Editor’s Note: This is the second in a continuing series of articles that considers — or imagines — what might have happened if major historical events had been reversed or turned out differently. Our first article can be viewed here.
It all felt like a long-running nightmare amid a coma-like sleep from which we were unable to awake. There seemed to be no way out and no way back to the comfort or even familiarity of life as we knew it. Frightening, surreal images coursing through our individual and collective consciousness refused to go away: a killer virus gone wild, Depression-level job loss, great cities on fire, race wars, a leader under siege, a nation losing its grip.
But suppose, as in the famous Lazarus-like rise from the grave of a fallen character (Bobby Ewing) in the legendary TV show Dallas, we relegate that godforsaken year to the realm of dreamscape and imagine that the 2020 we were forced to experience never happened. What would our lives look like now?
As we entered March 2020, we reasonably expected a nation gearing up for the usual March madness — the mad scramble in the NCAA basketball tourney — followed by the annual rites of spring and America’s national pastime, baseball. And that would followed by an election season that promised more than the usual rough and tumble, as the ever-controversial Donald Trump sought four more years in the White House. The economy, fueled by Trump’s CEO-style leadership and the tax reform bill of 2018, would be firing on most, if not all, cylinders, accompanied by virtual full employment.
Joe Biden would be in the home stretch of his third try at the White House, but even his most enthusiastic backers would fear what might happen when the aging, gaffe-prone career politician left his basement. Would he be able to withstand, not to mention succeed in, the breakneck pace and pressure of a presidential campaign? Would he need a number of big breaks to be competitive against a president with a record as attractive to most as his personality is repellant to many?
Unless some major crisis — or multiple crises — arose, Biden had little chance. He had failed badly in his first two bites at the presidential apple. So this time, it would take a most unlikely turn of events — say, widespread death from the kind of pandemic we haven’t seen in a hundred years — that could be laid at the feet of Trump via the Trump-deranged media. Not enough? We might also need to see racial tension on an unimagined scale, manifested in violence of the kind that can be blamed on Trump’s racism, and the likes of which this country had not seen since, let’s say, the 1960s. Trump’s shining city on a hill had to somehow be turned into a dark and forbidding land. And an unheard-of number of people would have to vote — not likely since voting by mail would, of course, not be widely available.
But let’s be real. What are the chances of the worst health crisis in 100 years, the worst urban violence in 50 years, and record-shattering voter turnout in favor of a candidate with barely a pulse — in the same year?
And so, President Trump would go on his merry way to what seemed like a glide path to a second term, preparing to move into a fifth gear of force-feeding the MAGA agenda to the ever-resistant elite in the corridors of power. In return, the powerbrokers in both parties would continue to do what they had been doing — publicly or privately — for four years: praying that Trump would somehow go away, that they could take credit for his accomplishments, and that his personality could be caricatured and ridiculed successfully enough to obscure his record of extraordinary reform. Problem is, the voters would know that he and only he, the first true outsider to make it all the way to the Oval Office, could have delivered what conventional politicians had promised for lo these many years.
As Election Day approached, scorched-earth got a new definition. The left threw everything at Trump, including the kitchen sink. Biden, unable to gain ground by attacking Trump’s record, would keep banging on about Charlottesville and very fine people. Twitter would do the unthinkable and ban Trump’s account for unspecified “hate speech” that violated “community standards.” Others would follow suit as censorship seemed the only way to take down Trump.
A broad — and highly unlikely — coalition of business and labor leaders, activists and mainstreamers, conventional and social media, among other odd couplings, would forge a temporary alliance based on their shared goal of removing Trump by any means that availed themselves. A primary strategy cooked up by the left would revolve around the expansion of mail-in voting. It would be done under the guise of racial justice and would greatly favor turnout among their voters — and potential voters. But their pleas would fall mostly on deaf ears. Mail-in voting had become more popular over the years, but the country as a whole would feel more secure voting in person the way they always had.
Control of the Senate would remain with the GOP despite stiff challenges in increasingly purple states like Arizona and Georgia. The House would be a different story: Dozens of contested races would determine control of the lower chamber at a later date. The outcome of the presidential race would likely be determined in short order.
With things going the way sober and intellectually honest observers could reasonably envision, there were no landmark tragedies in this 2020 we imagine. Nevertheless, the full weight of the legacy media and virtually every major institution in the nation would have its weapons of mass destruction aimed at the sitting president. Would the forces arrayed against Trump be enough to deny him four more years?
Read more from Tim Donner.