If security at Boston Logan had been a little more stringent on 9/11, would we still be in Afghanistan? If the Carter administration had not been so feeble, would the mullahs in Iran now be poring over IKEA instructions for nuclear detonators? If Hillary Clinton had deigned to cultivate votes in the Rust Belt states, would Donald Trump have sneaked under the wire and through the Electoral College?
The answers are probably no; probably yes; and almost certainly no. Hillary Clinton was an extravagantly unappealing and arrogant candidate, utterly out of touch with reality. She ran against an extravagantly unappealing and arrogant candidate whose belligerence and disappointment put him in touch with half the country, and that made all the difference.
Or did it? A useful if irritating aspect of ‘counterfactual history’ is that counterfactuals frequently suggest that we would have got to where we are, regardless of the road we thought we had chosen. With Al Qaeda chumming it up with the Taliban, someone in Afghanistan would probably have succeeded in goading the infidels sooner or later. Given Iran’s location and the availability of nuclear kit, a secular, liberal Iran might have wanted the Bomb anyway, and could have got one with Israel’s help. And, given the fact that Hillary Clinton travels with more baggage than Joan Collins, America would probably be no better off now if she had courted the Rust Belt in 2016.
Let us imagine that Hillary Clinton, after a last-minute lunge at the Rust Belt, narrowly won the 2016 election. We’re approaching the midterms in her second year. The Obama administration was the first never to grow GDP by 3 per cent in any quarter, and, so far, the third Clinton administration has become the second administration to stay in low gear. Slow growth keeps the middle class anxious about its jobs and mortgages. Hillary Clinton has promised to alleviate the pressure on small businesses by bringing in a single-payer healthcare system, but a Republican Congress prevents her from doing it. When it come to the economy, there is no hot sauce in her handbag.
As promised, Clinton confronted Russia and Iran in Syria in early 2017. The accidental shooting down of two Russian jets over Aleppo by American F-35s brought the world closer to nuclear confrontation than at any point since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Congress tipped sharply towards isolationism. The New York Times accused Clinton of reckless adventurism. With no support for a war, Clinton was forced to apologise to Putin, and look the other way as he moved into the Baltic states. Iran restarted uranium production in late 2017. Israel is expected to bomb Iran by the end of this year.
The Democratic Party split over the Syria adventure, with Keith Ellison, the new head of the DNC, calling for a boycott of Israel over its aggression towards Iran. Bernie Sanders warned that the party would tarnish itself for decades if it didn’t distance itself from the Clintons. With centrists and Independents backing off, polls suggest that the Republicans will tighten their grip on both House and Senate in November. This now looks inevitable, and everyone knows that the polls never lie.
Republicans in Congress initiated the impeachment process in Clinton’s first week in the White House. The revelations about the DNC’s collusion with Russian agents in the commissioning and dissemination of the Steele Dossier caused a crisis in American democracy. James Comey was widely perceived as having given Clinton a free pass by not commenting on her private server in the days before the election, but Clinton fired him anyway. Nevertheless, a Justice Department investigation has exposed a web of corrupt and criminal dealings around the Clinton Foundation. The New York Times has won a Pulitzer for its exposé of ‘pay to play’ deals with Russian, Arab and Chinese businesses linked to their respective governments.
Bill Clinton was supposed to be Hillary Clinton’s best asset. Instead, he has humiliated her. His private life became the focus of #MeToo. No one ever established where the footage came from — the Russians, the Republicans? — but after millions of Americans had seen it on YouTube, even longtime donors like Harvey Weinstein distanced themselves from the Clintons.
Impeachment proceedings were scheduled to reach the Senate after the summer recess of 2018. Like Richard Nixon, Hillary Clinton jumped before she was pushed, and resigned on Labor Day. The Dow tumbled so fast the next morning that trading had to be suspended. Everyone agreed that American democracy was finished. As President Tim Kaine was sworn in, a unit of Revolutionary Guards fired a missile at an American warship on patrol in the Persian Gulf.
Nate Silver announces that his polling shows that if the 2016 election were replayed now, Donald Trump would win. Trump agrees, and tweets that by now he would now have the economy going at over 4 per cent. But most people think this is just him promoting his new TV station.
We may be in counterfactual times, but the road we take really does make a difference.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.