If Mike Pence were President, how many more Americans would be alive today? The “what if” counterfactual has a special niche within historical thinking. It may be best known from science fiction for history scholars also engage in it. The time travel stories are a way to “fix” a wrong which had occurred. The result is a better timeline. In practice, such stories typically end with failure in that the past cannot be changed…or if it is changed, it is for the worse due to the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Still, it can be fun to stretch one’s mind and consider a different future. In the very popular podcast Ben Franklin’s World about early American history, host Liz Covart ends her interviews with guest scholars with what she calls the “fun part” of the show: she asks the interviewee to comment on what if something had happened differently in the topic they are discussing. It is not unusual for the guest to conclude that the change proposed by Covart might have made a difference in the short run, but in long term, the greater momentum of history would have prevailed. I wonder.
During the Covid-19 crisis, BBC has been posing such questions to scholars. The most recent one (April 24) asks an eminent Cambridge classical scholar: “What if Alexander the Great had lived longer?”
In America, two counterfactuals loom large. First, suppose John Kennedy had not been assassinated, what would have happened specifically in Vietnam? Would Kennedy have followed the route Lyndon Johnson took? Less frequently is it asked, “Would the Civil Rights Bill have passed?”
The second one involves Abraham Lincoln. I grew up on the Twilight Zone episode Back There and Superboy’s attempt to prevent the assassination of Lincoln through time travel. Those efforts failed. If Lincoln had lived, sooner or later would the Confederacy have returned to power as in some ways it still is today? After all, after World War II, wasn’t the great hero whose words we keep hearing during the present crisis dumped from office in England?
Assassinations make for better “what ifs” than more general questions. An assassination may fail as it did with Ronald Reagan. So it is easy to contemplate a different scenario with Lincoln and Kennedy. The possibility of failed assassination attempt is very believable. Similarly, it is just as believable with Reagan to imagine a successful one. Very little needs to change for those moments to have ended up differently.
Bigger events are more problematical. For example, during the Covid-19 crisis, The Plot Against America by Philip Roth has been shown as a TV series on HBO. It is about an alternate America where Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election. He then steers America towards a more accommodating relationship with Hitler than Roosevelt pursued. This counterfactual is less convincing. Here the change is not a matter of a bullet being moved a fraction of inch. Instead it requires a change in the American populace whereby such a person could have first become a viable national candidate and then triumph. That change moves the alternate reality to not totally farfetched but not quite believable either. It’s a really big change.
So it would be if the Senate had voted a President out of office and made Mike Pence the new President. Still, given all that has happened since February –– ONLY FEBRUARY? REMEMBER WHEN WHAT JOHN BOLTON WOULD SAY WAS IMPORTANT? THAT WAS IN FEBRUARY….OF THIS YEAR?! FEBRUARY! WAS IT REALLY ONLY FEBRUARY! HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE!?
If only there weren’t a Trumpican majority in the Senate, think how different America would be today.
If only Mitt Romney hadn’t been the one Republican in the Senate, think how different America would be today.
If only the Senate hadn’t gambled that what harm could the ignorant inept immature President do, think how different America would be today.
Did we lose that gamble or would the events have been the same if Mike Pence had become President then?
This time we have hard-based scientific evidence that the situation could have been different. We know that social distancing and lock-downs work. It is possible to examine the dates of when cities in the United States (like New York) and cities throughout the world commenced a lock down. The numbers aren’t hidden figures. They are visible in plain sight. We know that the earlier these actions were taken, the fewer deaths there would have been and would be. The same applies to the states. It is possible to examine the numbers from the 50 states and observe how many lives would have been saved if a state had acted a day earlier, two days earlier, a week earlier, or two weeks earlier. We know with different national leadership fewer Americans would have died and the economy wouldn’t have collapsed as much.
Would Mike Pence have acted faster to implement what we know to be the successful way to curtail the spread of Covid-19?
Would Mike Pence have ignored all the warnings about the pending crisis?
Would Mike Pence have prevented a cruise ship from docking in order to keep the number of infections down in his country?
Would Mike Pence have claimed there were only 15 infected people and the number would soon be zero?
Would Mike Pence have said everything was under control?
Would Mike Pence have promoted hydroxychloroquine as a “game changer”?
Would Mike Pence have targeted Easter Sunday and then May 1 as dates when the country could be reopened?
Would Mike Pence have asserted his royal powers to do what he wants because the President calls the shots even if he is not responsible because the buck does not stop with him unless you are staying at one of his properties?
Would Mike Pence have conducted disorganized press conferences full of dishonesty and ignorance?
Would Mike Pence have used the press conferences as political rallies where he exults in insulting people?
Would Mike Pence have contradicted the scientific evidence about the possible return of Covid-19 in the fall or next year (assuming it ever disappears in the first place)?
Would Mike Pence have banished scientists who contradicted him or who have better ratings than he has? Ratings for honesty. Ratings for competence. Ratings for trustworthiness.
Would Mike Pence have suggested the ingestion of disinfectants should be investigated?
It is really not so difficult to imagine a different scenario being played out. The evidence is right there before us. We have the numbers. We have the multiple examples from the different cities, states, and countries. When the Unpresidential Library is built, an entire room will be dedicated to the failure of Donny Disinfectant to guide the ship of state through the turbulent wave of infection that washed over our country. Students of all ages and scholars, too, will debate the issue of the price America has paid because Mike Pence did not become President in February 2020. We the People will wonder what if we had had an adult in the White House instead of Donald Trump, the singularly most incompetent, inept, ignorant, and immature president in American history. How many more tens of thousands of Americans might be alive today if only Mike Pence had been President? On Election Day, we will have the opportunity to vote on whether we would have been off if Mike Pence had been President.
P.S. The previous post on Post-Trumpatic Stress Disorder: Is There A Cure? needs to be amended. If the Senate had voted to remove the President, would he have complied? Based on his words, he would have brought the matter to HIS Supreme Court to squash this hoax. Therefore additional requirements to prevent a re-occurrence of Trumpatic Stress Disorder are needed.
Congress shall have the authority to enforce subpoenas through the Sergeant at Arms seizing people who choose not to comply.
Congress shall have the authority to hold subpoenaed people in custody during their testimony.
Congress shall have the authority to indict people who are in violation of their subpoena or who fail to cooperate with the investigation.
Congress shall have authority over the Secret Service in cases where the President has been voted out of office by the Senate.