Matthew Rozsa

Trump wouldn't be the first ex-president to run again — but he might be the last

As I write this article, Arizona Republicans are conducting a fake audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, the state's major population center. The purpose of that audit, as my colleague Amanda Marcotte accurately observes, is to satisfy Donald Trump and his supporters by doing two things. First, it applies unproved conspiracy theories to the recount process in the hope of "proving" Trump actually won the state. More importantly, it demonstrates how easy it would be for Republicans to steal elections if Trump supporters and their ilk controlled the political process.

Since the most direct way for the Trump movement to gain power would be for Trump himself to be elected again in 2024, this article will look at a phenomenon that has recurred several times in American history: a defeated ex-president running again. (Only one actually won. We'll get to that.) Of course it's also possible that a future Trump-style movement could be led by a pseudo-Trump suck-up like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz or Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

The fundamental difference between Trump and other ex-presidents who have considered or attempted a political comeback is the question of attitude. Prior to Trump, former presidents who tried to run again did so by appealing to democratic instincts. Sometimes their party leaders believed they were the most electable alternative. Sometimes they ran as third-party candidates to advance causes they believed were important.

Trump, by contrast, would run in 2024 based on the assumption that power is his right, and something only he (or his sycophantic followers) are allowed to hold. He has conditioned his supporters since the 2016 election cycle to believe that the only possible outcomes when he's a candidate are that he wins the election or the election was stolen. This disturbing personality trait, which has bound many people to him through a process known as narcissistic symbiosis, is why many people (including this author) believed that Trump would try to stage a coup if he lost the 2020 election. It didn't help that, as scientists have demonstrated, many Trump supporters are also motivated by their own insecure conception of masculinity.

Trump has already destroyed many of the precedents that would stop the rise of an authoritarian dictator. He has used fascistic tactics to create a cult of personality that his party is expected to slavishly follow, has become the first incumbent president to lose an election and refuse to accept the result and has spread a Big Lie about his defeat so that his followers will believe he has a right to be returned to power. Most significantly, he actually egged on his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in a futile attempt to overturn the election results.

The good news is that the Trump movement represents a minority point of view. The bad news is, that may not matter. If Trump stages a successful comeback, it won't be viewed in normal political terms, as an ex-president losing one election and then being vindicated in another. It will be perceived as a validation of all of Trump's fascist, dishonest behavior — and will provide him all the justification he needs to stay in power indefinitely.

Nothing like that was ever the case for any of the other ex-presidents who tried to return to power. Let me clarify that I'm including some borderline cases of ex-presidents who launched half-hearted efforts to get back in the game but never waged full campaigns, as well as those who were encourage to run again by others but chose not to.

The first defeated ex-president to seriously consider another run was Martin Van Buren, who had been narrowly elected over William Henry Harrison in 1836, and then lost to Harrison four years later. (Harrison went on to have the shortest tenure of any president, dying of a severe infection after 31 days in office.) Because of Van Buren's close ties to Democratic Party founder Andrew Jackson — who had chosen him as his running mate for Jackson's second term — Van Buren was originally viewed as a leading contender for the 1844 nomination, at least until he came out against annexing Texas on the grounds that it could spark a war with Mexico (as in fact it did). Democratic slaveholders wanted to annex Texas so they could expand slavery throughout the West, so Van Buren was suddenly no longer a viable candidate. Four years later, Van Buren was nominated as a third-party candidate by the Free Soil Party, which wanted to gradually abolish slavery by prohibiting its expansion into the newly-acquired western territories.

The next ex-president to take a shot at the White House didn't do so for a noble cause. Millard Fillmore had been elected vice president as Zachary Taylor's running mate in 1848, and served nearly three years as president after Taylor's death. The Whig Party didn't even nominate Fillmore to run for a full term in 1852, and he wound up running in 1856 as the candidate of the Know Nothing Party, which was opposed to immigration and especially the large numbers of Irish Catholics then arriving in the country. Fillmore did extremely well for a third-party candidate, winning more than 21 percent of the popular vote and Maryland's electoral votes. Since the Whig Party had just collapsed, Fillmore had a hypothetical opportunity to turn the Know Nothings into America's second major party but did not even come close, with the newly-formed Republicans surging onto the scene. The Know Nothings dissolved a few years later, as did any chance of Fillmore becoming president again.

For more than 20 years after Fillmore, no ex-president actively tried for a restoration. Then, in the 1880 election, a powerful faction of Republicans wanted Ulysses S. Grant to be their nominee, even though the Civil War hero had already served two terms, leaving office in 1877. Rutherford B. Hayes, the president elected in the notorious compromise of 1876, was not running again, and Republicans needed a candidate. (The 22nd Amendment had not yet been passed, so there was no legal impediment to Grant running again.) Grant had been a great general but controversial president, due to a series of scandals that beset his administration, but was still a widely beloved figure. The Republican convention was sharply divided between Grant's supporters and his opponents. Although Grant had more delegates than any other candidate, he could not muster a majority, and delegates eventually united around a compromise candidate, James Garfield, who went on to win the election.

Twelve years later, in 1892, the above-referenced Grover Cleveland became the first and only ex-president to be elected to a second, non-consecutive term. There were a number of reasons why that worked: Democratic leaders trusted Cleveland's conservative economic philosophy and thought he was electable, which was reasonable enough, since Cleveland actually won the popular vote in 1888, despite losing the election to Benjamin Harrison (grandson of William Henry Harrison), who had become unpopular amid an economic downturn. There were no primary elections to select a party nominee, and Cleveland was well known and well liked by leading Democrats.

That brings us to Theodore Roosevelt, who had become president in 1901 after William McKinley's assassination and was then elected in his own right in 1904. After leaving office in 1909, replaced by his handpicked successor, William Howard Taft, Roosevelt became dissatisfied with Taft's leadership and the Republican Party's direction. He first tried to wrest the Republican nomination away from Taft in 1912, and when that failed, wound up running as the nominee of the Progressive Party. Roosevelt didn't win the election but outperformed Taft in both popular and electoral votes — his 27 percent share of the popular vote remains the largest proportion won by any third party candidate ever — and for better or worse was instrumental in the election of Woodrow Wilson.

That was the last serious campaign mounted by a former president, nearly 110 years ago. The gradual emergence of the primary system probably has something to do with that, as does the growing cynicism among Americans about politicians perceived as "losers." Other former presidents, including Herbert Hoover and Gerald Ford, have considered running again, but none has actually done so.

Until, perhaps Donald Trump.

No previous ex-president was anything like Trump, as is blatantly obvious. Of course they were ambitious, but none of them tried to argue that the presidency was his God-given right. None urged the kinds of party purges that Trump and his crew are leading against "disloyal" Republicans like Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney. None of them flat-out lied about the reason why they'd lost power or urged anti-democratic means in order to reclaim it.

Right now Republicans across the country are pouring millions into voting restrictions, clearly targeting Democratic voters, primarily people of color. They hope to win elections simply by preventing certain voters from exercising their constitutional rights. Even if this gambit fails in the near term, Republicans have laid the foundations for overturning unfavorable outcomes. They can simply appoint loyal Trumpers or GOP partisan to the right positions to ensure that they can win even if they lose, and then create another Big Lie to justify their behavior.

It is entirely conceivable that Trump could become the first ex-president since Cleveland to be elected to another term, given the potential effects of these voter suppression laws and the ardor of his supporters. Whether we will still have anything left that could be called a democracy, if that happens, is anyone's guess.

Republicans still try to claim Abe Lincoln's heritage — that's offensive and absurd

The challenge these days isn't proving that the Republican Party has become a hotbed of racism and fascism. It's figuring out where to start with the evidence. Do we begin with Donald Trump's Hitler-esque Big Lie about the 2020 election? Should we focus on its attempts to suppress minority voters? Perhaps we should emphasize the way Trump used fascist tactics throughout his presidency, or go all the way back to when the Republican Party began its rightward shift in the middle of the 20th century?

I'll pass on pinpointing exactly when the problem began and instead look at one of its most recent examples. Earlier this month, a flier promoting a proposed "America First" caucus in the House of Representatives sparked controversy because of its white nationalist language. The notional caucus would promote "common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions," view mass immigration as a threat to "the long-term existential future of America as a unique country with a unique culture and a unique identity" and embrace the debunked claim that the 2020 election was stolen.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the infamous Georgia Republican, later backed away from the proposed caucus and claimed that the flier had been written by an outside group, but the damage had been done. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy felt the need to distance himself from the entire thing, tweeting that "the Republican Party is the party of Lincoln & the party of more opportunity for all Americans — not nativist dog whistles."

Of course it's true that Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president, but the modern Republican Party has no right to cite the 16th president's name. It is utterly impossible to reconcile his values with those of his successors 160 years later.

This hasn't stopped those successors from trying. Take Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has repeatedly embraced white nationalist talking points, most recently in denouncing the murder conviction of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd.

Back in 2019, I interviewed Carlson about a monologue he delivered on his Fox News show urging in Republicans to pursue more populist policies. I quoted him the passage from Lincoln's 1861 State of the Union message in which he denounced the effort "to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government."

"Exactly!" Carlson said, interrupting me. I continued with another quotation from the same speech: "Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration."

"Hold on, I'm writing this down," Carlson said. "I hadn't read that. OK, first, God bless you for noticing that. You are like the only person noticing that part of the script, which to me was the essence."

As the eminent Columbia University historian Eric Foner, author of "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War," told Salon by email, Lincoln was articulating "what we call the free labor ideology — that labor is the source of wealth (a common idea in the 19th century, a society of small scale capitalism), that slavery denies the dignity of labor, and that opportunity for the laborer to rise in the social scale is essential for a good society and for economic growth."

Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer echoed this view, noting the link between Lincoln's free labor ideology and his personal opposition to slavery. "I think they intersect (the word du jour in academia) — the pursuit and spread of free labor (aka limitless opportunity — what Lincoln called 'a fair chance in the race of life') meant ending slavery," Holzer wrote to Salon. "And while he first envisioned the West as a place where white laborers did not have to compete with Black slave labor, he certainly made clear also, as he said in 1858, that a person of color had the right to eat the bread she makes with her own hands — that she had an equal opportunity to earn."

Earlier, Holzer expressed the view that Lincoln's formulation, "labor is prior to, and independent, of capital," was "something of a clunker because Lincoln was always more effective talking about individual people than about political theory. But he tries hard to connect the dots — and those who understand Lincoln know what he's getting at: opportunity for free labor."

None of that implies that Republicans of Lincoln's era were socialists (they were not) or abolitionists (most were not). That said, Lincoln evolved immensely in his views on race over the course of his lifetime, and never wavered in his disgust for slavery or his belief that people who labor for their livelihoods have a right to dignity and economic security. This is why he ultimately seized the opportunity to abolish slavery, and passed a number of laws that would be inconceivable in the laissez-faire Republican Party today.

"His vision of the Union meant opportunity for all — hence homestead acreage for the many," Holzer explained, referring to the 1862 Homestead Act that made it easy for Americans to buy Western land at low prices. "It meant encouraging farming over hunting — independent farming to replace plantation aristocracies — hence [creating] the Agriculture Department." He also noted that Lincoln, as a former member of the Whig Party, "had always passionately believed in infrastructure, including government investment in railroads, canals, and roads," which is why he pushed for bills to construct the first transcontinental railroad.

From the moment Lincoln became president and until shortly before his assassination, everything he said and did occurred within the context of, first, trying to prevent the Civil War, and then trying to win it. Much as with Donald Trump's insurrection attempt, the Civil War was sparked by dissatisfaction with the outcome of a legitimate election. In the 1860 election, Southern states left the Union because they believed a Republican president would bar slavery from the Western territories and ultimately lay the foundations for abolition. In the 2020 election, Trump became the first president to lose an election but refuse to accept the results, instead filing a series of ludicrous lawsuits and spreading misinformation to his supporters in hopes he could stay in power.

The Republican Party is, decisively, no longer the party of Lincoln. You cannot square Lincoln's free labor ideology with a party that unanimously opposed President Biden's stimulus bill (and also opposed all of Barack Obama's efforts to restart the economy during the Great Recession). You cannot square Lincoln's support for labor in general with a party that actively ignores poor and working-class people and whose efforts at pandemic relief disproportionately aided the wealthy.

Similarly, you can't square the modern party's dehumanizing of immigrants, women, the LGBTQ community and people of color with Lincoln's ideals. Lincoln was a man with many of the prejudices of his time, but his great redeeming quality was his ability learn from his mistakes and his willingness to overcome his limitations. Left to his own devices, he instinctively moved toward compassion and generosity. The modern Republican Party instinctively moves away from those things.

Finally, it's impossible to square Lincoln's prosecution of the Civil War with a party that refused to convict Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 riot and is now desperately trying to shove that insurrection attempt down the memory hole. First of all, Lincoln literally used military force to put down a rebellion sparked by unhappiness over an election result. In 1864, Lincoln was deeply worried he might lose to Democratic nominee George McClellan, his former commanding general, whom Lincoln feared would be unable to save the Union. Despite that, Lincoln never even considered whipping his supporters into a frenzy or rejecting the verdict of the voters if McClellan defeated him. He respected the importance of elections and democracy, even at the potential cost of his presidency and the nation itself.

Flawed as he was, Lincoln's greatness lay in personal values worlds away from the cynical, know-nothing ideology of today's Republicans. We could debate exactly when the Republican Party began to turn away from Lincoln, but it abandoned him entirely a long time ago.

A complex new phase of the pandemic has arrived. Here's what experts say will happen next

When the COVID-19 era is chronicled in the history books, the first phase will be marked as beginning with the outbreak itself and ending with the development of successful vaccines. The last phase, of course, will be the one in which we have contained the pandemic and can resume the normal rhythms of life as they had been pre-2020 (although early research suggests some who were infected may experience long-term health problems).

Yet what about the middle phase, the one we're in right now? We know what the beginning looked like, and what the end will (hopefully) resemble. What should expect as we transition from one to the other?

"We're really just moving between phases," Dr. Sarah Cobey, an associate professor in the department of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, told Salon. "It's not going to be some sort of binary switch back to normal. I might describe the phase that we're in now as not just being one where obviously there's a lot of immunity that's being gained through vaccination, but also we have, of course, they're accumulating immunity, especially when we take a step back and look globally."

She noted that we are entering a "complex period" defined by the fact that the SARS-CoV-2 virus (which causes COVID-19) is adapting.

"I think many of us who previously studied viruses like influenza, we were waiting for this," Cobey explained. "We're seeing this fast evolution of the virus, and this evolution is of course relevant to vaccination policy."

Dr. Bernard Lo, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, expressed a similar view.

"I think our concern is that some of these variants might be less effectively blocked by the current vaccine," Lo explained. "The question is, will further variants emerge that are even more resistant to the antibodies that the vaccine stimulates?"

Lo added that this concern is exacerbated by the large number of people who remain unvaccinated — either by choice or because they are unable to access a vaccine — and are thus at risk of getting infected in a way that helps mutant strains.

It's a worldwide issue as well," Lo pointed out, referring to how many poorer countries do not have access to the vaccines that wealthier nations do. "There are a lot of countries that really don't have access to vaccines, and variants could emerge there." He predicted that there is a "very good chance" we will need regular booster shots to combat emerging strains, similar to what already exists with influenza.

Cobey echoed that view.

"I really think that worst case scenario here is that a variant does arise that really does escape a lot of the vaccine-induced protection and we're slow to recognize it, and slow to distribute vaccines to the populations that need either to get the first dose or a booster," Cobey told Salon.

Another aspect of the vaccine management phase is the growing awareness that vaccine passports — some kind of official proof that recipients have either been vaccinated or tested negatively for the disease — could become prevalent.

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"Vaccine passports will probably be very important and useful as a transition," Lawrence Gostin, a professor at Georgetown Law who specializes in public health law, told Salon. "Once everybody is fully vaccinated and we have herd immunity, there'll be no need for a vaccine passport, but what vaccine passports do is get us back to a state of more normal quicker because it means that you have to show proof that you're vaccinated in order to get into high risk environments."

Gostin pointed to Israel as "probably the best example" of a country which has succeeded with its "green pass" policy. (Israel has aroused controversy for not prioritizing Palestinians in its vaccination process, however.) "Basically life is normal in Israel already," Gostin said.

Although some conservatives have claimed that vaccine passports would violate individual rights, Gostin does not share that view. His position is that from an ethics point of view, vaccine passports are on solid ground.

"They're inherently a good thing because they maximize our health and safety, and I don't think they violate any privacy or autonomy," Gostin explained. "A person doesn't have to show proof of vaccination. It's their choice. But if they don't, they can't get into certain places. Everyone has a right to make decisions about their own health, but they don't have an ethical right to expose other people to a potentially dangerous infectious disease."

His only caveat was the same as Lo's: Vaccines are not being equitably distributed and, therefore, vaccine passports could give the wealthy unfair privileges. As such, vaccine passports are only unethical until "everyone who wants a vaccine can get a vaccine, because we don't want to give privilege to the already privileged, and we don't want to leave the disadvantaged behind."

Scientists calculated how many T. Rexes lived on Earth — here's how

The Tyrannosaurus rex is perhaps the most iconic of all the dinosaurs, immortalized in film, children's toys and silly Halloween costumes. Its name translates into "king of the tyrant lizards," and its fearsome profile makes it clear why: T. Rex had a massive head, powerful jaws, razor-sharp teeth and a whip-like tail. (Although its puny arms are a comic contrast to the rest of its visage.) The T. Rex is believed to have been one of the largest land carnivores of all time, more than 40 feet long and 12 feet tall at the hips.

But like many extinct animals, it is hard to know just how much of a threat the T. Rex was during its reign. (Notably, for years there was debate over whether T. Rex was a predator or scavenger, though recently the scientific consensus tilts towards predator.) Were they as common as rabbits, or highly dispersed predators like snow leopards?

A group of scientists led by University of California Museum of Paleontology director Charles R. Marshall set out to answer just that. They believe they can now roughly estimate how many T. Rexes roamed the planet.

Their estimate is roughly 2.5 billion specimens that roamed Earth collectively during their existence, which lasted a few million years. (They would likely have lived more generations if not for the extinction event likely caused by either a meteor or comet 66 million years ago.)

The researchers, who published their findings in Science Magazine, estimate that the abundances of T. Rexes at any given period was roughly 20,000 individuals, and that they lived for roughly 127,000 generations. To put that in context with today's predator populations, that 20,000 number is comparable to today's African lion population, which conservationists estimate at 25,000.

The scientists arrived at their estimate using a wide range of data. For one thing, they took into account a principle known as Damuth's Law, which holds that species with larger body sizes will usually have lower average population densities. Because this formula includes individuals in a species that had not reached their maximum size, the scientists used an estimate for "postjuvenile individuals" — the T. Rex equivalent of an angsty teenager. (Now there is a sobering thought.) Once they had that information, they multiplied it by the estimated geographic area where paleontologists believe the monstrous beasts once roamed. They then incorporated what we know about when the T. Rex lived, although the scientists acknowledge that this figure is particularly unclear "because of the poor temporal control on most T. rex fossil localities and because there is a substantial dinosaur preservational gap below the oldest T. rex fossils."

Since experts believe based on fossil evidence that they lived for anywhere from 1.2 million years to 3.6 million years, the team settled on the mean figure of 2.4 million years. From there, they plugged in other numbers until they eventually arrived at their estimates.

Despite their short reign over the planet — one regrettably cut short by the Cretaceous-Triassic Boundary Extinction Event — the fact that another bipedal predator would perform a census of them 66 million years later speaks to their cultural immortality.

Dr. Anthony Fauci warns the US is 'racing' to avoid another COVID-19 surge

In an interview, President Joe Biden's chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci issued a dire warning to the American people: Don't celebrate the end of the COVID-19 pandemic just yet. Another surge could happen if we're not careful.

Speaking with CNN's Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, Fauci expressed concern about the fact that public health officials have not seen a continued and significant decrease in infections, with Johns Hopkins University reporting more than 61,000 new cases on that day alone. (COVID-19 was also the third leading cause of death in the United States in 2020.)

Fauci characterized the state of the COVID-19 pandemic as "a race between getting people vaccinated and this surge that seems to want to increase." He particularly noted a rise in cases among young people, which he attributed to a number of factors — including that elderly Americans are more likely to have been vaccinated; the reopening of facilities like daycares and school sporting events; and the prevalence of one particular coronavirus variant in the United States.

That variant, known as B.1.1.7, originated in the United Kingdom, is known to be more transmissible than other coronavirus strains and is suspected of also being more deadly. That strain is now the most common coronavirus variant in the United States, which makes it all the more urgent for as many Americans to get vaccinated as possible. Fauci is not alone among American public health officials who have expressed concern that if the rate of vaccinations does not keep up with the spread of mutant viruses, some of the progress we've made in fighting the pandemic could be reversed.

"I'm going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told reporters at a press conference last month. "We have so much to look forward to. So much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope. But right now I'm scared."

Walensky added that she was alarmed at how Republican governors in states like Texas, Mississippi and Alabama have been rolling back or entirely doing away with COVID-19 restrictions. Earlier this month, after the CDC announced that COVID-19 was the third main cause of US deaths in 2020, Walensky told journalists that "the data should serve again as a catalyst for each of us to continue to do our part to drive down cases and reduce the spread of COVID-19 and get people vaccinated as quickly as possible."

Fauci made a similar observation to Cooper on Wednesday, arguing that Americans should "hang in there a bit longer" and adding that "now is not the time, as I've said so many times, to declare victory prematurely."

The public health official's recent comments were similar to those that he made about the possibility of a surge during an interview with MSNBC's Joe Scarborough on Tuesday.

"As long as we keep vaccinating people efficiently and effectively, I don't think that's gonna happen," Fauci said at the time. "That doesn't mean that we're not going to still see an increase in cases."

Dr. Fauci says we're 'racing' to stop another COVID-19 surge

In an interview, President Joe Biden's chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci issued a dire warning to the American people: Don't celebrate the end of the COVID-19 pandemic just yet. Another surge could happen if we're not careful.

Speaking with CNN's Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, Fauci expressed concern about the fact that public health officials have not seen a continued and significant decrease in infections, with Johns Hopkins University reporting more than 61,000 new cases on that day alone. (COVID-19 was also the third leading cause of death in the United States in 2020.)

Fauci characterized the state of the COVID-19 pandemic as "a race between getting people vaccinated and this surge that seems to want to increase." He particularly noted a rise in cases among young people, which he attributed to a number of factors — including that elderly Americans are more likely to have been vaccinated; the reopening of facilities like daycares and school sporting events; and the prevalence of one particular coronavirus variant in the United States.

That variant, known as B.1.1.7, originated in the United Kingdom, is known to be more transmissible than other coronavirus strains and is suspected of also being more deadly. That strain is now the most common coronavirus variant in the United States, which makes it all the more urgent for as many Americans to get vaccinated as possible. Fauci is not alone among American public health officials who have expressed concern that if the rate of vaccinations does not keep up with the spread of mutant viruses, some of the progress we've made in fighting the pandemic could be reversed.

"I'm going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told reporters at a press conference last month. "We have so much to look forward to. So much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope. But right now I'm scared."

Walensky added that she was alarmed at how Republican governors in states like Texas, Mississippi and Alabama have been rolling back or entirely doing away with COVID-19 restrictions. Earlier this month, after the CDC announced that COVID-19 was the third main cause of US deaths in 2020, Walensky told journalists that "the data should serve again as a catalyst for each of us to continue to do our part to drive down cases and reduce the spread of COVID-19 and get people vaccinated as quickly as possible."

Fauci made a similar observation to Cooper on Wednesday, arguing that Americans should "hang in there a bit longer" and adding that "now is not the time, as I've said so many times, to declare victory prematurely."

The public health official's recent comments were similar to those that he made about the possibility of a surge during an interview with MSNBC's Joe Scarborough on Tuesday.

"As long as we keep vaccinating people efficiently and effectively, I don't think that's gonna happen," Fauci said at the time. "That doesn't mean that we're not going to still see an increase in cases."

Did the pandemic ruin sex? Scientists say it could constitute a health crisis

If you think that the COVID-19 lockdowns hindered your sex life, you're not alone. In fact, a recent scientific study examining the sexual habits of nearly 500 British adults between the ages of 18 and 32 found that, as social restrictions were increased, there was an overall decrease in sexual behaviors.

The study, which was published last month in The Journal of Sex Research, found that men tended to report higher levels of sexual desire than woman both before and during the pandemic lockdowns. Both groups also admitted to decreased levels of sexual desire during the lockdown — but the drop was only statistically significant (meaning the data reveals it did not happen by chance) for women.

"Decreases in desire often happen during times of heightened anxiety and stress, so it isn't surprising," Dr. Liam Wignall, a lecturer in psychology at Bournemouth University, told Salon by email. "We can only speculate about the gender difference, and one reason could be that lockdown disproportionately impacted women because research shows women are more likely to take on domestic chores and childcare even when both partners have jobs."

Wignall also emphasized to Salon that when the scholars analyzed sexual activity, they were not only talking about literal intercourse. Other sexual behaviors were also included in their analysis including watching pornography, masturbating and participating in online sexual relationships.

In addition to finding that women experienced more of a disruption in their sexual desires than men, the scholars also found that men claimed to have more increases in sexual activity than women and "LGB people" reported more of an increase in sexual activity than heterosexuals. Wignall also observed a notable difference between people who were in serious relationships and those who were not.

"Participants in serious relationships reported more increases in sexual activity compared with people who were single or casually dating," Wignall explained. "At one level this makes sense because people in serious relationships can have sex together, whether in person or online, but given the inclusion of solitary sexual behaviors we might not have expected to see the difference."

Wignall also pointed out that there weren't any statistically significant differences in sexual activity based on whether one lives alone or with other people, a fact potentially attributable to the internet. Yet, as Wignall clarified, "when participants were asked to indicate which sexual behaviors they engaged in before lockdown and then subsequently during lockdown, the number of people engaging in the behaviors decreased for all behaviors. The biggest reduction was sexual intercourse with somebody else [not your partner]' – the amount of people doing this dropped by 88%. This is tentative evidence that generally people were following lockdown measures, at least when sex is concerned."

Wignall and the other authors of the study constituted the decline in sexual activity as a health crisis, noting that a happy sex life is crucial for psychological well-being.

"Having a good sex life is important to people's sense of wellbeing and happiness, and while it's understandable that the social policy focus was on stopping COVID-19 transmission, the impact on sex is significant and warrants attention," Wignall explained. "It's not something we can just ignore."

Wignall argued that this means, in the future, social distancing measures will need to account for how people "navigate their sex lives" so that people can stay safe while still fulfilling those basic needs.

"It isn't feasible or right to have long-term bans on sexual practice for single people or people not living with a sexual partner, so policy makers have to think more carefully about how to reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission without banning sex for people outside the same household," Wignall pointed out. In addition, "sexual and reproductive health services need to be prepared once lockdown measures are loosened further, dealing with people who couldn't access their services during lockdown and for the potential for an increase in the amount of sex that goes on when lockdown measures end."

West Virginia helped America elect its first Catholic president. Now it's thwarting the second one

Once upon a time, West Virginia Democrats played a crucial role in making their party more inclusive and breaking down the barriers of prejudice.

Tragically, the opposite appears to be true today. There is little question that the most powerful Democrat in the state is Sen. Joe Manchin III, who has been in the Senate since 2010 and previously served as West Virginia's governor and secretary of state. He voted with Donald Trump roughly half the time during the latter's tumultuous presidency and has been a thorn in the side for the Democrat who followed him, Joe Biden. Because Democrats only control the 50-50 Senate by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris' ability to cast tie-breaking vote, they need every single member of their caucus to support Biden's agenda.

Manchin knows this and has used it to maximize his power and leverage. He pressured the party to cut the amount of unemployment relief in its recent $1.9 trillion stimulus bill. Back when the bill might have included a minimum wage increase, he wanted to reduce it from $15 an hour to $11 an hour, then voted against the $15 increase included in the final package. Perhaps most significantly, he has been one of the staunchest supporters of the filibuster, a legislative trick that Republicans can use to stop Democrats from protecting voter rights, fighting systemic racism, advancing LGBTQ causes and combating climate change.

Manchin has the freedom to do this because West Virginia is a reliably Republican state, and Democrats know that if he quits or is defeated, his replacement would almost certainly be a Republican. The state has backed the Republican presidential nominee in every election since 2000, with more than two-thirds of its voters supporting Trump in both 2016 and 2020. Yet once upon a time West Virginia was solidly Democratic, and played a crucial role in dismantling a major prejudice in American political life.

Until the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, no Roman Catholic had ever been president. (Although by that time, Catholics were easily the largest single religious denomination in America.) In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The Making of the President — 1960," journalist Theodore H. White explored how Kennedy struggled to win the Democratic nomination because party leaders were convinced that most white Protestant voters would never back a Catholic candidate. In those days state primaries were fewer and less important to the nomination process, but Kennedy believed that he had to win over Protestant voters in those contests to prove his vote-getting ability. His first major effort, in the Wisconsin primary, was a wash: He won the state over Sen. Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, but did so mainly by winning in predominantly Catholic areas.

That's when the next state on the primary calendar, West Virginia, entered the picture.

West Virginia was then an overwhelmingly white and Protestant state, and is only slightly less so now. (The state's current estimated population of just under 1.8 million is roughly 92% white and 88% Protestant.) It was widely believed that West Virginians had rejected New York Gov. Al Smith, the only previous major-party Catholic nominee, in the 1928 election because of anti-Catholic prejudice, and political reporters encountered similar pockets of mistrust in 1960 as well. Kennedy believed, reasonably enough, that if he lost West Virginia, his campaign was doomed. But if he won, that might prove a Catholic was electable.

Unlike Humphrey, Kennedy had a well-financed campaign, but on the ground in West Virginia, that wouldn't be enough. He had to do something to tackle the religious issue directly. White's telling of the story is so eloquent it ought to be quoted in full:

It was up to the candidate alone to decide. And, starting on April 25, his decision became clear. He would attack — he would meet the religious issue head on.

Whether out of conviction or out of tactics, no sounder Kennedy decision could have been made. Two Democratic candidates were appealing to the commonality of the Democratic Party; once the issue could be made one of tolerance or intolerance, Hubert Humphrey was hung. No one could prove to his own conscience that by voting for Humphrey he was displaying tolerance. Yet any man, indecisive in mind on the presidency, could prove that he was at least tolerant by voting for Jack Kennedy.

Humphrey, to be fair, was opposed to all forms of bigotry and never tried to defeat Kennedy by appealing to anti-Catholic prejudice. Yet by sending the message to West Virginians that they could display tolerance by voting for a New England Catholic to the presidency, and by campaigning tirelessly throughout the state, and performing strongly in both a televised speech and a one-on-one debate with Humphrey, Kennedy won a starting victory, with 60% of the vote.

That was the moment, most scholars agree, when Kennedy became the Democratic frontrunner and was launched on the path toward becoming America's first Catholic president.

No doubt anti-Catholic prejudice still exists in America, but Kennedy's election did a great deal to demolish it, and last year Joe Biden became the second Catholic elected to the presidency. Joe Manchin himself is a Catholic, a notable fact in a state where that faith only comprises 6% of the population. Yet over the years West Virginia has drifted decisively toward the right, and has not supported a Democratic presidential nominee since Bill Clinton in 1996. Manchin is now the only statewide elected Democrat, and it's likely fair to consider him the most conservative Democrat in the Senate.

None of that is likely to change in the immediate future, but West Virginia Democrats say they see hope. Donald Trump, after all, was elected in part by promising to bring back mining jobs to West Virginia and other major coal-producing states — a promise he had no way to deliver. If Biden can implement his economic agenda and lift thousands of struggling West Virginians from poverty, it may become possible for populist Democrats like Richard Ojeda to advocate for the state's working class while avoiding the racist excesses of Trumpism. A better future for West Virginia is possible, and will become more so if the state can remember the most important lessons of its past.

New data from 2020 shows just how catastrophic COVID-19 is

COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the United States in 2020, a year defined in many ways by the deadly pandemic,

This is the conclusion reached by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a report released on Wednesday. (The statistics are provisional, meaning that they are only based on preliminary information provided to the agency from state governments and could later need to be updated.) The CDC estimated that roughly 375,000 people died in the United States within the year 2020 as a result of COVID-19. The only illnesses to cause more fatalities were heart disease, which led to roughly 690,000 deaths, and cancer, which resulted in roughly 598,000 deaths. In the process of rising to the top 10 causes of death, COVID-19 bumped suicide off of the list, which was the 11th most common cause of death in 2020.

The CDC also found that the COVID-19 death rate was highest among Hispanics, while overall death rates were highest among non-Hispanic African Americans and non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native populations. These demographic trends are important, the report argues, because they can provide the agency with useful guidelines about how to address the pandemic going forward.

"Provisional death estimates provide an early indication of shifts in mortality trends," the CDC explained. "Timely and actionable data can guide public health policies and interventions for populations experiencing higher numbers of deaths that are directly or indirectly associated with the COVID-19 pandemic."

In announcing the report, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told journalists that "the data should serve again as a catalyst for each of us to continue to do our part to drive down cases and reduce the spread of COVID-19 and get people vaccinated as quickly as possible."

She added that, "Sadly, based on the current state of the pandemic, these impacts have remained in 2021 where we continue to see that communities of color account for an outsize portions of these deaths."

Walensky, and President Joe Biden's administration more generally, have repeatedly expressed concern that Republican-led states are easing COVID-19 restrictions too soon and will prolong the pandemic by doing so. Their fears appear to have been backed up by a report earlier this week that COVID-19 infection rates rose by 16% last week compared to the previous week.

"I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19," Walensky told reporters at the time.

Dr. Deborah Birx, who led Trump's coronavirus task force, publicly implied that the coronavirus death toll might have been lower if not for President Trump's public health policies. Birx told CNN on Sunday that she believes the former president's unwillingness to follow consensus public health recommendations could have cost up to 400,000 lives.

A tiny group of anti-vaxxers are flooding the internet with misinformation

Despite the public health awareness–raising effect of the pandemic, anti-vaccine and vaccine-hesitant sentiments still run rampant in the United States. A recent PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll found that 30 percent of those surveyed in March 2021 told pollsters that, if offered the COVID-19 vaccine, they would not take it.

The huge number of vaccine-hesitant Americans might give the impression that anti-vaccination propaganda is rampant. Yet it turns out that a select few very loud voices are responsible for a great deal of online misinformation regarding vaccines. Their disproportionate ability to spread disinformation should give social media platforms pause.

Indeed, according to the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a mere dozen individuals and their organizations are responsible for up to 65% of the anti-vaccine misinformation that is spreading on social media platforms.

In their recent report, the CCDH revealed that these twelve people and their groups have disseminated nearly two-thirds of the anti-vaccine misinformation they have been tracing on Facebook and Twitter between Feb. 1 and March 16 of this year. Overall the CCDH found that the information they had been tracing was shared or posted on one of those platforms roughly 812,000 times, even though their inaccurate statements about vaccines violate those companies' terms of service. The most famous of the so-called "Disinformation Dozen" is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., nephew of President John F. Kennedy. The CCDH also found a number of prominent anti-vaccine advocates and proponents of alternative medicine.

One of them, Rizza Islam, has argued that Bill Gates is behind the COVID-19 pandemic, claimed he "beat" the disease through a special diet, and repeated the debunked claim that vaccines cause autism. (Although his Facebook account has been removed, he remains active on Twitter and the Facebook-owned Instagram.) Anti-vaccine entrepreneurs Ty and Charlene Bollinger have used their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts (all of which remain active) to denounce the "fake pandemic" and spread an inaccurate story claiming that a COVID-19 vaccine had killed seven children in Senegal. They have also established ties with the far right, repeating the disproved talking point that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election from Donald Trump. Another anti-vaccine entrepreneur, Joseph Mercola, has referred to the pandemic as a "scam" and argued that "hydrogen peroxide treatment" can successfully treat most viral respiratory illnesses, including the coronavirus.

"The Disinformation Dozen — including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Joseph Mercola, and Ty and Charlene Bollinger, among others — continually violate the terms of service agreements on Facebook and Twitter," the CCDH explains in the summary of their report. "While some anti-vaxxers identified by CCDH have been removed from a single platform, comprehensive action has yet to be taken, and most remain active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter."

In addition to political and cultural motives, anti-vaxxers are often driven by a mistrust of statistics and experts who they do not personally know, especially if they come from institutions that they have been trained to distrust. Instead they are more inclined to believe the opinions of people they personally know and stories that they have heard, regardless of whether those sources are reliable, according to a recent book by Jonathan Berman, a professor at the New York Institute of Technology's College of Osteopathic Medicine.

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