Donald Trump is the now biggest loser in US political history

For four years we have heard that Republicans are afraid to stand up to Donald Trump because he will insult them and humiliate them into submission. They could not handle his childish taunts. They shrank from his barbs and slights, delivered largely on Twitter, the social media platform that has now evicted him permanently. Trump took advantage of their cowardice. He was like the big bully on the playground at school who intimidated smaller and weaker kids, then boasted about his easy conquests.

But no one should be afraid of Donald Trump now. After all, he is the biggest loser in U.S. political history. Indeed, he has relinquished the right to be feared.

Trump's record distinguishes him as the worst president ever. He has lost the popular vote in two national elections. He has been impeached twice, with conviction still possible in the second case. He has been an accomplice to the mass murder of over 400,000 Americans and counting due to the coronavirus. He has caused a massive economic crash. He has incited an insurrection against the government of the United States. He played a corrupt game of footsie with the president of Ukraine, and has been oddly but consistently subservient to the president of Russia. He has grifted the American people out of millions of dollars. He has pardoned associates and acquaintances who could implicate him in crimes. He has been incompetent, indifferent, lazy and vindictive. To top it all off, he has rushed to execute 13 people before his term is up — the most by any president in 120 years.

Trump intimidates via bullying, name-calling, threats and loud exclamations of bravado. His sense of grandiosity and superiority is enhanced when he is successful at embarrassing and humiliating others. To be sure, intimidation is his modus operandi. He rose to the top of the national political ladder through his use of intimidation. It is his only "skill."

But he is a total coward. He hides behind his lawyers and lets them do his "dirty work." He cannot fire people in person. He sent a bodyguard to deliver his letter of dismissal to former FBI Director James Comey's empty office. His specialty is to incite others to action and then deny any responsibility for their behavior. Ask Michael Cohen. Ask Rudy Giuliani. Ask the thousands of attackers at the Capitol. Trump did not have the guts to march with them to the Capitol — but he had no trouble sending them off into battle for his sole benefit.

Trump's political life has been based on lies and propaganda. His most egregious lie is that the election was rigged and stolen from him. It has been dubbed the "Big Lie." The truth is that the election was the most open and transparent in history. Joe Biden won fair and square. Trump lost by 7 million votes. He has lost more than 60 lawsuits in contesting the results. His lie about the election led to his seditious rhetoric and to his incitement of the insurrectionists.

Let us be clear: Trump actively tried to undermine and overthrow our democracy. He was fomenting a coup. He has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he does not love our democracy and does not love our country. He is addicted to power, adulation, grift and corruption — and would rather overturn democracy than give up his addictions.

Trump must be finished as a political figure. It may take some time, but his political clout will wane gradually but assuredly into oblivion. He will try to hold onto his supporters by promulgating his conspiracy theories and his victimhood, but both will be disproven as we return to a world of observable facts and truth.

His gravitas is evaporating. He has become a pathetic and tragic joke. All the major leaders in the world are ecstatic at his upcoming exit from the scene — except perhaps Vladimir Putin, who has enjoyed having Trump in his back pocket.

Trump is already kryptonite. Social media platforms have banned him. Banks will not lend him money. Lawyers are hesitant to defend him against impeachment. Corporations have paused their financial contributions. Even the PGA has yanked its 2022 championship from his New Jersey golf course. His standing will continue to drop as he is further ostracized and purged from American public life.

Trump must be punished for all his federal and state crimes. His supporters need to understand the depth of his criminality. He is a bad actor who will soon face the consequences of his malfeasance. Nothing can erase power and adulation faster than prison. But not even prison can reverse the abuse and trauma inflicted by Trump upon the American people.

His reign of corruption and incitement of insurrection was fueled by his belief that he would not be punished for it, that he could break laws with impunity. This is exactly why his prosecution is required. He must face swift and firm consequences so that others will understand the reality — that Trump's corruption is a part of his DNA. He has been compromised all his adult life. Until now, his corruption was confined to the state of New York and the Trump Organization. In 2016, thanks to his flukish election victory, he started sharing his criminality with the entire country.

Trump has been living in his alternate universe of lies, conspiracy theories and magical thinking for so long that he is unable to face reality. But his alternate universe is crumbling. And Americans are becoming acquainted once again with facts, science and truth. In 2016, Trump told the Republican National Convention and a national television audience, "Only I can fix it." But he could not fix our country because he exacerbated and capitalized on our grievances for his own personal and political gain. That is the playbook of an authoritarian.

There is encouraging news, however. In recent polling, nine out of 10 Americans frown upon the insurrection on Jan. 6. Seven out of 10 Americans say Trump bears some responsibility for the violence. Fifty-six percent are in favor of Trump being banned from future elected office. His approval rating now stands at 29%.

Right-wing extremism was present long before Trump. Cultural and economic resentments have been brewing for years. Trump has seized upon these resentments and made them more mainstream through his radicalization of his supporters. Hopefully, right-wing extremism will recede as Trump's voice is silenced. Citizens who engage in political violence must be rooted out. Trump's unforgiving act of insurrection has shown his true stripes as an authoritarian who does not give a damn about anyone other than himself. Authoritarianism is antithetical to our representative democracy — and must be stamped out at every opportunity. And Trump has given us opportunities.

No one should be afraid of Donald Trump now. He is defeated, disgraced and repudiated. This is the trifecta of the biggest loser in U.S. political history.

This is our chance to show we have finally conquered our fear of that bully on the playground at school.

Trump spent his final moments in the White House raging at Republican leaders on Capitol Hill: report

With no one else to blame for his own election defeat, President Trump has zeroed in on one of his earliest Congressional backers, House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-CA.

According to the New York Times' Maggie Haberman, Trump is spending his final moments in the White House fuming because he is still convinced that he won the election. In keeping with his aversion to personal responsibility, Trump has now put a target on his once stalwart ally, who has, as of late, not shown the unconditional support he demands.

McCarthy –– who supported the President's crusade to overturn the election and voted against the electoral certification of President-elect Joe Biden –– surprised his colleagues on the House floor last week when he cast slight aspersion on Trump following the riot on Capitol Hill. "The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters," McCarthy said, treading a fine line, "He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding."

After condemning the riot despite propagating the very lies which incited it, McCarthy stopped short of calling for Trump's impeachment, instead suggesting that censure or a bi-partisan investigation would be better suited for the circumstances. Although McCarthy said just about the bare minimum to oppose Trump, the President is reportedly furious with him for not staying true to the Big Lie. The President's sudden disownment of one of his most loyal boosters comes just after Trump's bizarre disavowal of Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump asked to do the impossible by invalidating the Electoral College votes.

After supporting Trump's baseless election fraud crusade, but condemning the Capitol riot while defending Trump against a second impeachment, McCarthy has now alienated himself on Capitol Hill, with Democrats and Republicans alike demanding that he step down.

The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump Republican political action committee, denounced McCarthy as a "pathetic enabler," telling the Senator, "pack up [his] desk." A blistering op-ed in the Sacramento Bee, a paper-based in McCarthy's home state of California called him a "soulless anti-democracy conspirator." Even McCarthy's very own mentor retired California Congressman Bill Thomas tarred his former protégé as a "hypocrite" for supporting the "the phony lies the President perpetuated."

The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump Republican political action committee, denounced McCarthy as a "pathetic enabler," telling the Senator, "pack up [his] desk." A blistering op-ed in the Sacramento Bee, a paper-based in McCarthy's home state of California called him a "soulless anti-democracy conspirator." Even McCarthy's very own mentor retired California Congressman Bill Thomas tarred his former protégé as a "hypocrite" for supporting the "the phony lies the President perpetuated."

Cruz and Hawley became DC pariahs — but their 'cynical ploy' for 2024 may have worked anyway

Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have faced widespread condemnation for their roles in pushing the false election-rigging narrative that fueled the Capitol riot. But some political insiders think their stunt could still aid their 2024 Republican primary hopes, despite the violence it wrought.

Hawley and Cruz, without any evidence of widespread fraud, led the objections to the Electoral College results during a joint session of Congress that was ultimately delayed several hours when a mob of President Donald Trump's supporters overran Capitol Police and stormed the halls of Congress. The senators' electoral challenge was slammed by many as a "cynical ploy" intended to gin up 2024 primary support among Trump's base, but it seemed to have struck a chord among the Trump diehards hunting for lawmakers throughout the building. "I think Cruz would want us to do this," one rioter said in a video that showed the mob rummaging through drawers in the Senate chamber. "So I think we're good."

The blowback for the two senators was swift. Hawley, in particular, lost his book deal, a major donor, his Republican mentor and financial backing from a growing number of corporate PACs after he pumped his fist to the pro-Trump rioters before they stormed the Capitol. Two of the biggest Missouri newspapers called for his resignation. One of Cruz's top aides resigned in response to the riot. Dozens of Democrats have called for both to resign and have suggested censuring them. House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., even called for Cruz and Hawley to be put on the FBI's no-fly list.

But while mainstream figures have been quick to condemn the two lawmakers, "they're probably not the ones that Hawley is appealing to," argued Adam Jentleson, who served as chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "After the violence, 138 Republicans took stock and decided it was still in their interests to stick with Hawley. He wants to be a hero to the right. Seems to be working."

Jentleson noted that Republican voters have been loyal to Trump since 2016, and there's not much reason to think they will now reject loyalists like Hawley.

"Hawley is likely to emerge with the political upper hand... and it's important to be clear-eyed about that," he said. "Elite opinion may pile on him for a while. But by this time next year his GOP colleagues will be begging him to do fundraising events for them."

What do the polls say now?

Early polling suggests that becoming mainstream pariahs has not hurt Hawley's nor Cruz's brands among the party's base. An Economist/YouGov poll found that although their general favorability is underwater, Republican voters back Cruz 61-20 and Hawley by a 2-to-1 margin, though the latter is still largely unknown to the majority of voters. An Axios/Ipsos poll similarly found that most voters disapprove of the senators' "recent behavior," but 61% of Republicans said they approve of Cruz's actions, and 46% of Republicans approve of Hawley's.

Trump voters have largely stayed supportive. More than 90% of his supporters back his attempt to challenge results of the election he lost and want him to run again in 2024, according to the Axios/Ipsos survey. And while less than half of "traditional" GOP voters said they felt the same in that survey, a new CNN poll found that 75% of Republicans believe Biden did not legitimately win the election. On the other hand, Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last week, predicted that he "may very well have" ended his political career just days after taking office.

"I don't trust any polling right now," Alex Conant, a veteran Republican strategist who served as the communications director for Sen. Marco Rubio's, R-Fla., 2016 presidential campaign, said in an interview with Salon. He added that it was "too soon to say" how the fallout from the riot would affect the 2024 primary picture but acknowledged that the senators' attempts to cast themselves as victims of the left in response to the backlash could be effective, as it has been for Trump.

And, like Trump, both senators have been unrepentant about their own actions since the Capitol siege, despite condemning the violence. Cruz has denied any involvement in fueling the riot while blaming Trump's "rhetoric." Hawley said he "will never apologize for giving voice to the millions of Missourians and Americans who have concerns about the integrity of our elections."

"Some wondered why I stuck with my objection following the violence at the Capitol," he wrote in a subsequent op-ed. "The reason is simple: I will not bow to a lawless mob, or allow criminals to drown out the legitimate concerns of my constituents."

But how significant is their support?

Conant, who also worked in the George W. Bush administration and as the top spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said that backing Trump's electoral challenge was a "dumb idea" that "clearly turned off a lot of voters and other key people inside the party are really upset with them."

"I don't think that they're any more popular now with Trump's base," he said. "Let's be honest, Trump's base is… small relative to the nation as a whole and… they're loyal to Trump and I don't think that support is going to be transferrable to Hawley or Cruz or anyone else because of a vote they took."

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat who ran for president in 2004, agreed that Trump's relatively small base was likely to warm up to Cruz and Hawley in response to their backing but predicted it would doom the Republican Party.

"Yeah, Josh and Cruz might make it easier for themselves to win the Republican primary, but I think the Republican party is going to suffer enormously if it's still going on in 2024," Dean said in an interview, adding, "that's assuming we can hold the line against violence."

Dean predicted that "there's going to be more violence" but believes that the serious and public consequences facing the perpetrators may make "all these conspirators — not the crazy people who stormed Washington — but the 70 million people who are delusional about the election" rethink their politics. This is "not a revolutionary moment," he said, "it's a movement that's been hijacked by people who are basically authoritarians and fascists."

"Basically, we are where we are because there are a whole class of people who basically surrendered their agency in some desperation to Donald Trump," he said. "It's exactly the same phenomenon as Hitler or Mussolini or people like that. And they exist in this conspiracy theorist world as a defense… So a lot of those people are going to change that unconscious defense when it doesn't work for them anymore… When the situation becomes intolerable as a result of believing in the conspiracy theory, a lot of people who are not crazy but may be embracing the conspiracy theory, they're going to stop it because it doesn't suit them anymore.

"I can't imagine we're going to be at the same place in 2024, because I don't think the country will survive another three years of this," he added.

How radicalized is the Republican party now?

While Trump's influence is likely to wane, especially if he remains banned from mainstream social networks, the hold that his supporters have on the party may not. Some Republicans reportedly worried that they could face violence from their own supporters if they "voted the wrong way" on the Electoral College challenge and Trump's impeachment, noted Kurt Braddock, an extremism expert at American University.

Braddock said he was not surprised how many people in the party "have been radicalized by the far-right" and predicted those emboldened by Trump's presidency are not likely to quickly go back "underground."

"Truth be told, those individuals have always been there," he said. "Trump gave them a symbol to kind of rally around and to make them think that their beliefs were normalized and they were justified in the sorts of things they were doing."

"It's very difficult to see which direction" the party will go in the coming years, he added. "If you asked me six months ago if I thought QAnon adherents would be elected to Congress I would have said no. But, I mean, here we are."

Braddock, who has called for Hawley and Cruz to be investigated for their roles in the riot, said the two should face sanctions for fueling the narrative that led to the attack, but agreed that very little of the blowback has come from the right. He said he hopes that the ongoing condemnation could sway some Republicans.

"I think that the Republicans aren't pushing back on Hawley too much, but the pushback on Hawley by the general population… will be seen by some Republicans and that kind of phenomenon when they see the larger population rejecting it so soundly, I don't know if it will have a huge effect but I'd like to think it will have some effect," he said.

Jentleson said there was little intra-party blowback toward Hawley and Cruz because of "what the modern GOP has become."

"It is a party that will ultimately reward the kind of reprehensible behavior Hawley has displayed," he wrote on Twitter.

Where does this leave Mike Pence?

While Hawley and Cruz tried to appeal to Trump's supporters by backing his false election-rigging claims, Vice President Mike Pence, who stood loyally at Trump's side for four years, has been repeatedly criticized by the president for failing to circumvent the Constitution to overturn the election on January 6, framing it as a betrayal. Though Pence has drawn praise for standing up to Trump's tantrums, it's unclear if the party's base will look favorably on the president's longtime stoic sidekick.

"It's very hard to predict what voters are going to want years from now," said Conant. "In the long run, I don't think there's any question that what he did last week will look very good. History will remember his actions well, and he will end up defining his time as vice president. Clearly, I think there's some backlash in the moment from some of Trump's most hardcore supporters, but how relevant that is from three years from now, I don't know."

Braddock said the turn against Pence was one of the most "amazing, incredible, difficult to believe" things about the whole ordeal.

"In the span of 12 hours, Mike Pence [went from] the hero of the Trump Republicans to 'hang Mike Pence' at the Capitol building," he said, referring to the chants of some Trump supporters as they stormed through the halls of Congress.

"As long as the party is beholden to Trumpism… I don't think there is a place for Mike Pence, because if the party goes in the direction of the people outside the Capitol on January 6, I don't see people who were calling for his hanging to vote for him anytime soon," he said.

Mainstream Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appear eager to "cast off the shadow of Trump," he added. "If they're able to do that, there might be a place for people like Mike Pence. If they can't, it's difficult seeing Trumpism or Trump Republicans ever really going for someone like him again."

Will the backlash last?

Dean said the "more significant" aspect of the fallout is the corporate backlash against the lawmakers who backed Trump's election objections.

"The business community has tremendous leverage here," he said. "It was the business community who stepped up in the Civil Rights movement and even to a lesser extent in the climate change movement when government wasn't acting. And so if business makes good on their threats not to fund Republicans who are denying the election, that's pretty significant."

Dean said that members like Hawley and Cruz should be "expelled from the Senate" for their role in the riot in order for the country to try to move past the Trump era but doesn't think Congress should pursue large numbers of expulsions like the ones called for by freshman Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo.

"Because the truth is if you do that, most of them will get reelected in their special elections. So I think expulsion from Congress should be used very judiciously," he said. "What we really need is a truth and reconciliation commission. But in order to do that, the Republicans have to be willing to admit guilt and they're not there yet. And our job is to make their lives so unpleasant politically that they'll get there."

Trump's 'American Heroes' list is truly unhinged

On Monday afternoon the White House released an executive order detailing the figures that Trump wants represented in his National Garden of American Heroes.

Trump originally pitched the idea during a July 2020 speech at Mount Rushmore, amid nationwide protests that again brought questions of who should be memorialized through monuments into focus; across the country, statues of slave owners and Confederate officers were vandalized and removed.

In his speech, Trump said that these actions constituted a branch of "cancel culture."

"This movement is openly attacking the legacies of every person on Mount Rushmore," he said."They defile the memory of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt."

He continued: "I am announcing the creation of a new monument to the giants of our past. I am signing an executive order to establish the National Garden of American Heroes, a vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the greatest Americans to ever live."

In the seven months since, there has been no movement on creating the statue park. No Congressional funding was secured for the proposed project and, despite the executive order, it's unlikely to be picked up by the next administration. Regardless, two days before leaving office, Trump released the list of figures he'd like to see memorialized — and it is completely unhinged.

The list is a bizarro grab bag of 244 individuals, defined simultaneously by its randomness and tone-deafness. Logistics aside (How large would the park be? How close will the insane amount of statuary be to each other? Will it be like a Madame Tussauds cast in stone?), Trump's definition of "hero" is muddled.

You'd have Grover Cleveland, Walt Disney, Whitney Houston and Dolley Madison all next to each other, flanked by Kobe Bryant, Louis Armstrong, Neil Armstrong and Theodor Geisel aka "Dr. Seuss." There are civil rights champions and abolitionists like Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman and Harriet Beecher Stowe, alongside slave-owning presidents such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. More members of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show are present on the list than Asian Americans.

In many ways, however, Trump's list of "American Heroes" — which can be viewed in its entirety here — is emblematic of his presidency. It's riddled with choices that will make readers pause due to their obvious lack of research, regard for the truth and sensitivity. Here are some of the most weirdest missteps on the list (there are many more), starting with the demographic breakdown:

Demographic Breakdown

While the list is overwhelmingly random, it's also overwhelmingly male. As Axios' Danielle Alberti reported, Trump's "American Heroes" are 73% men. Additionally, 86 of the nominees, nearly a third, were born between 1900 and 1950.

When asked in that same article by Axios about his views on the list, historian Michael Beschloss, who specializes in the United States presidency, said, "Any American who loves democracy should make sure there is never some official, totalitarian-sounding 'National Garden of American Heroes,' with names forced upon us by the federal government."

"The glory of American democracy is that every one of our citizens decides who his or her personal heroes are," Beschloss said. "That is not the prerogative of any president, especially one rejected by American voters and who is on his way out the door. Many of the people on this list of 'heroes' would be embarrassed to be singled out by someone like Donald Trump."

Additionally, as the Associated Press reported, when Trump first proposed the list in 2020, there were no Native American, Hispanic or Asian American individuals. The list has been diversified some, but it's obviously an afterthought.

Christopher Columbus

One of the most incendiary names on the list was Christopher Columbus — who was neither American, nor did he ever actually set foot in North America. He did, however, initiate the Atlantic slave trade and the genocide of thousands of indigenous people. His cruelties are difficult to fully quantify, ranging from allowing the settlers under him to sell 9- and 10-year-old girls into sexual slavery, to forcing indigenous people to collect gold for him.

In June 2020, three statues of Columbus were damaged or pulled down in as many days.

"In St. Paul, demonstrators toppled a ten-foot-tall statue that stood in front of the Minnesota state capitol," wrote Theresa Machemer for Smithsonian Magazine. "In Richmond, protesters pulled down an eight-foot-tall statue in Byrd Park, carrying it about 200 yards before setting it on fire and throwing it into the nearby Fountain Lake. And, around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, police in Boston received a report that a marble statue of the Italian explorer and colonizer had lost its head."

Andrew Jackson

This choice is very much in the same vein as Columbus. Jackson, who was the seventh president of the United States, was one of the primary supporters of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which authorized the government to extinguish any Indian title to land claims in the Southeast.

"The result was the Trail of Tears, in which Cherokee and other native peoples of the Southeast were forced at gunpoint to march 1,200 miles to 'Indian territory,'" Billy J. Stratton wrote for Salon in 2017. "Thousands of Cherokee died during the passage, while many who survived the trek lost their homes and most of their property. Ironically, much of the land on which the Cherokee and other removed tribes were settled was opened to homesteading and became the state of Oklahoma some 60 years later."

Because of this, it seems deeply tone-deaf to include Jackson next to Native American icons like Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull and Tecumseh.

Muhammad Ali

So, admittedly, this name stuck out to me because I live in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali's hometown, and have reported previously on why there are no full-body statues of the boxing legend. According to Jeannie Kahnke of the Muhammad Ali Center — whom I interviewed in 2018 — they receive a lot of requests to use Ali's likeness.

"Over the years, I cannot tell you how many times people have come to us, saying 'I want to do a Muhammad Ali statue,'" she said. "It has probably been at least 15."

However, Ali was a devout Muslim, and he felt his faith would prohibit full-body statues being erected of him — which, Kahnke said, would prevent Ali's family from giving their blessing for a life-size statue of him. Some sculptors have done so without his family's permission, but many have found other, more creative, ways to honor the boxer.

Including his name on the list demonstrates either an obvious lack of research or a willingness to dishonor Ali's wishes and religious beliefs.

Ingrid Bergman

In Trump's executive order, he stated that the park's goal is to honor those believed to be "historically significant," and "individual[s] who made substantive contributions to America's public life or otherwise had a substantive effect on America's history."

To that end, one of the defining characteristics of Trump's list is the mishmash of political and pop culture, but Swedish actress Ingrid Bergan stands out because she . . . wasn't American. And unlike Alfred Hitchcock and Alex Trebek (who were born in the U.K. and Canada, respectively), she never became an American citizen.

It really raises the question of what qualifies as a "substantive contribution to America's public life" in Trump's mind. Was he just a big "Casablanca" fan? Perhaps, because Humphrey Bogart is on the list, too.

Woody Guthrie and Hannah Arendt

As New York Daily News reporter Chris Sommerfield tweeted yesterday, there are several "incredible self-owns" found on Trump's list, like the inclusion of Woody Guthrie, "who wrote 'Old Man Trump,' a blistering 1950s tune about the Trump family's racist housing practices in Brooklyn."

Additionally, Trump included the German-born American political theorist Hannah Arendt, who was perhaps best known for her book "The Origins of Totalitarianism." Her writings on "the banality of evil" have been repeatedly invoked to describe Trump's apparent and growing desire for autocratic rule.

"I think she would be appalled," Roger Berkowitz, who directs the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College — on whose campus Arendt is buried and where she taught for many years — told Jewish Insider on Monday evening. "I think Arendt would find it ridiculous that Trump nominated her. I think she would find Trump ridiculous, and I think she'd find him dangerous insofar as he undermines the basic idea of truthfulness and truth in the country. His attack on the election she would have found abhorrent and dangerous."

Edward R. Murrow

Finally, Trump's disdain for legitimate, objective reporting is no secret. He has called the media the "enemy of the people," and as such, it was no surprise to see the phrase "Murder the media" scrawled on a door of the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

That's why it was kind of a shock to see Edward R. Murrow, the broadcaster and war correspondent who had a deep impact on journalistic ethics, included on Trump's list. If Murrow were still alive and writing, I have no doubt that he would have reported truthfully on Trump — just as he reported critically on Senator Joseph McCarthy — and been decried as another "enemy of the people."

For what it's worth, Trump's executive order directed the secretary of the interior to identify a site and provide funding and said a taskforce would "publish an annual public report describing progress on establishing the National Garden and on building statues."

Joe Biden has nominated Deb Haaland for the position, and neither she nor Biden's transition team have issued a comment on the garden, making it unlikely that it will ever actually take root.

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."

Meet the two losers behind 'Stop the Steal'

In January 2013, a 26-year-old right-wing blogger named Ali Akbar joined the campaign of Curtis Bostic, a former Charleston, South Carolina, city councilman and Tea Party conservative who was running against disgraced former governor Mark Sanford in a Republican congressional primary. Bostic narrowly lost to Sanford (who served two more terms in the House before getting primaried out in 2018), and the campaign disassociated itself from Akbar, whose history as a convicted felon and hack political operative had caught up with him once again.

But over those first three months of 2013, Akbar — now known to the world as Ali Alexander, architect of the 2020 Stop the Steal movement — befriended the candidate's son, Daniel Bostic, then a 20-year-old aspiring model and actor who over the next eight years would partner with Ali in a number of failed ventures, including a cryptocurrency project, a listless consulting agency, a defunct MAGA gossip blog, and a scam donation project created with right-wing trolls Jacob Wohl and Laura Loomer. The partnership's lasting contribution to the world, however, came earlier this month, when the massive pro-Trump rally they organized on the National Mall on Jan. 6 turned into a violent siege of the U.S. Capitol, defiling the seat of American democracy and leaving half a dozen people dead, including two police officers.

Back in 2013, Akbar (as he was then known), a fast-talking aspiring strategist from the Dallas-Fort Worth region, had been casting about for a new gig after Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential bid failed, taking with it his own efforts to make inroads with mainstream Republicans. Conservatives had grown increasingly wary of Akbar's felony fraud convictions and other allegations of improper conduct, such as asking donors for personal information. Akbar's political journalism project, known as National Bloggers Club, was struggling, too, after its founder's history and conduct created complications for top advisers to the Romney campaign. (Akbar was first anti-Romney and then pro-Romney.) He claimed the site was a nonprofit but apparently never registered it as such with the IRS. Its current status is "revoked," according to federal tax records.

"Akbar was a Libertarian, a Reagan conservative, and a Tea Party journo all at the same time," said freelance reporter Ron Brynaert, whose complicated history with Akbar/Alexander stretches back more than a decade. "He's always been a delusional liar with a messiah complex, who talks out of both sides of his mouth and contradicts himself."

Akbar's work with the Bostic campaign focused on boosting name recognition through social media, including creating a hashtag that got a shout-out from former Republican senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who had co-sponsored Akbar's CPAC "Blog Bash" parties two years in a row and flew in to campaign with Bostic for a day. Bostic did see a surge, but it was too little too late — Slate awarded the campaign its "social media fail of the week" during the primary, specifically citing one of Akbar's sites,, as having become "a one-stop shop for #SC01 news, with a jaundiced view of Sanford."

Notably, Akbar also created a since-deleted donations landing page "paid for by the committee to elect Curtis Bostic," which was quite likely illegal, since the campaign denied ever officially hiring the convicted felon. After Bostic's primary defeat, the campaign dismissed Akbar in the press as an overzealous volunteer.

But Akbar had grown close with Daniel Bostic, who had a certificate in theology from Appalachian Bible College and a few months experience as staff assistant to then-Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., now the state's junior senator. Bostic yearned to be a professional actor, but had landed only done a few regional ads for American Eagle and Nokia and some local short films, along with an extra role in an episode of "Army Wives," which he described as something of a formative experience.

Akbar's online footprint dries up a bit after Curtis Bostic's defeat, but he re-entered the political sphere in 2014, with a hybrid PAC called the Black Conservatives Fund, which took in $150,000 from right-wing financier Robert Mercer. But for much of that spring and summer, it seems that Akbar devoted much of his time to helping Daniel Bostic convince people that he was a celebrity with a rabid, obsessive fan base.

Operation Bostic involved a coordinated lineup of fake Twitter fan accounts promoting a number of blog sites, interviews and press releases with Bostic fan content, which Bostic and Akbar most likely either commissioned or created themselves. The profile of one Twitter account, "Daniel's Lover," links out to a Wordpress site called Daniel Bostic Daily, which the account would regularly promote in hundreds of tweets at a time, drawing hardly any response from the larger world. One tweet from May 29, 2013 ("Fans are CRAZY about Daniel's Twitter!") tags Akbar's Twitter account and links to a Daniel Bostic Daily entry that itself quotes a since-deleted tweet from Akbar:

Few folks have the honest joy that @debostic has. It's fun to watch happy positive people online.
— Ali A. Akbar (@ali) May 28, 2013

Three days later, the same blog published another entry titled, "Euphoria for Ladies — Daniel Bostic posted a shirtless picture and became an Instagram sensation," which features said shirtless selfie and a quote about it from a website called Viral Read.

The news site VIRAL READ had this to say:

Walking the fine line between #hotmess and #hotness, Bostic wins the day and lands gracefully in the hotness column. Who knew this skinny kid had this hiding under his bro-tanks? He's the eventual celebrity you'll love to hate and we intend on watching him closely. All of him.

The now-defunct Viral Read was one of Akbar's blog sites, which named controversial right-wing blogger Robert Stacy McCain as editor-in-chief on March 13, 2013, while Akbar was working in South Carolina. The Viral Read article on Bostic from May is similarly titled "Daniel Bostic, Hotness or Hotmess?" and begins like this:

ViralRead was first introduced to the young actor, Daniel Bostic, during a special election run-off in April where his father, Curtis Bostic was up against now-Congressman Mark Sanford. Our Publisher and Editor even traveled down to the lowcountry district. Sadly, they came back with zero pictures of him. Epic fail.

Other Bostic fan sites include "Bostiholics," which migrated from the "allwewantisdaniel" blogspot site. "We are here for one reason and one reason alone," reads the Bostiholics tag line. "We are OBSESSED with Daniel Bostic." Other Twitter accounts include Dan Bostic Is Life and Dan Bostic Daily. It also seems that Akbar helped place Daniel-centric content in other outlets around that same time. In March 2013 alone, as Curtis Bostic was waging a vigorous campaign, posts about his fake celebrity son appeared on sites called Jakes Take, Daily Entertainment News and Entertainment Worlds, as well as in a Newswire press release titled, "Born To Be Distinguished, Daniel Bostic Has Made A Huge Difference In The World Of Acting."

"Being young has not deterred this young actor from climbing heights in this intricate acting career," the release says, then lists "exciting films" in which he has "made headlines": "From Darkness into Light," "Gone for the Day," "Crash" (no, not that "Crash"), "Secrets in the Fall." The release also says Bostic "is much into politics" and "a proud certified black belt Tae-Kwon-Do." His LinkedIn and IMDb pages boast of the 2008 black belt, but for the art of karate.

Two months later, Bostic featured in another Newswire press release, titled, "Bostic Calls on His Fans to Support Oklahoma Tornado Victims." The release is attributed to Marti Youngue, and gives a phone number and address. The address is Curtis Bostic's law firm, but the phone number belongs to Marti Young, former owner of a Nashville agency called Illuminating Talent, which at one point represented Daniel Bostic. Presented with the press release, Young told Salon in a text message, "Wow that's the first time I ever saw this."

While the extent of Akbar's involvement in Bostic content creation is unclear, his prints appear to be on some of the self-promoting replies, including those aimed Dana Loesch and Michelle Malkin, who were relatively obscure at the time but would go on to become big names in right-wing political circles.

By 2014, however, Akbar had moved on from South Carolina's low country, landing himself a consulting gig in Louisiana with his new Mercer-backed PAC, the Black Conservatives Fund. According to investigative journalist Lamar White Jr., this PAC was mostly a proxy for former Louisiana State Sen. Elbert Guillory, who at the time was putting together an ultimately unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor. CNBC reported the PAC distributed money that year to a handful of successful Black conservative candidates, including Rep. Mia Love of Utah, as well as Bostic's former boss Tim Scott, who won South Carolina's special election to the Senate in 2014.

Bostic in the meantime attended Anderson University, a private Christian school with both online and in-person degrees, eventually earning a BS in international business, according to his LinkedIn page. He appears to have done some political blogging, identifying as a never-Trumper in 2016 and becoming one of the few donors to former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina's ill-fated presidential campaign.

Politico reported in 2018 that a PAC advised by Akbar had accepted $60,000 from Mercer just before the 2016 presidential election. After Trump's victory, Akbar popped up again amid the Unite the Right controversy, and in 2018 tried to help kickstart a Trump-centric alternative to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) called the American Priority Conference, which collapsed in short order.

After that defeat, Alexander (having dumped his original surname at some point) teamed up with longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, who first conceived of the Stop the Steal movement — which, believe it or not, did not originate with the 2020 election. The name and the "movement" began with the 2018 midterms, and specifically with the Florida U.S. Senate campaign in which then-Gov. Rick Scott narrowly defeated incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. That was when Roger Stone launched the group as a kind of tribute or coda to his infamous "Brooks Brothers riot" during the Florida recount of 2000.

Alexander signed on to work for the "Stop the Steal" campaign, which was aimed at locking down Scott's victory over Nelson. In a Periscope video, as reported in Right Wing Watch, Alexander said he hoped to motivate not just Republicans, but QAnon followers, Democrats and "homeless people in all the adjacent counties" to keep an eye on the vote count in Broward County.

"Ali Alexander is a noxious political activist who often animates extremist groups and individuals to fulfill his activism goals," Jared Holt, journalist and expert in domestic extremism, told Salon. "Political groups and organizations that have turned to him for his work should be embarrassed and ashamed. The fact that he has a molecule of influence in GOP organizing is a damning indictment of the priorities of pro-Trump politics."

Alexander has associated with a number of young pro-Trump flunkies who would also seem to fit Holt's description, as with his aforementioned ill-fated 2019 joint venture in Minneapolis with right-wing personality Laura Loomer and the recently-indicted Jacob Wohl.

That scam also involved Daniel Bostic. Alexander, Loomer and Wohl directed donations to a company called Cystra Ventures Ltd., which had been created in Bostic's name just three weeks before the group met up in Minnesota. Cystra Ventures is apparently held under Cystra LLC, Bostic's "consulting company," whose website doesn't work (this archived version does) but which received $14,477 in federal coronavirus small business loans this spring — after much apparent consternation on Bostic's part.

Cystra appears to have been designed to get Bostic and Alexander in the cryptocurrency game. In late June 2017, less than two months before Unite the Right in Charlottesville, Alexander and Bostic teamed up to pitch a new cryptocurrency "focused heavily on free speech." According to the pitch, the coin would be "a medium of exchange for individuals who value free speech above all else," and would be exchanged on the Crown platform, based on the Dash network. "Our project will feature no pre-mine and a decentralized governance with the sole goal of promoting free speech," they claimed.

Nothing came of this venture, shockingly, but the duo were back at it in 2018, cranking out a series of videos pitching the Crown crypto platform, whose "overarching goal is to build a community of dedicated users who maintain a free, legally compliant, open-access and decentralized sandbox economy." Nothing came of that, either.

Then in 2019, Alexander launched a tabloid called Culttture, a right-wing organ that employed a handful of writers to write breathless gossip about MAGA-world's second-string celebs, often plugging Alexander's tweets and videos in the course of the day. The site's homepage took a hiatus the next spring, however, citing the coronavirus pandemic ("China's virus") for the need to "simplify." Although the homepage still promises a steady stream of content, that promise appears not to have materialized. Twitter suspended Culttture's account when it suspended Alexander, on Jan. 10. Bostic had claimed on his Twitter profile to be a "lead at Culttture," but deleted that sometime after Jan. 9.

Alexander also still retains control over the Black Conservatives Fund, and the group regularly promoted Stop the Steal rallies to its more than 80,000 Facebook followers. One post ahead of the Jan. 6 riots read: "D.C. becomes FORT TRUMP starting today. Fight to #StopTheSteal with President Trump." It then listed rally locations, including at the Capitol building. That post disappeared from the Facebook page after an inquiry from CNBC.

That PAC's treasurer, Patrick Krason, also happens to be treasurer for Stop the Steal PAC — the group that initially registered in November with Bostic as designated agent. During the two months prior to the riot, Bostic, who also listed himself as the media contact for Stop the Steal, helped organize rallies and sometimes addressed crowds briefly himself.

On Jan. 6, Bostic was in Washington with Alexander. The two can be clearly identified in video clips climbing the Capitol steps with Alex Jones. After the violence, Bostic tweeted, "This could've all been avoided if we were shown signatures and allowed to audit our elections. You cannot expect elections to be conducted in secret without repercussions. I do not in any way endorse violence, but path has been traversed time and time again throughout history."

Two days after the attack, Bostic's name was removed from the Stop the Steal PAC's statement of organization. Bostic told Salon that "some answers are too long for Twitter," adding that "you have slandered me, my friends, all to meet your monthly ad revenue quota."

Salon then asked Krason, the PAC's treasurer who manages compliance for a number of political committees, why Bostic was no longer a listed agent. Krason outlined a complex but somewhat plausible scenario in which he had to change bank accounts. Krason would not say what role, if any, Bostic had played in that well-timed change, and would not say whether Bostic had asked to remove his name, or why he had been listed as an agent to begin with.

After Alexander went into hiding, apparently concerned about the authorities, Bostic at first made his Twitter account private. He reopened it again this past Friday, having deleted all tweets prior to Jan. 5 (except for a New Year's Eve post), as well as a number of tweets from Jan. 6, the day of the riot, including one that called Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer "evil" for posting an image of a Stacey Abrams votive candle. Bostic has also removed two tweets that appeared to show live-streamed video which he had captioned "Storming the Capitol." Those tweets are archived here and here, but the media files appear inaccessible. He did, however post that the chants of "Stop the Steal" that day were "indescribable."

That refrain, believe it or not, can be traced all the way back to the apparent ears beginning of Bostic and Alexander's relationship. One of the first tweets from the "Daniel's Lover" fan account is a retweet of an uncannily prescient post from Curtis Bostic, Daniel's dad, whose underdog campaign had just hired Akbar, perhaps unofficially.

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote." - Benjamin Franklin
10:47 AM · Jan 22, 2013·Twitter for iPhone

Alexander could not immediately be reached for comment.

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.)"

My grandfather was a Nazi — here's what everyone should know of my family's story of complicity

My grandfather was a Nazi. As others, like former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, have also noted, the political events of today remind me of my family's past. My grandfather wasn't among the first to join the party. In fact, it took years to convince him. But Johann Bischoff eventually became a Nazi for the power and safety the party afforded him at the time, and was one of the last to leave when Hitler's forces fell. My family story is one of complicity — of how an educated, pious man became a cog in the machinery of Nazi hatred, only to have it destroy his family and homeland, with my mother and her sisters paying the most for their father's sins. Conservatives who think right-wing extremism in America is not a serious threat to them as well as to their political opponents should take heed of my family's story.

Last week, only ten Republicans in Congress saw fit to impeach a president accused of inciting a deadly insurrection at the United States Capitol. Images of the riot showed chaos, but there is also evidence of coordinated attacks on American democracy. Federal and local law enforcement are warning similar events are planned throughout the country.In a dangerous echo of Nazism, a mixture of prejudice, grievance and ambition fuels this vicious power grab. President Trump's whipped-up minions carry out the physical violence, while Republicans amplifying and acting on the election fraud lie provide a more philosophical assault on democracy.

Across America today, thousands of Republican elected officials — and untold millions of rank-and-file members — are making choices that remind me of the early, incremental choices my grandfather made. Maybe they supported President Trump out of fear for their political futures and safety for their families, or maybe they liked his tax cuts and Supreme Court justice appointments. The end of democracy was far from their minds. They don't believe terrors on the scale of Nazi Germany could happen again, or maybe they believe their privilege protects them.

They don't understand what the combination of hatred and authoritarianism, once unleashed, can destroy. My family is among those who do.

On January 22, 1945, as the Soviet army neared their estate outside of Guttstadt, East Prussia, my German family prepared to flee. Like Liesl von Trapp in "The Sound of Music," my mother, Lieselotte Bischoff, was 16 going on 17. But while Captain von Trapp ripped apart a Nazi flag in protest, my grandfather, Johann Bischoff, cowardly buried his Nazi flag on the way out of town. He worried what the Russians might do to his farm if they discovered a Nazi lived there.

My grandfather wasn't part of Adolf Hitler's political base. He was a large landowner and an active local official in the Catholic Zentrum Party until Hitler outlawed all other political parties. In 1937, he was detained and interrogated for publicly questioning why an elderly Jewish grain merchant, Moses Sass, was sweeping the street.

But after six years of Hitler's Reich in 1938, Johann had become the Ortsbauernführer, the area's leader of the Nazi's nationalized agricultural agency, the Reichsnährstand. Its motto was blut und boden — blood and soil. The agency revived German agriculture after the dire depression, and my grandfather benefited from his position. After much pressure, Johann capitulated and joined the party as well.

Perhaps his land, livelihood, and life were at stake, along with the lives of his wife and eight children. Perhaps he was simply a politically shrewd Prussian. Regardless, he stood by as Hitler's plans unfolded. The Jews in Guttstadt had been his business partners, fellow city councilmen, and comrades in arms fighting for the Kaiser. But he sat by and watched as his Nazi Party imprisoned and murdered the same Jewish townspeople he once called friends, including Moses Sass.

The party also soon bestowed tragedy on his family. Starting in 1940, each of his four sons was drafted. Only a few years later, two were dead and another was a prisoner of war in Siberia. The fourth son, my Uncle Karl, served four years in a Panzer unit across three continents until he lost a leg and returned home.

Meanwhile my mother and her three sisters attended mass and Catholic school and also the meetings of the Hitler Youth group for girls. Despite a raging world war, in 1944, my mother was sent to finishing school in Königsberg, until that August when she escaped Britain's fiery bombing of the city under a wet blanket.

The bombing of Königsberg marked the beginning of the end of East Prussia, but Hitler's Reich ordered summary execution for anyone attempting to escape west. The German women, children and old men were to be the last stand against the Red Army. On January 20, 1945, the first Soviet airstrike hit Guttstadt, and two days later, civilians were finally allowed to evacuate. My family joined hundreds of thousands of East Prussians in the chaotic mass exodus that blizzardy January. Rich and poor fled for their lives on foot and in wagons, but in subzero temperatures under Soviet air raids, it was a deadly slog westward.

After four years of German crimes of war and humanity against Russians, when the Soviet army encircled the Germans that spring, vengeance was theirs. My mother was one of the million German women raped by the Russians. As a Wehrmacht veteran, my Uncle Karl was brutally beaten. During the occupation, a typhus epidemic claimed a younger sister, and almost everything my family owned was taken from them.

After the Potsdam Conference, the remaining Germans in East Prussia were expelled and the refugees prohibited from returning. When my family was told to meet at the train station, they were terrified they would be sent to a Siberian workcamp like so many. My Uncle Karl believed it a certain death; he escaped in the tumult of the transports, abandoning his family.

Atop of coal cars, they arrived at a displaced persons camp. They were lucky to have been sent westward, but the conditions were no better. Lying on straw with little food in tight quarters, disease was rampant. The two younger sisters developed tuberculosis and my grandfather, pneumonia. He died January 24, 1946 — one year after he left his farm. Close to starvation, my mother was the only one able in the family to walk to see to his burial. She wore his old coat, the better one of his once bespoke boots, and a wooden clog she had found.

Later in 1946, the four surviving Bischoff women were resettled in West Germany in the British Zone. The following year Karl found them, and in 1950, another lost brother reappeared, skeletal after six years in a Siberian prison. Eventually, the family made new lives for themselves in Germany and America, where my mother became a citizen.

Some hear this story and feel pity for the innocents; others believe my family received their just due. But this story can do more than elicit a judgment of character. It shows that when governments use hatred and authoritarianism as a political tool, it's not only a danger for the targets of the enmity. Victim, perpetrator, enabler, and bystander — are all in peril.

On January 6, with Thin Blue Line and Trump flags waving around him, a Capitol Police officer was beaten with American flags by President Trump's mob. Some in the mob were itching to maim or kill President Trump's political opponents. When Congress reconvened later that night, a majority of the Republican Representatives nevertheless voted against certifying the results of a free and fair election. Don't say history can't happen today.

Martin Luther King warned about people like Trump and his ilk — and knew how to respond to their crimes

Time is broken in the Age of Trump. The ability to distort reality is one of fascism's greatest powers. World-historical events are collapsed down into a few days or weeks. Perspective is lost.

Over the course of two weeks, the American people experienced an attempted fascist coup by Donald Trump and then his subsequent impeachment for inciting insurrection. On Inauguration Day, two weeks after Trump's supporters overran the U.S. Capitol building, Joe Biden will finally become president of the United States of America.

This essay is being published on Monday, Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is now two days before Inauguration and five days after Trump's impeachment. These days feel like years.

Dr. King was martyred by a white supremacist assassin in 1968. More than 50 years later, white supremacists with their Confederate flags, Nazi tattoos and T-shirts and other symbols of hate, attacked the U.S. Capitol with lethal results. Once again, we are reminded that white supremacy and the color line are a type of changing same in America.

The forces of white supremacy and American Apartheid that Dr. King fought against those decades ago were never fully exorcised or vanquished.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a civic holiday in America, one when the country celebrates its own belief (which is really a comforting lie) that it transcended racism and white supremacy through the blood sacrifice of one man and the other (acceptable) heroes of the civil rights movement.

Dr. King's civic holiday has its obligatory rituals. There will be the documentaries and other films and movies about his life and the civil rights movement. Famous people will offer words of wisdom. There will be disappointment. There will be hope. There will be marches and gatherings — made even more poignant and surreal by life in a time of plague.

And on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021, the juxtaposition of Donald Trump's ignominy with King's moral vision and life of sacrifice will be almost impossible to ignore.

One of the obligatory public rituals on this day is the summoning of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" Speech, which is often misrepresented and willfully distorted.

In the (white) American popular imagination, King's dream of racial equality and real democracy are understood as being something accomplished with the civil rights movement in the 1960s. In reality, he was speaking of a time in the future. More than 50 years later, America has not yet arrived at such a place.

The failure to achieve King's dream looms over the rage-filled faces of Trump's mob and its assault on the U.S. Capitol — along with everything else that horrible scene tells us about America in the Age of Trump.

For example, the Trumpists had nooses and also a huge cross. These are symbols of White Christian nationalist hatred and violence. In his landmark book "The Cross and the Lynching Tree," theologian James Cone described the power and history of such symbols and beliefs:

"In the lynching era," between 1880 to 1940, white Christians lynched nearly five thousand Black men and women in a manner with obvious echoes of the Roman crucifixion of Jesus. Yet these "Christians" did not see the irony or contradiction in their actions.

Echoing Cone, Carey Wallace writes in her new essay for Time Magazine, "White American Christianity Needs to Be Honest About Its History of White Supremacy": "You cannot cure cancer by pretending it is not there. The white American church can't pretend that the mob at the Capitol is not part of us. It is us."

This may seem counterintuitive to some, but in fact these celebrations of white privilege, white supremacy and white power cause harm to white people as well. Umair Haque writes at Eudaimonia:

In other words, the failed coup only marks the beginning of a new pattern of violence. What do the fascists then attack? All the institutions of civil society. They blow up courtrooms. They hold politicians hostage. They assassinate judges. They kidnap intellectuals. They invade schools. They occupy local governments. Society endures a wave of terrorism after failed coup attempts like the one America just had.
A failed coup is a kind of phase transition. It is like a glacier melting or an ocean boiling. It signals the beginning of a new phase in a society's story. … Terrorism of all kinds usually ensues, from, again, assassinations to bombings to kidnappings and so on. …
That is, I think, what is beginning to happen in America. These fascists have been normalised by white American culture for so long — seen as something like cute little pit bull attack dogs — that those very white Americans failed to see the danger they were in. The hounds of ruin and chaos were about to turn on the family which bred them, oblivious to their wild appetites. Fascists are not cute little house pets — which is what white American culture made them out to be, when, for example, the NYT profiled neo-Nazis as friendly neighbours next door, when Jake Tapper had Nazis on his show to "debate" with (hey, is exterminating my whole kind of people a matter of debate? Oh, cool!!), when Richard Spencer was portrayed as a dashing, handsome rogue, when Steve Bannon was glamorised as a cool, soi-disant genius of a worldly philosopher. White American culture made this monster. And the monster has now turned on it.

To paraphrase the civil rights leader, martyr and icon Malcolm X, the chickens are coming home to roost in America.

As has been true for centuries in America, it is Black and brown Americans who will be tasked with the responsibility of picking up the mess left behind by White America. After Trump's mob and other rabble rampaged throughout the U.S. Capitol, Black and brown janitors and maintenance workers put things back together again.

Martin Luther King Jr. was killed on April 4, 1968, fighting for the rights of sanitation workers in Memphis.

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2021, his words and legacy will be abused and distorted in grievous ways.

Republicans, Trumpists, and other members of the right-wing will claim, as always, that Dr. King would want "peace" and "unity" and "coming together" and "forgiveness" after Donald Trump's white supremacist coup attempt. Trump's apologists will also likely claim that King would demand national "healing."

These lies will be enabled by Black conservative mouthpieces and other professional racism deniers and nonwhite agents of white supremacy.

But the real Dr. King, the radical truth-telling Dr. King, the man who was one of the most unpopular people in America at the time of his martyrdom, believed in substantive justice. That type of justice does not come without hard work and sacrifice and making whole those people who were done wrong. In total, true healing is never possible without doing the hard work to make it so.

To that point, the real Dr. King believed that true justice for Black people in America necessitated reparations for slavery and generations of stolen wealth, income, labor, freedom and lives. The real Dr. King was also a democratic socialist who was committed to creating a true "We the People" democracy and humane society in America and around the world.

The real Dr. King would demand that substantive justice be done and that Donald Trump, his coup plotters, enablers and foot soldiers, and those others who participated in a lethal attack on the Capitol be held accountable. Such an outcome is not vengeance; it is justice.

Dr. King, who was a product of the Black Christian prophetic tradition of resistance and love and social justice, said this: "Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning."

He also said, "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."

As the crimes of the Age of Trump are investigated and punishments meted out, the American people would be wise to heed Dr. King's wisdom. We have ignored it far too long.

Physicist Avi Loeb thinks there's a 'serious possibility' that 'Oumuamua was an alien spacecraft

Are we alone in the universe?

It's a question humans have been asking for thousands of years—but when a bizarrely fast, cigar-shaped interstellar object jetted past Earth on its trip through our solar system, Harvard professor Avi Loeb believes scientists weren't ready to seriously consider that it was of artificial origin. But Loeb is beyond consideration — he says it's very possible that 'Oumuamua (pronounced "oh moo ah moo ah") was an interstellar spacecraft.

Back in October 2017, a postdoctoral researcher named Robert Weryk at the University of Hawaii was sifting through the usual data stream from the Pan-STARRS astronomical survey of the sky when he noticed an unexpected object. It appeared to be highly elongated, like a stick, with a long axis 10 times longer than its short axis — unprecedented for an asteroid. Some hypothesized that 'Oumuamua swung towards our solar system as a result of a gravitational slingshot of a binary star system; others, that it might be an odd comet, though no tail was evident. Thus the search began to collect and analyze as much data as possible before it left our solar system.

Immediately upon discovering its physical properties, researchers realized its shape — which would minimize abrasions from interstellar gas and dust — would be ideal for an interstellar spacecraft. The idea understandably sent shockwaves through the scientific community and stoked controversy. Ultimately, scientists coalesced behind the idea that it was of natural origin, rather than artificial. But Loeb, who is the former chair of astronomy at Harvard University, remains certain that it was something akin to a light sail — a form of interstellar propulsion — spacecraft created by an extraterrestrial civilization. So much so that he wrote a whole book about it.

That book would be "Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth," in which Loeb argues that the scientific community's resistance to discussing the possibility of extraterrestrial life has hindered taking seriously his hypothesis that 'Oumuamua was an alien light sail. Loeb reflects on how what happened with 'Oumuamua was a bit of a missed opportunity, and that academia must invest more in the search for life in our universe to better prepare us for another interstellar visitor. But perhaps, most importantly, in a time when Earth faces an urgent global warming crisis, Loeb says that it could be finding extraterrestrial life that saves us from ourselves.

As always, this interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What makes you think that 'Omuamua was a light sail spacecraft created by an extraterrestrial civilization?

At first, astronomers assumed it must be a comet, because these are the objects that are most loosely bound to stars. We have mostly comets in the outer parts of the solar system. These are rocks covered with ice, and when they get close to a star they warm up, and the ice evaporates into a cometary tail.

It was natural to assume that about 'Oumuamua, because it came from outside the solar system, so the assumption was it must be a comet. The problem with that was there was no cometary tail. Some people say, "okay it's not a comet, maybe it's just a rock." But the problem is, about half a year later, it was reported that there was an excess push in addition to the force of gravity acting on it by the sun. It exhibited some additional force. Usually that force comes from the rocket effect of the cometary tail, but there was no cometary tail. So the question was, what produces this excess push?

Moreover, during the time that it was observed, the reflected sunlight [off of 'Oumuamua] varied by a factor of 10. So, that implied that it has an extreme geometry. Even if you consider a razor-thin piece of paper tumbling in the wind, the amount of area that is projected in your direction is not varying by more than a factor of 10, because the chance of seeing it edge on is really small. It is tumbling in the wind. So it looked like this object has an extreme geometry. The most likely model that explains the reflective sunlight as a function of time — as it was doubling every eight hours — was that it has a flat, pancake-like geometry, not cigar-shaped the way it was depicted in some cartoons.

On top of that, it was on the shinier end of all the objects we have seen from the solar system. It also came from a special frame of reference that is called the Local Standard of Rest. That is sort of the galactic parking lot where, if you find a car, you don't know what house it came from, because this is the frame of reference where you operate with the motion of all the stars in the vicinity of the sun. Only one in 500 stars is so much addressed relative to that frame as 'Oumuamua was. So it was just like a buoy sitting on the surface of the ocean and then the solar system is like a giant ship bumping into it.

So there were many peculiar facts. I tried to explain the excess push, especially. The only thing I could think of is it comes from the reflection of sunlight. Then it needed to be very thin, sort of like a sail on a boat that is pushed by wind. I couldn't imagine a natural process that would make a lightsail, a sail that's pushed by light. In fact, our civilization is currently pursuing this technology in space exploration.

If this object came from an artificial origin, the question is who sent it? I should say that in September of this year, 2020, there was another object discovered that exhibited an excess push. It was called 2020-SO by the Minor Planets Center that gives names to celestial objects. It turned out that this one ended up being a rocket booster from a failed mission of lunar lander, Surveyor II, that was launched in 1966. So astronomers figured out that it intercepted the Earth if you go back in time to 1966.

But this object actually also showed an excessive push, because it's a hollow rocket booster that is very thin and pushed by sunlight. We know that it's artificially made. It had no cometary tail. We know that we made it. So that provides evidence that we can tell the difference between a rock and an object that is pushed by sunlight. To me, it demonstrated the case that perhaps 'Oumuamua was artificial, definitely not made by us. because it's been only a few months close to us. We couldn't even chase it with our best rockets.

That's fascinating. Can you explain to our readers what is a light sail?

So a light sail is just like a sail on a boat that reflects the wind, the wind is pushing it. In the case of a light sail, it's the light reflected off its surface that gives it the kick, the push. Light is made of particles called photons. Just like billiard balls bouncing off a wall, they exert some push on it. So the particles of light — photons — reflect off the surface and push and give it a kick.

The advantage of this technology is that you don't need to carry the fuel with the spacecraft [as you do with rockets]. Rockets carry the fuel and they expel gas from the exhaust, and that's how they get pushed forward, just like a jet plane. In the case of a light sail, it is light that is being reflected. That's why you don't carry your fuel. You can have a lightweight spacecraft. In principle, you can even reach the speed of light with this technology.

So, as you know, after your paper was published, another one was published in 2019 in Nature Astronomy. That paper proposed a natural origin, that 'Oumuamua could have been a small asteroid that came from a solar system with a gas giant orbiting a star, and that it could have been fragmented and ejected into our solar system. Is there any part of you that thinks that's still a possibility— why or why not?

No. And that is one out of three suggestions that were made by astronomers about the astral origin, and I'll mention all three.


The [theory] that you mentioned has to do with a disruption of an object that passes close to a star. There are problems with that scenario. First of all, the chance of coming close enough to a star to be disrupted like that is small. Most of [these] kinds of objects do not pass close to the star. So you need a huge population of objects to account for those that pass close to the star and fragment. The more important problem is that if you make shrapnel or fragments as the result of the destruction near a star, they would be elongated — like cigar shaped. The best model for 'Oumuamua was that it was pancake-shaped. You can't get that from the destruction of a bigger object. It's not natural to get that.

So that's my caveat about this scenario — that first, it's unlikely that you would get so many — I mean, you need a lot of objects to explain that we detected 'Oumuamua. More than one, you would expect naturally, given all the rocks that exist in planetary systems. Yet, this model even wants 'Oumuamua-like objects to be produced very close to the host star. So that makes it even less likely to happen.

More importantly, the shape is the issue. How do you get pancake shape?

Then there is another suggestion of a natural origin which is that it's a "dust bunny," of the type that you find in a household. But it needs to be like a football size. The dust bunny, the collection of particles, is sort of like a cloud that then is 100 times less dense than air, more rarefied than air, so that sunlight can push it around. To me, that sounds not so plausible. This object was the size of a football field and it was tumbling around every eight hours. So making that out of a dust bunny, a cloud of dust particles, and imagining that this dust bunny would survive for millions of years in interstellar space — I find that hard to believe.

Then the third possibility that was suggested is that it's frozen hydrogen; that it's a hydrogen iceberg. We've never seen anything like it before. We didn't see a dust bunny, we didn't see a hydrogen iceberg. The idea was that if it's made of hydrogen, then when the hydrogen evaporates, it's transparent so you can't see it. So there is a cometary tail you just can't see. But the problem with this scenario is that we showed in the paper that a hydrogen iceberg would evaporate very quickly in interstellar space because of starlight hitting it. Therefore, it would not survive the journey.

So all together, I find these possibilities less appealing. All of them talk about it being something we have never seen before. So I'm saying, if we discuss it as a natural origin, and it involves something that we have never seen before—then why not also consider an artificial origin? That's also something we've never seen before? That's all I'm saying. I'm not saying it's definitely of artificial origin, but that it's one of the serious possibilities that we should contemplate.

How certain are you that 'Oumuamua was an object with artificial origin?

I would say, given everything we know, I would give a high likelihood that it could have been artificially made. The only way to know for sure, for certain, of course, is to take an image of something like that or get more data on something like that. We can't do it with 'Oumuamua because it's already too far away. It's now a million times fainter than it was when it was close to us. So we missed the opportunity. It's like having a guest for dinner, by the time you realize it's weird, it's already out of the front door into the dark street. That was the first guest, and we should look for more.

I definitely get the sense from your book how this was a missed opportunity to collect data. I thought about how, in your book, you described if cave dwellers were to find a modern cell phone, they would dismiss it as, like you said, as a shiny rock.


Is that what we did with 'Oumuamua?

Exactly. We tend to explain anything new that we see in terms of what we already saw. That's very natural but it also suppresses innovation, it doesn't allow us to see new things. As scientists, we should be open-minded.

Your book is about 'Oumuamua, but it's also about encouraging people to think differently about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, to be more open to it. I think it's interesting how you compare the hefty investments made by the scientific community to exploring dark matter to those invested in finding extraterrestrial life. Why do you think the idea of finding dark matter is more publicly acceptable and more interesting to scientists than searching for extraterrestrial life?

I think the reason is because it's less relevant to our lives. When something is close to home and affects you emotionally, that causes some distress. People prefer not to have that. They prefer to live in peace and be happy.

The point about reality is that it doesn't care about how uneasy you are with the notion. Reality is whatever it is. By ignoring it, you maintain your ignorance.

When the philosophers didn't look through Galileo's telescope, they were happy, because they thought the sun surrounded the Earth and they maintained their philosophical and religious beliefs that we are at the center of the universe. But that was temporary. It only maintained their ignorance for a little while. Eventually we realized that the Earth moves around the sun. The fact that they put Galileo in house arrest didn't change anything. The number of likes on Twitter or whatever we give each other, awards, or put someone in house arrest or anything, that only affects our relation with each other. Reality is whatever it is. By ignoring it, we don't gain anything, we just lose because we are more ignorant.

So my point is, the way to make progress is not to stick to your notions and maintain a prejudice. Of course that's a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you say I don't need to search, I know the answer, I don't need to look through Galileo's telescope, of course it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. You will never find that you're wrong because you bully people that will do this kind of search, and you don't fund the research in that direction. It's like stepping on the grass and saying look it doesn't grow. Science is not about that, science is about finding the truth.

In the book you emphasize how great the reward would be if we were to discover extraterrestrial life. I'm wondering if you could share more about that with our readers. I think people think that there would be a negative impact on our life, but you argue that it could have a positive impact on human life and on Earth.

First of all, it gives us a better perspective about ourselves. I think astronomy as a whole teaches us modesty. We are occupying one planet out of 10 to the power of 20 planets in the observable universe. We are really responsible for a tiny real estate piece out of the big landscape. Also, we live for a short time relative to the age of the universe. So this immediately tells us that we are not very significant.

Previously, people thought that an Earth-like planet around a sun-like star was something rare. Now, with the Kepler data, half of the sun-like stars have a planet the size of the Earth, roughly at the same separation. Therefore, if you arrange for similar circumstances, I think that you would get similar outcomes.

It would be arrogant to assume that we are unique and special. You know, I think we are as common as ants are on a sidewalk. They are out there and we need to look for clues. Of course if we maintain the idea that we are special and we are unique we will never find the evidence.

On the other hand, if we have the instruments to examine this — we have the telescopes — and the public is so interested in us finding the answer, I think it would be a crime for scientists not to address this interest from the public. Moreover, the public is funding science, so we should attend to the interests of the public. There are examples from history that on many occasions when we thought we knew the truth and we ended up being wrong.

What kind of evidence would the scientific community need to have incontrovertible proof that there is extraterrestrial life, or more 'Oumuamua-like light sails, in our universe?

That's an excellent question. One approach is, of course, to find objects like 'Oumuamua that we can take a photograph of. By the way, we don't necessarily need to chase them in space, because every now and then one of them may collide with the Earth. We see those as meteors. One of the meteors that comes from interstellar space may be space junk from another civilization. That offers us the possibility of putting our hands around it. If there is a meteor that lands on the ground, we can tell from its speed that it came from outside the solar system and it looks suspicious in terms of its composition, we can examine it. So there are ways to continue this search, even just on the ground rather than going to space.

Beyond that, we can look for industrial pollution in the atmospheres of other planets around other stars as a technological signature, rather than looking for oxygen from microbes. That would be one way of definitely finding evidence for life, industrial life, because the molecules like [CFCs] that contaminate the atmosphere of Earth cannot be produced naturally. These are complex molecules. If we find evidence for them on other planets, that would indicate that there is definitely life out there.

I think it's interesting that this book has been published in a time when there's a lot of anti-scientist sentiment. With the coronavirus pandemic, science has become politicized. Do you think that harms legitimizing the search for extraterrestrial life?

No, I would think the other way around. Because the way I see science is that it could be unifying, rather than divisive. As long as the scientific community attends to the interests of the public, and is honest about how much evidence it has for every statement. Right now what happens in the academic world is that the scientists say we should never approach the public until we are absolutely sure about something, because otherwise they might not believe us when we say there is global warming. I don't think that's the right approach.

I think the public should see how science is done in the sense that most of the time there is not enough evidence — and we collect more evidence, more data, and eventually we become convinced that one interpretation is correct. If the public sees that process in motion, then it won't suspect that there is a hidden agenda behind it because it's transparent. You look at the evidence and everyone that looks that has enough evidence and believes the evidence would agree on the conclusions.

It should be understandable by anyone, and it should be something that anyone can pursue. And by collecting evidence and therefore it's not an occupation of the elite. It should not be suspicious. It should not have any political agenda. It should also be independent of which nation conducts it. Indeed, we can bring different nations together.

I'm wondering what do you think really needs to happen for there to be a shift in the scientific community to take the search for extraterrestrial life more seriously?

Well, more people speaking like me. And I hope eventually it will shift also the funding agencies, the federal funding agencies, to go in that direction. I think that what astronomers need to realize is it's not speculative given what we know right now, it's one of the most conservative ideas to fall on. It's much more conservative than dark matter, where we are in the dark, so to speak, because there are so many possibilities. People speculate that we invested hundreds of millions of dollars in experiments without much success yet. We don't know what the "darkness" is made of.

Of course, science is a learning experience and nobody regrets trying those experiments, because we rule out possibilities. That is much more speculative because we've never seen any evidence for dark matter yet or direct evidence for the nature of dark matter. It's part of science to search for the unknown. I would regard the search for extraterrestrial civilization — it should be a mainstream activity especially given the interest of the public.

You've already received a lot of media attention regarding this book and it hasn't even been published yet. I'm wondering what you hope people will get from this book and what you hope comes out of it?

I have two messages and you already mentioned them. One is that 'Oumuamua was unusual. It showed a lot of anomalies that could indicate that it was some technological equipment and we should explore and look for other objects that appear anomalous like it and get more data on them. It's sort of like looking for plastic bottles on the beach.

The second message is that the scientific culture should change and be more open minded to change. I'm sorry to say, but the commercial sector — companies have had much more open-mindedness, much more blue sky research than the academic world these days.

There are companies like Google or SpaceX or Blue Origins — originally it was IBM — that had a lot of innovations in them. That is surprising to me. It should be the academic world that carries the torch of innovation because it has, in principle, the tenure system that allows people to explore without any risk for their jobs. Unfortunately, many practitioners in academia worry more about their image and their honors, and so forth, and engage much less in risk-taking and in thinking independently and looking for evidence than intellectual gymnastics that demonstrate how smart they are.

Avi Loeb's book, "Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth," is slated to be released on January 26, 2021 from Houghton Mifflin.