Illinois Wesleyan University faculty and staff frequently provide their expertise
regarding newsworthy happenings.
Members of the media are invited to pull quotes directly from this page, or contact
Assistant Director of Communications Julia Perez to set up an interview: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Increases in bald eagle population
March 25, 2021
— George C. and Ella Beach Lewis Endowed Chair of Biology Given Harper
Q: A new report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that the number of American bald eagles has quadrupled since 2009, with more
than 300,000 birds in the lower 48 states. Is this national increase consistent with
what you've observed locally? What makes Bloomington-Normal and Central Illinois an
appealing habitat for an increasing bald eagle population?
A: The increase in the bald eagle population in Central Illinois mirrors what has
occurred throughout the lower 48 states. It is now quite common to see bald eagles
year-round in Bloomington/Normal, and in other areas of Central Illinois. The banning
of DDT and other organochlorine pesticides is a major factor responsible for their
population increase, along with the fact that eagles are adapting to humans. The number
of eagle nests in Central Illinois has increased dramatically, and there is even a
nest within the city limits of Bloomington. Bald eagles are opportunistic predators
in urban areas, as they catch fish in local lakes and streams, they prey upon squirrels
and rabbits, and scavenge road-killed animals. This is quite a remarkable environmental
success story for a species that was on the brink of extinction some 50 years ago.
How humans can help dogs adapt to new environments — such as moving to the White House
March 19, 2021
–– Associate Professor of Psychology Ellen Furlong
Q: One of President Biden's two German shepherds, Major, was apparently startled in
his new home (the White House) during what the President described as a minor incident
resulting in a minor injury. From a psychological perspective, what are some challenges
that dogs face when acclimating to a new environment, and what can humans do to help
with this transition?
A: Like humans, dogs sometimes have a difficult time acclimating to new environments.
Some dogs find moving so stressful that they develop behavior problems they never
exhibited before, such as separation anxiety, potty training issues, and even, as
we have seen with Major, fear aggression or resource guarding. But Major didn’t just
move houses like most dogs, he moved into the White House with many new unfamiliar
faces in addition to unfamiliar places: this would be a very stressful transition
for any dog. Dog guardians can help their pups acclimate by trying to maintain as
many familiar routines as possible, providing their dogs plenty of enrichment (toys,
activities, opportunities to explore), and, if necessary, securing the help of a positive
reinforcement trainer or behaviorist.
Long-term impact of widespread telecommuting amid the pandemic
March 17, 2021
— Assistant Professor of Business Administration and Director of the Illinois SBDC
of McLean County at Illinois Wesleyan Karen Bussone
Q: As we pass the one-year anniversary of initial pandemic state-at-home orders that
forced many companies to quickly shift to remote work — what are some ways in which
widespread telecommuting over the past year will shape the future of organizational
Working virtually the past year will reshape organizational management.
a. The gender-wage gap will continue to increase: According to Harvard Business Review
and a recent Gartner survey, 64% of managers believe in-office subordinates are higher
performers than virtual subordinates. However, data collected throughout the pandemic
shows that virtual subordinates are 5% more likely to be higher performers compared
to those working within an office environment. Research is also showing that men prefer
to work in an office setting and women prefer to work from home. Manager biases will
definitely favor men and thus the gender-wage gap will worsen for women.
b. Flexibility will shift from hours worked to productivity output: It is expected
that there will be an increase of new jobs where employees are measured by productivity
output and not agreed-upon hours worked. Also, flexibility in returning to a uniquely
structured workspace for innovation and problem-solving will occur perhaps 1-2 days
c. Opportunities for hiring employees with unique experiences will significantly increase:
As 47% of company senior leadership intend to allow employees to work virtually all
the time, this opens the recruiting door to bring many unique skill sets, experiences,
and diverse candidates more easily to any given company. McKinsey and Company have
indicated their research shows companies will continue striving to increase diversity,
equity, and inclusion.
d. Mental health support will continue to be an important focus for companies and
organizations: Companies and organizations will expand mental health benefits including
company-wide days off to build awareness across the workforce.
e. High-performance workplace teams will become more empowered: Workplace project
teams will be empowered to make critical decisions while the control from senior leadership
will diminish. As availability and hours worked will shift to new paradigms, bureaucratic
styles will exhibit lack of trust and become misfits within organizations.
Stress and coping amid the COVID-19 pandemic
March 11, 2021
— Associate Professor of Psychology Mignon Montpetit
Q: Can you provide insight into the coping strategies that people likely used to deal
with stress related to living through a year of the pandemic while facing isolation
and loss (loss of loved ones, loss of experiences, etc.)?
A: I did not collect data during the pandemic, so I cannot speak for other people,
but I can share some strategies that my family continues to rely on to get us through,
all of which are grounded in the literature and/or work that I’ve done on coping with
stress, ordinary and extraordinary. Important to start is that my husband and I gave
our boys and ourselves the space to grieve the things that we were missing; we tried
to model acceptance of everyone’s feelings while encouraging a positive outlook. We
used a combination of what’s called problem- and emotion-focused coping (Lazarus &
Lazarus, 1994). Problem-focused coping invokes identifying stressors and working to
actively eliminate those. For instance, we repeatedly asked our children, ages four
and six, what they missed most about pre-pandemic life and came up with strategies
to give them as much “normal” as possible. They missed playing with other children,
so we hosted play dates over Zoom; they missed visiting with extended family and friends
who live far away – we hosted virtual birthday parties and attended a virtual wedding;
all of these things gave our children – and us – a sense of connection during these
potentially isolating times. For emotion-focused coping, we identified the stressors
that we couldn’t change, and worked really hard to reframe those. Our boys were sad
to miss out on in-person pre-K and kindergarten, with all the fun and excitement of
learning with other children. We emphasized the beneficial aspects of our current
situation – school only lasts an hour and a half on Zoom, and the boys have the rest
of the day to play and explore our surroundings. We emphasized that since we were
all working and learning from home, we were able to spend much more time together
than if the boys were in school or daycare. Lastly, we clung tightly to the aspects
of our lives that remained the same – we took the boys to familiar places, like for
hikes at our local conservation area, fishing, and on the picnics that they love so
The proposed increase to the federal minimum wage
Feb. 28, 2021
— Robert S. Eckley Distinguished Professor of Economics Emeritus Michael Seeborg
Q: Though an increase to the federal minimum wage won't be included in the $1.9 trillion
coronavirus relief bill, Democrats have vowed to continue pursuing legislation to
raise the federal minimum wage to $15. What are some of the potential economic implications
of raising the federal minimum wage to this level?
A: The Democrat’s proposed gradual increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25
to $15.00 over four years would not have much effect on ongoing efforts to recover
from the pandemic’s economic devastation. The phased implementation would simply be
too late to help.
However, over time, a $15 per hour minimum wage would likely produce winners and losers
across states. Some states have already implemented minimum wage laws similar to the
Democrat’s proposal, while 21 states comply with the current $7.25 per hour minimum
wage standard. For example, the federal proposal mimics the current Illinois minimum
wage law in many ways, including the scheduled increases. Both are phased in and end
up at $15 per hour in about four years. While Illinois workers would not be much affected
by the Democratic proposal, the state as a whole could benefit as the increase in
minimum wages increase labor costs in states that now have low minimums. This change
would increase labor costs in states that are currently enticing Illinois businesses
to relocate to take advantage of lower labor costs.
Feb. 26, 2021
– Assistant Professor of Accounting & Financial Services Jaime Peters
Q: Can you explain why Bitcoin's value has tripled over the past three months?
A: There are two main theories behind the rapid increase in Bitcoin’s value, both
of which are likely at play. First, as a cryptocurrency, there is no government behind
Bitcoin. With the U.S. printing trillions of dollars for COVID relief, fears of future
inflation are rising (which is reflected in the increased 10-year treasury yield).
Unlike the almighty dollar, there will only ever be 21 million Bitcoins mined, and
even fewer will be in circulation (google some stories about lost Bitcoin keys if
you wonder why). The limited supply has attracted the interest of institutional investors,
who are using the currency as a hedge against dollar-denominated inflation, a role
normally filled by gold. Second, retail investors are eagerly buying up Bitcoin, spurred
on by comments from Tesla's Elon Musk (who was accepting the coin as payment) and
PayPal accepting the currency. Overall, the value of Bitcoin is very volatile (it
is down 4% today as I write this), much more so than normal currency, and that volatility
is likely here to stay – the value may double from here or quickly crash; however,
one thing is clear: public and market perception of Bitcoin has changed – it is now
considered by many as a legitimate alternative investment.
NASA’s current Mars mission
Feb. 20, 2021
–– Professor Emerita of Physics Linda French
Q: Perseverance, NASA's latest Mars rover, landed safely and began its mission on
the red planet last week. Why is it scientifically important to continue studying
Mars? What is the significance of this particular mission?
A: The Perseverance rover that many of us watched descend to the surface of Mars last
week is part of the Mars 2020 mission. The project’s goals are to look for signs of
habitable conditions on Mars in the distant past, and to search for water, as well
as biosignatures, of past microbial life. It will explore an ancient river delta;
places such as this on Earth are known to preserve microbial fossils for millions
of years. The rover will leave capsules of the most promising samples for a future
mission to return to Earth. Mars 2020 will further our search for evidence of life
in the solar system beyond Earth, and increase our understanding of our closest planetary
neighbor in preparation for, ultimately, a crewed mission to Mars.
–– French recently gave a presentation about her research and what it's like to work at major
Local energy prices after harsh winter weather
Feb. 19, 2021
– Assistant Professor of Accounting & Financial Services Jaime Peters
Q: How will recent severe winter weather in Texas potentially impact energy prices
– such as gasoline, electricity and natural gas – locally?
It is not Texas, but the same weather system that hit Texas and covered more than
60% of the U.S. in snow that will affect our local energy prices. Texas's electricity
is generated in-state. The Lone Star state has historically refused to become a part
of a more national grid and is currently suffering more than it might as a result.
Our local electricity prices are determined by local demand (which is up because of
our cold weather) and supply generated from Clinton's power plant. Natural gas is
a similar story – Texas has banned the export of natural gas from the state as a result
of this storm (it is a major fuel source of their electricity generation), but our
local prices are being driven up more because of general demand for heating across
this cold snap. Overall, natural gas prices are still below October levels. Finally,
gasoline – Texas accounts for roughly a third of domestic oil production, but Midwest
refineries now receive more oil from the Rockies and Canada/North Dakota than from
the Gulf states. This has blunted, but not eliminated the effect of Texas' production
interruption. Oil prices have been steadily rising since many pandemic stay-at-home
orders have been lifted and we may see that trend continue.
Honoring Keats on the 200th anniversary of his death
Feb. 16, 2021
— Robert Harrington Endowed Professor of English Michael Theune
Q: What is the significance of Romantic poet John Keats (who died Feb. 23, 1821)?
A: A thing of beauty is a joy for ever," writes British Romantic poet John Keats at
the beginning of his poem Endymion. He would know. Keats was so powerfully moved by his encounters with great art and
thought that they often felt excruciatingly and luxuriously intimate, and immense.
Catalyzing these intense engagements with a quicksilver imagination, Keats himself
made many beautiful – sensitive and sensational – things: thrilling, speculative letters
and poems glistening with current. We are fortunate to have them; Keats (1795-1821)
died young, of tuberculosis. Still, he left us a great gift: an enduring body of work
that offers resonance, vibrancy, perhaps even a shimmer of solace: Endymion continues, "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: / Its loveliness increases; it will
never / Pass into nothingness; but still will keep / A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
/ Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing."
Applying for financial aid during the pandemic
Feb. 12, 2021
–– Director of Financial Aid Scott Seibring '85
Q: What are some important things for families to know as they apply for financial
aid amid economic uncertainty caused by the ongoing pandemic?
- FAFSA will require you to use 2019 income figures and you should not correct your
FAFSA if 2020 income figures are different.
- If your 2019 income figures do not reflect your current situation, contact each of
your schools to learn about their appeal process.
- Please provide any unique expense for possible consideration in addition to income
Explanation: In 2017-18, FAFSA moved to "prior prior year income." So, 2019 income
is the income that needs to be reported on the 2021-22 FAFSA. If 2019 income is not
indicative of their current situation, a student can contact each of the schools individually
about their appeal process. Schools will have a document for them to complete in
regards to their most current situation. For us, our 2021-22 Appeal Questionnaire
will have a 2020 income column and a 2021 estimated income column. In the scenario
when a school will use professional judgement to alter a student’s FAFSA, the school
will need plenty of documentation that usually requires W-2s, tax returns, most current
pay stubs, and most current unemployment benefit documents. If a school uses professional
judgement because of change in circumstances and makes changes to the FAFSA, only
the school who makes those changes will see the new results.
Feb. 12, 2021
— Professor of Political Science Greg Shaw
Q: What does former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial suggest about
representative politics in the U.S.?
A: As I watch Republican senators squirm in their chairs but remain either in silence
or tepid defense of Trump, I am struck by how powerfully electoral representation
can work. I'll give these sophisticated members of Congress credit for being able
to see an impeachable series of behaviors when they see one and that they are not
simply in denial about the clear chain of influence from Trump's messaging to violent
mob action explicitly intended to keep the Senate from one of its key duties on January
6th. With few exceptions, these senators are not the ones who have lost touch with
reality, rather their GOP constituents back home are. The hold these voters have on
their senators, at least on this issue in this moment, is nothing short of amazing.
Just at a time when a little bit of leadership from the top of the party could do
the country a lot of good in the way of defining the GOP's principles and priorities,
their senators are captivated by fear of the crowd. If you believe in representation
in the mold of voters who keep their representatives on a short leash, this is your
moment to celebrate. If, on the other hand, you believe in healthy representation
as a back and forth between voters setting the general direction and leaders simultaneously
injecting some judgement into governance, this is a dismal season for the GOP and
for the country.
The science behind car trouble in the cold
Feb. 7, 2021
Associate Professor and Interim Chair of Chemistry and Biochemistry Manori Perera
Q: With temperatures forecast to remain bitterly cold this week in Central Illinois,
what are some temperature-related issues that impact vehicles, and what is the chemistry
behind those issues? Are there steps that motorists can take to avoid such issues?
A: As weather turns very cold, our cars feel it as much as we do and batteries take
the brunt of it. Typical car batteries generate charge through an electro-chemical
reaction that happens inside the batteries where lead plates and sulfuric acid are
located. This reaction slows down at a colder temperature, resulting in reduced ability
to provide enough power to start and run the vehicle. Newer batteries can withstand
colder temperatures a bit better, but a battery three years old –– or older –– needs
a bit more attention. You can get older batteries checked for liquid levels, as they
are critical in generating the current. Lower levels of water in the battery will
freeze and expand to cause irreparable damage. Colder weather also makes metal contract,
so making sure that terminals are clean and tight helps to ensure better connections.
Other minor things that might help your car run better include cleaning snow out so
the ventilation is not blocked resulting in overheating under the hood, and making
sure antifreeze fluids are topped. If you have electric car batteries, their charge
temporarily will reduce significantly under cold weather conditions while operating
interior heaters. Make sure the battery is fully charged to withstand the cold weather,
so you are not stranded by the road.
Why college shouldn’t be seen as a consumer good, but a transformative process
Feb. 6, 2021
President S. Georgia Nugent explains in Business Insider
The pandemic’s effect on romantic relationships
Feb. 5, 2021
Chair and Associate Professor of Psychology Amanda Vicary
Q: As we approach Valentine's Day, can you apply your expertise regarding attachment
theory and romantic relationships to evaluate some of the ways in which the COVID-19
pandemic may be impacting romantic relationships?
A: For people with an anxious attachment orientation to their partners, the COVID-19
pandemic is likely leading to increased problems in their relationships. People who
are highly anxious in this way tend to want to be with their partner frequently, need
constant assurance, etc. If, due to social distancing, they can't see their partner
as much as they're used to, this could create problems. For individuals who are more
avoidantly attached, the pandemic could be a benefit, as highly avoidant individuals
tend to be fine having their own space and don't need the constant physical or emotional
connectedness with their partners.
GameStop stock surge evokes Panic of 1907
– Assistant Professor of Accounting & Financial Services Jaime Peters
Jan. 29, 2021
Q: As lawmakers announce hearings on short selling and online trading platforms following
the GameStop trading freeze, what are some potential implications for Wall Street?
Have we ever seen anything like this before?
A: The short answer is yes — we have seen this before. It was called the Panic of
1907, and instead of video games/Tootsie Rolls/department stores/movie theaters it
was copper. The government stepped in then, and in an attempt to avoid more regulation
the brokers are stepping in now. Short-selling is not evil, but has limited upside
and unlimited downside — we are seeing the worst of what can happen now. It won't
be just the hedge funds that this short squeeze will hurt. Unsophisticated or naive
investors are buying right now, and in the end the air will be let out and we will
see these companies trade for more rational values — causing people to lose a lot
Pets in the White House can bring less stress, better decision-making
Jan. 26, 2021
Associate Professor of Psychology Ellen Furlong explains in The Conversation why newly minted first dogs Champ and Major are poised to offer special benefits
to workers in the White House:
Having Champ and Major in the White House may help President Biden and his staff navigate
the stresses and tensions of the current political landscape. Beyond “indogurations,”
tweets and cute photo ops, Champ and Major will offer physical, psychological and
social benefits in the Oval Office. Read the complete story (published under Creative Commons, enabling media to republish based on simple guidelines).
— Illinois Wesleyan University Associate Professor of Psychology Ellen Furlong
Why Biden calls climate change a 'national security' and 'foreign policy' priority
— Professor of Environmental and International Studies Abigail Jahiel
Jan. 31, 2021
Q: As President Biden signed a series of executive orders designed to address climate
change this week, officials said climate change under President Biden's plan will
become both a "national security" and "foreign policy" priority. Why is aligning national
climate policy with matters of “national security” and “foreign policy” significant?
A: The national security of the United States has traditionally been viewed as dependent
upon a strong military, and more recently, as necessitating superior intelligence
and cybersecurity capabilities to protect the country from conflict. Yet attacks,
whether physical or in the cybersphere, are not the only factors that threaten the
security of a nation nor, one might argue, the most significant threat today. The
security and prosperity of a nation and its citizens rests upon the global ecosystem
and its ability to support the Earth’s inhabitants.
Climate change poses an existential threat to this stability. Increasing temperatures,
extreme weather events, droughts, fires, floods, melting glaciers, acidifying oceans
and rising sea level destabilize societies both physically and financially. Homes
and infrastructure are demolished; croplands are destroyed; fish stocks are reduced;
coastal zones are lost to the sea; and people are uprooted and forced to migrate.
As climate change advances, conditions for the development of new pathogens and new
pandemics rise, too. Amidst this all, the toll to the economy grows greater and greater.
What sounds like science fiction is the reality we already face to differing degrees
in various parts of the planet today. Last year in the United States alone, weather-related
disasters and record-breaking fires cost the U.S. economy an unprecedented $95 billion. Here in the Midwest, the exceedingly unusual derecho that touched down hit the corn and soybean economy especially hard.
Superior U.S. military, intelligence and cybersecurity capabilities cannot protect
against climate change; but climate change can exacerbate and increase conflicts and
further destabilize societies.
President Biden’s announcement that climate change policy will be addressed as a national
security and foreign policy priority is thus significant for two key reasons: (1)
It elevates the importance of climate change policy, signaling to the American public
that action on climate change is essential for our national security; and (2) it sends
a clear message to the rest of the world that the United States is rejoining the global community of nations in its commitment to the Paris Agreement,
reversing the go-it-alone foreign policy that characterized the previous administration.
Climate change is a global issue whose worst impacts can only be avoided if all nations
work together to make significant changes. As one of the richest and most powerful
nations in the world and the second largest contributor to climate change pollution,
what the U.S. does makes a difference. By strategically integrating its climate change
policy with its national security and foreign policies, the United States will be
in a stronger position to demonstrate leadership in the global community as we work
to tackle our common problems.
Political polarization and divided government
— Professor of Political Science Greg Shaw
Jan. 22, 2021
Q: We often hear about polarization in general and divided government in particular
interfering with the business of getting legislation passed through Congress. Has
polarized rhetoric and divided government actually resulted in reduced legislative
productivity? Will productivity increase with unified control of the White House and
A: It's a reasonable question, as, based on the amount of partisan drama ordinary
citizens and journalists see, casual observers might think that all members of Congress
do is fight each other and obstruct the process. However, on closer inspection the
evidence shows something different, that Congress produces nearly the same number
of significant pieces of legislation during divided as during unified government.
While we're going into a period of unified government, the razor-thin majorities that
the Democrats control might display some of the qualities of divided government, even
though, strictly speaking, it's not.
So, one might fruitfully ask what the prospects are both for the ordinary flow of
executive nominations, routine legislation, and big projects, such as immigration
and climate change. (Whether these things occur during the first 100 days is not so
important, as the effects of policy changes play out over years, not months.) The
routine stuff will, in all likelihood, proceed more or less like normal. Several of
the big projects will also likely advance, even if not according to Biden's playbook.
Strategic obstructionism will occur on some level, but it doesn't usually bring the
workings of the federal government to a grinding halt.
Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb” and the power of poetry to help
— Professor and Chair of English Joanne Diaz
Jan. 22, 2021
Q: During the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, poet Amanda Gorman recited
“The Hill We Climb,” becoming the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. From your perspective, how
did Gorman successfully blend the art of poetry with social engagement — and hope
— during a challenging and divisive time in our nation’s history?
A: You mention social engagement, and that is something that caught my attention right
away with this poem. I love how Amanda Gorman speaks with a collective voice—a we.
From the very first line, I feel welcomed and included right away, and I suspect that
millions of others did, too, based on the wildly enthusiastic responses that I’m seeing
on social media and in the news.
But right away, the poem also presents problems, too—Gorman alludes to catastrophe,
to grief, to exhaustion. It seems like our nation has so many insurmountable problems
that we might never find light in our “never-ending shade.” That’s terrifying.
And yet, she manages to find the answer. In her wisdom, Gorman suggests that we’re
looking for the wrong thing. Instead of trying to a “polished, pristine” nation, we
should try to “forge a union with purpose.” That forging requires hard labor, and
it’s unrelenting. But that’s what is required of us as Americans. The poem calls for
bridges instead of blades, for reconciliation and recovery, for a bravery that allows
us to create the changes our nation needs so desperately.
Notice how, towards the end of the poem, Gorman uses the future tense multiple times.
We will…we will…we will. That is the language of prophecy; it’s also the language
of promise. And that’s what the poetics of engagement is.
The word “engage” comes from the French engager—to make a pledge. A poetics of engagement,
then, is a kind of promise—to the reader and to the writer. It’s a binding, a relationship,
an agreement to undertake something, a moral obligation. That’s why I love Amanda
Gorman’s poem so much—the stakes are high, and she knows it.
Q: How can poetry continue to help us heal as a nation?
A: This is a very exciting moment in contemporary American poetry. Poetry is everywhere—on
Instagram, on YouTube, on subway cars in New York City, and in podcasts like Tracy
Smith’s The Slowdown and the Poetry Foundation’s Vs. with Danez Smith and Franny Choi.
Joy Harjo, a brilliant poet of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, is our U.S. Poet Laureate,
and she just edited a magnificent collection of native nations poetry called When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through. Kevin Young, a magnificent poet in his own right, is also the poetry editor of the
New Yorker magazine and has just published an anthology titled African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song.
So many organizations and publishers, including the Academy of American Poets, have
email subscriptions services where you can sign up, free of charge, to receive a poem
in your email inbox every day, and the poems are always so inspiring to me.
Centuries ago, Pliny the Elder wrote “Nulla dies sine linea”—never a day without lines.
What if every American resolved to start each day with just a few lines of poetry?
With these and many other resources at our disposal, I suspect that we could, and
The politicization of conspiracy theories
— R. Forrest Colwell Endowed Chair and Professor of English James Plath
Jan. 22, 2021
Q: What conditions have allowed conspiracy theories to evolve into politicized weapons?
A: There have always been conspiracy theories, but I think the politicization really
began in the 1960s. During the 10 months it took the Warren Commission to conclude
that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone in assassinating President Kennedy, a still
stunned and grieving public became convinced that something so heinous had to be the
work of more than a single actor. This was still near the height of the Cold War,
and so suspicions of Russian involvement were understandable.
Since then, I think conspiracy theories have proliferated and flourished precisely
because the Cold War ended and suddenly American fears and paranoia had no focal point.
The Soviet Union was dissolved and was no longer the Great Satan. Anticipating that,
novelist Ian Fleming introduced a fictional sinister evil international organization
called SPECTRE that, while not a nation, was just as secretive and conspiratorial
as Russia. SPECTRE, I would argue, could well be the inspiration for the idea of there
being a "Deep State" that’s equally dark, secretive, sinister and vast.
Before President Trump, conspiracy theories were fringe thought, but Trump gave them
legitimacy. According to numerous media fact-checkers, he retweeted/promoted at least
20 such theories—all of them debunked. In addition, by branding Democrats the “enemy
of the people” he shifted the Cold War paranoia from an external enemy to an internal
one, further exacerbating the political divide in the U.S. and creating an atmosphere
conducive to the radicalization of conspiracy thinking.
Conspiracy thinking flourishes in an atmosphere where two differing sides see themselves
as right vs. wrong, as good vs. evil, and that’s where we’re at now. No amount of
facts can persuade someone who has already embraced conspiratorial thinking.
Q: With a new presidential administration in place, how do you expect politicized
conspiracy theories to evolve in the coming year(s)?
A: Hatred, fear, and paranoia fuel conspiracy theories, and those feelings aren’t
disappearing any time soon just because a new administration is in power. Though they’ve
called themselves “entertainers” rather than journalists, commentators who make millions
every year by feeding exaggerations and outright untruths to their audiences are not
going to suddenly stop doing so. America is still as deeply polarized as ever.
All the conditions for conspiracy theories to thrive still exist, and what’s more,
they’ve been proven to be effective political weapons.
Conspiracy theories are like rumors: usually they begin with one person or one source
and they snowball from there. According to a 2013 poll, 12 million Americans believe
that lizard aliens are secretly controlling top politicians and running the country,
and that belief can be traced to a 1984-85 fictional TV series, V.
Likewise, the whole Clinton Body Count theory can be traced back to a quasi-documentary
film made by right-wing commentator Larry Nichols that was as fictional as V. But those theories contributed to the demonization of Hillary Clinton and helped
to bring about her defeat in 2016, just as accounts published in book form to counteract
John Kerry’s war heroism helped to sink his presidential hopes and brought a new word
into our lexicon: “swiftboating.”
Now you have Donald Trump Jr.’s conspiracy-minded book Triggered that was bought and distributed with Republican funds, so conspiracy theories have
become not only institutionalized but effective weapons in an ever-expanding propaganda
war between Democrats and Republicans.