Matthew Rozsa

The pandemic will end someday —but the trauma will linger

Ever since Pfizer and Moderna announced the development of successful COVID-19 vaccines, the end of the pandemic has been in sight. It has been a heinous ordeal — at the time of this writing, more than 2 million people have died worldwide of the disease, including more than 400,000 in the United States — and slow vaccine distribution means uncertainty still lies ahead.

Yet even if all goes well and we do manage to contain the pandemic in the near future, there will be lasting psychological consequences for the humans who suffered through it.

Intriguingly, not all of them will be negative, as Dr. Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, told Salon.

"The pandemic has made everybody concerned about their health. And I think that once the pandemic passes, that concern will continue, which is a good thing rather than a bad thing," Langer explained. She cited as an example how people might be more conscientious when they display flu-like symptoms.

"If one has the flu and the flu is not going to go away, even after COVID goes away, there will be a more positive response to it by people," Langer speculated. "So when you have symptoms, you're likely to address them sooner than you might have prior to the concern about the pandemic."

But the pandemic will also shape our collective psychology for decades to come, as it has profoundly affected people from all ages and all walks of life.

"This will take generations to get past," Dr. David Reiss, psychiatrist in private practice and expert in mental fitness evaluations, told Salon. "And that's because at every stage of development, things have been disrupted, whether you're talking about like my two-year-old grandchild who somehow has to understand seeing family members in masks, to four and five-year-old kids who are just starting to socialize, to adolescents who can't socialize and all through different stages of life." Reiss said as an adult in his sixties he felt deeply affected.

"It's really disrupted the passage to different life milestones and developmental periods, and that disruption is more subtle, but may have a longer lasting effect," Reiss explained.

Indeed, for millions of Americans who have struggled through social isolation and lockdowns, the effect has been traumatizing.

"We always look at trauma in phases, if we're looking at it intelligently anyway, because there is the moment of trauma, then there's the immediate aftermath of trauma," Dr. Lise Van Susteren, general and forensic psychiatrist in Washington, DC, told Salon. "And then there's the long-term impacts of trauma. And we are a traumatized world right now. Certainly we understand that we're a traumatized nation. We've gone through a lot and still it's not over."

Those with pre-existing mental health conditions may be more likely to suffer from pandemic-related trauma, Van Susteren said. People who were left feeling unusually vulnerable are also likely to suffer from trauma issues.

"If you felt you were in charge of your life — and this is typical across trauma generally — the degree to which you feel helpless is going to either exacerbate or fortify you in facing trauma down the road," Van Susteren told Salon regarding the issue of vulnerability. "So if you could protect yourself and your family, you're not going to be as traumatized as those people who could not." To cope with this and other similar traumas, Van Susteren argued people should examine "the degree to which you were able to solve the problems that were thrown at you, and you can look to your review of what happened and tell yourself that under the circumstances you did the best job that you could, that you did the best you could, and that's where you build. That's the essence of resilience. It is 'I did the best I could under the circumstances.'"

Reiss told Salon that people should also look out for signs that they are experiencing trauma.

"I think it will definitely be sort of a classical PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] reaction among many people, and that may range from mild and subtle to overt symptoms," Reiss explained. PTSD is a mental disorder that develops after an individual has been exposed to a traumatic event, with symptoms including insomnia, ruminative thoughts, persistent anxiety, depression and flashbacks.

Reiss speculated that there are not as likely to be many flashbacks "other than for people who are frontline workers who or who lost someone specifically," but that there will likely be occasions of "re-experiencing of the sense of fear, the sense of loss and just the sense of distance and loneliness" that will persist even after the pandemic has ended. He argued that we should look for people who feel lonely, whose interpersonal relationships have been disrupted or who display signs of clinical depression, "which is a sense of hopelessness or helplessness."

Dr. Bandy Lee, a psychiatrist who has taught at Yale and authored the new book "Profile of a Nation: Trump's Mind, America's Soul," told Salon that President Donald Trump and far right-wingers who fed misinformation to the public also hurt our collective mental health.

"The mental health ramifications are going to be huge and exacerbated because of our failure to address this historic public health crisis appropriately," Lee told Salon. "We have handled it perhaps in the worst way possible from a mental health perspective. By supporting denial and suppressing the voices of mental health experts, which the federally-funded American Psychiatric Association achieved unilaterally, we created conditions for exploiting and using psychological vulnerabilities as a political tool. Essentially, this helped divide people into those who believe the pandemic is real and those who believe it is a political ploy to discredit the president."

As a result of this happening, Lee concluded that "we now have a large segment of the population that has been encouraged and trained to avoid reality." People who have become emotionally invested in misinformation and other types of falsehoods, even those that work against their own self-preservation, are going to struggle to come to terms with the fact that they were wrong, a process that will take a lot more time than would have been the case if they had not been lied to. Lee told Salon that she believes "this will eventually be worse than the mental health difficulties from the pandemic itself."

Lee emphasized that humans are resilient. "if they have the notion in their mind that they're in it together with other people, if they have the psychological and social support." Because Trump's errors compounded the magnitude of the pandemic in America and spread misinformation, however, Lee says that there could be a major psychological consequence.

"To learn that a calamity was not necessary, on the other hand, that they were deliberately lied to, will be a much more difficult to overcome, as experiences are far more traumatic when they are human-caused rather than naturally-occurring," Lee explained.

If nothing else, the coronavirus pandemic is likely to have a far-reaching effect on human history, much as the bubonic plague did in the mid-14th century. Although the so-called Black Death caused anywhere from 75 million to 200 million human deaths, it also wound up forcing lords to improve wages and working conditions for serfs on their lands, forced improvements in medicine, helped fuel the Renaissance and (on a less salutary level) led to an increase in persecution against marginalized minority groups like Jews. Some of these changes were due to economic and political factors, but others were rooted in psychology.

Even when the pandemic ends, the psychological fallout will almost certainly change the course of history.

How should Joe Biden handle Donald Trump's post-presidency? Gerald Ford provides a guide

President Donald Trump has achieved many shameful firsts. He is the first sitting president to refuse to accept his reelection loss, making him a historic loser. He is the first president to urge his followers to commit an insurrection so he can stay in power. And he is the first president to be impeached twice. That's just a shortlist. There is no precedent for Trump's disgraceful behavior, however, that doesn't mean that his successor, President-elect Joe Biden, will enter completely uncharted territory when he takes office.

One of Biden's first tasks will be to heal a nation that has lost faith in its institutions after the presidency has been disgraced and the other branches of government failed to provide a real check. In that regard, Biden can take a page from the book of President Gerald Ford, the man who followed Richard Nixon in the White House after the Watergate scandal.

The Watergate scandal occurred because five burglars were arrested in the Democratic National Committee's Watergate offices during the 1972 presidential election. After it was revealed that Nixon had attempted to cover up various activities following the burglary and in other ways interfered in the investigation, he was pressured into resigning before his inevitable impeachment. Normally this would have meant that the person elected as Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew, would have taken over, but Agnew had resigned less than a year earlier after being accused of bribery, tax fraud and extortion. Agnew ultimately pleaded no contest to one felony charge of tax evasion and was replaced by Ford under the 25th Amendment. That meant Ford was next in line when Nixon left office in 1974 (at that time, interestingly enough, Biden was already serving his first term as a senator from Delaware).

Ford faced an unenviable task. He was the first and to this day the only president who took office without having been elected to either the presidency or vice presidency. American partisanship was extremely vicious in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam War in which thousands of Americans died due to government incompetence, a floundering economy, and a gas shortage. Similarly, Biden has to take over after hundreds of thousands needlessly died due to Trump's incompetent response to the coronavirus pandemic, the economy is in horrific shape, climate change threatens to destroy the planet and Trump has convinced millions to falsely believe that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Yet each president also had the advantage of comparatively high approval ratings. The initial Gallup Poll taken after Ford assumed office had him at 71%, whereas a recent Pew Poll found that 64% of Americans approve of Biden's conduct since Election Day and 58% approve of how he has explained his upcoming policies and plans. Biden has the added benefit of Trump's approval rating plummeting due to the Capitol Riot, with that same Pew survey finding Trump with a measly 29% approval rating and 76% of Americans holding a negative view of his post-election behavior. A Quinnipiac Poll last week found Trump's approval rating is at 33% while his unfavorable numbers are at 60% and an average of recent polls at said that Trump's approval rating is at only 38%. Overall Biden enters office with a 49.9% favorable rating and a 43% unfavorable rating, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average as of Friday, giving him a net favorable rating of 6.9%. That may seem unpromising but, considering that Biden is bound to be compared to Trump, it is more hopeful when you realize that RealClearPolitics shows Trump with an average favorable rating of 39.8% and an unfavorable rating of 57%, resulting in a net unfavorable rating of 17.2%.

The challenge now is what each president should do with that public support. What can Biden learn from Ford? What did Ford do right — and what did he do wrong?

"He began things off on a good note," V. Scott Kaufman, a historian at Francis Marion University who wrote a biography of Ford, told Salon. "He said our national nightmare is over. He reached out to groups like the Black Congressional Caucus to try to say, 'Look, I'm not like Richard Nixon. I want to reach out to all Americans.' He also approached things so he came across as just your average American, while Richard Nixon was very aloof, was not very gregarious." As Kaufman emphasized to Salon, Ford did his best to focus on bringing Americans from all walks of life together and focusing on the shared problems that they faced as Americans.

Kaufman's views were echoed by Gleaves Whitney, executive director of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation.

"In the wake of the Watergate scandal, President Ford knew the most important thing he could do to heal the nation was reinforce that he was trustworthy," Whitney told Salon by email. "He just had to keep being himself. That meant he would lead by example. He would be transparent with the media. He would talk straight with the American people. And he would work his hardest to reestablish trust, at home and abroad, in the office of the presidency of the U.S."

At the same time, Ford also made a very serious mistake.

"What he did wrong — and again, we can debate this — but pardoning Nixon," Kaufman explained. "He did a very poor job of preparing the nation for that possibility. What he did came as a surprise not only to the average American, but even to members of his own party. And it only added to the belief that there's a conspiracy out there. It came back to haunt him in the 1976 presidential election."

There has been a lot of debate over whether Ford should have pardoned Nixon. For the rest of his life Ford defended his decision on the grounds that it allowed Americans to move past the Watergate scandal, which would have been impossible if Nixon had undergone a prolonged trial. Ford also cited the 1915 Supreme Court case Burdick v. United States, which held that accepting a pardon implies an admission of guilt. An obvious counter to those defenses is that, by setting a precedent in which a president could break the law and not be held legally accountable, Ford emboldened future presidential lawbreakers like Trump. Perhaps if Nixon had spent time in jail for his misconduct while trying to win in 1972, Trump wouldn't have been brazen enough to try to win in 2020 by attempting to coerce Ukraine into smearing Biden and, later on, working to overturn the election results.

Either way, it is definitely clear that Ford paid a steep political price for how he handled the pardon, with his approval rating plummeting to 50% in the immediate aftermath and being stuck in the high 30s and 40s for most of the remainder of his presidency. If Ford had not pardoned Nixon, he could have capitalized on the massive goodwill he initially inherited, worked with members of both parties to achieve important things and even been elected to a term of his own. Instead the single thing he is most remembered for doing as president is pardoning Nixon.

This brings us to Biden. Although there will no doubt be pressure on him to pardon Trump — or at the very least discourage impeachment and prosecutions for the former president — he should not succumb to those pressures. All of the talk of "unity" will be nonsense because (a) Biden will alienate millions of Americans by sending the message that, once again, a criminal president is above the law and (b) it is absurd to think that die-hard Trump supporters will give Biden credit for going easy on Trump (or anything else, for that matter). While Biden should avoid seeming vindictive toward his predecessor, he will suffer immensely if he allows Trump to avoid the same legal consequences that ordinary Americans would face if they were accused of comparable crimes. The best way to unify the country is for people to have faith in Biden's integrity and judgment, not simply for his disgraced predecessor to be out of the headlines.

In a similar vein, it will behoove Biden to emulate the example Ford set before he pardoned Nixon. While the hostility toward Biden is much greater in 2021 than the hostility toward Ford in 1974, that animus is almost entirely rooted in Trump's bogus claims that the election was stolen; it is no more personal against Biden than it would have been against any other Democrat who beat Trump in the 2020 contest. Although die-hard Trump supporters will never let that go, the passage of time will likely cause the anti-Biden anger to fade for those who aren't part of the Trump cult and will want to move on with their lives. Therefore, like Ford, Biden will have the opportunity to focus on the constructive things he wants to do as president — revive the economy, end the pandemic, fight climate change — and use his Senate and House majorities to achieve them.

This, too, will not be easy. But when Ford focused on being proactive in solving America's problems, and using his genial image to seem like a well-intentioned statesman, Americans warmed up to him. If Biden behaves honorably and similarly adopts a "let's move forward" approach, he could similarly benefit... again, except among those who have a cult-like devotion to Trump, and are therefore beyond hope.

This doesn't mean that Biden won't face unique challenges. Perhaps the biggest one is that Republican timidity is much greater now than in the 1970s, when Nixon's own party played an instrumental role in convincing him to step down. For example, when Salon reached out to Ford's 1976 vice presidential running mate, Bob Dole, for his thoughts on what Americans can learn from Ford's presidency, a representative from Dole's team told Salon that "he has been entirely laying low on the topic." Salon pointed out that this was surprising, given that Dole should at least be willing to go on record saying Ford would not have approved of the Capitol Riot, and asked whether Dole personally disapproved of the riot and believed Ford would have as well. Dole's camp did not reply.

This may speak to the fact that America is far more polarized in 2021 than it was in 1974.

"There are some similarities but many differences," Whitney told Salon when asked to contrast Ford's America in 1974 with Biden's America in 2021. "Despite the turmoil of the Sixties, the social foundation of the U.S. was more intact in 1974 than it is today. There was more unum and less pluribus then. More Americans shared common beliefs and values when it came to religion, economics, politics, and society than they do today. Given our divisions today, it will be extremely difficult for President-elect Biden to bring about more unity. He will have to work at least as hard as President Ford did to start the healing process. But he has to do it. It is Job One."

Incidentally, Ford's successor President Jimmy Carter had a similar observation when he was interviewed by this reporter in 2018 about the 1970s, observing that "we still have the same crises of that time, plus a serious loss of faith in democracy, the truth, treating all people as equals, each generation believing life would be better, America has a good system of justice, etc."

As for what Ford would have thought of the Capitol Riot? Kaufman shared a revealing anecdote.

"After Jimmy Carter's inauguration, President Ford departed the White House via helicopter," Kaufman wrote to Salon. "As he flew over the Capitol building, he said, with tears in his eyes, 'That's my real home.' For a person who had served in Congress for a quarter century, Ford knew that that 'home' was where the representatives of the people conducted business for American people. It is a hallowed place, a symbol of democracy. Had he been alive today and witnessed a group of thugs break into the Capitol, ransack it, and desecrate his statue by putting a Trump flag in his hand and a MAGA hat on his head, he would have been irate."

Psychological study reveals that the conservative mind is more resistant to science

Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro is fond of saying, "facts don't care about your feelings," a quip that implies that empirical data is more important than anecdotal evidence. Yet a recent psychological study suggests that conservatives, not liberals, are far more apt to let their feelings to get in the way of accepting facts.

In a paper published in the journal Political Psychology in October, researchers from Cal Poly Pomona and Eureka College describe a pair of studies that they conducted to determine if there is a connection between a person's political ideology and their willingness to accept scientific and non-scientific views on non-political subjects. Their goal was to assess how people feel not just toward scientists but also "nonexpert" voices. They allowed the surveyed individuals to either rate one higher than the other, or argue that "both sides" were equal.

The researchers then conducted a pair of studies in 2018 in which participants, after being screened based on their political philosophy, "read a supposed article excerpt where a researcher was quoted as debunking a popular misconception. An alternative viewpoint followed, rejecting the researcher's viewpoint."

The authors of the paper found that, although conservatives and liberals both reported more favorable views of the science researcher than the rejecter, conservatives were more likely to think both sides were closer in legitimacy. They also found that in general conservatives held a less favorable view of the expert than liberals and a more favorable view of the rejecter than liberals.

Why are conservatives more likely to reject empirical data?

"From my understanding traditional conservatism is all about individualism, so more weight is given to an individual's experience with any given phenomenon," Dr. Alexander Swan, assistant professor of psychology at Eureka College and a co-author of the paper, told Salon by email. "This experience is fueled by our innate sense of intuition — what feels right to me? What makes sense?"

Although he noted that liberals are not immune to this tendency, Swan pointed out that modern conservative ideas are often opposed to scientific conclusions, citing as one example how many conservatives are skeptical of the reality of man-made climate change because "this would impact the capitalistic pursuit."

Dr. Randy Stein, assistant professor of marketing at Cal Poly Pomona and another co-author of the paper, had a similar observation, recalling in writing to Salon how an unnamed official from President George W. Bush's administration once said that they are "not part of the 'reality-based community,' and studying reality is something you can do but studying it is subservient to creating it, and if you study it you're kind of a sucker." He described this as a "kind of imperialistic approach to reality, you can do your research but that's just one way of looking at it, because in the end I'll create my own." Like Swan, Stein added that liberals can do this too, but it is more pronounced among conservatives in part because their media is hostile to institutions like academia and medicine whose conclusions contradict their biases.

"Keep in mind, political ideology is something you can pick," Stein explained. "Trumpist/populist conservatism is pretty open as far as pushing 'don't believe what the media tells you' and 'don't believe experts' type thinking, so it's going to be more attractive to those who think that way."

Stein and Swan also saw a partial connection between their conclusions and the refusal of both President Donald Trump and many of his supporters to accept that President-elect Joe Biden won the 2020 election.

"In our studies we had people rate the perspectives of researchers and people arguing against the research. So that's a bit different than a refusal to admit defeat, but it's not in another universe entirely," Stein observed. "If you're an 'all ways of looking at it are equally good' kind of person, you're increasing vulnerability to all sorts of ideas, and scattered, flimsy 'evidence' can start to sound legitimate even if there's no evidence in a systematic sense."

Swan argued to Salon that the 2020 election results are a "sticky subject and not really an extension of our research" because "the outcome of the election isn't a belief in science or not, but rather a faith in our democratic institutions and practices." He argued that propaganda plays a role, for instance, in refusal to accept the election results and that he is hesitant to apply their findings to the elections. He added, however, that people need to trust the institutions and individuals producing evidence in order to have faith in them. "I think there is a pretty clear marker in this instance that distrust was deliberately sown over months and months."

Swan also emphasized that he was not arguing for people to "blindly accept what scientists say," but instead that they should look at the strength of evidence regarding certain conclusions. "The more you grapple with this difference at all levels of education, the more scientifically literate a person is, a stronger critical thinker they become, and it doesn't allow for confirmation bias to take hold by allowing somebody to just nod along with their side because it aligns with a pre-existing belief (e.g., creationism taught side-by-side with evolution.)"

Trump's refusal to attend Biden's inauguration is sending an ominous message

Donald Trump is not breaking precedent by refusing to attend President-elect Joe Biden's upcoming inauguration — but he is the first to do so after trying to foment a coup so he could stay in power despite losing his reelection campaign. That is an absolutely crucial distinction between Trump and his predecessors.

First, a quick look at the other outgoing presidents who boycotted the inauguration of the next-in-line. This list excludes those who did not attend for non-malicious reasons. Martin Van Buren missed William Henry Harrison's inauguration for unknown reasons, Woodrow Wilson was medically unable to attend Warren Harding's swearing-in after suffering a stroke and Richard Nixon skipped Gerald Ford's inauguration because he had just resigned in disgrace due to the Watergate scandal.

There are, however, three other presidents who boycotted their successors' inaugurations for personal reasons.

John Adams, America's second president, was angry at what he perceived as a vicious campaign by his opponent Thomas Jefferson. His son, John Q. Adams, refused to go to Andrew Jackson's inauguration both out of contempt for his rival and because he feared for his life. Finally, there is Andrew Johnson, who had been impeached the previous year (the first American president to experience impeachment) and felt unwelcome at the inauguration of the successor whose party had impeached him, Ulysses S. Grant.

Yet it is essential to realize that Adams, Adams and Johnson all accepted the legitimacy of their opponents' victory. Indeed, while the first Adams may have been ungracious by skipping Jefferson's inauguration, he did something of tremendous historical consequence by handing over power at all. The 1800 election was the first in American history in which a sitting party was defeated and as such was a critical test for the democratic experiment: It could only work if a party that sought to stay in power and lost would willingly give up that power to their rival. Jefferson later praised Adams' acceptance of the voters' verdict as "revolution of 1800" because it established that the American government would be controlled "by the rational and peaceable instrument of reform, the suffrage of the people."

While neither the younger Adams nor Johnson did anything as historically noble as the first Adams, they still did not question their rivals' right to serve. John Q. Adams deplored Jackson as a foul-mouthed, dishonest and ignorant bigot (and he was absolutely right), but accepted that he had been shellacked in the 1828 election and ultimately found post-presidential solace in being elected to the House of Representatives. Johnson, by contrast, was put off by the fact that Grant refused to share the carriage that would have transported both of them to the swearing in, and between that and his recent impeachment decided to close his presidency by working from his office rather than honoring Grant.

Trump, on the other hand, has always insisted that he will not accept an election's results unless he is the winner. He did this on numerous occasions during the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, the 2016 general presidential election and the 2020 general election campaign. On its own, this does not necessarily make Trump's refusal to join Biden especially ominous; Trump has as much of a right to embarrass himself with a petulant display as did Adams, Adams and Johnson. Yet the symbolic import of that petulance was radically changed on Wednesday after Trump egged on thousands of his supporters to storm the Capitol, telling them that "you'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong." By all accounts, he deliberately delayed calling off the riot because he was angry at Congress and Vice President Mike Pence (who is attending Biden's inauguration) for not overturning the 2020 election (which they did not have the authority to do).

Context matters. If Trump had never encouraged his supporters to riot in the Capitol and had instead conceded after Congress certified Biden's victory, his refusal to attend Biden's inauguration could be perceived as mere shameful spite rather than an overt display of anti-democratic symbolism. Yet he did encourage them to riot, and they followed his lead, marking the first time the Capitol has been overrun by hostile actors since the British invaded Washington in 1814.

The only question that remains now is whether Trump, like dozens of the other rioters, will face criminal charges for his actions. His refusal to attend Biden's inauguration is not a crime on its own — and it is not unprecedented — but the fact that it caps off his effort to reverse a legitimate and democratic election with a violent coup makes it an undeniable attempt to further delegitimize Biden's presidency. It is the rotten cherry on top of the fascist sundae that is Trumpism.

'Maternal hostility' may predict whether one mistreats their adult romantic partners

A new study suggests that there is a close connection between people who dehumanize their partners in romantic relationships and whether their mothers treated them with hostility as children. Unusual for an academic journal article, the paper has gone viral due to many readers relating to its conclusions and seeing connections in their own lives.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota and the Australian Deakin University School of Psychology defined dehumanization as "the perception or treatment of another person as lacking qualities considered to be uniquely or essentially human."

They write that dehumanization usually entails two types of behavior: denying a human being's uniqueness "such as intelligence, self-control, civility, competency, social refinement, and maturity" or denying a person's human nature, including their ability to feel emotions

Relying on data from the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation, the authors found that there is a direct correlation between experiencing maternal insensitivity or "hostility" at an early age, and dehumanizing romantic partners later in life.

"Maternal sensitivity reflects a mother's ability to detect and accurately interpret her infant's signals and respond to them in a prompt, appropriate manner, thereby meeting the child's physical and socioemotional needs," the authors explain. Children who do not receive enough maternal sensitivity may feel that they have been denied the validity of their ability to experience emotions, they write.

"Maternal hostility reflects a mother's expressions of anger and hostility toward her child, which can entail a lack of regard or the expression of rejection," they write. "From a dehumanization perspective, hostility conveys that a person is perceived or treated by another as if they are foolish, irrational, or flawed, which reflects the denial of human qualities such as intelligence and rationality."

The authors focused on mother-child relationships "because it reflects a person's early life experiences with their primary caregiver." This is important because "child–caregiver relationships early in life that are characterized by greater hostility, neglect, and abuse tend to have negative downstream effects in the form of poorer romantic relationship functioning in adulthood."

A number of Reddit users responded to the study, opening up about their own experiences with difficult parents.

One pseudonymous user, who described having an "authoritarian father," said that they are married to a wife who is a counselor and has helped rein in their own authoritarian instincts. "Every once in a while it instinctively comes out of me when dealing with our kids, particularly my son," the user writes. "But I'm at least self aware enough now to catch myself when it goes there and reel it back in. Definitely something I have to make an effort to actively manage."

Another Reddit user recalled, "As an adult in a relationship, whenever my partner gets into a broody [mood], I instinctively retreated into a shell just like my dad did, out of the fear that whatever caused them to get angry was something I did." The user added that usually they discovered they had done nothing wrong, but that this is a trait they picked up from their parents.

"My wife came from an abusive household and it's been very important to us that we identify the problems and break the cycle when it comes to our own relationship and when raising our daughter," a third Reddit user recalled. "I think an important part that is going unsaid is mutual respect. If you and your partner, child or family member have respect for each other it makes communication and constructive development so much easier."

Criminal Trump pardoned personally thanked the president at holiday party in Florida

Roger Stone, the close ally and informal adviser to Donald Trump, bragged on Monday that he had personally thanked the president for pardoning him last week.

"My wife and I both had the opportunity to thank the president personally for righting the injustice of my conviction in a Soviet-style show trial, which featured the epic bias of the judge who withheld exculpatory evidence from my defense, misconduct by the jury forewoman and substantial misconduct by the prosecutors," Stone told ABC News about his encounter with Trump on Sunday night. According to Stone, he ran into the president in passing while going to the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida. He and his wife, Nydia Stone, were guests of Newsmax publisher Christopher Ruddy. Although the White House declined to comment on the matter, a source who was in the dining room — which had roughly 100 people in it — shared a picture of Trump interacting with Stone by patting the convicted felon on the shoulder.

Trump's decision to pardon Stone was not entirely unexpected. As Salon's Heather Digby Parton wrote after Trump commuted Stone's sentence days before he was supposed to report to prison in July. Stone had intimated in an interview with journalist Howard Fineman that he could "play Judas" against Trump. "I think we might have expected a full pardon, but since there was reportedly so much resistance within the administration, Trump may have decided that commutation before the election, and then pardon afterward looked like a reasonable compromise," Parton wrote.

There is no evidence to support any of Stone's claims about supposed judicial misconduct during his trial. Stone was convicted in November 2019 of obstruction of justice, witness tampering and making false statements. In February, Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison, although he was able to achieve a number of delays when it came to actually being incarcerated.

There is some debate within the legal community about whether accepting a pardon constitutes an admission of guilt. In the 1915 Supreme Court case Burdick v. United States, the court wrote that a pardon "carries an imputation of guilt; acceptance a confession of it." President Gerald Ford later used this quote to justify pardoning his predecessor, President Richard Nixon, who was facing criminal charges related to his involvement in the Watergate scandal. Yet pardons do not legally establish that a person is either guilty or acknowledging guilt, with President George H. W. Bush famously pardoning former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger because he believed that official's conviction in the Iran-Contra scandal had amounted to "the criminalization of policy differences."

Salon spoke with Stone in 2017 about his alleged connections to Russia, during which he adamantly denied any contact or coordination with Russians involving the 2016 presidential election. When this reporter asked Stone, after the political operative was the victim of a hit-and-run, why he had sent him a text message saying that he suspected it might have been perpetrated by someone who did not want him to testify about the Russia investigation, Stone insisted that there were a number of "false statements" by members of the House that he wanted to correct.

Stone is also an inflammatory figure because of his association with radical right groups and causes. In 2018 he was photographed flashing an allegedly white supremacist hand signal with members of the Proud Boys, the same radical right group that Trump encouraged to "stand back and stand by" during one of his debates with President-elect Joe Biden. Stone told this reporter at the time that "we reject the claim that is a symbol of bi[g]otry and we specifically denounce White Supremacy." In September Stone urged Trump to declare martial law if he lost the 2020 presidential election and has subsequently taken a leading role in "Stop the Steal," a movement that accuses Democrats of stealing the election from Trump despite being unable to prove their claims.

The Trump campaign has lost all 59 of the fraud-related cases it has brought to court (some presided over by Republican and Trump-appointed judges), only winning a case that involved a procedural question. Trump's own attorney general William Barr admitted after investigating voter fraud accusations that there was no reason to believe Biden had not legitimately won the election. The Supreme Court also unanimously found that Trump's fraud claims have no merit, three of whom were judges appointed by Trump himself.

Salon reached out to Stone for this article but he declined to comment.

How Trump turned himself into a historic loser

It is obvious by now that President Donald Trump is a narcissist desperately afraid of being thought of as a "loser." This is why he has gone to such incredible lengths to deny the results of the 2020 election: A man who regularly used the epithet "loser" as a go-to insult long before taking office will now be remembered as one of only a handful of sitting presidents to seek another term and be rebuffed by the American people.

Still, 77% of Republicans claim (whether sincerely or in bad faith) that President-elect Joe Biden didn't legitimately win. While America has had other one-term presidents, it has never had either a one-term president or a large group of that one-term president's supporters react with such cringe-inducing, democracy-defying petulance. Being defeated is embarrassing, to be sure, but nothing is more shameful than reacting to a defeat by throwing a giant temper tantrum and lying about the other side cheating.

For that, Trump and those backing his ego-salving coup attempt are in a category of their own in American history —making them historic losers. Let's briefly look at how America's other one-term presidents have reacted to their electoral defeats.

Before Trump, America had ten one-term presidents: John Adams, John Q. Adams, Martin Van Buren, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William H. Taft, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush. The initial Adams is the most instructive of this group because he was the first president who had to give up power reluctantly. (His predecessor and America's first president, George Washington, famously did not seek a third term and was eager to relinquish power at the end of his second.) Adams was extremely bitter about losing to Thomas Jefferson in the 1800 election and, to prove that point, refused to attend his successor's inauguration. At the same time, Adams made it clear that democracy could only work if those in power bowed to the will of the people, regardless of their personal wishes. Jefferson later praised Adams' peaceful transfer of power as the "revolution of 1800" because it established that in America the government is controlled "by the rational and peaceable instrument of reform, the suffrage of the people."

This isn't to say that Adams didn't do what he could to figuratively kick Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican supporters in the shins, most notably by appointing a number of Federalists (his party) to judicial offices on his way out the door. (The most famous of the bunch was John Marshall, who Adams chose as chief justice of the Supreme Court.) Other one-term presidents have followed his example, trying to shore up their legacies and/or engaging in vindictive trickery while still accepting the voters' verdict. Like his father, John Q. Adams refused to attend the inauguration of his successor, Andrew Jackson.

Martin Van Buren took solace in the fact that he actually won more votes during his reelection campaign in 1840 than when he had been first elected in 1836 (as in 2020, that advantage was offset by a massive increase in voter turnout, most of which benefited his opponent William H. Harrison) and immediately began planning another presidential run in 1844, although he ultimately failed in that effort.

In 1888 Grover Cleveland actually won the popular vote but still he lost his reelection campaign — the only sitting president to whom this has happened — and like Van Buren gracefully accepted his defeat and immediately began planning for the next campaign, which he actually won. (Cleveland's reelection in 1892 made him the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms.)

Some one-term presidents simply moved on with their lives. Benjamin Harrison's wife died of tuberculosis two weeks before Election Day 1892, and he was so devastated that he focused on finding a healthy way to grieve and develop a post-political career when he learned he hadn't been reelected. William H. Taft, by contrast, felt acutely humiliated by being the only sitting president to do worse than a third-party candidate — he received 23.2% of the popular vote, less than third-party candidate and former President Theodore Roosevelt, and only won the electoral votes of Utah and Vermont — but threw himself into a new job as a professor at Yale Law School and worked closely with his successor, President Woodrow Wilson, both during and after the transition. Indeed, Taft was so highly regarded as an ex-president that he was eventually appointed as chief justice to the Supreme Court, making him the only American to serve as both a president and a Supreme Court judge.

Herbert Hoover is one of the less impressive names on this list. After losing in a landslide to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 election because of the Great Depression, Hoover engaged in petty squabbles with Roosevelt's transition team over economic policy, as Hoover was convinced that Roosevelt was a lightweight and completely unqualified to steer America out of the crisis. The bitterness led to a number of petty swipes taken during and after Hoover's presidency, and Hoover regularly fought his successor's policies and accused him of being a tyrant, but never tried to defy the 1932 election results.

Gerald Ford is a unique case because he was never elected either president or vice president; he reached the latter office because Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned due to a bribery scandal and the former after President Richard Nixon resigned due to the Watergate scandal. Despite coming shockingly close to winning a term in his own right in the 1976 election, Ford was graceful in defeat and worked so closely with incoming President Jimmy Carter that the successor took the unusual step of praising Ford in his inaugural address.

Carter, by contrast, was less than thrilled when he lost in an unexpected landslide to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election, especially since Reagan was a far right-wing candidate whose views were anathema to the center-left Carter. Yet Carter still worked with his successor, even successfully negotiating the release of 52 Americans who were being held hostage in Iran during the transition between their two administrations despite knowing Reagan would receive credit for their release.

George H. W. Bush, for his part, anticipated that he would lose to Bill Clinton in the 1992 election, given his poor polls and the underwhelming economy. His deep disappointment did not stop him from gracefully working with his successor, however, and Clinton repaid the favor by striking Iraq after learning that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had plotted to assassinate the former president. Bush and Clinton eventually became very close friends.

Now compare all of this — the good, the bad and the ugly — with Trump's behavior.

Since 2016, Trump has insisted that if he runs in an election and does not win, it is because the other side cheated. He did this during his 2016 bid for the Republican presidential nomination when he lost the Iowa caucuses to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and, later, repeatedly claimed that if he lost to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton it would be because the election was "rigged" and that he would only accept the results "if I win." After Trump defeated Clinton in the electoral college (coincidentally by the same margin, 306 to 232, by which he lost to Biden in 2020), he obsessed over the fact that he lost the popular vote and falsely claimed that he had actually won it, creating a voter fraud commission to prove his claim that eventually had to be disbanded because no such evidence existed.

And that was just about the 2016 election. Because he knew that Democrats were more likely than Republicans to vote by mail due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump tried to preemptively discredit mail-in votes with false claims that they were prone to fraud; these were rejected in court, but that did not stop Trump from trying to cripple the Post Office so that "they can't have universal mail-in voting." As in 2016, Trump also repeatedly said that the only way he could lose is if the Democrats stole the election, telling Fox News' Chris Wallace that he would not promise to accept the 2020 election results if they went against him, admitting that he is not a "good loser" and claiming that "mail-in voting is going to rig the election." This paved the way for him to prematurely claim victory on Election Night because in-person votes were generally counted first and made it look like he had a lead, and then falsely claim that there were "vote dumps" as mail-in ballots were counted and eventually showed that he had lost.

Since then Trump has resorted to gish galloping, or the practice of overwhelming someone with bad arguments in the hope that it will confuse third parties into not seeing that you're lying and exhaust your opponents by forcing them to debunk all of them. Yet despite repeatedly claiming in public that he was the victim of voter fraud, he never actually alleged voter fraud in more than two-thirds of the 60 cases he brought to court (most likely because deliberately lying to a judge is a crime). More importantly, he lost 59 of the 60 cases he has brought related to the election, winning only in a small procedural case about how much extra time first-time voters in Pennsylvania could get to confirm their identifications in order for their mail-in votes to be counted. Many of the judges who ruled against Trump were Republicans; some were appointed by Trump himself. Trump's own attorney general, William Barr, admitted after investigating that there was no evidence that Biden stole the election. (Trump fired Barr for this, not surprisingly.) The Supreme Court itself ruled unanimously that Trump's fraud claims had no merit, a decision that included the three judges Trump appointed to that bench. Republican legislative leaders in key swing states have resisted Trump's pressure campaign to overturn the election results for the simple reason that it would be illegal for them to do so.

Now Trump is left acting like James Buchanan, the president who was so bitter about Abraham Lincoln winning the 1860 election that he allowed the Civil War to break out rather than work with someone whose political philosophy differed from his own. Yet even Buchanan never contemplated actively stopping Lincoln from serving, or installing himself as a dictator, simply because he did not like the man's views. Trump initially stalled allowed Biden to begin transitioning into the White House, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic taking thousands upon thousands of lives, and has allegedly considered imposing martial law so he can stay in power. As of the time of this writing, he continues to insist that he won the 2020 election and is continuing to try to find a way to stay in power.

This is what makes Trump one of American history's biggest losers. Of the 44 men who have served as president, exactly one-quarter of them were spurned by the voters, but Trump alone within that group has threatened to destroy democracy itself in order to stay in power. Compared to the other ten one termers, Trump comes across as a spoiled brat, a petulant child, a would-be dictator motivated not by principle or necessity but a lifelong habit of crying like a baby if he doesn't get what he wants.

If he actually was a child, this would merely be pathetic. Because he is threatening democracy itself, however, Trump has sunk below pathetic and crashed through the floor into the realm of being a forever loser. Anyone who supports him in his effort is, by extension, a forever loser too.

Scientists looking for alien life are intrigued by a weird radio signal from a nearby star

Scientists at an Australian observatory have been studying a radio signal that appears to originate in Proxima Centauri, the star closest to the sun, to see if it may be a sign of intelligent life.

A narrow beam of radio waves was detected over a period of 30 hours in April and May 2019 by the Parkes telescope in Australia, according to The Guardian. The researchers studying the wave emission have not yet been able to identify any Earthly origin, whether a satellite in or something on the ground. As a result, scientists at the Breakthrough Listen project — an organization based at the University of California, Berkeley that searches for radio signals from intelligent extraterrestrial life forms in the universe — believe that the radio signal could originate from extraterrestrial intelligent life.

The beam, known as BLC1, is also attractive to E.T.-hunters because its frequency shifts in a way that is consistent with the movement of a planet. It resembles the kind of radio waves that humans would send into space and appears to come from the direction of the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri.

Spokespeople for the Breakthrough Listen project said that this radio beam is, therefore, "the first serious candidate since the 'Wow! signal'" that intelligent aliens may have sent a radio signal into space that was picked up by humans. The "Wow! signal" was a narrowband radio signal detected by Ohio observatory in 1977, and was given its name because astronomer Jerry Ehman wrote "Wow!" next to the data, noting the great degree of magnitude with which the signal was stronger than background noise. While the origin of the Wow! signal has never been definitively determined, recent theories suggest it resulted from a quickly-moving comet, not aliens.

Likewise, the jury is still out on the origin of the 2019 signal from Proxima Centauri. "It has some particular properties that caused it to pass many of our checks, and we cannot yet explain it," Andrew Siemion from the University of California, Berkeley, told Scientific American about the signal. He also pointed to the fact that the signal is in a very narrow band of the radio spectrum, 982 megahertz, which usually does not include transmissions from human-made spacecraft and satellites. "We don't know of any natural way to compress electromagnetic energy into a single bin in frequency," Siemion told the magazine.

As with all news about the potential discovery of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, there are reasons to be skeptical. There may be an as-of-yet unexplained human cause for the radio signal, and even if it does originate in space, there could be a scientific explanation that does not involve extraterrestrial life. For scientists to learn more about whether this proves aliens exist, they will need to publish their full research and then other astronomers will have to spend an extended period of time analyzing it.

2020 has been a signal year for sensational stories about extraterrestrial life. The most scientifically robust story involved the purported discovery of trace amounts of phosphine — a gas emitted by anaerobic bacteria on Earth — in the atmosphere of Venus. After the initial excitement surrounding that paper's publication, however, two subsequent scientific investigations were not able to replicate the original study's results, throwing cold water on the original flame of excitement.

Similarly, there was much buzz over videos of purported "UFOs" that were recorded by American military pilots, which the Pentagon announced in August it was going to investigate. While those videos do indeed show aircraft that have not been identified, there is no evidence that the crafts are of alien origin, and the objects move in a manner consistent with human technological capabilities. Indeed, mundane explanations range from the possibility of technology being developed by another country or a corporation that did not disclose its work to the US military.

The most out-there piece of 2020 E.T. news involved Haim Eshed, an Israeli official who used to lead the Israeli Defense Ministry's space directorate, and who claimed that a "galactic federation" had contacted human governments, that there is an "underground base in the depths of Mars" where American astronauts and extraterrestrials interact and that President Donald Trump knows these things but was convinced to keep them secret to avoid "mass hysteria." There is no evidence to support his claims.

'It isn't even really a stimulus': Economists lament paltry $600 checks to citizens

On Sunday night, congressional leaders announced that they had reached an agreement on a $900 billion stimulus bill that would issue $600 checks to every American whose income fell below a certain threshold. By Tuesday, the bill had passed.

Public reaction to the meager stimulus bill was swift and angry. David Sirota of The Daily Poster tweeted that Biden had worked with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to "halve" the bill and accused him of "longtime austerity zealotry." Author and small business owner Dan Price tweeted that the bill does not do enough to help small businesses, noting that the first stimulus bill did nothing to help small businesses re-open. Forbes Advisor journalist Natalie Campisi tweeted that the bill was "too little too late" and that "this was all very disappointing as so many people are struggling needlessly."

So why can't the richest country in the world do better for its struggling citizens? Economists speaking to Salon said the underlying problem is that America's government does far less than many other countries to protect the working class.

For instance, France has so far passed two legislative packages that provided more than $389 billion of relief to help small businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic. France also worked with Germany to make sure that the European Union provided $608.2 billion to businesses, workers and government institutions that were financially struggling as a result of the virus. Germany, meanwhile, is expected to supply $26 billion of relief to small businesses and self-employed individuals between January and June 2021. In November the country paid more than $17 billion to help businesses negatively impacted by the lockdown.

But most importantly, these countries passed stimulus measures that almost completely prevented pandemic-related unemployment. Specifically, Germany and France "subsidized the continued employment (or payroll status) of most employees," thus avoiding a massive increase in unemployment as happened in the United States, Dr. Richard D. Wolff, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, wrote to Salon. "The latest 'stimulus' bill adds too little to unemployment payouts to change the fact that since March over 60 million US workers (more than a third of the US labor force) have had to file for unemployment compensation for some or all of the last 9 months," he continued.

Wolff added that as a result of America's inadequate protections against unemployment, "the working class is tapped out here far worse that European countries."

Wolff was not alone in expressing this view.

"In general the USA has had the largest discretionary packages passed this year, larger than the new packages passed in France or Germany," Dr. Gabriel Mathy, a macroeconomist at American University, wrote to Salon. "However, partially that's the result of a very stingy unemployment insurance program in the USA, which needed to be expanded in the crisis much more than in France, for example."

Constantine Yannelis, associate professor of finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, explained to Salon by email that while most countries have passed stimulus bills that provide direct cash payments, loan guarantees and assistance to small businesses, "other countries had institutional advantages in terms of making payments directly to households and businesses. For example, kurzarbeit — or short-term working arrangements in which the state makes up for part or all of lost wages for private sector workers that agree to or are forced to accept work and pay cuts — allow companies in many counties to temporarily reduce house for workers rather than laying them off."

He added, "Germany and Austria have kurzarbeit programs. Those have been in place for some time and kick in during recessions."

The new US stimulus bill, which is expected to be incorporated into a larger legislative package to maintain government funding for the rest of the fiscal year, is believed to include direct payments of $600 to American adults and children. In addition, it will provide businesses with $284 billion of relief, re-establish a federal loan program for small businesses called the Paycheck Protection Program and spend $25 billion on rental assistance and extending the eviction moratorium. It also includes $82 billion in aid for education providers like colleges and schools and will offer unemployed Americans $300 in weekly supplemental federal unemployment benefits for an additional 11 weeks and grant extensions to federal payments for Americans whose regular benefits have expired.

"It isn't even really [a] stimulus in my opinion," Austan Goolsbee, who served on President Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, wrote to Salon. "It isn't [going] to jump start growth. It's disaster relief to prevent permanent damage and hopefully keep things from getting worse. But if we can't get control of the spread of the virus, it's just going to be a matter of time until we need another relief bill."

Michaela Pagel, associate professor of business at Columbia Business School, explained that the specific conditions of the 2020 economic crash make it more difficult for stimulus to be effective than was the case during the downturns in 2001 and 2008.

Pagel said that the "consumer spending response" was different in 2020, compared to 2001 and 2008 stimulus payments. "We find that individuals consumed more non-durables (food for instance) rather than durables (electronics or furniture)," in 2020, Pagel wrote to Salon. "The reason is that mostly Americans in need spent large fractions of the checks immediately, whereas other Americans saved most of the checks."

She also pointed out that lockdown measures have made it so that "Americans cannot spend their stimulus money in the locked down sectors – with the people who really need it – so they cannot generate income for those people who really need it." Pagel noted that these conditions did not exist in either 2001 or 2008.

Goolsbee made a similar point, telling Salon that "previous stimulus bills were attempting to jump start the economy in a downturn created from a normal economic cause." Yet this recession was "the first recession caused by something that had nothing to do with the economy," meaning that previous lessons don't apply. Goolsbee also said it was a mistake for stimulus to not include assistance for states, since when their revenue declines they will have to spend more money on automatic programs like Medicaid. This, in turn, "will force them to raise taxes and cut employment due to balanced budget requirements, and will potentially make the downturn longer and more painful."

According to Wolff, American policymakers should both acknowledge the new conditions created by the pandemic and learn from past economic programs that helped the working class, in particular the New Deal. The New Deal was a series of public works programs, regulations, financial reforms, labor protections and other progressive policies passed during President Franklin Roosevelt's administration in the 1930s. Wolff argued to Salon that, because the economy is locked down, stimulus packages that merely focus on increasing the "demand" side of "supply and demand" will not be enough.

"Demand expansion is not enough because the pandemic blocks the supply of goods and services because it is not safe to produce them or to distribute them," Wolff explained. "The successful federal jobs programs of the 1930s could and should have been replicated now with the proviso of safe social distancing, constant testing and disinfecting, etc." He pointed out that under the New Deal, the increase in taxes on corporation and the wealthy redistributed income and in the process increased purchasing power. Similarly, "the subsidization of mortgages and the minimum wage made demand stimulation also wealth redistribution." The government intervened with regulations and controls to pick up the slack left by the private capitalist sector. The mistake, Wolff says, was that the New Deal still left enterprises in the hands of private capitalists, meaning that "they could and did push back and slow, distort or block government stimulus. They worked effectively to undo The New Deal from the moment it began. That error should not be repeated now."

The current stimulus bill has its origins in a $908 billion package proposed by a bipartisan coalition of centrist senators earlier this month. Their proposal would have included $300 a week in federal unemployment benefits for four months and $160 billion in funding for state and local governments. The stimulus bill passed in March, known as the CARES Act, provided taxpayers who make less than $75,000 each year with $1,200 in direct cash payments, an additional $500 for every child in their household, expanded the eligibility criteria for unemployment relief, extended benefits by 13 weeks and increased maximum unemployment benefits by $600 per week.

Notably, President-elect Joe Biden has said that he will advocate for additional stimulus checks in future legislation, meaning perhaps the incoming administration has taken economists' warnings to heart.

Why a new coronavirus mutation has some scientists worried

Earlier this week British scientists announced that they had identified a mutated version of the novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, with the new strain appearing to be more contagious than other variants of the virus that have run rampant throughout the planet.

But is that alone reason for alarm?

Scientists have mixed opinions. The virus mutation does not seem to be more deadly — although coronavirus is already comparatively far more deadly than other very contagious pathogens like flu and cold viruses.

So what does this mutation mean, and how will it affect our own lives and public health? Here's what we know.

The many variants of SARS-CoV-2

Far from the only mutation, there are actually many variants of SARS-CoV-2 that have emerged throughout the world. Yet the discovery of this mutant strain — which apparently has abounded in southern England and existed in samples collected from as early as September — is more concerning. That's because the new strain, known as B.1.1.7, has a relatively larger number of mutations (23). In addition, because B.1.1.7 has spread with unusual virulence in southern England, epidemiologists believe the mutations have made the virus more contagious.

The virus is "just twice as infectious — which makes it very infectious," Dr. Alfred Sommer, dean emeritus and professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Salon by email. "And some suggestions it might primarily increase infection in children, who are far less likely to become seriously ill."

His view was echoed by Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease doctor and professor of medicine at the University of California–San Francisco, who wrote to Salon that "this variant seems to be more efficient at spreading from person-to-person although this increases in transmissibility is still being evaluated. Of note, this particular strain does not seem to have more virulence or make people more sick, although it likely spreads faster."

What does this mutation mean for vaccines?

Presently, it does not seem like this mutation will make the recent vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna less effective. The reason is that those vaccines defeat the novel coronavirus in a way that the new mutations do not appear to change. The Moderna and Pfizer candidates are mRNA vaccines, which use synthetic version of mRNA (a single-stranded RNA molecule that complements one of the DNA strands in a gene) so that cells produce proteins similar to those in a given virus and can train the immune system to fight it.

In the case of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, they train the body to recognize and fight a SARS-CoV-2 protein called Spike, which is visible as the little points that stick out of the sphere of the virus like spines on a sea urchin.

"The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines produce antibodies that target several parts of the Spike protein," Dr. Russell Medford, Chairman of the Center for Global Health Innovation and Global Health Crisis Coordination Center, wrote to Salon. "To evade immunity, the [coronavirus] would have to develop a variant with multiple mutations targeting these same specific locations of the Spike protein. There is no evidence that this is occurring, or is likely to occur, in B.1.1.7 or other variants."


Still, this does not mean the mutation is not worrisome. Dr. Andrew Rambaut, a molecular evolutionary biologist at the University of Edinburgh, told Science Magazine that out of the 17 mutations that B.1.1.7 was able to develop all at once, eight are in the gene that encodes the Spike protein on the viral surface. Two of them are particularly troubling to Rambaut: N501Y, which increases how tightly the protein binds to the enzyme that helps the virus enter human cells, and 69-70del, which has been discovered in other versions of the virus that have managed to avoid being targeted by the immune systems of patients who are immunocompromised.

Pfizer/BioNTech also expressed concern that the increased contagiousness of the English virus could mean that more people will need to be vaccinated to halt its spread.

And about those vaccines...

The vaccines are still being distributed throughout the United States, although thanks to President Donald Trump missing out on an offer from Pfizer/BioNTech, it is likely that only 50 million Americans will be able to receive its vaccine before the summer of 2021. Priority is currently being given to health care workers, residents at elderly care facilities and essential professionals whose jobs require them to interact with the public and therefore put them at greater risk of infection.

At the time of this writing, more than 77 million people have been diagnosed worldwide, including more than 18 million in the United States. More than 1.7 million people have died worldwide, including more than 320,000 in the United States.