Great presidents are the bread and butter of American history. But for every Lincoln or Washington, there's a ton of poor saps who didn't even make the primaries. In this week's alt-fiction column, history's losers take over the White House.
Charles Lindbergh: Famous aviator Charles Lindbergh was considered and courted for the Republican nomination for president through the 1930s and early '40s although he never ran. He was also widely suspected to have been anti-semitic and to have been a Nazi sympathizer. Given those facts it's little wonder that a fictional Charles Lindbergh presidency is the premise of two separate books K is for Killing, by Daniel Easterman and The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth. While Lindbergh's presidency is anti-semitic in both alternate timelines, Easterman's book has Lindbergh descend fully into fascism as his presidency, supported by the KKK, sets up Koncentration Kamps all over the United States and almost allies with Hitler in WWII.
Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip: One of the first alternate history presidencies was the satirical fascist presidency of Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip in It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis. Published in 1935, the book centers on Windrip's presidency as he quickly rises to power after promising every American 500 dollars and then turns the US into a fascist dictatorship opposed by surprisingly few citizens. The story was popular enough to be adapted into a play and a 1960's TV movie and, after some network rejiggering, was actually the basis for the original 1980's V series.
Eugene V. Debs: Prominent union leader and five time Socialist Party candidate for president Eugene V Debs did not have a particularly happy life. In addition to his Socialist Party runs at the White House going about as well as you'd expect he was imprisoned by the espionage act during WWI. Debs was later pardoned in the early twenties but died a few years later after he was committed to a sanitarium.
Alternate Eugene V. Debs however actually becomes the leader of an American socialist state in Back in the USSA, a series of short stories by Eugene Byrne and Kim Newman. The series, which mixes characters from fiction with historical personages, sees an American communist revolution led by Debs in reaction to an oppressive presidency of Charles Foster Kane. Debs still doesn't enjoy the happiest of lives however, as the American communist stand-in for Lenin he's inevitably replaced by an American version of the thuggish Stalin: Al Capone.
Dukakis: Poor Michael Dukakis, absolutely destroyed at the polls and remembered mostly for funny looking photographs. Still if you trust Alternate History fiction maybe he deserved it. The anthology Alternate Presidents, edited by Mike Resnick, features stories of almost 30 alternate presidencies including Davy Crockett and Victoria Woodhull. In Robert Sheckley's Dukakis and the Aliens the long suffering democratic candidate wins in a landslide, but is revealed to be an alien attempting to infiltrate classified government facilities. In the end the MIB have no choice but to change history creating our timeline.
Aaron Burr: In another story from Alternate Presidents we examine the possible alternate life of Aaron Burr. Already one of America's most controversial founding fathers Burr not only famously shot Alexander Hamilton but was later tried for treason after rumors sprung up that he was going to establish his own monarchy in the western United States. But as a president...actually as a president he's still pretty terrible.
In Jayge Carr's The War of '07 Aaron Burr becomes president in 1800 after the electoral college is split and he quickly establishes himself as president for life. Burr also strikes up a rather natural alliance with Napoleon and kick-starts the US expansion westward a few decades early.
[Illustrations by Katherine Ramos]