Ahhh, poor Hillary Clinton. One of this channel’s first great successes was a polite video explaining why she shouldn’t be president, and here I am now, fondly wishing she had won. To be clear, I made that video all the way back in 2014, I took that video down after Trump was nominated, and I kept it down throughout the 2016 election. There’s no question in my mind that Clinton was a more competent politician and would have made a better president than Donald Trump. Today’s video makes it clear how much the world lost when she lost the election in 2016. But Politics is always more complicated than the personality of individual contestants. Today’s video attempts to play the tape all the way through, and look at the ways that any Democratic president might have been defeated by the absurd politics of the Coronavirus in the United States.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. The Coronavirus pandemic continues to be a nightmare. Everyone on the planet has been affected, and we won’t know the true costs for decades. As I survey the damage, I can’t help but wonder… what if one thing was different. What if Hillary Clinton had been elected US president in 2016, and what if she ended up leading the charge against Covid instead of Donald Trump?
This video will come in two parts. The first part will be about what most would expect. If you’re a “But Operation Warp Speed” Trumper, you will find the next five or six minutes a little triggering. But after that, when we zoom out from the personalities and capabilities of Clinton and Trump themselves, our counterfactual history will get a lot more complicated. To the point where I am not even sure the US would have been better off under Clinton.
The world as a whole however, would have definitely been better off under Clinton.
I don’t take any responsibility at all.
This clip got a lot of attention at the time, but I think it’s emblematic of a lot more than just Trump’s irresponsibility. Folks haven’t really reckoned with just how irresponsible the US was and continues to be. We are getting very busy congratulating ourselves on our vaccine success, and beginning to look on everybody else’s plight with a bit of pity and contempt. Which is pretty outrageous, because we are the assholes who put the rest of the world in this situation. Honestly, as a patriotic American I pray the rest of the world never wakes up to just how responsible we are for the world’s ongoing Coronavirus calamity.
The United States is the center of the world economy. It is the center of world air travel as well. And at no point during this calamity has the United States ever had any kind of control or testing at its borders and at no point has it ever really shut down travel to or from any country. A famous Trump travel ban on China last year, and a famous Biden travel ban on India this week both exempted US citizens, probably the population that does the most traveling to and from those countries. It’s a testament to US control of the world’s media that we talk about the South Africa variant or the UK variant, when in truth all the variants could just as easily be described as US variants, because the United States has been this plague’s biggest superspreader by far. This was already obvious in March of last year.
Since then the United States has gone on to experience just shy of 600,000 deaths due to Coronavirus, as compared to 1,834 in Korea. At this point the US, despite amounting to under 5% of the world population, has accounted for around 20% of the deaths. It’s important to mark those stats now, or rather a month ago, because something serious has changed.
We are still the richest country in the world after all. And because spending money doesn’t inconvenience us the way that making sacrifices for public health would have, the US has now begun to look like a winner. We paid for some snazzy new vaccines and now over 40% of us have taken them. By the summer the US should largely be back to normal, while the rest of the world still struggles with lockdowns and raging disease. Sickness that we played the largest role in spreading. We are like some diseased Medieval nobleman, rich enough to cure ourselves, and expecting to be celebrated for it as we continue to infect everybody we interact with. Would this situation have been better under Hillary Clinton? Oh god, absolutely!
A lot of news outlets, even mainstream supposedly anti-Trump ones have a disturbing habit of exonerating the last president by pointing out that it wasn’t just Trump that failed. They will point to Trump’s constant lying and minimization of the crisis, but they will also point to the failures of the FDA, the CDC and other agencies. After all its these guys that screwed testing up so badly, not Trump himself. Some agencies may need to be reformed but this strikes me as a pretty egregious misrepresentation of what the job of a president is. The President is in charge of all these agencies. Trump hired most of the people that failed to run those agencies well. And even if the people he hired were all hyper competent geniuses, they wouldn’t have been able to do anything when faced with a President as focused on downplaying the problem as Trump was for all of 2020. It’s natural for even the best prepared organizations to fall a part a bit during a crisis. A crisis is arguably the only point at which a US president is really useful. She can break through bureaucratic inertia where it’s necessary. She can identify problems, like testing for example, and throw resources at them until they solved. Hillary Clinton is much more likely to have been that person. She would not have actively disrupted the CDC’s efforts to get the word out the way Trump did. She would have actually believed the pandemic was real instead of just a plot against her stock market. When the virus was indentified in December of 2019 she would have been sorting out testing. By January she could have been taking the serious measures at our airports that could have stopped the spread in the US and around the world. Maybe that’s too optimistic, but If Clinton had simply been able to tell the states and the world to take this seriously just a month or even two weeks before Trump was eventually forced to in March 2020, millions of lives could have been saved. What we do know for sure is that Clinton would never have become the mask fearing bleach injecting international joke that Trump became.
Much has been made of Operation Warp Speed without really thinking about what it was. It was money for vaccines of course. But it was also the consolidation and streamlining of government authorities under a single head, Dr. Moncef Slaoui. Slaoui was empowered to break through the bureaucratic logjams. He could identify problems, and throw resources at them if necessary. Does that sound familiar? You see what Operation Warp Speed was, was a replacement president. Because when it came to the Coronavirus, in 2020 we essentially didn’t have a US president. When the Biden administration came to power it folded operation warp speed back into the office of the president. Because that’s where those powers had always belonged.
If Hillary Clinton had been president we wouldn’t have had to wait for the start of Operation Warp Speed in May 2020 for competent leadership on the Coronavirus. We would have had it in January 2020, and I do believe that would have made all the difference. It’s possible that we could even have seen real worldwide coordination on stopping the virus, instead of the disruptive disease spreading black hole at the center of the US world system that we got. Prior to the Trump administration the US Centers for Disease Control was one of the most respected institutions on the planet. It took the lead on the Swine Flu in 2009 and Ebola on 2014. The world looked to the US for leadership at the beginning of 2020 and instead it got
I take no responsibility at all.
It seems obvious that the world would have been better off with Clinton as president.
But I’m not entirely sure it would have been better for the US. It’s likely that even Clinton’s early and consistent action would have sparked resistance. What if the US saved half a million lives but still had a hundred thousand deaths to deal with and a few months of lockdowns? I wonder what would have happened to the US economy. Because while there are countless things that Clinton could have done that Trump did not, there are a few very important things that Trump did, that Hillary would not have been able to do. Not because Trump is better at anything, but simply because of the structure of US politics.
If a few tens of thousands of votes had gone differently in 2016, Clinton would have been president, but she would not have had any control of congress.In 2018 Trump’s Republicans famously lost the lower house of that legislative body. But midterm elections almost always go against the party that has the Presidency. There is no reason to think Hillary Clinton would have bucked that trend. 2018 would probably have been another historic Democratic loss.
Clinton would also have had more respect for the Constitution than Trump, doing fewer executive orders. She wouldn’t have been as destructive as Trump, but she probably wouldn’t have been able to do much more than his famously do nothing presidency. Also the Republicans wouldn’t have let her spend money the way they let Trump spend, so the economy would still have been pretty grim.
This is a really important counter factual point. You see since the 2008 crisis the Republican had insisted that fiscal discipline was necessary to save the economy. Under Trump they completely discredited that old idea. Trump’s out of control spending finally created a real economic recovery that had eluded the fiscally disciplined Obama. This made a bunch of economists, on the left and the right change their views, mostly because they were so embarrassed. If Trump’s insane spending hadn’t kickstarted an economic boom, Coronavirus stimulus spending might not have ever happened. The trillions of dollars the US government pumped into the world economy to fight Coronavirus might have been just a few billion. Like literally 1000 times less money.
And no matter what the economists thought. With Hillary Clinton in power, the Republicans simply would not have let her spend a dime. Clinton’s competence might even have worked against her. Public pressure would have led to the release of a couple tens of billions of dollars to help her finish off the disease, but stimulus spending? Oh no, that didn’t work during the financial crisis, why would it work now?
In the real world we know it worked extraordinarily well. Trump was out to lunch, but a few of his appointees teamed up with congressional Democrats and basically saved the world. Jay Powell, at the Federal Reserve did a while bunch of stuff I barely understand, but printed enough money to save not just our banking system but the rest of the world’s as well. Steve Mnuchin, Trumps Treasury Secretary, put together a truly ginormous stimulus in collaboration with Democratic house majority leader Nancy Pelosi. If Clinton had been president,everything would have been worse. Janet Yellen would still have been Fed chair, and without the Trump example, she might have still been locked in old orthodoxies. The news this week indicates that she is already trying to slow the economy down. It’s hard to imagine that Yellen would have been as willing to go as nuts as Powell, and she certainly would have gotten more scrutiny from Congress and the media, tying her hands in practice if not in law. It doesn’t really matter what democrat would have been at the Treasury department under Clinton. Because they would have been negotiating with a Republican. Over and over we have seen that Democratic Congresspeople are willing to work with Republican presidents for the good of the country, and Republicans in Congress are not.
If Hillary Clinton had been president, the Republicans would have refused any serious stimulus, and the world economy would have fallen off of a cliff. The early spring plummet in the stock market would have turned into a years long rout. Those lines at food banks we have seen at points during the crisis would have become a daily way of life for tens of millions of Americans. Without the trillions of government spending that Trump was uniquely able to deliver, we might have really gotten that worldwide depression we were all worried about in March of 2020.
And Hillary Clinton would have gotten the blame for all of it. It would have been a happier, more disease free world if Clinton had been US president. But I think the US might have actually been in worse shape economically. Clinton would have been an objectively better president on almost every level. But the US might still have been worse off than under Trump. There really is no justice in the world. Tom Cotton or Ted Cruz would have probably won in 2020. Yeesh.
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