed with a sleepy police chief, a crippled and overweight Labrador named Bo, a bottle of Jack Daniels and state-paid subscriptions for all to Muscle and Machine, This Old House and Le Monde Diplomatique. The second proposal consisted of a by-invitation-only Fascist statelet founded on Anglo-Episco-Paleo virtues of discipline, thrift, courage, forbearance, alcoholism and a repressed sex life. That the word “Fascism” had a whiff of the garlic-soaked continental to it was no problem; one could substitute “Fascist statelet” with “Protestant-only country club” and the right people would pick up on the right meaning implied as the right people always do. A state-enforced dress code would require, but not be limited to, wide corduroy pants with garish recreational or marine-mammal symbols on them; loafers without socks at weddings and funerals; Cartier watches and never Rolex; and, in the event that any Fascioid youth-movements should spontaneously rise up, small, crossed tennis rackets lightly branded on the foreheads of adolescent fellow travelers and true believers. The third proposal was some kind of City-Republic with an ideal philosopher-king as leader (good), preferably a right-wing philosopher of ur-WASP heritage (very good), who would see to it that a sparkling new Age of Money could be combined with a Jazz Age renaissance and all this against the backdrop of the forlorn factory village that was once fearless, dynamic Detroit—now born-again, called to Destiny and set to capture the imagination of the nation, like the first ’59 Ford Thunderbird to have full-leather car seats in American history (Now you’re talking!) .
Night stealthed into day and day fought long hours into dawn as the men labored on until they came up with a brilliant patchwork of all these ideas—or to be fair, until the bleeding-heart-Reactionary girlfriend of the group’s leader came up with the idea. She, that lovely girl: so unstable, so intelligent, so long of limb and lithe in lissomeness, who suggested that the new country be modeled on a fifteenth-century Genoese mercantile city-state featuring a gold-backed currency, a people’s militia, a Ministry of Censorship, exclusive diplomatic relations with the Vatican, the Mossad, DARPA and Taiwan; a Singapore-style justice system crossed with the justice system of Giovanni Battista Bugatti—the longest serving executioner of the papal states—and, most importantly, a revived Motown music industry. The men liked the idea, and although they questioned the papist dimension, She said that the reason the Catholic part would work was because no one was really going to believe anything four “has-been, Cold-War whores” (her words) had to say anyway, therefore they could call their little state anything, promise anything, get away with anything and not be held accountable for any of it. What’s more, She said, it was very important that the new country strike an intimidating pose so that not many people would actually want to live there. But those who did, She argued, would be of the brave Solid Citizen sort whose vigilant and unforgiving presence would keep the young country secure, happy and safe. The Founders found themselves in complete agreement with this beautiful and damned and damaged Woman.
The second task of the country was the problem of money and of the gold standard. The Founders of the Republic wanted total independence, which meant, of course, total financial independence. They wanted their own currency, one that would remain free of the lecherous embrace of the global economy, so they opted for gold as the practical choice—and as the aesthetic one as well: for, the idea of nice, minted gold coins was a terribly glamorous one and theirs was to be a terribly glamorous Republic. While it was true that the former Detroit, when it belonged to the religiously suicidal State of Michigan, was not allowed to own any actual, physical gold, the city’s reincarnation as The Republic of Motown, a fully sovereign state, allowed it to circumvent any impertinent legal do-goodism of “The United States“ and the Founders thought up an elaborate scheme by which to channel billions in bullion from abroad into their coffers. It was really an ingenious idea, more about which will follow presently. Meanwhile, the design of the coins—an amusing episode in state-making for the four of them—was quite appealing: one coin had a Chippeawa Indian head on one side and a saxophone on the reverse (the coin that was equivalent to ten dollars); another featured a Model-T car on one side and an ecstatic light bulb on the other (around fifty dollars). The largest of the denominations featured not “B. Franklin” but “A. Franklin” on both of its sides (about a hundred bucks). A name for this currency eluded the four of them at first so they tried different things, including: pounds sterling, schillings, scudi, talents, gulden, florints, argento, byzants, moolah, dough, zaster, quid, ducets, dinaro, lucro and filthy-lucre. She wanted to call the currency “Blood.” One day, and much to everyone’s surprise, the men successfully negotiated a currency union with the Confederation of Helvetica and so “Swiss Franc” it was, only denominated in gold. It was the very best for the young republic, or nothing at all.
There was also the matter of a flag, coat of arms and a motto. And the color of passports. Because the Founders had decided upon a Genoese city-republic, they thought nothing of pilfering the achievement of an expired old Genoese family directly descended from Justinian the Great. Such is how a griffin, a sword, a cedar tree and a saxophone (this was added) and the motto Sempre Idem made their way as one florid bundle onto official stationery; engraved atop building porticoes, printed on cocktail napkins and Republic polo shirts etc., giving stately glimmer to quotidien life in Nuovo Motown that everyone thought attractive and tastefully regal. The flag was modeled on the Genoese flag of 1367 during the rule of the Visconti and featured a kaleidescopic spray of green, orange, red and yellow made all the more eye-catching by the saxophone sewed onto its center. It took some weeks to come up with a good passport design; the color chosen was aubergine. The passport was thus aubergine-colored, featured the new coat of arms, the elegant motto and plenty of pages for international stamps. Alas, the men had forgotten to free up a corner for a small photo so it was decided: no photos on the passports. But this did not matter because once living in the Republic, no one would want to leave. That the young state was to play host to the long-anticipated return of Honor and Trust in relations between men, the Republic became increasingly viewed as the curly-haired, velvet-box boy of Western Civilization’s new tomorrow. Former Americans longed for citizenship there, energized and optimistic as they had not been for decades. She was put in charge of the public relations and she created a website for the infant state. Across the top of the site it read:
Honi soit qui mal y pense, baby!
The Principality of the Socialist-Fascist
Constitutional Republic of the Republic of Motown
To understand how this all came to pass is relatively straightforward. The takeover possibilities of Detroit had been easy: No one wanted her. Things had gotten to the point in the early twenty-first century where the city was offering money to get people to move there, and precious art works from the city’s world-class museum were being auctioned to pay city debts. The population at the time of the Declaration of Secession (drawn up by the Founders) was approximately 2.5 million. Of this, approximately thirty-five percent of the population was unemployed. Industry lay in waste, crime was pervasive. It was a depressing and pathetic situation and no one stepped forward to do anything because to do something would have meant to take action. Action would have meant decisions, which would have meant the presence of individuals or an individual with conviction and the mode of human thinking that answered with a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ to issues, problems and policies was something that had long fallen out of favor with Americans by the year 20–, never to be retrieved again.
Local Detroit politics consisted of mice colonies that formed underground guilds inside the city council sewer system. Year upon year, press releases emerged from these lurid depths boasting about the pending “revival” of Detroit—labored visions that sought to capture the attention of a dwindling citizenry as bored with its circumstances as it was oppressed by them. This resulted in the formation of committees to determine ways to inspire said “revival” and to debate the question of whether it was enough if one thing “revived,” such that other things would spontaneously “revive” of their own accord, or whether there needed to be separate strategies to cover diversely-inspired kinds of “revival,” each object of revivability a thing of beauty in itself and requiring singular care. The idea to revive the legendary J. L. Hudson department store—that living-dead beaux-arts granddaddy with its bronze caged-elevators and liveried doormen—was rejected in favor of opening one more Malaysian slave-labor dish cloth-and-jeans emporium because the city only had three dozen such stores and neighboring Cleveland had five or six times that and the spirit of capitalist competition is a healthy thing, and so on and so forth….
The idea to revive Detroit’s public schools—once a modest system of chalkboards, primers and teachers with Masters Degrees in English who sent the city’s inner-city youth off to great colleges and the occasional Harvard or Princeton—fell apart because no one could decide whether the $100 million given by Washington should be spent on a private recreation center for every student who did not drop-out before the age of ten, or for a lifetime of unlimited iPads to each student’s parents, step-parents, foster parents, deadbeat parents, baby mommas, love daddies and the six or eight grandparents that went with any of these because a child’s happiness begins in the family, you see. From time to time, some poor visionary popped up dreaming to create a revived world-class auto capital out of Detroit only to get so far as to establish a new chain of fast-food BBQs. But it was such events that were celebrated as the arrival of Aeneas at Laticum and that prompted the mice to dance and the mice to sing and to send word that Detroit’s pending Come-Back was well nigh. Unfortunately, it was never too long before such pioneers begged off and headed for the likes of St. Louis or Cincinnati, where their food-chains had much more success and where the constant reminder of being in a once-great city that did everything in its power to destroy all traces of greatness did not menace the conscience. Finally, in a moment of bottomed-out humiliation, Detroit began to offer money to people to move to the city. When that did not work, the city went on the auction-block (on-line) and was put up for sale to the highest, then lowest, bidder. The four Founders pounced on the opportunity—this, not out of any home-grown sentiment, you see, but as a ploy to execute a wonderful little plot of revenge that had been stirring in their charred souls for some years against Washington, D.C., ashen cemetery of their dashed Cold Warrior ambitions, and thus good target prey.
What a deplorable fate! What a sad ending to a former world-capital! But like any decaying ghost town, a persistent atmosphere—undeniable, unassailable—haunted the city and people talked only to themselves about it because the feeling it evoked was almost too precious to share. On occasion, some lovely summer evenings, one could walk down a broad, urbane avenue in the center of downtown Detroit and hear the sexy purr of a talented jazz trio’s molten melodies. Or, one might take a walk to the Roxy Theater and peer into its interior of plush-n-gilt overkill and be overcome by an odd sense of attraction and relief at the sight. Or, one might find oneself at the lovely Metro Airport en route to healthier pastures north and west and remark at that structure’s soaring design—all radical slashes of white, windows and light. Riverfront property—stately and skeletal—dotted the banks of the Detroit River, looking forlorn and mislain in their solitary potential.
There was the Detroit Boat Club across the river, an 1880s beauty hardened and pock-marked with neglect, where the first rowing competitions in the United States took place. The club was a restrained Italianate villa of walnut paneling, silk curtains in heavy brocade, brass doorknobs and tuxedoed waiters and was one of the many clubs of Detroit and of neighboring Grosse Pointe that had given that city and its brotherly suburb the distinction of having once had the most sailing and yacht clubs of any city in the United States, well into the early 20th century. There she now sat, that Boat Club, a tired pile of brittle bone structure with no sunrise rowers to be seen anywhere cutting smooth blades of water through pea-gray morning mist—the sight of youth, health and purpose toward a shared goal that the city itself once embodied.
The sadness of it all was not the realization of what Detroit had once been that everyone seemed to mourn, but what she could very well become again that everyone somehow seemed to disdain. “These things happen,” “Times change” went the common chorus of mantras. Detroit was not only ripe for the kind of takeover that was about to take place; she had it, as they say, coming.
The independence of the then-unnamed statelet was proclaimed in an abandoned warehouse of the Detroit Boat Club and one or two alert wire agencies took note. The reception of the news was predictable—not dismissive or mocking, just uninterested, given that life in America in the year 20– was, for the most part, a banality-of-evil type affair, in which nothing really shocked, nothing really appalled, nothing really delighted and nothing really inspired but everything was neutrally, kindly accepted, without anticipation or resistance.
As for myself, I came upon this story just around the time the Republic started to grow far too rich and too powerful and the United States of America—that national dream betrayed by its own patriots; that national tragedy nearly saved by its own traitors—continued to insist that Detroit was still home territory. Such is how the USA came to declare war on itself, which was just what the Republic’s four anarcho-WASP Founders had planned. My own journalism career gained national notoriety as I began to follow this story and I was quite open about my deep bias in favor of the young state. More on that to follow. For now, it is enough to say that I have briefly outlined how the Republic struggled into being, its birth feted a day after the proclamation by a champagne celebration among the four of them; She, and a handful of assorted allies—myself included—under the summer moonlight on the stone terrace of a former shipping magnate’s old Tudor mansion along Detroit’s Jefferson Drive, one that had just been spared the wrecking ball after “Motown” was declared sovereign and free.
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