There are several plausible scenarios for catastrophic failure. In the best possible case there won't be any kind of rebellion, coup, or general suspension of the Constitution; we will experience a severe economic depression and the short- and medium-term domination of our government by the Republican party, but our fundamental systems will remain at least nominally in place. If this scenario occurs, there are substantive and effective steps we can take to make our society a better place.
The right has used the movement/party model to take over our government. This model is very effective, and many fundamental features can be replicated by the left.
The movement/party model consists of a disciplined, unified, extra-political organization, the conservative movement, to construct and propagate a political philosophy. The members of this movement then use their discipline and unity to control the specifically political Republican party. Since the movement supplies a consistent philosophy, a voter base and, most importantly money, the actual politicians further the movement's agenda in official government.
There is every reason to believe the left can replicate the movement/party model with similar success. Create a liberal-progressive movement, take over the Democratic party and further a liberal-progressive agenda in government.
Moreover, the left can replicate the model excluding many of the features of the right's implementation that many on the left find odious: authoritarianism, dogmatism, and almost complete disconnection from reality and factual truth. Some of the right's features are very powerful tools for unifying a movement and ensuring discipline. The religious have honed authoritarianism and dogmatism to near perfection over at least two or three millennia. There are, however, tools that authoritarianism and dogmatism render almost useless, and which can be employed to good advantage by the left: truth and transparency.
To be effective, a movement has to be disciplined and unified. The members of a movement have to deliver a consistent and stable philosophical message, they have to vote as a bloc, and they have to concentrate money. These requirements force some degree of top-down approach to decision-making. An internally consistent and stable philosophical basis; majoritarian, consensus or near-consensus decision-making; and a rigorously bottom-up electoral structure can, however, prevent the top-down decision making from devolving into elitism, authoritarianism and dogmatism.
A bottom-up electoral process* in one in which those groups at the "direct" or lowest level elect one of their members to represent the group at the next highest level; the group of people thus elected then elect one of their own to represent them at the further level, until a small enough group has been concentrated to make decisions for the movement as a whole.
*I'm sure there's a name for this organizational method. I thought it was syndicalism, but that refers to a specific kind of labor politics.
I intentionally use the word "philosophy" in place of "ideology". Ideology has come to be too strongly associated with authoritarianism and dogmatism. However we label it though, any movement must have a set of core principles that are internally consistent and stable over time. Stability doesn't mean incapable of change; it means only resistance to capricious change, change only when there's a very good reason to change. Since a liberal-progressive movement can't rely on any kind of philosophical or religious authority, those principles will have to be fairly broad, and adherence need not be absolute; it should be necessary only that a lot of people can endorse most of the core principles directly, and find none of them abhorrent.
(I should also note in passing that "pragmatism" is not a core philosophical value. It just means "effective for some stated purpose"; without a specific stated purpose, it's vacuous. It should be noted that the
With a disciplined, unified movement committed to using politics to implement its agenda, and by trading authoritarianism and dogmatism for universalism, truth and transparency, I believe those of us with liberal and progressive views can have a profound impact on the political social and cultural life of the country.