What if Al Gore had been the 43rd President of the United States? I have asked myself this question on numerous occasions over the past 16 years. It is a painful mental exercise as it reminds me of all the human suffering that might have been avoided, the environmental losses that may have been averted, and the many unjust laws that may never have come into being.
If Al Gore had been the 43rd President of the United States, the Supreme Court would likely be moderately progressive for decades to come, President Gore would have likely had two appointments to the Supreme Court, and Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justice Alito would not be serving. The Citizens United decision allowing nearly unlimited amounts of money into the political process would not have been made. The Voting Rights Act would not have been weakened by stripping the key provision of pre-clearance of new voting laws in selected states. Perhaps more universal health care might have happened earlier and would have endured the scrutiny of a Supreme Court with Gore’s appointees. With a more progressive Supreme Court, women’s health and reproductive choice would be much more secure. The United States would likely be a more just and more participatory society had Al Gore been president.
How would President Al Gore have handled the September 11, 2001 attacks if they had occurred during his presidency? He likely would have sent troops to Afghanistan with the express purpose of destroying the Al Qaeda network and either killing or bringing its leaders to justice. An unnecessary and destabilizing second Iraq war would not have occurred. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would not have perished, and there would have been thousands of fewer American deaths and other casualties, with thousands of fewer cases of PTSD and physical and mental wounds. There would have been no American sanctioned torture, no Abu Ghraib to serve as propaganda for terrorist recruitment, no rendition of prisoners to other countries for even more extreme torture. Trillions of dollars would not have been wasted on an unnecessary war, and President Al Gore would not have cut taxes during a time of conflict, further exacerbating our national debt and contributing to our failing infrastructure.
President Al Gore would have been more cautious in relation to regulation of industry in general and in relation to the financial industry in particular. One could validly argue that the financial crisis of 2008 either might not have occurred or may have been much less severe in a Gore Presidency. Fewer families may have lost their jobs, their homes, their health insurance, their pensions, and in some cases their lives if Al Gore had been the 43rd President of the United States.
If Al Gore had been president, the United States would have acted more aggressively to address climate change, the greatest global moral and existential challenge of our time. Perhaps the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial global averages would seem less like a dream and more within our grasp. The first decade of the 21st Century may well go down in history as the decade when our failure to act was the difference between a livable and unlivable climate for human civilization. Perhaps Earth truly was in the balance during the 43rd presidency of the United States, and a President Gore may have tipped the scales just enough towards climate justice to avoid the horrific suffering caused by climate change that our children and grandchildren will likely endure.
In June of 2016 in the midst of a hotly contested democratic presidential primary process, which highlighted some of the not so democratic aspects of the Democratic Party, a not insignificant number of Sanders supporters (full disclosure – I voted for Sanders, and I am a democratic socialist) are saying they will never vote for Hillary Clinton. Some are even saying that Trump would be no worse than Clinton. They are saying they are tired of voting for the lesser of two evils, and some are saying that maybe Clinton is not even the lesser evil. I see this as analogous to saying Bush would be no worse than Gore (which is pretty much what Nader was saying in 2000), and history shows where that attitude got us. One may argue that Gore was better than Clinton, but Trump is much much worse than Bush, and remember what happened to our country under the leadership of George W, Bush, 43rd President of the United States. One can imagine with great fear what would happen to our country and our world under Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States.