Imagine if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) had surged a little more in the closing days of the Democratic primaries, entered the Democratic National Convention leading Donald Trump by 15 percentage points in polls, was nominated by Democrats for president and was elected president in November — as I believe he would have been if he had been nominated.
In this alternate history, Sanders defeated Trump by a popular vote margin of 6 million votes, won the Electoral College with 310 electoral votes, carried with him enough Democratic Senate candidates to regain Senate control for Democrats and left Republicans with only a 12-seat majority in the House.
The day after Sanders was elected, there were demonstrations of joy by progressives across America and in capitals across Europe. An angry and depressed Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow summoned his intelligence leaders and shouted at them: “Why couldn’t you bums find any dirt on Sanders to give to Wikileaks?”
“We tried, boss, but we couldn’t find anything,” his intelligence operatives reply.
Today, on Inauguration Day, 3 million people come to Washington to celebrate. The Washington Post runs as the front-page headline, “Sanders revolution comes to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue!”
In his inaugural address, Sanders begins by naming his new Supreme Court justice and demands the Senate confirm him promptly as 3 million people in the Mall roar their approval.
In his address, Sanders announces that he and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y), the new Senate majority leader, had prepared legislation to be introduced immediately that would guarantee free public college education for every American and reinstate a version of the Glass-Steagall Act to break up big banks.
In his address, Sanders proclaims that respect for American democracy has surged around the world and challenges Russian dictator Putin to a great battle of ideas. He proclaims that the time has come to begin and win a great debate at home, beginning with passage within six months of the public option for healthcare followed by announcement of a task force to devise a Canadian-style program for full single-payer healthcare.
Immediately after the Sanders inaugural address, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), still in power with a smaller majority, announces his unalterable opposition to the Sanders agenda.
Bernie and Jane Sanders, had already begun the triumphant march up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, but upon hearing Ryan’s vow to defeat the Sanders proposals, they change course and head toward the Mall.
The crowd of 3 million go berserk, Bruce Springsteen climbs the stage to perform “Born in the USA,” and the Sanderses head toward the podium.
Springsteen hands the microphone to Meryl Streep, who says with dignity: “Ladies and gentlemen, I present the president of the United State, Bernie Sanders.”
Sanders addresses the crowd, waving his fist and saying loudly, “Pass the bills! No more b.s.!”
The crowd responds by saying again and again, “Pass the bills! No more b.s.”
Sanders tells the cheering throng that they can send a message of change. “There are 3 million of you! If every one of you gives $27, that means we have $81 million from you alone to elect more Democrats to take back America from Republican control of the House of Representatives!”
At that moment the independent, pro-Sanders group Our Revolution sends out an email money bomb that raises another $30 million from small donors within 72 hours.
In this alternate history, within four months, the Senate confirms the Supreme Court justice that Sanders nominated, and within 18 months the Supreme Court reverses Citizens United.
This alternate history was within reach of becoming the real history.
And for those who protest against soon-to-be President Donald Trump but did not vote on Election Day for Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, here is my message for today: The 2020 elections are less than four years away, and sometimes there are second acts in American life. We progressives have not yet begun to fight.
Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Chief Deputy Majority Whip Bill Alexander (D-Ark.). He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. Contact him at [email protected].