If Jill Stein and die-hard Democrats get their way, recounts in three key states will take the presidency away from Donald Trump and hand it to Hillary Clinton. While this effort is probably doomed to failure, the attempted do-over prompts a question: what exactly are we losing with this mother of all paths not taken, a Hillary Clinton administration?
What elevates this theoretical exercise above a parlor game is the deep grief felt by tens of millions of Democrats, especially women. They believe not just that Donald Trump is a disaster, but that the United States will miss out on a great, inspiring leader in Hillary Clinton. For these bereft citizens, Hillary’s departure from the national political scene ranks alongside those of Adlai Stevenson and Al Gore — losing candidates who were clearly superior to the winners, whose loss left America much worse off.
I agree with the Clintonites’ horrorstruck reaction to Trump. But are they right about the rest? Have we really lost much with Hillary? Let’s look at what we know, or can assume with reasonable certainty, would have happened under the first few years of Madam President.
The Cabinet: Hillary’s cabinet would have been drawn from the ranks of her campaign aides, allies from her tenure in the Obama administration, and old hands from her husband’s 1990s heyday. Judging from the center-right Democrats with whom she has surrounded herself, her choice of center-right Tim Kaine as vice president (as opposed to a liberal counterbalance like Elizabeth Warren) and her campaign’s unusual snubbing of staffers who sought to migrate from Bernie Sanders’ progressive campaign, it’s safe to say that Hillary Clinton’s cabinet would have been composed of the neoliberal militarists who’ve been running things for Obama. Like Obama, she probably wouldn’t have appointed any progressives.
Supreme Court Nominees: Not wanting an early fight with Senate Republicans, she’d probably fill archconservative constructionist Antonin Scalia’s empty seat with another Republican, restoring the 2015 ideological balance of the court. She might have gotten to fill another two or three seats, and here is where she might have made a real difference for the liberal cause. The 5-4 question is, would she have gone to war with the GOP by appointing a Democrat to replace a dead or retiring right-winger? Could she win if she had? I lay 50-50 odds on both questions.
Taxes and the Economy: Clinton proposed a slightly more progressive tax structure during the campaign. She only wanted a $12/hour minimum wage — less than many states and cities. Even though NAFTA and trade were her Achilles’ heels, she didn’t propose a job retraining program or welfare plan for workers displaced by globalization. Largely, she pledged to continue the gradual Obama recovery, which has left most workers behind. In the absence of an unforeseen boom or bust, your wallet would have felt pretty much the same as it has over the last few years.
Privacy and the NSA: Even in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations (when she called the whistleblower a traitor), Clinton stridently defended the government’s illegal spying against every American. Spooks would have had a friend in Clinton, as under Trump.
Healthcare: Obamacare would have remained in place in its present form. A few vague promises to add a “public option” do not amount to a pledge to spend political capital to get it past Congressional Republicans. But premiums are skyrocketing, so Hillarian inaction might have led to wider calls for ACA repeal, a big step backward. (No one knows what Trump will do. Not even him.)
Gay and Transgender Rights: Clinton opposed marriage equality until 2013 — after most Americans told pollsters they were for it. She is weak on transgender issues. On issues of individual rights, the Clintons have always followed, not led. She would have had little effect on these struggles, on which Trump has actually been pretty good.
Women’s Rights: No doubt, the election of the first woman president would have been incredibly inspiring to women and girls. Would Clinton’ impact on the feminist movement have gone beyond the symbolism of identity politics? Probably not. The next logical legislative steps to advance women’s rights — paid family leave for a year, federal child care for freelancers and self-employed workers, a federal pay equality law, reviving the Equal Rights Amendment, a full-scale campaign against rape culture — received zero support from the defeated nominee.
Abortion: A federal law legalizing abortion would resolve the SCOTUS wars and guarantee that women in the South had the right to choose. But Clinton seems satisfied with the status quo.
Social Programs: Neither Clinton has ever proposed a major new anti-poverty program. There’s no reason to think that that would have changed. Ditto for Trump.
War and Peace: Hillary has a long history of hawkishness. She didn’t push through any peace deals as Secretary of State. During the campaign, she called for a no-fly zone over Syria, a tactic designed to provoke hostilities. And her hot rhetoric so freaked out the government of Russia that Kremlin military analysts worried about World War III if she won. Trump is a hothead. But Hillary might have been more likely to start a war.
The Middle East: Any breakthrough would have to be brokered by someone who was not as much of an unqualified supporter of Israel as she is. (So is Trump.)
Human Rights: Clinton’s record is dismal. She coddled dictators at State. Her foundation solicited money from the murderous Saudi regime. She rarely mentioned the issue during her campaign. I’d expect more of the same from her — or Trump.
Torture: Obama continued to authorize torture by the CIA, and refused to investigate torturers. Clinton would not have reversed these nauseating policies, which she has endorsed, and will continue under Trump.
Drones: Like Obama and Trump, Hillary is a big fan of using killer robot planes to slaughter thousands of innocent people abroad.
Secret Prisons/Guantánamo: It’s a safe bet that Gitmo torture gulag would have remained open under Hill, though perhaps with fewer inmates than Trump says he wants to send there.
Hillary fans can credibly argue that she would not have made things worse, or at least not as bad as they will be under Trump. By objective standards, however, it defies reason to claim that she would have presided over a halcyon era of progress. At best, President Clinton II would have held the line against Republican attacks. As we know, however, voters are not in the mood for more of the same.
And in 2020, we’d be right back where we are now. Four years into President Hillary, the anger that unleashed Trumpism would turn into boiling rage.
Odds are, Hillary would have committed many of the same outrages as Trump will. As a Democrat, however, she wouldn’t have faced the same level of protest or resistance from the Left — or a media willing to cover it.