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The new 'Greatest Generation' or the worst one? The 2020s will test younger Americans

In 1998, the longtime NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw wrote a book called "The Greatest Generation," honoring the Americans who came of age during the Great Depression, fought in World War II and brought the planet through the early years of the post-atomic era. Brokaw pointed out that they had faced tests unlike anything previous generations could have imagined and, while hardly perfect, ultimately succeeded when confronting the major issues of their time. Had they failed, the world today would be a much, much worse place.

Flash forward to 2021. Whether we realize it or not, history has put post-baby boom Americans in a similar crucible. To use a quote apocryphally attributed to Mark Twain, "History doesn't repeat itself but it often rhymes." The generations that endured the hardships of the late 2000s and 2010s will be confronted with challenges in the 2020s no less momentous and grave than the Great Depression, World War II and advent of the nuclear era.

First, a quick history lesson. After the stock market crashed in 1929, the global economy entered a period of intense decline known as the Great Depression. Millions upon millions worldwide languished in horrendous poverty, prompting nations to attempt a wide range of economic reforms to provide relief to their people. In the U.S., President Herbert Hoover's failure to adequately address the crisis caused him to lose in the 1932 election to Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose New Deal programs brought some degree of economic security and alleviated the mass suffering.

The Great Depression itself did not end, however, until World War II, a devastating conflict brought on by the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis during the Great Depression, a fascist and racist regime that sought to dominate as much of the world as possible. Initially the U.S. did not enter the war — in large part because American right-wingers and isolationists, including potential Republican presidential candidate Charles Lindbergh, sympathized with the Nazis and used an "America First" philosophy as a cover for not stopping them — but once American military power and industry were involved, the tide rapidly turned against the Nazis (and the Japanese empire in the Far East). Just as significant, Roosevelt's World War II economic policies brought about full employment, reduced income inequality, gave women and African Americans expanded roles in the workforce and led to legislation like the GI Bill, which ensured that veterans would have education and job opportunities when they returned.

America experienced unprecedented economic growth in the three decades after the war. Yet by using nuclear weapons against Japan in 1945, the U.S. had ushered in a new era of history, one in which humanity for the first time literally had the power to destroy itself. It was clear that world leaders needed to learn how to responsibly manage the incredible technology at their disposal. Fortunately, the Greatest Generation and their elders by and large understood the gravity of the situation and behaved responsibly, staving off nuclear war despite some close calls in subsequent decades. (The president faced with our closest brush with nuclear apocalypse, John F. Kennedy, was himself a World War II veteran, and the first member of the "Greatest Generation" to occupy the Oval Office.)

While the term Greatest Generation is generally used to refer to the Americans who were old enough to fight in World War II — a demographically narrow group — today's challenges will be addressed by the three overlapping or interlocking generations who followed the baby boomers and were born after roughly the middle of the 1960s: Gen X, the millennial generation and the children and younger adults now known as Gen Z. Their experiences are in many ways wildly different — the oldest members of this group are already in their 50s, while the youngest are still in grade school — they were all shaped by the same set of traumas.

If the inflection point for the Greatest Generation was 1929, the inflection point for our era was the year 2008. That was the year of the financial and economic collapse known as the Great Recession, and also the year America elected its first Black president. Obama brought about a partial recovery (as I've argued before, he was the best president in half a century), but the lingering hardships of that massive economic setback created a world of diminished opportunity for everyone: The Gen-Xers who believed they had settled into adulthood, the millennials who were just entering the economy, and the Gen-Z kids coming of age amid tremendous economic insecurity.

Like the 1930s, the 2010s weren't only defined by economic problems. Just as far right political movements became increasingly powerful in the 1930s, the 2010s saw the ascent of racist and fascist leaders who used the language of nationalism as a cover for their agendas. The most important and conspicuous of the bunch, of course, was Donald Trump, but right-wing populists and their allies came to power — or at least to political prominence — in numerous other nations in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Yet Trump emerged as the main face of far-right politics throughout the world, and cemented that reputation with his final act, a coup attempt and mob assault on the U.S. Capitol. Of the 11 sitting presidents who have run for a second term and lost, only Trump refused to recognize his defeat and instead attempted to overturn the election by force.

Yet despite Trump's double impeachment — another dubious historical distinction — most Republicans have refused to break from their now-former president, leaving him as the nominal head of their party and paving the way either for a Trump comeback or another candidate like him.

While all of this was happening, the world was burning up — literally. Human industry and transportation have continued to emit large quantities of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, radically destabilizing the climate. The impact was devastating: Forest fires, droughts, floods, superstorms and heat waves, to name just a few. If it continues to go unchecked, scientists overwhelmingly agree that climate change will destroy our planet for future generations. We will see more superstorms and heat waves, more forest fires and mass extinction of vulnerable species. Coastal cities will be submerged while other regions may become so dry and hot they will be virtually abandoned, potentially creating millions of climate refugees. We'll find it more difficult to fight off disease, grow enough food, drink safe water and construct habitable buildings.

None of this even takes into account the COVID-19 pandemic, which at the time of this writing has infected more than 110 million people worldwid,e including almost 28 million in the United States. (More than 2.4 million people have died of the disease, including more than 490,000 in the United States.) In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic was yet another reminder that the economic status quo has failed to protect people: While the world's governments could have paid people to stay home and pooled resources to develop and distribute a vaccine as quickly and equitably as possible, this proved impossible under the dictates of a capitalist market economy. As a result, we have seen a patchwork of responses that have conveniently allowed the rich to get richer while the rest of the world entered an economic recession even worse than the one in 2008.

While the pandemic will inevitably pass, it is in many ways a foreshadowing of what lies ahead. We see far-right leaderslike Trump ignoring science and the wealthy putting their immediate greed over the future of our species. There have been some heroes, like Hungarian biochemist Dr. Katalin Karikó and countless frontline workers in the health care industry, but people at the top have let down everyone else in a profound way.

The clock is ticking on all of the problems listed above. When it comes to the climate crisis, the threshold after which change becomes irreversible and apocalyptic may arrive by the end of this decade. Although Biden is doing his best to address the pandemic, he will have to undo the damage left behind by Trump's catastrophic mismanagement. The midterm elections of 2022 and the next presidential election two years after that could easily return Trump's movement, or whatever succeeds it, to national power.

All of these problems are coming to a head in the 2020s, just as the problems that built up after 1929 came to a head in the 1940s. You have both long-term existential threats to humanity's survival (nuclear war in the former case, climate change and pandemics and weapons of mass destruction in the latter) and the rise of right-wing extremists who openly oppose democracy (Hitler and his sympathizers in the 1930s and 1940s, Trump and those like him in the 2010s and 2020s).

There are also solutions. The generations confronting this challenge must follow in the footsteps of the racial minorities and women who, after being empowered during World War II, began to fight for their rights in subsequent decades. Already we see people refusing to accept layers of systemic oppression — whether that's economic inequality, racism, sexism, religious intolerance, ableism, anti-LGBTQ prejudice and other forms of bigotry and injustice.

In many respects, economic justice is the bedrock issue that connects all these others. Near the end of his presidency, Roosevelt proposed an economic bill of rights that would have guaranteed remunerative jobs, shelter, medical care, food, clothing, recreation, education and the other necessities of life to every citizen. These things must become a reality for everyone, whether brought about by a Green New Deal, a universal basic income or some other method. Unless every person is protected from the fear of poverty, all other social justice achievements will rest on a foundation of quicksand.

In addition, we must fight the dual scourges of right-wing extremism and nationalism. The former leads to oppression and injustice, the latter to a species-wide inability to effectively respond to crises that know no borders. Fighting right-wing extremism is both a political and a cultural struggle. Freedom of speech is a crucial American value, but extremism, bigotry and conspiracy theories cannot be treated purely as commodities in the marketplace of ideas — ultimately they will should down that marketplace, and destroy all our freedoms in the process.

Finally, we must hold all our politicians accountable — and not just the ones we are used to opposing. Just because Joe Biden is a Democrat doesn't mean he can be counted on to do the right thing (consider his perverse insistence on nickel-and-diming a student loan forgiveness plan. Progressives must exert pressure on Biden and other Democrats to make sure they do everything necessary to protect our planet and preserve our economic and social rights. When leftists have done similar things to liberal presidents (such as Roosevelt), they've been able to achieve great things. If left to their own devices, however, career politicians like Biden are all too likely to capitulate to the forces of the status quo.

Franklin Roosevelt gave a memorable speech after he was renominated by the Democratic Party for a second term in 1936, an election he went on to win by one of the biggest landslides in history, in the process forging a coalition that kept Democrats in power for a generation — something that the New Greatest Generation must do again.

"There is a mysterious cycle in human events," he began. "To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny." That was true then, and it's true now.

Here's the disturbing history behind Marjorie Taylor Greene's conspiratorial anti-Semitic fantasies

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, the Republican Party's latest right-wing lightning rod, has a long history of anti-Semitic remarks that the GOP leadership wants us to forget. A recent Morning Consult poll found that 30 percent of Republicans have a favorable opinion of her in the aftermath of those remarks coming to light — an 11-point increase from where she stood previously. (Overall, 41 percent of all voters have an unfavorable opinion of Greene, with only 18 percent reporting a more favorable view.)

I was a 12 years old when I was attacked by a mob of children and called "Christ killer" — the same age Jesus was, according to the Gospel of Luke, when he lingered in the Temple of Jerusalem and impressed the elders with his intellect — so this issue is undeniably personal. That wasn't the first or last time I was bullied for being Jewish, but it was the only time I nearly died because of it: Those kids held my head underwater, chanting, "Drown the Jew!"

This incident sprang back to mind this month as Republicans tried to figure out what to do about Greene, a particularly obnoxious Christian right-winger who has suggested that a "space laser" affiliated with Jewish banking families caused the 2018 Camp Fire in California, expressed sympathy for the anti-Semitic QAnon fantasies, promoted a video that claimed Jews are trying to destroy Europe, posed for a picture with a Ku Klux Klan leader and liked a tweet linking Israel to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Republican leaders, naturally, have tried to distance themselves from Greene, characterizing her views as a freakish anomaly that have nothing to do with the "conservative" movement. Yet when Democrats in the House of Representatives stripped her of her committee assignments more than a week ago, only 11 Republicans joined them, while 199 voted in solidarity with Greene.

None of this is surprising for anyone who is familiar with the history of American anti-Semitism. Greene is not an aberration, some inexplicable pimple of hatred that blemishes the American right's otherwise Jew-friendly visage. The American right has long had an anti-Semitism problem, and she's just the latest symptom.

This history of hatred "tells us much more about the anti-Semite than it tells us about Jews," Dr. Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, told Salon. After citing an Israeli historian who refers to anti-Semitism as a "cultural code," Sarna explained that beliefs that vilify Jews as malevolent plotters who secretly control the world have a long history in American political life. "These ideas, which I think many on the left frankly had thought were done and over with, we suddenly see them full blown," he said

Before the 19th century, Sarna explained Jews were stereotypically depicted as being cursed: They were "wandering Jews" for their supposed role in killing Jesus Christ. In the modern era, however, the stereotype emerged that Jews secretly controlled the world and were responsible for everything that a given anti-Semite might regard as sinister. During the Civil War, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant blamed the Jews for cotton smuggling and expelled the entire Jewish community from areas he controlled in Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. When the populist movement arose to address agrarian economic concerns in the 1890s, Jewish bankers like the Rothschilds were a frequent target among ideological leaders like William Hope "Coin" Harvey.

After a hoax text known as "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" was published in the early 20th century as "proof" of a secret Jewish plot to control the world, it was popularized by Henry Ford, who created his own newspaper to blame Jews for anything modern that he disliked — urbanization, jazz music, left-wing politics, you name it. Ford's ideology strongly influenced Adolf Hitler, and became popular among American right-wingers as well, with Jews being accused of controlling the Federal Reserve and being conflated with Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs. Many anti-Semites point to the fact that, ever since FDR, Jews have overwhelmingly voted for Democratic presidential candidates.

Virulent anti-Semites like the radio preacher Father Charles Coughlin associated prominent Jews with a sinister conspiracy, suggesting that the entire Jewish community was implicated. Aviator Charles Lindbergh, who nearly ran for president against FDR (and whose slogan was the awfully familiar "America First!"), attacked Jews as being warmongers and expressed sympathy for the Nazi regime.

There's a direct line between those conspiratorial fantasies ideas from previous decades and the anti-Semitic attacks of the 21st century. "Conspiratorial thinking, by its nature, argues that everything is connected," Sarna explained. "There are no coincidences and it eschews complexity. It believes there are simple explanations based on sinister individuals who are manipulating the universe. Unsurprisingly, in a Christian setting, those are Jews."

Those ideas can evolve — Sarna pointed out that the QAnon belief in a giant child abuse ring run by Jews is analogous to the "blood libel," the medieval myth that Jews used the blood of Christian children for rituals — but the underlying assumptions have been consistent. It just so happens that, in the modern right-wing incarnation, Donald Trump's cult-like following believes that "all the enemies of Mr. Trump are now child molesters."

I also reached out to Jewish comedian Larry Charles, who wrote many "Seinfeld" episodes, directed the first "Borat" movie and has explored movements like the alt-right in his Netflix series "Larry Charles' Dangerous World of Comedy."

"I think the modern history of anti-Semitism is very tied in with the right-wing movement," Charles said. "There are these various mythologies of white supremacy, and in many of those mythologies the Jews are the villains." Of course it's true that there are prominent Jewish conservatives and Republicans, and the conservative movement professes immense love and loyalty for Israel — which is a complicated issue, to say the least. But the tendency of far-right politics to intersect with anti-Semitism is undeniable.

Charles brought up community organizer and political theorist Saul Alinsky, a favorite target of the right. "He is almost like the devil in a way," Charles observed. "He's like this radical leftist Jew, he fits all the categories. He checks all the boxes."

"Shooting some of these movies, we would see reasonable people who have this blind spot," Charles said. "They have this crazy belief, and there were all different applications and manifestations of it, that the Jews control everything. That is like a mantra amongst a certain segment of the population."

Reflecting on the fact that right-wing marchers at the 2017 Charlottesville rally chanted "Jews will not replace us," Charles wondered: "Where did they even come up with that? People actually believe that Jews are going to replace them. It's really absurd, but very hard to argue with because, again, these are ingrained belief systems."

With the election of Trump in 2016, those ingrained belief systems — which for many years had been kept outside the American political mainstream — became more prominent, and their adherents more emboldened. David Weissman, a military veteran and former conservative Republican who stopped being a self-described "Trump troll" after a 2018 conversation with comedian Sarah Silverman in 2018, told Salon about his encounters with anti-Semitism on the right.

Back when he still supported Trump, Weissman recalled, he got into a "little spat" with an alt-right commentator who calls himself Baked Alaska, who was recently arrested after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Ultimately they moved past it, Weissman said: "We both realized we were Trump supporters" who believed "Democrats were the bad guys." Once he left MAGA world, however, Weissman said "the anti-Semitism definitely escalated" in interactions with his former allies.

"When I became a Democrat, I was called 'the k-word'" and targeted by "anti-Semitic slurs and tropes," Weissman said. Trump supporters sent "memes of me being Jewish in the oven," and "put my name in parentheses," a common tactic used by the far right to target someone for being Jewish.

Jason Weinman, a longtime friend who attended Bard College with me, talked about his experiences working for the Libertarian Party, where he served in a number of positions, including youth director for Gary Johnson's 2016 presidential campaign, secretary of the Libertarian State Leadership Association and executive director of the Libertarian Party of Nevada.

"When I first got involved with the Libertarian Party in 2012, I found a strong undercurrent of conspiracy theorism," Weinman told me by email. "While leadership was happy to ridicule this nonsense behind closed doors, they were unwilling to confront or address it. For decades, the LP had been willing to pander to fringe movements in order to expand their membership. This is why unscrupulous grifters like Lyndon LaRouche, paleocon loons like Pat Buchanan (and frankly Ron Paul), 9/11 truthers, anti-vaxxers, and ultimately anti-Semites and bigots all took shelter under the libertarian label."

He added, "There are countless daily examples of bigotry and anti-Semitism in Libertarian spaces, now routinely featuring overt support for Trump and some of the other most extreme and psychotic Republicans. They're represented by the Libertarian Party Mises Caucus (LPMC), a group which despises everything the real Ludwig von Mises (Jewish, liberal, and consequentialist) stood for, and nominally opposed by the 'Libertarian Pragmatic Caucus,' which is committed to party unity, and unwilling to call for the censure, much less expulsion, of these elements."

"Anti-Semitism certainly did not start with Marjorie Taylor Greene, nor did it start with Donald Trump, but we have seen an exponential increase in violent anti-Semitic incidents during Donald Trump's presidency," Halie Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, told Salon. "That is no doubt related to the fact that he emboldened and aligned himself with white nationalism." She mentioned Trump equating the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville with the peaceful protesters by "commenting that there were very fine people on both sides," refusing to denounce white nationalism and telling the right-wing Proud Boys during one of the campaign debates to "stand back and stand by."

"White nationalism had existed in our country prior to that, and anti-Semitism as an element of it, but white nationalists had never had an ally in the White House until Donald Trump," Soifer said.

I've had my own encounters with anti-Semitism in the Trump era. After my family left the upstate New York town where kids had tried to drown me, I spent the rest of my childhood and early adulthood without any similarly ugly encounters. When Trump began his 2016 presidential campaign, however, I was targeted by some of his neo-Nazi supporters after I wrote articles criticizing him. One of them was Andrew Anglin, a prominent neo-Nazi and founder of the Daily Stormer who wrote articles personally attacking me. Less than two years later, I was doxxed by an anti-Semite, again for writing an article criticizing Trump.

Of course there is also anti-Semitism on the left. But often those on the left who are accused of anti-Semitism are simply criticizing the state of Israel, and doing so is not inherently anti-Semitic. (I oppose Israel's human rights violations against the Palestinians and many Jews both in Israel and the U.S. feel similarly.) When people on the left do slip into anti-Semitism, there's a strong tendency to use those incidents as learning experiences. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, for example, reached out to Jewish groups to engage in dialogue after making comments that were construed as anti-Semitic.

Donald Trump's supposed pro-Israel policies were closely aligned with those of Benjamin Netanyahu, and did nothing to correct for Trump's history of anti-Semitic words and actions. He accused Jewish Democrats of "great disloyalty" toward Israel (feeding into the stereotype that Jews have dual loyalties), removed any specific reference to Jews from a 2017 State Department statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day and has frequently used anti-Semitic dogwhistle terms by opposing "globalists" and describing himself as a "nationalist." When I interviewed Charlotte Pence, the daughter of former Vice President Mike Pence, she talked about her family's love of Israel but refused to answer a question about whether she believes Jews are going to hell — or discuss the creepy messianic theories underpinning the Christian right's support for Israel.

When I asked Larry Charles whether, based on his experiences, there's an opportunity to build bridges with anti-Semites, he was skeptical. "I have not seen a lot of opportunities for bridge building in the situations that I've been in," Charles explained. "The people that I've met through Sacha [Baron Cohen] were very rigid and dogmatic in their prejudices. There was no crossing that gulf with them. There might be tolerance, temporarily. There might be patience, temporarily. But there's no changing that belief."

I hope that Charles is wrong but suspect he is right, which raises the question of how American Jews should react to the Marjorie Taylor Greenes of the world. For want of a better alternative, I think the only solution is to be intolerant toward intolerance. House Democrats were right to strip Greene of her committee assignments, but that is not nearly enough. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter need to do more to limit hate speech, even if conservatives cry foul in bad faith (the First Amendment only protects people from government censorship, not consequences from private corporations). Right-wing politicians who attack prominent Jews in ways that can be plausibly construed as anti-Semitic, or by denouncing "globalists," need to lose their funding. People who oppose anti-Semitism must lead boycotts against right-wing media figures who cover for people like Greene, such as Fox News' Sean Hannity.

On a broader level, critics of anti-Semitism must recognize that this form of bigotry is part of America's long history of hate — a history which holds that only white, straight Christian "manly" men have a right to rule — and recognize our responsibility to be allies to African Americans and the Latinx community, Muslims and the LGBT community, women suffering under the patriarchy and the poor struggling to make ends meet. If we limit our empathy merely to other Jews, the implicit message is not that systemic oppression is wrong, but only that we happen to dislike it when our group is targeted. The Jewish tradition at its best instills a moral responsibility to see all the layers of oppression, and align ourselves with its victims.

The science behind aphrodisiacs explained

t's Valentine's Day, when couples all over the world plan special dinners and desserts to "get in the mood," as it were. Indeed, in the Western World, our sole holiday celebrating love and romance has its own concomitant food culture: chocolates, strawberries, oysters, caviar and red wine are all intrinsic to Valentine's Day menus because of their reputation for being aphrodisiacs — meaning food that can, supposedly, make one feel more amorous.

This article first appeared in Salon.

The idea that some food or drink are aphrodisiacs dates back millennia: The ancient Greeks believed in the sensual power of pomegranates, truffles and garlic; the ancient Roman poet Ovid recommended everything from eggs to "honey from Mount Hymettus" (a range in the Athens area) to get into the mood; and the medieval philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas argued that meat and red wine could produce the "vital spirit." And Americans seem to believe that certain foods enhance the mood: after all, Americans on average buy roughly 58 million pounds of chocolate in the week leading up to Valentine's Day. And though the idea of aphrodisiac food is widespread, is there any science to it? Do certain foods really make us feel more horny, or romantic?

As it turns out, they do. Nutrition experts say that aphrodisiacs do have some science to them, although that doesn't mean that there are foods which automatically heighten sexual desire.

"Food can act as an aphrodisiac in several ways," Dr. Lauri Wright, spokesperson for the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and associate professor at the University of North Florida, told Salon by email. "Some foods relax blood vessels and improve blood flow to the genitals, similar to Viagra. Foods that increase blood flow include red wine, dark chocolate, strawberries, beef, walnuts and avocado. Individuals that don't have compromised circulation won't see any changes from consuming these foods."

She added that, in the case of foods like chocolate, caviar and oysters, which pop culture has accepted as aphrodisiacs, "there is no scientific evidence to support" the belief that they are, and "in fact, no evidence has shown that there is any food that heightens sexual desire." She said that "one 'food' that has been shown to increase sexual arousal is alcohol, by decreasing inhibitions. The downside however is alcohol can decrease sexual performance."

Likewise, there is a psychological component to certain foods acting as aphrodisiacs that is complimented by the way our bodies naturally respond to them.

"Typically things that become associated with sex or as aphrodisiacs are either foods that are very sensual — so that the sight, touch, smell and taste are enticing. I would probably put strawberries kind of in that category," Dr. Nan Wise, a sex therapist and behavioral neuroscientist, told Salon. "They stimulate the senses which can stimulate desire, but I would not call them scientifically anything that is actually an aphrodisiac." Wise also noted that foods can mentally have an aphrodisiac effect, regardless of their actual chemical properties, because they look like things that reminds us of sex — in other words, acting as subtle psychological hints.

"Things like oysters look a little bit like a vulva, so anything that looks like a genital has been associated historically with sex," Wise explained. "Things that look like penises or in some way like female genitalia that have been associated with sex by looking like that. People make the connection with that, but that's not aphrodisiacs." She said that in history sometimes have people taken this more literally, such as when cultures have eaten animal testicles because they are related to reproduction.

"The idea of something being reproduction-related is sensual or exotic," Wise told Salon, adding that "caviar fits both of those categories."

There are some studies which claim to have discovered aphrodisiac qualities in certain herbs. A 2013 study in Pharmacognosy Reviews found that ambrein, a major ingredient in the Arab aphrodisiac Ambra grisea, "contains a tricyclic triterpene alcohol which increases the concentration of several anterior pituitary hormones and serum testosterone." The same study found that Panax ginseng, which is used as an aphrodisiac in traditional Chinese medicine, "works as an antioxidant by enhancing nitric oxide synthesis" in erectile tissue in the genitals.

A 2018 study in the Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research also identified Panax ginseng as a useful herb in helping sexual dysfunction, noting that the same is true of "Cannabis sativa L." and a number of other herbs.

Martha Hopkins, co-author of "Intercourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook," told Salon that there is another psychological way in which food can heighten arousal: The mere fact that you put the thought into preparing someone a meal that you believe they will enjoy and find to be romantic.

When cooking an "aphrodisiac" meal, it is "truly the thought that counts," Hopkins told Salon. She said that most partners feel flattered and turned on by seeing their partners do an elaborate task for them, like cooking, regardless of outcome of the food or ingredients.

Still, the scientific jury is out on whether so-called aphrodisiacs have more than a minimal effect. A 2011 scientific review that analyzed multiple studies into aphrodisiacs concluded that "although most studies showed positive effects of aphrodisiacs on sexual enhancement, more studies are needed to understand their mechanism of action. . . . The need for clinical trials using larger populations is also evident to prove the effectiveness of aphrodisiacs for human use."

Clinical trials aside, the human mind is complex, and humans can be turned on by all sorts of things unrelated to physiological stimuli. If a food seems to put you and your partner in the mood and doesn't hurt anyone, have fun with it.

"I think it really speaks to human beings having a desire to have a desire for sex and mixing up a whole lot of stories... [we] invest in certain substances with the power to turn this on — giving the substances the power of the belief," Wise told Salon.

What connects Trump's two acquittals: The profound danger of the 'Dershowitz precedent'

Donald Trump, who as president incited a riot in an effort o stay in office despite losing the 2020 election, was acquitted by the U.S. Senate on Saturday, putting an end to his second impeachment trial.

This article first appeared in Salon.

He was not acquitted because he was innocent. He was acquitted for one reason: Donald Trump and his supporters have a toxic sense of entitlement, believing that they should never lose an election. They would rather destroy democracy than accept being the losers. (This statement does not include the Republicans who know better but are too afraid of Trump's Amovement" to stand up to them.)

We shouldn't have to say this, but it is necessary because Trump and his supporters have accepted as an article of faith that they must never be told "no." This impulse motivates them to disregard laws, logic, facts and even basic human decency when the world doesn't accede to their tantrums. Given that it is a blatantly anti-democratic instinct, they obviously need some rationalization to prop it up — and they were supplied with one during Trump's first impeachment trial, early in 2020.

Last February I was on the phone with the man who articulated that rationalization most clearly, the legendary civil liberties attorney and longtime Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz. He was one of Trump's impeachment lawyers — representing him during that first impeachment trial, not the one just concluded — and he was pissed about the way the media had depicted his defense of the then-president.

"My argument is very simple," Dershowitz said. "If a president does something entirely lawful, and part of his motive for doing it is to help himself get re-elected because he thinks that's in the public interest, that mixed motive would not turn innocent conduct into a crime or an impeachable offense. That's all I said. Everything else is a mischaracterization."

He later added, "If a president does anything unlawful, that's completely different."

(Salon reached out to Dershowitz to be interviewed in a follow-up for this article; he initially agreed but did not reply to subsequent efforts to reach him.)

At the time, Dershowitz was responding to an editorial by Andrew Napolitano, the Fox News legal analyst and former New Jersey judge who had just published an op-ed attacking Dershowitz's argument, saying that since "every president seeking reelection believes his victory will be in the national interest," the result here could be that "all presidential efforts toward that victory are constitutional and lawful." Napolitano characterized this as a "morally bankrupt, intellectually dishonest argument," one that "effectively resuscitates from history's graveyard President Richard Nixon's logic that 'when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal' because the president is above the law."

Dershowitz, for what it's worth, had told the Senate much the same thing: "[E]very public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest. And if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment." (He cited a financial bribe as something that would be illegal.)

It seems like eons have passed since that conversation. Since then America has endured the worst pandemics in a century, one of the worst economic setbacks since the Great Depression and a riot in the Capitol perpetrated by right-wing extremists — that last event prompted by the first sitting president to lose an election and refuse to accept its results. (Ten previous presidents had been defeated in elections; all accepted the voters' verdict.) As the entire world knows, Trump was impeached for a second time because — after his own Justice Department, dozens of state and federal judges and the entire Supreme Court had rejected his claims that the election was illegitimate — he told his followers on Jan. 6 that "we are going to the Capitol" to give Congress "the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country." (Four rioters and one police officer died, while hundreds of others were injured; so far there have been more than 200 arrests.)

It seems important to return to Alan Dershowitz, even if the first Trump impeachment feels like ancient history, because there's a direct line between the belief system used to defend Trump during his first impeachment and his efforts to overturn his loss in the 2020 election.

Simply put, that's the idea that, for Trump, there are only possible outcomes of any election where he's a candidate: He wins, or the whole thing is "rigged." Since the latter is unacceptable, anything he does to achieve the former outcome is, by definition, justified.

Trump conditioned his supporters to think this way long before he became president. When he lost the Iowa caucuses to Sen. Ted Cruz in 2016, he accused his opponent of stealing that election. After winning the Republican nomination that year, Trump insisted without evidence that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was engaged in voter fraud and even refused to answer a debate question about whether he would accept the election results if he lost. He later told a rally of his supporters that he would only accept the results "if I win."

As president, Trump continued spreading the message that it was impossible or unthinkable for him to ever lose an election. He was bitter over losing the national popular vote to Clinton (by nearly 3 million votes) and created a voter fraud commission to prove he had won that too. (It was disbanded after failing to produce any significant evidence of fraud anywhere in the nation.) As the 2020 election approached, Trump again told supporters that "the only way we're going to lose this election is if the election is rigged." During a debate, he once again refused to say whether he would concede if he lost the election, instead boasting that he would not "give a direct answer" and telling the moderator that he is not a "good loser." (Trump's refusal to accept losing has, according to experts interviewed by Salon, roots in everything from narcissistic personality traits to the fact that his sense of manhood — and that of his supporters — is tied up in always being "winners.")

While Trump repeatedly brought up baseless conspiracy theories and alternative facts during the 2016 and 2020 elections to "prove" that he was the victim of a vast conspiracy — and the fact that experts unanimously said he was wrong only reinforced, for him and his supporters, that such a conspiracy existed — those arguments were always after-the-fact rationalizations to support an thesis: If Trump doesn't win an election, that is a grave injustice.

Let's review, if we can stand it, why Trump got impeached the first time around. In July 2019, he called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and threatened to withhold $391 million in military aid which had already been allocated by Congress unless Ukraine announced a spurious criminal investigation into Hunter Biden, who I probably don't have to tell you is the son of the current president (then of course a Democratic candidate). Trump later insisted that there was no "quid pro quo," but it defies common sense to describe withholding promised funds while asking for a "favor" as anything other than a thuggish attempt at coercion.

Trump had no legal right to withhold that money. As the Government Accountability Office pointed out at the time, Trump's claim that he had a "policy reason" reason for denying $214 million of that Ukraine aid was incoherent: The Impoundment Control Act "does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law" and the Constitution "specifically vests Congress with the power of the purse." The fact that Trump's motive was evidently corrupt made the whole thing more sinister, but it was illegal regardless.

In other words, Alan Dershowitz's argument was wrong from beginning to end. Trump did not commit an otherwise innocent act that was only construed as illegal because its underlying motive was to win an election, analogous to Abraham Lincoln allowing Union soldiers to go home to vote in 1864 presidential election because he believed they'd support him. (An example Dershowitz cited during our interview.) He was also wrong on a deeper level because of the implicit argument that anything Trump (or any other hypothetical president) does with the primary motivation of getting re-elected is effectively acceptable. From there it's a short step to lying to the American people about mail-in ballots, filing frivolous lawsuits, inciting a riot or virtually anything else.

This way of thinking is not normal. In fact, in terms of American political history, it's profoundly and freakishly new.

Let's take a brief look at the other presidents who were either impeached or nearly impeached. Of the bunch, the only one who could legitimately plead innocence was the first one, Andrew Johnson. Despite being an unrepentant racist and incompetent commander in chief, Johnson was wrongfully impeached; Congress simply opposed his policies and kept trying to entrap him into breaking the law. Eventually they succeeded by passing the Tenure of Office Act, which prohibited the president from firing Cabinet members without Senate approval. That law was not only unconstitutional — violating the separation of powers between the three branches of government — but self-evidently impractical, since no president can effectively govern if employees are allowed to be insubordinate. Congress eventually impeached Johnson after he disregarded the Tenure of Office Act and fired Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, including a few unrelated, but equally spurious, accusations. He avoided conviction by one vote.

The other presidential impeachments or near-misses involved criminal conduct that, though serious, were nowhere near as severe as anything done by Trump. Richard Nixon resigned before a near-certain impeachment in the House and conviction on the Senate over the Watergate scandal, which mostly concerned a cover-up of his connection to a burglary at Democratic National Committee headquarters. Nixon was obviously motivated by a desire to boost his chances of re-election, but neither he nor his staunchest advocates ever claimed he had some inherent right to do anything and everything to win. Republicans insisted for years that Nixon was innocent and being hounded by a liberal media witch hunt (the past is prologue!), but never disputed that if he were actually guilty, that would be unacceptable. After a secret tape recording made clear that Nixon had directed a cover-up of his role in the burglary, Republicans changed their tune, making clear to the leader of their party that he'd have to resign to avoid conviction in the Senate, which he did.

Bill Clinton was only the second president after Johnson to be impeached, after a series of sordid and unethical episodes that come nowhere near Nixon's misconduct, let alone Trump's. Clinton apparently lied under oath about an extramarital affair during a sexual harassment lawsuit and then obstructed justice during the subsequent investigation by tampering with evidence and asking others to lie for him. Democrats at the time largely rallied behind Clinton, but in retrospect his actions were indisputably sketchy: He had a sexual affair with a much younger White House intern, and even if his testimony about that might not meet the technical standard of perjury, it was certainly dishonest. In the post-Me Too era, it's exceptionally difficult to defend Clinton, given the sheer number of credible accusations of sexual misconduct made against him. Still, neither Clinton nor his supporters ever argued that he had some inherent right to do whatever he liked and remain president.

While declining to comment on the specific arguments made by Dershowitz, his former Harvard Law colleague Laurence Tribe agreed that Trump's acquittal in the first impeachment trial paved the way for the misconduct that got him impeached a second time.

"The first impeachment led almost inevitably to the second once Trump, whose whole modus operandi is built on lying, cheating, and stopping at nothing to secure power and fame was validated by the Senate's unfortunate acquittal the first time around," Tribe told Salon by email.

"Having thought nothing of exposing the people of Ukraine to slaughter at the hands of Russia by threatening to withhold congressionally appropriated aid in an effort to pressure Ukraine's president Zelensky into injuring Biden by pretending to be investigating him and his son criminally, Trump upped the ante by threatening criminal prosecution of Georgia's Secretary of State Raffensperger in order to get Raffensperger to steal that state's electoral votes from Biden and, when that failed, by inciting insurrection by an armed and angry mob in a treasonous attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election."

Once again, Senate Republicans have acquitted Trump even though he is obviously guilty, which is precisely the same position they took during his first impeachment. On that occasion, only one Republican senator had the fortitude to vote to convict, and at least this time around Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah was joined by six of his colleagues: Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Their names will be remembered honorably, but it's hard to say whether they have a future in the Republican Party considering that the other 43 GOP senators, along with the vast majority of Republican House member, voted against impeachment, effectively endorsing Trump's coup attempt.

Just as they argued in 2020 that threatening a country with foreign invasion unless they help you cheat in an election isn't extortion, Republicans have argued this year that telling your supporters to take over the Capitol unless Congress helps you steal an election isn't inciting a riot. Motivated by a mixture of partisanship, career opportunism and fear of Trump's increasingly fascistic supporters, they have reinforced the idea in MAGA world that if their Dear Leader doesn't win an election, that election simply does not count.

So where do we go from here?

The best-case scenario is still disgusting: Trump could be shoved down the Republican Party's collective memory hole and dismissed as an aberration, one to be forgotten as we resume the more or less functional democratic politics that existed in our country before Trump took office. The worst-case scenario, however, is all too plausible: Trump, or someone very much like him, gets elected president in the future, understanding full well that now, for Republicans, the Dershowitz precedent holds that there is no legitimate way for them to lose an election.

Trickle down Trumpism: How Pennsylvania's Republican Party radicalized against democracy

It was very, very chilly in my corner of Pennsylvania the morning of last fall's election. I live in Northampton County, a swing county in this very large swing state, a county so reflective of America as a whole that it has picked the president on all but three occasions since 1920. It was one of 206 counties out of America's 3,141 that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 before flipping to Donald Trump in 2016. In 2020 it would once again pick the winner by backing Joe Biden — but I didn't know that at the time, nor did Trump and many of his supporters, who would go on to act like sore losers on a historic scale — and betray our state's core values in the process.

At least one Trump supporter seemed to be trying to intimidate the waiting voters at my precinct, passing our polling place multiple times in a large truck covered in pro-Trump paraphernalia and blaring music. As it turned out, my precinct went to Biden by a very narrow margin, but more than two-thirds of those who voted in-person supported Trump. In a way, that moment encapsulates Pennsylvania politics. People in this county, part of an eastern region of the commonwealth known as the Lehigh Valley, are generally kind and laid-back folk regardless of their political views. As with the rest of America, however, there is a poisonous undercurrent emanating from the right-wing that is both tragic and dangerous. Sometimes it merely manifests itself in obnoxious boosterism, such as the macho posturing displayed by the driver of that pro-Trump truck. On other occasions, it becomes literally dangerous to democracy, as Americans saw earlier this month when a mob of Trump supporters (some of them Pennsylvanians) was egged on by the president to swarm the Capitol so they could overturn Biden's victory.

Unfortunately, that toxicity has trickled up, transforming the Pennsylvania Republican Party in the process.

As a recent Politico article noted, a state GOP that only a few decades ago was renowned for producing independent-minded moderates like Sens. Arlen Specter and John Heinz and Govs. William Scranton and Dick Thornburgh has now bent the knee to Trumpism. All but one of the House Republicans in Pennsylvania's congressional delegation voted to invalidate the commonwealth's electoral votes, which were won by Biden. They did this even though Trump lost all of the voter fraud-related cases he brought to court (many presided over by Republican judges), lost all but one of the overall legal cases he pursued and was told by his own attorney general, William Barr, that the Department of Justice's investigation into the election had found Biden's win to be legitimate. They did this even though Trump had incited a riot on the Capitol — making him the first of America's 11 incumbent presidents to lose a bid for another term and respond by attempting to stay in power through force — and despite the fact that Trump has undermined his own credibility for years by communicating as far back as 2016 that he only accepts an election's results if he is declared the winner. They did this even though Trump has not provided a shred of evidence of widespread fraud, much less on a scale necessary to give him a victory, and even though Trump was caught on tape threatening Georgia election officials to "find" the votes he needed to win there.

The Pennsylvania GOP's cravenness did not begin with their electoral certification vote. In the preceding weeks, Republican state legislative leaders urged Congress to object to Biden's victory in the Electoral College or somehow "delay" the certification of his votes. One Pennsylvania GOP congressman, Scott Perry, has even aroused controversy for working behind the scenes to help Trump overturn Biden's victory in Georgia.

"I'm shocked at Scott," Rich Grucela, a former Democratic state representative who served from 1999 to 2011 — and thus worked with Perry after the latter joined that body in 2007 — told Salon, recalling that he remembers when Perry first came into the General Assembly. "The Scott Perry that I'm listening to and seeing today is not the Scott Perry that I knew. I don't understand what happened to Scott, but he's a totally different person from what I see on the news or what I've read in articles." Although Perry was always conservative, Grucela noted that "he wasn't — I hate to use the term 'off the wall,' but he wasn't..." He trailed off, sounding deeply disappointed. "I can't believe he would be one of these guys that is enamored with Trump. I mean, he is a very intelligent guy."

Grucela, whose daughter was one of my high school classmates, recalled fondly how he used to have close friendships with Republicans as well as Democrats, citing as an example that one of the Republican governors with whom he worked, Mark Schweiker, was "one of the nicest governors I served under." He told Salon that for roughly the first eight years that he served, the ethos in the state's Republican Party was very "collegial," creating an environment in which people could work with each other and keep partisan differences at the office.

"Several Republican friends of mine, I might debate on the House and then afterwards in the evening, have dinner with them and talk about our families," Grucela told Salon. He noticed a change in Pennsylvania Republican behavior when the Tea Party rose up during Obama's presidency and began scaring more moderate Republicans with the threat of primary challenges, leading to increasingly intransigent ideological behavior and a reduced willingness to work with Democrats. Grucela drew a direct line between that development and the eventual rise of Trumpism.

Another local Pennsylvania politician, Northampton County Democratic Committee chair Matthew Munsey, told Salon that he noticed people are starting to lose a sense of shared reality since the rise of Trump. (I briefly served as a committee person under Munsey from 2014, two years before Trump's election, until I was hired as a staff writer at Salon.)

"In general, we've really lost a sense of a common belief system," Munsey explained when contrasting what he has witnessed prior to and after Trump's rise to power. "It's almost like people are living in an alternate reality, specifically with Trump supporters." He said that this phenomenon has not only driven Republicans farther to the right, but also caused some to leave the party.

"We've seen some Republicans or former Republicans who have said, 'I'm voting for the Democrats or I'm switching my party and I'm voting for Democrats from now on,'" Munsey told Salon. "It seems like they have not bought into that alternate reality and that's probably the big overall shift and difference in things. It's almost impossible to have coherent discussions with people who don't even agree with the same basis of reality."

I encountered this problem when I spoke with Dean Browning, a former Republican congressional candidate and former commissioner in Lehigh County (which is adjacent to Northampton County) whose Twitter account has in the past been the focus of controversy. More than once during our conversation, Browning admitted that there was no evidence that Biden had won Pennsylvania through fraud but insisted that it was still valid for Trump supporters to question the election's legitimacy because Biden supporters could not prove that ballot harvesting had not occurred, an argument that I repeatedly pointed out is a logical fallacy.

"They're questioning the legitimacy of this election because of mail-in ballots," Browning told Salon, repeating the debunked claim that mail-in balloting is unusually susceptible to fraud. (Trump himself praised mail-in balloting in 2000 and cast an absentee ballot in 2020.) "I will absolutely concede that you're correct that there has there has been no widespread proof of fraud and the reason there is not, or the difficulty with that, I will freely admit it is all but impossible to prove fraud with a mail-in voting system." He ultimately acknowledged that Biden "is the president of the United States. I fully accept that he was sworn in, and that he is the president of the United States. He's my president. He is the president for every American citizen."

The tragic irony is that, if the Pennsylvania Trumpists were willing to look at the state's history, they would see that it helped create modern democracy itself.

When William Penn founded the colony of Pennsylvania in 1682, he designed its government to be one of the modern world's first authentic democracies, particularly emphasizing the importance of religious freedom. He used his Quaker beliefs to create a peaceful colony that stressed individual dignity. Forty years later, a Bostonian named Benjamin Franklin fled to Pennsylvania and declared the colony to be his home after falling in love with its intellectually, socially and culturally liberating atmosphere. Franklin would later go on to become one of America's most important founding fathers as well as a prolific writer, inventor, activist, scientist and advocate of Enlightenment ideals. Thanks to the legacies of people like Penn and Franklin, historian Henry Adams would later write that "had New England, New York and Virginia been swept out of existence in 1800, democracy could have better spared them all than have lost Pennsylvania."

Subsequent centuries would prove him correct, as both the Democratic and Republican parties produced Pennsylvanians who distinguished themselves by being on the right side of history. Among the Republicans, you had Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, one of the most eloquent and passionate abolitionists to serve both prior to and after the Civil War, and Gov. Gifford Pinchot, an influential early 20th-century conservationist and close friend to one of America's most iconic presidents, Theodore Roosevelt. On the Democratic side, you had Rep. David Wilmot, who famously proposed banning slavery from the western lands America conquered during the Mexican-American War and ultimately became a Republican (and a senator) as a result of his opposition to slavery. More than a century later one Democratic governor, Milton Shapp, implemented the nation's most comprehensive Sunshine Law up to that time in response to the Watergate scandal, and later became the first practicing Jew to run for president in a major party. Roughly a decade later another Democratic governor, Bob Casey, created the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which covered uninsured children throughout the state and would later be used as a model for a federal program.

That isn't to say there isn't also a less savory side to Pennsylvania's history. The noble spirit embodied by the likes of Penn, Franklin, Stevens, Pinchot, Wilmot, Shapp and Casey stands in stark contrast to that of James Buchanan, who until Biden's victory last year was the only Pennsylvanian ever elected to the presidency. Like Trump, Buchanan's presidency was dogged by scandals (he narrowly avoided impeachment) and notoriously put itself on the wrong side of history when it came to matters of racial justice, with Buchanan adamantly supporting slavery. (Trump, let us not forget, was elected in no small part due to racist dog-whistling against African Americans and Mexican immigrants, and as the president refused to denounce white supremacists, pushed for bigoted immigration policies and opposed the Black Lives Matter movement.)

Just as notably, Buchanan reacted to his disappointment with an election outcome in a manner not dissimilar from Trump. Although Buchanan was not on the ballot as his first and only term came to a close in 1860, he had made it clear to voters that he did not want to be replaced by the Republican nominee, Abraham Lincoln, because of Lincoln's opposition to expanding slavery. When Lincoln won anyway, Buchanan refused to work with the incoming Lincoln administration and even tacitly encouraged the South to start the Civil War, saying in his State of the Union message that "the injured States, after having first used all peaceful and constitutional means to obtain redress, would be justified in revolutionary resistance to the Government of the Union." Although Buchanan never threatened to forcibly keep Lincoln from taking office, which is what Trump did to Biden, his willingness to support a Civil War because he didn't like it that Lincoln won is analogous to Trump trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election because he didn't like it that he lost.

So how does one address these issues? How does one reach out to a party that has become less about ideology than about a cult-like worship of a single politician?

First, it is important to remember that the people supporting Trump — while they are extremely wrong for doing so — are not monsters. They are human beings. I was reminded of this not only from my experience on Election Day but from the words of Pennsylvania State Sen. John Yudichak, who was initially elected as a Democrat but switched to being an Independent in 2019 and began caucusing with Republicans. Despite his decision to leave the Democratic Party, however, Yudichak endorsed Biden in the 2020 election — and told Salon that his GOP colleagues' response to this was "has been as professional and as generous as I could have ever hoped for."

In a similar vein Munsey also observed that in his experiences trying to reach Trump supporters, he has found it's often more effective to find common ground on an emotional level than to overwhelm them with facts.

"We need to recognize that facts very rarely persuade people, because if they were open to hearing the facts, they already would have heard them," Munsey explained. "So me telling the facts that are already out there in what I would describe as unbiased sources is not going to change anybody's mind. We have to connect on a personal level. We have to talk about our shared values because as humans, we have shared values. We care about our families. We want to make sure that our families and the people that we love are taken care of."

He added that it is also helpful to respectfully ask questions that "allow other people to examine whether the things they say they value match with what they are supporting politically, and whether the things they're supporting politically are actually supporting the things that they value." Munsey pointed out that the key here is to not try to directly persuade people but "by asking the questions and letting them realize in the answers."

These may not seem like the most promising options, but they are the best ones we have — and they are in keeping with the spirit of Pennsylvania.

Why Phoenix may be uninhabitable by the end of this century

"There will come a day when the temperature won't fall below 100 degrees in Phoenix during the nighttime," Dr. Andrew Ross, a professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University who wrote "Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City," told Salon. "That will be a threshold of some kind."

The American Southwest has long been a refuge for those seeking the health benefits of warm, dry air and sunny days. But too much of a good thing is not a good thing — for human health or for the natural ecosystem. Now, the Southwest is facing a reckoning: decades of human development, coupled with rising global temperatures as a result of carbon emissions, means that many major cities in the Southwest may become uninhabitable for humans this century.

The reason has to do with something called the Heat Island Effect, a concept that describes the effect in which the densely-populated, central parts of a city with lots of concrete and asphalt will have higher temperatures compared to the less populous areas, as Dr. Juan Declet-Barreto, senior social scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, explained to Salon. The term "island" is not a metaphor here, Declet-Barreto said, because when you look at a thermal map of many cities, "the temperatures inside the central parts of a city resemble an island, surrounded by a cooler ocean in the surrounding more rural areas." Obviously, the effect is apt to be more dire in desert cities like Phoenix.

Sarah Mincey, associate professor at Indiana University's O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, added that the Heat Island Effect is caused by urban centers gradually losing their tree canopies, meaning that sunlight is absorbed and held in by materials like roads and rooftops, which are typically darker in color. When they finally do release that heat back into the air, it increases the temperature experienced by the people in those urban environments.

"Tree canopies mitigate this as they can shade these surfaces, avoiding the absorption of heat in the first place and through the cooling effects of transpiration – releasing of moisture into their surrounding environments," Mincey explained. "In general, western US cities have less urban tree canopy cover than eastern US cities, so mitigation of UHI [Urban Heat Islands] there is likely more difficult."

Declet-Barreto offered the following metaphor to understand how it works.

"If you think about how hot it would be, imagine yourself standing on a downtown area where there is little, maybe no shade, no trees, and in the middle of the summer," Declet-Barreto told Salon. "And then you think about standing in that same spot, but imagine that that spot was to be replaced by turf grass under your feet and some tree canopy above you. Then intuitively you can imagine that it will be a lot cooler when you're standing underneath the tree, as compared to being standing out in the bare sun."

As Dr. B.D. Wortham-Galvin, associate professor in the School of Architecture at Clemson University, explained to Salon by email, the Heat Island Effect is worsened by climate change.

"Over the coming decades, climate change will increase extreme weather events, raise temperatures while cities simultaneously increase in population density," Wortham-Galvin explained. "This confluence of events means that all cities, but US Southern cities in particular, will begin to experience the Heat Island Effect more frequently and within more intra-urban locales. Without a Heat Equity and Resiliency plan, more urban residents will suffer negative health and economic impacts."

In Phoenix specifically, the negative aspects of the Heat Island Effect will also be exacerbated by ongoing infrastructure projects that exacerbate resource scarcity issues. Water infrastructure in Arizona is already tenuous, as human habitation in both Phoenix and Tucson is dependent on the Central Arizona River Project, a massive infrastructure project that diverts water from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona.

"That's how Phoenix and Tucson and large metro areas get their water... It doesn't have a direct impact on the heat, but obviously in a region that is drying out and has always had water scarcity, then every drop of water is a cause for concern — where the next bucket is coming from, how much it costs," Ross said.

Ross also noted that, because water levels in Lake Powell (located in Utah and Arizona) and Lake Mead (located in Nevada and Arizona) are dropping, "there are sort of crisis-type responses are being proposed. One of which I think is called demand management, which is basically states paying farmers not to use the water that they're entitled to so that it can service cities instead."

Ross also pointed to the problem with the materials used to construct houses in the southwestern states. "We're not talking about adobe traditional structures, which are very climate appropriate for the Southwest," he said. "Builders don't build adobe houses anymore." He described a lot of the houses that are built as "energy pigs" which are "not designed to be climate appropriate."

The Heat Island Effect, like so many other ecological issues, also has a disproportionate impact on people from more marginalized backgrounds.

"The elevated air and structure temperatures from Urban Heat Island Effects not only increase energy consumption, but also air pollution and greenhouse gas emission and, therefore, have a negative effect on urban ecosystems," Wortham-Galvin wrote to Salon. "Heat Islands in cities disproportionately impact the most vulnerable populations, to include: the elderly, children, and those with pre-existing health conditions. The development of policies and practices that ameliorate the Heat Island Effect is also, thus, an equity issue. Certain neighborhoods within cities can often be hotter than others; particularly those without an existing significant number of green spaces, trees, and roof gardens. Those same neighborhoods may have a disproportionate number of residents without access to cooling and at greater risk."

Mincey echoed this observation, writing to Salon that recent research has found "tree canopy cover is lowest in low-income and minority communities" and that, within 100 American cities, "formerly redlined neighborhoods – more likely low-income and minority communities – are today five degrees hotter in summer, on average, than areas once favored for housing loans with a couple western cities – Portland and Denver – seeing greater than 12 degrees hotter in summer in the parts of these cities haunted by redlining legacies."

While America's western cities are obviously going to be heavily impacted by this, the problem is an international one.

"It's not just a desert city," Declet-Barreto told Salon. "Every single place where there is a built environment, where there are cities and roadways and glass and pavement and buildings and highways and cars and air conditioning and so on, are going to be hotter than the surrounding areas where it's a little more rural or less." As a result "we see cities not just like the ones you mentioned, — Phoenix, Las Vegas, Tucson — but many in India, many in the Persian Gulf, that, as climate change continues unabated, are facing significant threats to the population."

Declet-Barreto said that "extreme heat episodes" are going to "increase in frequency and magnitude and length." Indeed, scientists predict that by 2060, Phoenix will have 132 days — over a third of the year — with 100 degree temperatures. Extreme heat limits the ability of airlines to take off and causes heat deaths: 172 people died of heat in 2017, which will undoubtedly be cooler than 2060. One wonders if anyone will want to live there by then.

Here's how toxic masculinity explains Donald Trump

Trump's rise as a political outsider has been variously attributed to discontent with elites, a populist appeal, or his celebrity status. Yet a new psychological study that surveyed cultural views of thousands of people concluded that one's support for Trump is directly correlated to the extent with which one endorses stereotypically toxic "masculine" traits.

In other words, if you want to understand how politics has changed, you should start by studying masculinity.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

The psychological study, which was published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, was titled "Hegemonic masculinity predicts 2016 and 2020 voting and candidate evaluations." The authors point to the concept of "hegemonic masculinity" as a major factor in Trump's political success.

As Dr. Theresa Vescio, a co-author who teaches psychology at Penn State University, told Inverse, hegemonic masculinity is "the idealized and typically racialized form of masculinity in a culture."

Vescio and her co-author — a graduate student at Penn State named Nathaniel Schermerhorn — write in their article that while conducting seven studies involving more than 2,000 participants, they learned that both men and women's "endorsement" of hegemonic masculinity predicted support for Trump — more so than other factors like antiestablishment sentiment, anti-elitist sentiment, nativist populism, or even sexism, racism, homophobia or xenophobia. This remained true even after the results were controlled for party affiliation.

"Trump strategically used rhetoric in both his 2016 presidential campaign and during his presidency that evoked elements of hegemonic masculinity and attempted to position him as the 'ideal man,'" Schermerhorn wrote to Salon. Schermerhorn cited as examples the fact that Trump was perceived as being tough, having a high amount of power and status and lacking personality traits associated with femininity. Trump reinforced these impressions by giving emasculating nicknames to political opponents — for instance, referring to then-former Vice President Joe Biden as "Sleepy Joe," then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as "Crying Chuck Schumer" and California Rep. Adam Schiff as "Little Adam Schiff."

"Importantly, he was also able to disparage women and engage in complete misogyny without losing support from his base — from the leaked Access Hollywood video to his comments about Megyn Kelly among many other instances," Schermerhorn added. "Most men – including Trump – cannot live up to the ideals of hegemonic masculinity, but he was able to talk about himself in relation to others (men and women) that helped to characterize him as masculine."

Because hegemonic masculinity is "the culturally exalted form of masculinity in a given culture at a given time," Schermerhorn argued that it is inevitable that some people outside the groups it would naturally benefit — in the case of modern America, straight white men — would wind up endorsing it. "And to keep others endorsing it, there is a 'carrot and stick' type process where certain rewards and benefits are extended to those who may be complicit in upholding these standards of masculinity," Schermerhorn wrote. "For example, gay men might adopt misogynistic attitudes and behaviors in order to gain higher status in a culture that is built on a hierarchy of masculinities."

Although Vescio and Schermerhorn conducted their study before Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 election and egged on his supporters to riot at the Capitol, Schermerhorn told Salon — after emphasizing "we don't have any data that can examine the endorsement of hegemonic masculinity and the incidents that occurred after the 2020 election" — that the response was consistent with their findings.

"Success (and winning) is central to the current construction of hegemonic masculinity and so losing the election is a direct assault on Trump's embodiment of masculinity — especially losing to a Democratic ticket that ran on a platform that would upend current gender, race, and class-based status quos," Schermerhorn explained.

This is not the first study to link Trump's political success to perceptions about masculinity. In October a study in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin revealed that "men who are likely to doubt their masculinity may support aggressive policies, politicians, and parties, possibly as a means of affirming their manhood." The paper, which was co-authored by Dr. Eric D. Knowles and graduate student Sarah DiMuccio of New York University, rooted their conclusions in precarious manhood theory, or the idea that men "are expected to actively maintain their reputations as 'real men'" and alter their behavior accordingly.

"Lots of previous research suggests that the GOP is the more stereotypically masculine—and thus aggressive—of the two major American political parties," Knowles wrote to Salon. "Consequently, we felt justified in predicting that insecure males would seek to affirm their manhood by supporting Republicans generally — just as they did in the 2018 House elections."

He added that Trump displayed these traits to an even more pronounced degree than the average Republican politician, however, citing instances of Trump "going on Dr. Oz to talk about his testosterone levels, sparring with [Florida Sen.] Marco Rubio about the size of his penis, exhorting his crowds to beat up hecklers, and supporting 'tough' foreign and domestic policies."

Although their study also preceded the 2020 election and its aftermath, Knowles told Salon that "not giving in and not giving up — even when one should — is a textbook attribute of traditional American masculinity. Losing is seen as sign of weakness, and admitting you lost is too." He argued that this helped explain why Trump could not handle being defeated and "the same goes for those of his supporters who were drawn to him out of precarious masculinity."

He added, "We haven't studied extreme groups like the Proud Boys, but I don't think it's a stretch that lots of them might feel a bit insecure about their manhood as well."

The scariest coronavirus mutation yet

A mutant strain of the novel coronavirus discovered in South Africa appears to be able to ward off antibodies from individuals who had previously recovered from COVID-19 — meaning if the new strain becomes widespread, we may see more people getting infected multiple times.

This story first appeared in Salon.

A group of South African scientists made this discovery in a paper published earlier this week by South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases. In it, researchers describe how they studied blood samples from a small group of people who had developed COVID-19 but ultimately recovered. When the human body recovers from a disease, it produces a protein known as an antibody to identify and ultimately protect itself in the future from the bacteria or virus which caused it to become ill. (These illness-causing microorganisms are known as pathogens.) This means that people who were sick with COVID-19 should in theory have antibodies that recognize the pathogen which causes it and neutralize it in the event that they are reinfected.

Instead, according to the authors of the paper, half of the blood samples of the patients they tested did not have the antibodies necessary to protect them from the 501Y.V2 strain of the novel coronavirus, which was identified in South Africa last month. While it was a small study and more research will need to be done, the initial results are not auspicious.

Not only could this interfere with the human population's ability to develop natural immunity, it could also hamper the efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Both companies are distributing mRNA vaccines, which are different from traditional vaccines that train the immune system to develop antibodies against pathogens by injecting weakened or dead versions of the disease-causing agents into the body. mRNA vaccines, by contrast, inject a synthetic single-stranded molecule of RNA that infects our own cells and makes them produce the protein that grows on the "spike" on the exterior of the coronavirus. The presence of this protein in the body is then recognized as an intruder, and the immune system learns to identify the coronavirus as an enemy and protect against it.

In the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, both of them train the body to recognize a protein on the SARS-CoV-2 virus known as Spike. Spike is the protein that helps the virus enter human cells and resembles little pins that stick out from the sphere of the virus itself, like the spines that poke out all around a sea urchin. Unfortunately, the South African mutation alters that very protein, meaning that it could affect the vaccine's efficacy.

The South African strain is not the only one raising concern. There is a new strain in Brazil that the scientists argue "also has changes at key positions" in ways that could impair antibodies' effectiveness against the disease. Then there is a strain in the United Kingdom known as B117 that, though not deadlier than previous strains, is more transmissible.

"I think transmissible is definitely the word to go with because that highlights what we do know and what we don't know," Dr. Dylan Morris, a postdoctoral research scholar at UCLA, told Salon earlier this month about the British strain. "Even if the disease severity isn't increased or even if it decreases by a small amount, 'more transmissible' is still a very scary thing at this point in the pandemic, because that could result in faster spread and faster exponential growth."

How will historians remember Donald Trump?

America nearly slipped into a dictatorship. The nation was saved primarily by two things: The fact that the man who wished to be its fascist dictator, President Donald Trump, was too stupid to realize how to correctly respond to a worldwide plague, and the fact that he was a physical coward.

This article first appeared in Salon.

The first fact was by far the most important. When the COVID-19 pandemic began to ravage humanity in 2020, Trump responded in the worst ways possible: He downplayed the threat despite knowing that it was a deadly and contagious disease, defunded and sidelined agencies and individuals with the scientific expertise to contain the pandemic and failed to coordinate a coherent and effective federal response. He also promoted pseudoscience to his supporters, kept trying to prematurely reopen the economy and set a bad example by personally refusing to wear a mask, inevitably catching the disease himself. Although he was wealthy and powerful enough to receive the medical care necessary to survive to the end of his presidency, more than 400,000 Americans had died of COVID-19 by the end of his term because of his poor leadership... roughly the same number as died during World War II. This meant that Americans comprised roughly 20 percent of the total worldwide COVID-19 deaths, even though the United States had just four percent of the world's population.

Despite these serious mistakes, Trump won 74 million votes in the 2020 election, the second-highest total ever received by a presidential candidate up to that point. This is because Trump, like many fascist leaders, had developed a cult-like following among a large segment of the population. Given how well he performed despite his failure to handle the pandemic — a failure that, in turn, caused America's worst economic setback since the Great Depression — it is probable that he would have won if he had simply handled the pandemic better. Incumbent parties tend to win or lose based on public perceptions of whether they are doing a good job, and future President Joe Biden was not viewed as an inspiring candidate. (Biden's main appeal was his association with a popular former president, Barack Obama, under whom he had served as vice president.) If Trump had mounted an effective federal response to the pandemic and urged the public to follow medical experts' advice, that combined with his base's enthusiasm and a lack of voter enthusiasm for Biden most likely would have resulted in his reelection.

But Trump bungled it. As a result, Biden won the election with 81 million votes and an electoral college margin of 306 to 232. Trump's failure as a leader doomed his dictatorial ambitions, humiliated his supporters and saved American democracy from himself.

These are the most important facts of Trump's presidency. His entire administration prior to the pandemic was merely a prologue to those defining moments.

During the 2016 election he openly called on Russia to help him defeat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and Russia did indeed meddle in that contest. Although Trump's upset victory over Clinton was not caused by Russian interference, his willingness to work with a hostile foreign power to be elected foreshadowed his dictatorial ambitions. After taking office, Trump expressed open sympathy for white nationalist rioters in Charlottesville, Va., repeatedly praised authoritarian rulers and used fascist rhetoric that subtly urged his followers to support him as an undemocratic ruler. In 2019 he tried to coerce Ukraine into helping him smear Biden, who he accurately perceived was likely to be his opponent in the 2020 election and became the third president to ever be impeached as a result. Although there was no reasonable doubt as to his guilt, the Senate was controlled by Trump's fellow Republicans, who voted on party lines (with the exception of Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah) to acquit him.

Trump's efforts to become a dictator only increased after that. He violated the First Amendment by moving to punish Twitter after the social media company fact-checked him, tried to kneecap the Post Office so that people who voted by mail (who, due to the pandemic, were more likely to be anti-Trump) would be less likely to have their votes counted and insinuated that if re-elected he would seek 12 more years in office, even though the Constitution only allowed him four. He also repeatedly refused to say whether he would accept the voters' verdict if he lost in the 2020 election (he also did this in 2016), conditioning his supporters to believe that the only possible outcomes were either that Trump would win or that the election would be illegitimate. Ominously he told a white supremacist and misogynist group known as the Proud Boys to "stand by" during one of his presidential debates; Trump adviser Roger Stone was notoriously connected to the violent group, and they played an outsize role in Trump's eventual coup attempt.

After he lost — and perhaps emboldened by his impeachment acquittal — Trump did everything in his power to stay in office. He filed five dozen frivolous lawsuits, had his attorney general, William Barr, launch an investigation into the supposedly "stolen" election and repeatedly lied to his supporters by saying that there had been widespread fraud. (He never actually alleged fraud in more than two-thirds of his lawsuits.) All of the investigations into fraud, from those filed in court to the one overseen by his own attorney general (who was notoriously obsequious throughout Trump's presidency), concluded that Biden had legitimately won. All but one of Trump's lawsuits failed (the exception involved a minor procedural issue in Pennsylvania), with many of the judges who sided against him being fellow Republicans, some appointed by Trump himself. The Supreme Court, though refusing to hear his case, made it clear that if it had it would have unanimously ruled against Trump; three of those judges had been appointed by Trump himself. The president's fraud claims were debunked by experts and his efforts to pressure Republican officials in swing states that he had lost into somehow letting him win anyway did not succeed.

After that, Trump did something unprecedented: He tried to foment a violent coup.

Although ten sitting presidents before Trump had sought another term and been spurned by the voters, Trump was the first to try to use violence to illegally stay in office. At a rally on Jan. 6, 2021, he infamously urged a mob of far right extremists to storm the Capitol and force Congress to not certify Biden's victory. The coup attempt was ultimately thwarted, but not before thousands of people swarmed the building, breaking and stealing property, threatening legislators and even killing a law enforcement official.

And that is what they did without Trump personally leading them. If he had been willing to physically join the Capitol rioters, perhaps the police — who were already shockingly restrained in their efforts to stop the rioters, even though American police were notoriously brutal toward left-wing political movements and marginalized racial groups — would have allowed them to do whatever they wanted. It is possible that anti-Trump legislators in the Capitol would actually have been physically intimidated or murdered. At that point, Trump could have literally realized his coup.

Fortunately for democracy, Trump did not join the rioters, despite telling them that "we are going to the Capitol" to give Republicans like his own vice president, Mike Pence, "the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country." (Pence was overseeing the vote certification but had no power to throw out any of the votes, although Trump erroneously insisted otherwise.) Trump instead retreated to the White House. He left his supporters — having been told that they could force Congress to overturn the election results, with his blessing — to attempt their insurrection while he was safe at home.

This is why Trump's physical cowardice, along with his failure to address the pandemic, was the other major factor that saved democracy. It is why his term ended with him being impeached twice, slinking off in disgrace, rather than a dictator who literally led a charge that physically overthrew anyone who might keep him out of power.

Trump was a terrible president in many other ways, but they were not unprecedented. He ignored how climate change was threatening human civilization, but so did most of the other Republicans who ran for president in 2016, as well as the previous Republican president, George W. Bush. He refused to work with the incoming Biden administration on important issues like the pandemic and economic downturn, but President James Buchanan had infamously refused to work with President-elect Abraham Lincoln to stave off a Civil War. He passed a $1.5 trillion tax cut for the wealthy that did nothing to help the working class, but other Republican presidents had also favored those types of economic policies.

He failed to deliver on the promises of his campaign and inaugural address, particularly when it came to revamping America's infrastructure and building a wall along the entire US-Mexico border, but many other presidents have also come up short in fulfilling their agendas. He brutalized undocumented immigrants, but America has a long history of viciously racist anti-immigration policies. He stuffed America's courts with conservative judges, but this was merely the fulfillment of an agenda that had begun when Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell obstructed President Obama's judicial appointments, most notably of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. He had numerous financial conflicts of interest and enriched himself through his office, but corruption is hardly new to American politics.

If it had not been for his attempts to become a dictator, Trump would simply be remembered as just another in a line of terrible Republican presidents — one of the worst, to be sure, but not necessarily a shoo-in for the absolute worst. His only distinctive quality would have been that he was the first president to be elected without previous political or military service.

Instead, on the centennial anniversary of the end of Trump's presidency, we hold him up as a reminder that democracy is a fragile thing. Terrible presidents come and go, wreaking havoc in the process, but potential dictators are a rare thing on the American scene. The only reason this nation is still free, 100 years later, is because its would-be dictator was outsmarted by a virus and too scared to risk his own life despite demanding that others do so for him.

Conservatives -- not liberals -- are more inclined to value feelings over facts: new study

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.)"

Conservatives value feelings over facts: psychology study

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.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

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.)"


The pandemic is causing a surge in pet abandonment

Alice Mayn runs Lily's Legacy Senior Dog Sanctuary, a sanctuary in the small California city of Petaluma for large breed dogs over the age of seven. Recently, she encountered a COVID-19 situation that directly involved her organization's mission. She was contacted by a 58-year-old former construction worker, John Crowe, who had three large dogs that he could no longer take care of because he was suffering from financial troubles due to the pandemic.

This article first appeared in Salon

"He had a hunting lodge up in the mountains in California and he'd go off to his business because of it," Mayn recalled. "And it had to move down to the Bay Area, and he had three dogs that he'd had their whole lives since they were puppies." They included two Labrador retrievers and one hound mix, between the ages of seven, nine and 11. He surrendered them to Mayn's sanctuary.

"We were able to find a wonderful home for them together, which was our goal because they were very bonded," Mayn says. "And since they have gone to their new home, they're doing very, very well." Mayn said the new owner is still in contact with the former owner, who is happy that they're all still together.

Mayn's story is not unusual. Stories of animals being rescued during the pandemic have made headlines from California to Florida. Reports of drastic increases in animals being abandoned have been reported in states like Alabama, Ohio and Nevada. In the United Kingdom, hundreds of puppies that were purchased during the lockdown are now being disowned and sold.

"Since the month of March, our animal cruelty investigations team, which is 10 full-time animal cruelty investigators, has seen about a 20% increase in abandonment cases," Julie Kuenstle, vice president of communications and marketing at the Houston SPCA, told Salon, saying that "they've just noticed an increase during the pandemic." (The pandemic began in the United States in March 2020.)

Kuenstle recalled one case in July when, with the Houston Police Department, they resuced "a puppy, four dogs, a Chinchilla, a cat, and a mouse after they were left behind in the sweltering heat in deplorable living conditions." On another occasion, "there was a dog that was tethered on a very short lease and couldn't sit down that was abandoned in a field," which was rescued along with a cat. Still another time Kuenstle recalled an abandoned puppy suffering from hair loss that could not even stand up on its own.

Teresa Chagrin, animal care and control issues manager at Peta Prime, told Salon that this is part of a larger problem.

"We get new [reports] every single day about animals being abandoned, especially intentionally, and often after they are turned away from animal shelters," Chagrin explained. "This being turned away from animal shelters had started long before COVID-19 and a lot of shelters are just using the pandemic as an excuse to further restrict their intake in order to increase 'live release rates.'"

Her observation was echoed by Daphna Nachminovitch, senior vice president of the Cruelty Investigations Department at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

"On our end, where we do field and shelter work in Virginia and North Carolina, we are seeing higher demand for free services, i.e., help with food, end-of-life, spay/neuter assistance, and more," Nachminovitch told Salon by email. "For some weeks earlier this year, we were hearing regularly from citizens who had been turned away from our municipal shelter here in Norfolk, VA, because that shelter was 'closed' – and some of those citizens had animals in urgent need of help, including euthanasia." Nachminovitch said she has been seeing more incidences of shelters limiting services. That "makes it more difficult for people to surrender animals (limited hours, fees, requiring appointments, altogether not accepting cats), which ultimately means animals are abandoned to fend for themselves on the streets, and others are given away," Nachminovitch said. "Many shelters have essentially stopped sheltering – a very real concern."

Nachminovitch also denounced the "hideous consequence" of halting spay/neuter services by many clinics and shelters which decided they were not "essential." "PETA runs three mobile veterinary spay/neuter clinics and we never stopped running," she noted. "We just adapted and followed new safety procedures."

So what can people who love our animal friends do to protect them during these trying times?

"It's really important before even getting into taking on that responsibility to consider, 'What will happen if I lose my job? What will happen if I have to move? What will happen?'" Chagrin told Salon. "Make sure that you have arrangements set up or don't get an animal."

Chagrin also advocated that "shelters have to keep their doors open and always accept all animals. And don't charge fees and don't set up restrictions." She argued that it is wrong for animal shelters to be pressured "to improve their live release rates and adoption rates," saying that we should improve spaying and neutering practices and arguing that "closing the shelter doors and saying, 'No, we're not gonna take your animal because we're worried about our statistics' is an irresponsible and cruel response, but that's the response that we're seeing today."

As for Mayn, she asked people who are too sick to care for their dogs to see "if they had a family member that can help them research rescues. They can help the dogs, particularly if they're seniors." She urged people to remember that "the shelters have been overwhelmed with dogs and it's harder to get, particularly a senior, adopted out of a shelter than it is to get them adopted out of a rescue." She also said that "for people that have a place to live and can actually keep their dogs, there are resources of nonprofits, for instance, that help individuals cover medical bills for their dogs. So if their vet bills that are too expensive and that sort of thing, there are resources for that."

Income inequality is out of control -- and economists fear Biden won't do enough to fix it

The coronavirus pandemic has not only taken over 340,000 lives in the United States, but led to a major economic downturn, the recovery from the which has primarily benefited the wealthy. The widening rift between rich and poor, stoked by Trump's policies, has stirred social unrest in the United States and created an opening for the next president to win political points by redistributing wealth in this country.

But will President-elect Joe Biden be that kind of president?

Many economists and political pundits are doubtful. And while it is difficult to predict entirely what a sitting president will do prior to their inauguration, there are hints in Biden's appointments and statements thus far that may foreshadow his economic agenda.

First, Biden's past positions speak to his political alignment. Though a Democrat, Biden has held pretty conservative positions in the past. As a senator he supported freezing Social Security spending, deregulating Wall Street, reducing the top income tax rate from 70 percent to 50 percent and opposing antitrust legislation. During the 2020 campaign, Biden ran by embracing President Barack Obama's legacy as his own — and emphasizing that this made him more moderate than opponents like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a democratic socialist and his chief rival in the primaries.

Yet the events of 2020 seem to have pushed Biden to the left. After the COVID-19 pandemic caused an economic crash, Biden reportedly told his advisers that he wanted to plan a presidency as bold as that of Franklin Roosevelt, who is widely regarded as the most influential left-winger to ever hold that office. When he began announcing picks to his team of economic advisers — Janet Yellen as Treasury Secretary, Jared Bernstein as Chief Economist and Economic Policy Adviser, Cecilia Rouse as head of Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), Heather Boushey as a CEA member — some prominent Democrats publicly praised him on Twitter.

"An economic dream team," observed Harvard professor Jason Furman, who chaired Obama's CEA. "Excellent. All committed to full employment, boosting wages, reducing inequality," wrote former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. "I'm very happy with every name I'm hearing. The contrast with the Trump creatures is, of course, overwhelming. But pretty strong contrast even with Obama," tweeted economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.

So which Biden should progressives expect — the Biden who pushed for centrism as a senator for 36 years and as vice president for eight, or the one who now seems to want progressives to believe he is in their corner?

"He's a transactional politician," Dean Baker, economist and co-founder of the progressive think tank the Center for Economic Policy Research, told Salon. "That's what he's been his whole life. So he's not Bernie Sanders who has strong convictions that I'm going to do X, Y, and Z. I think he's basically a decent guy, but he's going to go where the pressure takes him. And in that sense, I think that's not bad because there will be pressure from the left."

At the same time, Biden's choices for economic advisers are not necessarily groundbreaking, and that means progressive activists will have their work cut out for them.

"We need to consider what we mean by economic team — like [former South Bend Mayor and Secretary of Transportation nominee Pete] Buttigieg — providing a great 'return on investment' for Silicon Valley in ensuring that US government transportation policy is more based around accelerating profits of Big Tech firms and their investors rather than providing the public with adequate systems," Sam Husseini, communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy, a progressive nonprofit group that challenges mainstream media narratives on major public issues, told Salon by email. He also expressed concerns about the fact that Biden's pick for Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, has ties to agricultural behemoth Monsanto and that Tanden has numerous Wall Street and other corporate connections.

Richard Wolff, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, expressed to Salon that Biden's advisers are "out of the left end of the conventional. It remains very much within conventional. It is a kind of acceptance of the boundaries of what can be spoken in those circles."

To illustrate his point, Wolff explained that past Democratic economic advisers might "get lost in games about whether the cutoff for poverty is $18,000 or $20,000 for a family of four" or use other methods to do "whatever the moving the goalposts might have to be." The underlying problem is that, instead of thinking of solutions that redistribute economic power in a substantive way, "what they have consistently done under the label of realism is rule out the kinds of policies that come from radicals."

"Most of his advisors are really very moderate Democrats, very moderate policymakers," Gar Alperovitz, an American historian and political economist, explained to Salon. "We're not likely to see anything particularly interesting beyond very cautious and Obama-style economics."

When it came to names like Rouse, Bernstein and Tanden, Alperovitz characterized them as "a pretty standard, moderate, slightly left" group, the kind of "cautious" people who are somewhat sympathetic to the working class but would hardly be expected to shake up the fundamental structures of American capitalism itself through major redistributions of wealth and power.

As Wolff pointed out, the Democratic president whom Biden has specifically said he wishes to emulate, Franklin Roosevelt, famously proposed an economic bill of rights that would have guaranteed every American a "useful and remunerative job," housing, food, clothing, recreation, education and health care. Wolff said that based on his picks, it is doubtful that the Biden administration is going to pursue any truly sweeping changes like that, instead preferring the moderate approach of "the 8 million things that have been done puttering around at the edges of capitalism."

While Baker shared this broad consensus that Biden is going to take a more moderate approach — "he made no bones about that" — he said there was also reason for some hopefulness when it comes to issues like housing and urban development, where Biden has chosen the progressive Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio as his point person, and on issues like labor rights, telling Salon that "he's been very pro union really throughout his career and throughout the campaign. And there's a lot he could try to do in the White House and, I expect, with the National Labor Relations Board." Traditionally unions have been very effective at reducing income inequality, with the wealth gap between the top and bottom brackets widening in eras with weaker unions and shrinking in eras with stronger ones.

Another contributor to income inequality — and, in particular, the black-white wealth gap — is the trillions that Americans owe in student debt. There have already been reports that Biden is thinking about taking bold steps to deal with the student debt crisis. He has suggested, among other things, forgiving undergraduate tuition-related federal student debt from two- and four-year institutions for individuals who earn less than $125,000, canceling a minimum of $10,000 of student debt per person and making it so that after two decades, the federal student loans individuals may have left over will be forgiven without any tax burden.

Will this be enough? Nomi Prins, economist and author of "Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World," talked to Salon about this issue.

"One of the things that Biden did during his campaign was give a little bit more positivity towards the notion of potentially canceling more of student debt in terms of just verbiage," Prins told Salon. "That was useful for the campaign. It was useful for getting the younger voters in, Salon readers, and just generally people who've been carrying a year to two years to a decade to two decades worth of student debt."

Prins' concern is that the programs Biden will actually choose to implement may not be sufficiently comprehensive.

"At the average student loan rate — let's call it, 4%, 5%, 6%, 7% — the amount of interest that someone would have paid already after 20 years, it would have gone to the banks most likely because the higher interest go with private funded student loans would have ultimately either potentially overshadowed the student debt to begin with, or certainly been a large chunk of it," Prins explained "And so it's useful to cancel the rest of it, but as the gift on student loan debt, that doesn't do it — that does not cut into the $1.5 trillion or $1.6 trillion in growing student loan debt that continues to accumulate."

Overall, the question of whether Biden will be sufficiently left-wing depends on more than the character of Biden himself. It depends on the specific pressures exerted upon him by the political conditions of his time. To understand this, it is useful to compare Biden to the president that he has often compared himself to — Roosevelt.

"It's helpful to think in terms of the era as much or more than about the individual," Norman Solomon, a Sanders delegate in 2016 and 2020 and a national director of rootsaction.org, told Salon. Although "Roosevelt ran as something of a deficit hawk in 1932," outside progressive groups exerted pressure on him that allowed him to push the party to the left. (Wolff made a similar point to Salon.) "That's why Roots Action has been organizing the 'No Honeymoon for Biden' campaign. And there are a lot of progressive forces, I believe, arrayed to insist that there be no honeymoon with Biden, so that the mistakes of greeting [President Bill] Clinton and Obama by kissing their boots instead of pushing them will not be replicated."

Will Biden be receptive to that? Baker shared a revealing Biden story with Salon, back when the then–vice president met him in a group setting.

"He met with a group of economists, there were probably about eight of us, and he just was picking our brain on different issues," Baker recalled. "And I was impressed with him, I gotta say, because he actually wanted to hear the issues. He had some of us debating back and forth on different issues and he seemed to be following. I've had many occasions to deal with different politicians and usually they're looking for a soundbite." By contrast Biden "actually seemed interested in hearing a serious discussion. So that impressed me."

Economists fear Biden won’t do enough to fix America’s income inequality crisis

The coronavirus pandemic has not only taken over 340,000 lives in the United States, but led to a major economic downturn, the recovery from the which has primarily benefited the wealthy. The widening rift between rich and poor, stoked by Trump's policies, has stirred social unrest in the United States and created an opening for the next president to win political points by redistributing wealth in this country.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

But will President-elect Joe Biden be that kind of president?

Many economists and political pundits are doubtful. And while it is difficult to predict entirely what a sitting president will do prior to their inauguration, there are hints in Biden's appointments and statements thus far that may foreshadow his economic agenda.

First, Biden's past positions speak to his political alignment. Though a Democrat, Biden has held pretty conservative positions in the past. As a senator he supported freezing Social Security spending, deregulating Wall Street, reducing the top income tax rate from 70 percent to 50 percent and opposing antitrust legislation. During the 2020 campaign, Biden ran by embracing President Barack Obama's legacy as his own — and emphasizing that this made him more moderate than opponents like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a democratic socialist and his chief rival in the primaries.

Yet the events of 2020 seem to have pushed Biden to the left. After the COVID-19 pandemic caused an economic crash, Biden reportedly told his advisers that he wanted to plan a presidency as bold as that of Franklin Roosevelt, who is widely regarded as the most influential left-winger to ever hold that office. When he began announcing picks to his team of economic advisers — Janet Yellen as Treasury Secretary, Jared Bernstein as Chief Economist and Economic Policy Adviser, Cecilia Rouse as head of Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), Heather Boushey as a CEA member — some prominent Democrats publicly praised him on Twitter.

"An economic dream team," observed Harvard professor Jason Furman, who chaired Obama's CEA. "Excellent. All committed to full employment, boosting wages, reducing inequality," wrote former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. "I'm very happy with every name I'm hearing. The contrast with the Trump creatures is, of course, overwhelming. But pretty strong contrast even with Obama," tweeted economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.

So which Biden should progressives expect — the Biden who pushed for centrism as a senator for 36 years and as vice president for eight, or the one who now seems to want progressives to believe he is in their corner?

"He's a transactional politician," Dean Baker, economist and co-founder of the progressive think tank the Center for Economic Policy Research, told Salon. "That's what he's been his whole life. So he's not Bernie Sanders who has strong convictions that I'm going to do X, Y, and Z. I think he's basically a decent guy, but he's going to go where the pressure takes him. And in that sense, I think that's not bad because there will be pressure from the left."

At the same time, Biden's choices for economic advisers are not necessarily groundbreaking, and that means progressive activists will have their work cut out for them.

"We need to consider what we mean by economic team — like [former South Bend Mayor and Secretary of Transportation nominee Pete] Buttigieg — providing a great 'return on investment' for Silicon Valley in ensuring that US government transportation policy is more based around accelerating profits of Big Tech firms and their investors rather than providing the public with adequate systems," Sam Husseini, communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy, a progressive nonprofit group that challenges mainstream media narratives on major public issues, told Salon by email. He also expressed concerns about the fact that Biden's pick for Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, has ties to agricultural behemoth Monsanto and that Tanden has numerous Wall Street and other corporate connections.

Richard Wolff, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, expressed to Salon that Biden's advisers are "out of the left end of the conventional. It remains very much within conventional. It is a kind of acceptance of the boundaries of what can be spoken in those circles."

To illustrate his point, Wolff explained that past Democratic economic advisers might "get lost in games about whether the cutoff for poverty is $18,000 or $20,000 for a family of four" or use other methods to do "whatever the moving the goalposts might have to be." The underlying problem is that, instead of thinking of solutions that redistribute economic power in a substantive way, "what they have consistently done under the label of realism is rule out the kinds of policies that come from radicals."

"Most of his advisors are really very moderate Democrats, very moderate policymakers," Gar Alperovitz, an American historian and political economist, explained to Salon. "We're not likely to see anything particularly interesting beyond very cautious and Obama-style economics."

When it came to names like Rouse, Bernstein and Tanden, Alperovitz characterized them as "a pretty standard, moderate, slightly left" group, the kind of "cautious" people who are somewhat sympathetic to the working class but would hardly be expected to shake up the fundamental structures of American capitalism itself through major redistributions of wealth and power.

As Wolff pointed out, the Democratic president whom Biden has specifically said he wishes to emulate, Franklin Roosevelt, famously proposed an economic bill of rights that would have guaranteed every American a "useful and remunerative job," housing, food, clothing, recreation, education and health care. Wolff said that based on his picks, it is doubtful that the Biden administration is going to pursue any truly sweeping changes like that, instead preferring the moderate approach of "the 8 million things that have been done puttering around at the edges of capitalism."

While Baker shared this broad consensus that Biden is going to take a more moderate approach — "he made no bones about that" — he said there was also reason for some hopefulness when it comes to issues like housing and urban development, where Biden has chosen the progressive Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio as his point person, and on issues like labor rights, telling Salon that "he's been very pro union really throughout his career and throughout the campaign. And there's a lot he could try to do in the White House and, I expect, with the National Labor Relations Board." Traditionally unions have been very effective at reducing income inequality, with the wealth gap between the top and bottom brackets widening in eras with weaker unions and shrinking in eras with stronger ones.

Another contributor to income inequality — and, in particular, the black-white wealth gap — is the trillions that Americans owe in student debt. There have already been reports that Biden is thinking about taking bold steps to deal with the student debt crisis. He has suggested, among other things, forgiving undergraduate tuition-related federal student debt from two- and four-year institutions for individuals who earn less than $125,000, canceling a minimum of $10,000 of student debt per person and making it so that after two decades, the federal student loans individuals may have left over will be forgiven without any tax burden.

Will this be enough? Nomi Prins, economist and author of "Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World," talked to Salon about this issue.

"One of the things that Biden did during his campaign was give a little bit more positivity towards the notion of potentially canceling more of student debt in terms of just verbiage," Prins told Salon. "That was useful for the campaign. It was useful for getting the younger voters in, Salon readers, and just generally people who've been carrying a year to two years to a decade to two decades worth of student debt."

Prins' concern is that the programs Biden will actually choose to implement may not be sufficiently comprehensive.

"At the average student loan rate — let's call it, 4%, 5%, 6%, 7% — the amount of interest that someone would have paid already after 20 years, it would have gone to the banks most likely because the higher interest go with private funded student loans would have ultimately either potentially overshadowed the student debt to begin with, or certainly been a large chunk of it," Prins explained "And so it's useful to cancel the rest of it, but as the gift on student loan debt, that doesn't do it — that does not cut into the $1.5 trillion or $1.6 trillion in growing student loan debt that continues to accumulate."

Overall, the question of whether Biden will be sufficiently left-wing depends on more than the character of Biden himself. It depends on the specific pressures exerted upon him by the political conditions of his time. To understand this, it is useful to compare Biden to the president that he has often compared himself to — Roosevelt.

"It's helpful to think in terms of the era as much or more than about the individual," Norman Solomon, a Sanders delegate in 2016 and 2020 and a national director of rootsaction.org, told Salon. Although "Roosevelt ran as something of a deficit hawk in 1932," outside progressive groups exerted pressure on him that allowed him to push the party to the left. (Wolff made a similar point to Salon.) "That's why Roots Action has been organizing the 'No Honeymoon for Biden' campaign. And there are a lot of progressive forces, I believe, arrayed to insist that there be no honeymoon with Biden, so that the mistakes of greeting [President Bill] Clinton and Obama by kissing their boots instead of pushing them will not be replicated."

Will Biden be receptive to that? Baker shared a revealing Biden story with Salon, back when the then–vice president met him in a group setting.

"He met with a group of economists, there were probably about eight of us, and he just was picking our brain on different issues," Baker recalled. "And I was impressed with him, I gotta say, because he actually wanted to hear the issues. He had some of us debating back and forth on different issues and he seemed to be following. I've had many occasions to deal with different politicians and usually they're looking for a soundbite." By contrast Biden "actually seemed interested in hearing a serious discussion. So that impressed me."

Don't act surprised -- Trump has always been a sore loser

Though the media took his denial of election reality as a shock, President Donald Trump was never going to accept the results of this year's election unless he was declared the winner. He said so himself years ago.

This is the elephant in the room, the undeniable fact that demolishes his credibility when he says he was actually reelected — and, incidentally, the reason why both he and the people backing his unprecedented post-election temper tantrum will be remembered by history as forever losers. Indeed, long before the 2020 election, Trump's go-to response to even the possibility of losing any election has been to accuse the other side of cheating.

This article first appeared in Salon.

During the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, after he lost the Iowa caucuses to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, he claimed that he wasn't actually defeated in the Hawkeye State because Cruz "stole it." He also argued that Cruz's supposed "fraud" was so egregious that "either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified." Although he moved on from his claims about Cruz after he ultimately won the GOP nomination, Trump accused Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton of doing dishonest things "at many polling places" without providing any evidence. He repeatedly insisted that the election was "rigged" against him, a point that Clinton raised during one of their debates when she observed that he even accused the Emmys of being "rigged" against him when he was snubbed for his work on "The Apprentice." During that same debate he refused to answer a question about whether he would accept the 2016 election results if they went against him, merely saying he would keep America "in suspense" and "look at it at the time." At an Ohio rally weeks before the election, Trump said that he would only accept the results of the upcoming election "if I win."

Although Trump defeated Clinton because of his Electoral College victory (306 to 232 — at least before certain electors defected — which coincidentally is the same margin by which he lost to former Vice President Joe Biden in 2020), he lost in the popular vote by 65.9 million votes (48.2%) to 63 million votes (46.1%). Once again, he blamed fraud. He told his supporters that "I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally," although he provided no evidence of any large number of people voting illegally, much less the 3 million necessary to account for his popular vote deficit. Trump eventually created a voter fraud commission to look into the claim of illegal voting, but it was disbanded after the members found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Trump pulled the exact same stunt in 2020. After getting himself impeached for trying to pressure Ukraine into smearing Biden, Trump found himself running against the former vice president anyway, and polls repeatedly showed Biden with an advantage over the incumbent. Because Biden voters were disproportionately likely to vote by mail as a result of the pandemic, Trump tried to preemptively cast doubt over the reliability of mail-in voting, even though his claims were rejected in court and debunked by experts. This laid the groundwork for him to later claim that there were "vote dumps" against him during the 2020 election because, as he knew, mail-in ballots tend to be counted after in-person ones, meaning that news outlets reporting on the results would initially show Trump having large leads before all of the Biden votes began to erode them. In a similar vein, Trump also tried to kneecap the Post Office, a move that critics claimed was motivated by a desire to hinder mail-in voting. (Trump later admitted that he took money away from the Post Office so the US "can't have universal mail-in voting.")

He also repeated the same "if I lose, it's rigged" rhetoric he employed in 2016. At an August rally in Wisconsin, Trump told his supporters that "the only way we're going to lose this election is if the election is rigged." In one of his debates with Biden, the president made a number of unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud, from claiming 80 million mail-in ballots could not be securely sent in and citing examples of normal human error when it comes to managing mail as evidence of a widespread conspiracy against him to falsely claiming pro-Trump poll watchers were being banned in Pennsylvania and postal workers were selling ballots in West Virginia. Shortly before the election, Trump told Fox News' Chris Wallace that he would not "give a direct answer" about whether he'd accept election results that were unfavorable to him, instead arguing "I'm not going to just say 'yes.' I'm not going to say no and I didn't last time either." He also told Wallace that is not a "good loser" before adding that "mail-in voting is going to rig the election."

On Election Day, Trump prematurely claimed that he had won and on the day after the election tweeted, "They are finding Biden votes all over the place — in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. So bad for our Country!" He repeated this two days after the election, telling reporters that "I've been talking about mail-in voting for a long time. It's really destroyed our system. It's a corrupt system. And it makes people corrupt even if they aren't by nature, but they become corrupt; it's too easy. They want to find out how many votes they need, and then they seem to be able to find them. They wait and wait and then they find them." Then, exactly as anticipated, he falsely claimed that votes were being "dumped" as mail-in ballots revealed he had actually lost despite the in-person ballots initially giving the impression he was winning. After every vote was counted, it was revealed that 81.3 million Americans voted for Biden (51.3%) and 74.2 million Americans voted for Trump (46.9%).

To be clear, this is not the only reason Trump's claims of having been robbed lack all credibility. At the time of this writing, Trump has lost 59 of the cases he has brought to court supposedly alleging voter fraud (many actually did not do so but were merely presented to the public as if they did), with many of the judges who ruled against him being fellow Republicans, including some he appointed. (The only legal case he won had nothing to do with voter fraud but about how much extra time first-time voters in Pennsylvania could get to confirm their identifications in order for their mail-in votes to be counted.) Overall more than 90 federal and state judges have rejected Trump's legal challenges to the Election Day results. His own attorney general William Barr, who was a notorious toady, admitted that after a thorough investigation he did not uncover any evidence of fraud that could change the 2020 election results. (Trump fired him for this, of course.) The Supreme Court unanimously declared that Trump's fraud accusations had no merit, a decision that included the three judges appointed by the president himself. Republican leaders in the swing states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania have refused to overturn their results because they know it would be illegal for them to do so.

At this point the president and his legal team have resorted to gish galloping, or attempting to win an argument by overwhelming an opponent with an excessive number of spurious claims — that all of these Republican and/or pro-Trump judges and officials are part of a giant conspiracy to steal the election from him, that large numbers of dead people voted, that Dominion voting machines changed results, and so on — in the hope that they will not be able to keep track of and thereby comprehensively debunk all of them. As my colleague Amanda Marcotte has written, there is evidence that many Trump supporters don't even sincerely believe that the election was stolen, but are making intentionally bad faith arguments out of a mixture of partisanship, wounded pride, a desire to delegitimize President-elect Joe Biden and the hope that they can perhaps help the president pull off a coup.

Yet they would not be doing this if Trump himself had not set the example that it is okay to deny an election's results unless you are declared the winner. All of the lawsuits, the outraged tweets and the "Stop The Steal" protests boil down to that single fact. Trump spent years before his presidency arguing that if he did not win an election, it would not count. Now he and his supporters are simply following that authoritarian argument to its inevitable, hateful conclusion.

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