In Frank Capra’s classic Christmas tale It’s a Wonderful Life, the angel Clarence allows George Bailey to witness the horror of what would have happened to the community of Bedford Falls and to his neighbors had he not lived. As we all know, the fate of Bedford Falls residents under the usurious and exploitive rule of Mr. Potter, in what becomes Pottersville, is ugly and desperate. While George managed his family’s building and loan company to serve people’s needs and make better lives possible for citizens of Bedford Falls, Potter rules the city for his own profit.
Sound familiar? Americans are living out the nightmare of Pottersville in Trump’s America.
We don’t have to imagine that nightmare. What is worth imagining is what American life could have, would have, should have been under a Hillary Clinton Presidency.
Democrats and progressives of all stripes will need to paint a vivid portrayal of the wonderful life we might have been living with Hillary Clinton as President and the possibilities they can deliver if they achieve congressional majorities.
Here are some features of the wonderful life I imagined had Hillary Clinton been elected:
*We would be enjoying a world in which a chief effort of the White House would be not to dispossess millions of people of their healthcare but rather to improve and expand the benefits of the very popular Affordable Care Act to even more Americans while working to lower premiums. In short, in the spirit of George Bailey, a Clinton White House would work to serve and help people, rather than milking the government to serve the interests of individual politicians themselves (including our President), lobbyists, and corporate interests.
In my own experience, I have seen many people in my various communities living in terror at the prospect of losing health insurance or having benefits reduced, such as having a lifetime cap on benefits. One family I know lives in terror of having lifetime caps put on benefits because if their father should have a recurrence of cancer, they will have face either bankruptcy or their inability to procure him necessary treatment.
This terror is prevalent.
*Under a Clinton Presidency, the many people registered under the DACA program would not be living in the terror of deportation they are currently experiencing. In addition to creating an environment of terror for many living within the United Sates, the repeal makes no economic sense, as research indicates the deporting DACA registrants would cost the U.S. economy up to 200 billion dollars.
If it makes neither human nor economic sense, it safe to presume that the underlying rationality of the repeal effort is racism.
Part of the wonderful life we missed out on was not having a President who functions as the Racist-In-Chief but seeks to unite rather than divide us. I’m quite sure we would have a leader in Clinton who respects women’s rights and would not be a Sexual Harasser-in-Chief either.
Imagine a leader who would not tolerate racism or sexism and would openly condemn both.
*Under Clinton’s leadership, we would likely also not have seen our environment come under siege. Certainly, we would not have seen the White House withdraw from the Paris climate accord—and hence from the world community—and Clinton certainly would not have killed a ruling that restricted coal companies from dumping waste in our nation’s streams and rivers.
*While Trump has largely been quiet on education, particularly higher education, while his Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continues to work in support of for-profit education and against the interests of public education, Clinton promised to work to make higher education affordable. The state of New York this year distinguished itself as the first state of the union to make four-year public college tuition free for many of its residents whose families meet particular income requirements. Clinton’s campaign promises indicate she would have pursued similar policies.
Meanwhile, Trump’s great contribution to American higher education was his fraudulent Trump University. Mr. Potter himself could not have come up with a greater scam to exploit people’s desires for a better life to feed his own greed.
And keep in mind that creating policies that make higher education accessible to many is not about giving away “free stuff” to undeserving Americans who are unwilling to help themselves.
Rather, it is sound economic and human policy. Student loan debt doesn’t just cripple individuals; it cripples the whole economy, preventing young workers from buying homes, starting families, creating businesses and otherwise pursuing entrepreneurial ventures, saving, and otherwise contributing to an economy whose functioning is largely dependent on consumer spending (2/3 of the economy, to be precise). Moreover, creating an educated workforce undeniably helps the economy, allows us to compete globally, and serves our commonweal overall.
What would Hillary Clinton have done? Her promises indicate she would have pursued policies like George Bailey, creating institutions that serve and help people realize possibilities so they can then serve the world. She would not have used the government as her cash cow, asking the taxpayer to underwrite her lengthy stays at her own resorts.
Clinton articulated an understanding of government’s need to serve the public good, not private interests. Funding education is not just good human policy, it is good economic and social policy, especially if we care about sustaining a democratic society, which requires an educated and critically-minded citizenry.
Our nation, under Clinton’s leadership and value system, could have been working toward this wonderful life.
*Finally, under Clinton, it’s hard to imagine we would have seen the recent tax bill just passed perpetrated on the American people. It is a huge redistribution of wealth that increases the national deficit and undermines the Affordable Care Act, promising to raise health insurance premiums and make healthcare less accessible to millions of Americans, not to mention giving permanent tax cuts to the very wealthy and to corporations already enjoying record profits.
It might have been a wonderful life to see average Americans be granted real tax relief without the cuts in services this bill will necessitate and to see the wealthiest pay a fair share to really make America great again by supporting the country and the workers who have made their wealth possible.
Instead, we have seen Trump turn America into a veritable Pottersville, feeding off the people to enrich himself and his class.
Worse, millions of Americans live in a constant state of terror and anxiety, feeling their lives threatened, the fruits of their labor made less accessible, the global situation more dangerous and volatile, and people overall being made more vulnerable.
What is important is that we recognize what has happened, and that we envision and understand what could make our American lives wonderful.
Just imagine what could have been happening this year to really make America great.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.