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A Divided America: What we can learn from the Science & Political Science Community

Episode #17  |  January 6th, 2021
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In This Episode:

As President Trump’s campaign refuses to concede and Georgia votes are being counted, what could bring America back together? On this episode, we travel back in history to Ronald Reagan’s 1987 speech in front of the United Nations, where he pleads for something to unite the world… even something extra-terrestrial. Joining Trish this week is Avi Loeb, Professor of Science at Harvard University, who discusses the search for truth among the scientific community, including those who dismiss differing opinions. Then Matthew Rozsa, staff writer for, returns to highlight the similarities between the 2020 election and the 1876 election, where a deal was struck to overrule the elected president. For more from Trish Regan follow her on twitter @Trish_Regan & visit 


Matthew Rozsa

Political blogger
Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon since 2016. His writing has also appeared in other publications such as The Daily Dot, The Good Men Project. As a doctoral candidate studying history at Lehigh University, Rozsa applies the knowledge base and research skills acquired through his graduate work to the numerous issues discussed in his articles, which have appeared in national media outlets since 2012. In addition to covering politics, Rozsa also writes about American history, social justice causes, popular culture, and the concerns of the high-functioning autistic community.
Avi Loeb headshot

Avi Loeb

Professor of Science at Harvard University
Avi Loeb is the Professor of Science at Harvard University. 


Trish Regan:               [Music plays] America in turmoil. The Republican Party divided. What’s next? Hello everyone. This is American Consequences With Trish Regan. I’m Trish. We have a whole lot of influx right now as I record this podcast. Georgia votes are being counted. Congress is gathering to count the electoral votes on Wednesday, and the Trump campaign, at present, still refusing to concede. It’s all happening at a time when increasingly the Left seems tolerant of only one point of view: whether it’s the New York Post being censored on Twitter for its story, on Hunter Biden just ahead of the election, whether it’s the refusal of academic institutions to acknowledge viewpoints not shared by the majority of politically correct professors, or even when it’s a scientist in the scientific community who may be outside the norm, who has a different view of what could be.

Coming up is a professor of science at Harvard University. He’s going to force us all to suspend disbelief for just a moment and consider possibilities: including the possibility of alien life. Yeah. [Laughs] I’m not kidding. He says he might have the proof. I tell you, if there’s one thing out there that could unite the world at a time like this, it might be the threat of something else. You know, interestingly Ronald Reagan – wonderful, brilliant president in my view – he acknowledged this back in 1987 at the United Nations meeting on Middle East policy goals. I want you to take a listen.


Recorded voice:          In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bound. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien to the universal aspirations of our people than war and the threat of war?


Trish Regan:               You know, it was a really pointed comment. Did you hear the snickers in the background? [Laughs] There were people actually snickering. I mean, he said something that, at the time, people were like, “Whoa. What is he talking about? He’s a crazy man.” Because, you know, if you talk about things like that, you’re a crazy person. It’s a view that is still very much out there today. I mean, whether it’s the professor at Harvard that’s being criticized by many in the scientific community for his view or whether it’s even Rachel Maddow over on MSNBC, you know, who harkens back to how nuts Reagan was for saying such a thing. Listen.


Recorded voice:          Ronald Reagan wishing an alien invasion on Earth because of the kumbaya effect it would have on relations among nations… one of the truly weirdest things he ever said in public.


Trish Regan:               No, it’s not weird. OK? This is her back in 2013. It’s not weird. It’s not weird at all because it’s actually incredibly valuable what he’s trying to say. In other words, it is all of us together. And the threat of war is actually something that very much should unite everyone. Anyway, I bring that up because, fast-forward to 2021, crazy times. Happy New Year, everyone. And I read a really interesting article that I wanted to get to the bottom of. I wanted to talk to the person at the center of this controversy: a professor who has devoted his life to the study of space and the potential for aliens there. Author of the upcoming book, Extraterrestrial. And he says he’s seen some evidence that we should be looking very, very hard at. I’m so happy to have with me right now Professor Avi Loeb – again, from Harvard. Professor Loeb, welcome.


Avi Loeb:                    Thank you for having me.


Trish Regan:               So this is – needless to say – fascinating, fascinating stuff. Tell me about what your conclusion is on this particular object – I guess just walk us through the object as well – that was spotted by scientists.


Avi Loeb:                    Right. So, you know, October 2017, the very first object that came from outside the solar system was spotted near Earth. And we know that it came from outside the solar system because it moves too fast to be bound to the sun. And at first, people thought, “Oh, it’s just a rock,” they said, like all the objects we have seen before within the solar system. And we have seen comets and asteroids flying by. Some of them hit the Earth every now and then, and we see them as meteors.

But this one looked very different. It was tumbling around every eight hours, and its brightness changed by a factor of 10. And that implies, because it reflects the sunlight, it implies it’s at least 10 times longer than it is wide. So it has a very extreme geometry. Most likely pancake-shaped, flat. And moreover, the object exhibited extra push away from the sun – and no cometary trail. There was no trail of gas behind it that could give it a push – the rocket effect. And so, the question was, “What gives it this extra push?”

And we suggested that perhaps it’s the sunlight bouncing off it. You know, just the way that air bounces off the sail in a sailboat, pushes the sailboat. The same thing. If you have an object that is very thin, it can get a push from reflecting light. And if so, then, this could be an artificial object – something produced by another civilization. And we suggested considering this possibility. Of course, this is the very first object we have seen from outside the solar system, and there should be more. And it was moving too fast for us to catch up with it at the time this was discovered from Hawaii. And so, we just have to continue monitoring the sky and look for more of the same.


Trish Regan:               Now, the object was named, I should point out. It was named Oumuamua? Did I get that correct?


Avi Loeb:                    Yes. Oumuamua means “scout” in the Hawaiian language. I actually visited the same mountain where the observatory is. The telescope that discovered this – Pan-STARRS – I visited in July 2017. We were there with my family for a vacation in Maui. And then, at the time in July the object was approaching us, but it was not spotted yet. It was spotted only after it touched by and started moving away from us. And it’s sort of like noticing that there is a strange guest that came to dinner. And by the time you realize that, the guest is already out the front door into the dark street, and you don’t have a chance to check that guest more carefully.

Now, I should say that I would not be surprised if there is life like us on other planets, around other stars. Because, you know, by now, we know about half of the stars that look like the sun have a planet like the Earth at roughly the same distance so that you can have liquid water on the surface on the planet and life as we know it. And if you roll the dice so many times – you know, billions of times just in the Milky Way galaxy, our own galaxy – what’s the chance we’re special and unique? Very small. You know, we have the same circumstances. You will get the same outcome.

And so, I tend to think – you know, out of modesty – I don’t think that we are special or unique. And we should just search for evidence. And then, you know, we used to think we should look for radio signals that come from space. But perhaps also a message in a bottle. You know, when I go on vacation and I walk on the beach, I very often look at seashells that are on the shore and that are all natural, and each of them is different. But every now and then, I stumble across a plastic bottle that was artificially made. And we should be open-minded about it.


Trish Regan:               Sure. Look. You know, it’s important to be open-minded. But, you know, nonetheless you also want to be able to scientifically prove something out. I mean, some of the science community are saying, “No. You know, there’s no way.” How do you respond to that? Because they’re saying, really, this kind of fits the definition of things that we’ve sort of seen before. Maybe it’s a little bit different. But nonetheless, there’s no chance that this is really extraterrestrial in nature. How do you respond to the criticism?


Avi Loeb:                    Well, first of all I think as a scientist you should be guided by the evidence, not by a prejudice. And in my book that is coming out at the end of January – it’s already out for sale – I lay out all the reasons why this object is weird. It’s nothing like we have seen before. And people that try to explain the properties of this object, they all – and they are mainstream astronomers – they all came up with something that we have never seen before. So you cannot on the one hand say, “OK. It must be something natural that we have never seen before,” rather than, “You know, it could be also something artificial.”

We should consider both possibilities. That’s my point. And having a prejudice – you know, if you’re not ready to discover wonderful things, you will never discover them. If you put your head in the sand – you know, you don’t look – you will not find evidence. In the days of Galileo Galilei, he told people, “I believe that the Earth moves around the sun.” And the philosophers of the time, they told him, “No. You know, we see the sun moving in the sky. The sun is moving around the Earth. And we knew that for many years. And our religion is based on that, that we are the center of things.”

And they put him in house arrest. They said, “We don’t want to look through a telescope. We don’t need the evidence. We know what the truth is.” Now, what did that cause? It just maintained their ignorance. The Earth continued to move around the sun. So my point is, reality doesn’t go away if you ignore it. You can say whatever you want. You can have a prejudice, don’t look through telescopes, say that everything that we see in the sky must be rocks. You know? That would be similar to a caveman that saw rocks all of his life.

So you show the caveman a cellphone, and the caveman will interpret the cellphone as a shiny rock. You know? That would be the interpretation. So that’s fine. You can be ignorant all your life. You can decide not to look at evidence, not to collect new data, never to entertain some possibilities. That’s fine. You can keep your ignorance. But I think that as a scientist, we have a duty – if we have the technology to search for such things, let’s collect all the data, all the evidence we can to find out, rather than say, “I know the answer in advance,” and ridicule anyone that discusses that possibility.


Trish Regan:               Listen. You’re preaching to the choir on that because I’m a big believer in searching for truth and listening to many, many different opinions and trying to be as least prejudiced as possible in terms of understanding what’s really going on and understanding all aspects of this and listening to all sides of a story. Now, a lot of people will say, “No. No. This is just a comet.” Is that how they explain this?


Avi Loeb:                    Well, it cannot be a comet because we don’t see the cometary tail. And we looked very carefully for a tail behind it. So at first, people said, “It’s a comet.” And then, they said, “Oh, no. There is no tail.” And then, they looked very hard and searched for a tail, and nothing. And so, they said, “OK. It’s not a comet. It’s an asteroid. It’s a rock without ice on it.” OK. But then, it showed excess push, that there was an extra push. So they said, “Oh. Well, it’s not an asteroid. Maybe we don’t know. Maybe it’s a comet. Maybe it’s an asteroid.”

But some, you know, said, “Let’s just continue business as usual and declare it done.” So that’s what some people said. And then, other people said, “Oh. Let me try and explain it from a natural source.” And then, they came up with like a dust bunny. You know? Something you find at home. You know, a dust bunny that is very posed and perhaps that is pushed by sunlight. So that was one suggestion. Maybe it’s a hydrogen iceberg. You know, something that is made purely of hydrogen that you can’t see. So all of these suggestions are things that we have never seen before.

And I say that if you are willing to entertain possibilities of things that we have never seen before, why insist that they must be natural? Why not consider also the possibility of artificial objects? And then, you know, my point is it’s really unfortunate that the scientific community is not having a healthy dialogue on this subject because the public is extremely interested in this subject. The public is funding science, and then you see scientists shying away from this and working on speculation. You know, like for example, extra dimension, supersymmetry, string theory. These are considered mainstream.

And people still respect it and give each other awards discussing them. There is no experimental evidence for these things. These are pure speculation, some of which are without – like supersymmetry, at least, the simplest versions with a Large Hadron Collider and accelerate… so it’s considered mainstream. Everyone is talking about it because people are doing mathematical gymnastics, impressing each other. But I say, look, physics and science are about understanding nature, not about promoting ourself, our egos. You know, it’s not about showing that we are smart. It’s about figuring out what reality is. And for that, we need to be guided by evidence.”

So all these discussions about extra dimensions, string theory, supersymmetry – these are things that we’ll never observe. The multi-verse, whether we live in a simulation – a lot of these ideas people discuss with each other and feel very highly respected. But these are ideas that have no foundation in reality. And when I talk about other life forms out there, it’s simply because I’m saying conditions on Earth are replicated elsewhere. So the outcome should be the same. Why should we believe that we are special?

And let’s search for it. Let’s collect evidence. We can. We have the technology to do it. I can give you another example. You know, astronomers are putting hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions now, for future observatories, future telescopes that will search for oxygen in the atmospheres of other planets around other stars. And I say, OK, you find – let’s imagine in 10, 20 years you invested billions of dollars. You found evidence for oxygen. Does that tell you conclusively that there is life there? The answer is no because oxygen on Earth for the first 2 billion years did not really fill up atmosphere. There was no oxygen. There were lots of microbes but not much oxygen in the atmosphere.


Trish Regan:               We’re talking right now with Professor Loeb. Professor Avi Loeb from Harvard University. He’s got a brand-new book, just out, soon to hit store shelves – Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth. Really fascinating stuff. So let me ask you this, professor. I mean, we say, OK, conditions for us to live – but who’s to say conditions couldn’t be different for some other kind of life form? I mean, if you’re really going to open up your brain, right, to what could possibly, potentially exist, maybe there’s even an alternative form of life that could exist through different conditions. I mean, does everybody need oxygen?


Avi Loeb:                    No, definitely. You are exactly correct. And, you know, if you look at recipe books that talk about cakes, for example, you can make very different cakes out of the same ingredients. If you mix them differently and heat at different times and so forth. So, you know, the Earth made life the way we see it here out of the soup of chemicals that existed. And you can imagine on other planets that this soup of chemicals is cooked differently. And you get a very different cake. You know? And they’re not only different, but we might not be the sharpest cookie in the jar.


Trish Regan:               [Laughs] Oh, now you’re really getting into dangerous territory.


Avi Loeb:                    So my point is, we should be modest. My starting point is being modest, not assuming that we know everything before we observe through our telescopes. And also, not thinking that we are the center of the universe. And my point about oxygen in the atmosphere, by the way, is that it’s easier for look for industrial pollution. So if you look for industrial pollution, we have the same telescopes astronomers are using. That would be conclusive evidence for life, if we find it. But if we find oxygen, it’s not conclusive. So why, you know – if we already put this money, why not consider those possibilities? That’s my real problem.


Trish Regan:               Do you think, professor, it’s because of fear in some ways? I mean, that people maybe don’t even want to know necessarily?


Avi Loeb:                    It’s quite possible that they prefer not to know because it hurts their ego. You know? Or, if you go back in history, Giordano Bruno was burned on the stake just for saying, suggesting, that other stars are like the sun, and they may have planets like the Earth around them, and there may be life on these planets. The church found it offensive because it means that Jesus should’ve visited those places as well if the preachers there sinned.

The idea that there are many worlds was a problem because, you know, if there are humans somewhere else, then Jesus would’ve visited them as well – Christ. And that poses a problem because… yeah. So what I’m saying is, there are many people that prefer not to consider that possibility. But again, I get back to my point that reality doesn’t go away if you ignore it.


Trish Regan:               Right. And there’s a lot that we don’t know. I mean, who would’ve sad hundreds of years ago I’d be talking to you in this way over a podcast format, and people would be listening from their homes… or that we could talk with our families in the middle of this pandemic via Facetime to visit over the holidays? I mean, there’s just so much technology that still is to be discovered.

So let me ask you this in terms of, you know – if there is something out there, how should we think about it in terms of whether we welcome it, whether it’s a threat, do you think that the government has enough resources in terms of understanding this? Because I know we’ve got a space force now. [Laughs] But if there were something out there, I mean, in some ways – and I think Reagan said this famously in the ’80s at the UN – that would be one thing that would really unite the world, shall we say.


Avi Loeb:                    Yes. I think that is – I think I completely agree with this insight. I didn’t realize that Reagan said that, but I completely agree with that. And then, my point is that it would be best for us to stay silent – not to speak first. I mean, just to hear them out and see what’s out there. So my point of view is, let’s stay observers. Let’s look up and figure out what is out there before we speak. You know? As you say, there are risks. There are potential risks.

And unfortunately, we were not careful. That shows you, again, that we are not very smart. We are not very intelligent. Because for 100 years, we’ve been broadcasting in the radio. And these radio broadcasts reach 100 light years by now. And there is a bubble around us that, you know – if there is another civilization there with radio telescopes, they would be aware that we exist. Now, of course, for them to react to that would take some time. But we might hear from them at some point.


Trish Regan:               What do you mean to react to that would take time? Because you’re talking light years?


Avi Loeb:                    Yeah. The nearest star to us is 4.25 light years away. That’s approximate entirely. So it takes four years and three months for light to travel between that star and us. Only February 2021 – this year – they will hear about the results of the election of 2016. So it takes a huge amount of time just to get to the nearest star for light, which is the fastest thing around. So then, you know, other stars exist at greater distances. So it takes a long time to travel in between stars. And I’m actually chairing an advisory board for a project whose goal is to reach the nearest star within our lifetime. It’s called the Starshot. And for that, one needs a light sail, as I was discussing before.


Trish Regan:               Rachel Maddow from MSNBC actually criticized in 2013 some of Reagan’s comments as one of the weirdest things she’s ever seen. I mean, there is that sort of attitude that and there are people that are going to listen to this and say, OK, we’re nuts for even entertaining it. You know, look, I consider myself a pretty educated person who likes to explore lots of different ideas. You, sir, have devoted your life to this field and have tremendous accomplishments under your belt. But there is sort of that attitude like, “We’re crazy just for even talking about it.”


Avi Loeb:                    Well, I should tell you that I took part in a debate that was organized by IBM and Bloomberg News about whether the space race between the U.S. and China is good for humanity. And all the other debaters were arguing that there is a military threat from the competition in going to space. And I just couldn’t understand it because it’s supposed to bring us together… because, actually, space is about going away from Earth – not staying near Earth. So all the military threats are because of things hovering just above the surface of Earth.

But in fact, space is much bigger. If you go to mars or you go to another star, there is no military threat to Earth. And we can all unite under that ambition. You know? And there is a commercial aspect for the global economy that’s, you know, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are recognizing commercial interest in going to Mars or other places. And so, altogether, I completely agree with Reagan on that. It’s a mission of the human civilization as a whole rather than us fighting each other as we do when we are on the surface of Earth.


Trish Regan:               What do you really think? I mean, this is – again – a field that you have devoted your life to as a scholar. I mean, when you really indulge yourself in terms of what is out there, what’s sort of your gut feeling?


Avi Loeb:                    Oh. My gut feeling is that it’s very weird. As you were saying before, conditions are different in other places and not exactly the same as on Earth. And you can have very different forms of life out there. So I think once we see those creatures, they would look really unusual, very strange. Not like us. You know, when we go on a blind date – when I used to a long time ago – you would imagine the other person similar to you.

That’s what you would imagine when you looked at the mirror. You would think, “Oh. I’ll probably meet someone similar” – but the point is, that’s because we share a common genetic heritage. You know? But if you meet someone that came from another planet, they could be completely different. They have nothing in common with us. And moreover, you’re dealing with technologies. You know, technologies of the future. We have our technologies, as you were saying, just developed over the past century. And they are exponentially improving over a few years’ time scale. So, you know, just over the past decade, so much has happened.

And think about going a century into the future or a millennium into the future or a million years into the future or a billion years. You know, we would never recognize that technology. So if we were to meet technology of a civilization that lasted much longer than we as a technological civilization… it would be like magic for us. It would be like an approximation to God. You know, this technology – we wouldn’t be able to fully understand it. It would look very weird. So my point is, we can learn from an encounter – you know, we can learn new things. If you see something unusual in the sky, you can in principle change the way you act here on Earth.


Trish Regan:               So you believe there is, for sure, something else out there. Do you feel like the government is committed enough to this research, or are they just sort of going through the motions?


Avi Loeb:                    I think there are federal agencies that support science. There have been committees that are made of scientists that decide how to allocate the funds. And, you know, they are doing their job. The federal agencies are doing an excellent job – like the National Science Foundation or NASA. The problem is really with the scientific community that is not open-minded enough to entertain these possibilities of searching for intelligent life.

And, you know, I find that the situation is not healthy because this is a subject that the public cares about, that the scientists have the technology to explore, and there is a taboo on discussing it rather than surfing on this wave of interest that the public has. And why not? You know? And this is exciting. Everyone wants to know the answer. We have the technology to search, why don’t we do that? Now of course, if you are not open to finding wonderful things, you will never discover them.


Trish Regan:               It surprises me in some ways that the scientific community is like that, though, because you would think people with that kind of educational background are really, you know, trying to open their minds to new things. Sometimes it surprises me in general, right, how close-minded we can all be. Because, again, we don’t know. And if you have the ability and the technology to maybe learn more… maybe you just reaffirm that we don’t know. Maybe you can reaffirm that there’s nothing out there, or maybe you discover something else. But the point is, why not at least do the proper research to get to some answers?


Avi Loeb:                    Exactly. And I find that surprising as well. But the only reason that the two of us are speaking – you know, that I get a lot of media attention – is simply because my colleagues are not agreeing with me. You know, if everyone would agree with me on this rather obvious thing, that I don’t see any [laughs] issue for arguing about, then I would not look any different than anyone else, and we would get to business and do the right thing. But the only reason, you know, I look unusual is because – for some reason – the message doesn’t get through to my colleagues.


Trish Regan:               Does it ever make you uncomfortable? I mean, look, you’re a professor at Harvard, and that’s a tremendous feather in your cap. But do you ever feel like, OK, I’m the one scientist who’s pushing for something that everybody else really disagrees with, and I’m like the outlier here?


Avi Loeb:                    The way I approach it is, early-on when I was – I grew up in Israel. And I served in the military. That’s obligatory there. And there is a saying among the soldiers that, you know, every now and then when you go into a battle, sometimes you have to put your body on the barbed wire so that other soldiers can go across and get across. And that’s the way I feel. You know, it’s not a pleasant experience.

You know, I have to hear insults from people that are not looking at the scientific data that I’m talking about. I’m trying to speak about the facts. Instead of them replying to, you know – scientifically, they make all kinds of comments. That’s just like putting your body on a barbed wire. So perhaps something will change in the next generation. That’s my hope of young scientists. They will not be biased. They will not have the prejudice. Perhaps they will pursue this, and then it would look natural. So I’m sort of a mediator allowing them to do that.


Trish Regan:               It’s pretty courageous of you to do that. And I encourage everybody to read your book, Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth by Professor Avi Loeb. Really fascinating, fascinating stuff. And I realize it’s requiring people to kind of think outside of themselves and go to a place that some people are not so comfortable with. But you know what? That’s part of the beauty of having this human brain. We’re able to kind of stretch it in new ways. And thank you for what you’re doing and the research that you’re doing. And, professor, I hope you come back. I want to talk about this more.


Avi Loeb:                    Thank you so much for having me, and I’d be delighted. Anytime. [Music plays and stops]


Trish Regan:               So the Electoral College is meeting and voting, and Congress if very involved in this. You got 20 U.S. senators that now say they’re not going to oppose this. But you’ve got – let’s see – at this point, we’ve got 12. Josh Hawley was the first to come out. Now Ted Cruz leading 10 other senators saying, you know, they have questions, and they want answers. And they want to take our time. And they’re saying, OK, we need a little time to resolve this, to figure out what really went down – 10 days or so. But it doesn’t really look like that will happen. So you’re setting the stage, really, for some more friction.

You know, this happened once before, actually: 1877. And it was the Republicans and the Democrats that had to come to a deal at the time because it looked at that time like the southern Democrat, Tilden, was going to win. And before you knew it, things had been negotiated in some kind of backroom deal, and it turned around. We got the Compromise 1877. And President Hayes is the one who went down in history for the United States of America’s president at that time. I’m joined by somebody who is quite a student of history. He’s a writer at Matthew Rozsa, it’s good to have you back on the show. Welcome.


Matthew Rozsa:          It’s good to be here. Happy New Year.


Trish Regan:               Happy New Year. All right. So let’s go back to 1877, something I’d like to do as a student of history. And let’s talk about what kind of deal they struck at the time because it really looked like Tilden had won the thing.


Matthew Rozsa:          Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. The candidates were Rutherford Hayes as the Republican and Samuel Tilden as the Democrat. And I actually wrote an article for Salon in November talking about how there are a lot of eerie, superficial similarities between 1876 and 2020 elections. I mean, even in the names. You know, you have the monosyllabic Rutherford Hayes and Donald Trump. You have the bi-syllabic Tilden and Biden.

You have the fact that there was an unprecedented high voter turnout: The 1876 election had the highest voter turnout among eligible voters in history, and the 2020 election had the highest turnout in 120 years. But in terms of what happened, during the election itself – at this point in time – there were still federal troops in the south engaged in reconstruction policies, which were efforts to bring about racial justice in the states that had previously had slavery. And as a result, there was controversy in the states of South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana over the results.

And basically, what happened is there were corrupt Republican Party officials who were engaged in voter fraud, and you had the Democrats who at that time were a viciously racist party who suppressed African American voters. This was the era that saw the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. And eventually, it boiled down to a situation where those three state’s electoral votes would wind up deciding who would win the election. And to make a very, very long and complicated story short, it looked like Hayes was going to win. It looked like Hayes had legal mechanisms in place to ensure that he would be the victor.

But southern Democrats were threatening to start another civil war. It’s important to remember that this was less than 20 years after the outbreak of the first civil war. And so, this was a very real threat. And so, the way that Republicans resolved it was by essentially through the Compromise of 1877 – trading Samuel Tilden’s presidential ambitions for allowing white southerners to continue to oppress African Americans for generations to come. I mean, the Compromise of 1877, for lack of a better way of putting it, sold out millions of people to a lifetime of horrible injustice just so that Rutherford Hayes could rise to the presidency.


Trish Regan:               Not ideal in any way, shape, or form because what followed was really just a horrible time for black Americans in the south. Although, I shudder to think what it might’ve been like had Hayes not been there because you might’ve then had a Tilden situation where it could’ve been even perhaps more severe, right?


Matthew Rozsa:          I mean, that’s a hypothetical scenario that’s really hard to predict. Certainly Tilden and the Democrats were racist. So I would imagine. Honestly, I don’t think it would’ve been any better or worse. I think it was essentially Republicans at that time deciding that they were going to place winning that particular election over their deeper principles.


Trish Regan:               And Hayes was an abolitionist himself, right, who had actually fought some legal battles on behalf of black Americans and was very anti-slavery.


Matthew Rozsa:          Hayes was earlier in his life. By the time the 1876 election, I would argue, clearly, he had abandoned those principles in the name of rising to power.


Trish Regan:               I want to go back to the similarities between today and back then. Because at the time, they were setting up sort of, you know, simultaneous governments, right? I mean, you had those states that you mentioned that were very much in question. And they were like, OK, well, we don’t agree with these results. Therefore, we’re going to set up effectively an opposition government or the government that we recognize as true.


Matthew Rozsa:          Samuel Tilden, unlike Donald Trump, made a point of saying that he would ultimately abide by the results that were established through the courts and through the legislature. And I do think that is a crucial distinction. It is one that I had made in my articles – that in 1876, both sides were wrong. Both sides did terrible things. In 2020, this is a situation where one side is wrong, and the other side is right. I’m not saying Joe Biden is a saint. I’m not saying he is above criticism. But Biden won the election fair and square. Trump made it clear as far back as 2016 that he would not accept any election results unless he was the winner. And so, everything we’re seeing right now is just the product of one person not wanting to accept the voters’ verdict.


Trish Regan:               When we look at Louisiana in 1876, you had all these unofficial tallies that basically said Tilden had carried the state by over 6,000 votes. And then suddenly, you had this Republican-controlled board rejecting the votes from a whole bunch of the counties or areas. And they came in rejecting 15,000 votes, 13,000 of which were for Tilden. They said it was fraud. They said it was voter intimidation. They said that there were stuffed ballot boxes.

And so, as a result, Hayes won Louisiana’s eight electoral votes while Packard – who was running for governor – won the election for the Governor of Louisiana. And what did the Democrats do? They decided to institute a rival state government saying, “No. No. No. Tilden’s won.” They’re saying, “Our guy got it.” And you saw similar things. By the way, both sides are guilty of this, right? Everybody’s putting in their rival state governments. And this is, I assume, why you say there was the threat of returning to a civil war type of scenario just 10 years after we had already gone through it.


Matthew Rozsa:          Exactly. And I would say that the key point is that in 1876, both parties made racist decisions. Both parties made anti-democratic – small D-cratic – decisions. Both parties essentially flouted the Constitution’s most fundamental ideal because they wanted to rise in power. And it just so happened that the party which ultimately prevailed in the presidential contest was the Republican Party. In 2020, this was a fair and legitimate election in which one side is being a sore loser.


Trish Regan:               But what is your fear now? Because in some ways, I think this is sort of overblown. I mean, maybe I’m just being naïve because I think that January 20 is going to come, and it’s going to be fine. And I do think that a lot of Republicans are going to do some soul-searching, and they’re going to look to really try and find a way to lead this party going forward. I do think Donald Trump will be part of that.

I think that a lot of the policies that he pushed for and a lot of the ideals that he pushed for are rooted in trying to help the average American worker. And those are values that will be consistent – need to be consistent, really, for the future health of the economy, the future health of this country. But then, you’ve got the, you know, Washington Post coming out with all the defense secretaries that are alive now saying, “You know, he can’t steal this.” I mean, to me, it seems a little bit overblown. Your thoughts?


Matthew Rozsa:          I don’t think it’s overblown. I certainly hope it’s overblown. To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park, “I definitely want to be wrong about this.” But the reality is, he was recorded calling Georgia’s secretary of state asking for him to find enough votes to swing that election. He has exerted pressure on political leaders in Arizona, in Pennsylvania, in Michigan. He has lost every single court case where he has alleged fraud, and yet he continues to push forward. The reality is, I am concerned. I believe there is a legitimate possibility, a legitimate threat, that Trump – when the Congress certifies the Electoral College results – is going to continue to not accept them, is going to foment resistance and perhaps even violence.


Trish Regan:               Whether he – I mean, he can not accept them. Does it really matter, Matthew? I mean, at some point, the law of the land – whatever the court is – makes the decision. And, you know, he may not accept them. There may be some political strategy, too, behind that. Also, he would argue that that was misinterpreted, the call. We don’t need to get into that. But that’s sort of the defense of that. So he goes on. He rallies the troops, so to speak – not literally. I want to be careful what I’m saying [laughs]. But you have a party that very much is about sort of the MAGA-movement that lives on but is not, you know, sending us into crazy land, civil war-type territory.


Matthew Rozsa:          I certainly hope not. I certainly hope that Trump will do the right thing. But I’ll be honest. If he was going to do the right thing, he would’ve conceded after the election was called for Biden. Like, this is not like – you know, the 1876 election where both sides engaged in voter fraud. There was widespread cheating. And so, like I said. There were no good guys in that election. Hayes, Tilden both did terrible things. Their supporters both did terrible things. I am not the biggest fan of Biden, but he won this election fair and square. Trump has failed to produce any evidence of voter fraud on any kind of large scale, much less on a large enough scale to change the outcome of the election. And yet, he is still pushing this. If Trump was inclined to do the right thing, he would’ve done so two months ago.


Trish Regan:               But he’s one man. Do you really think that that actually can unravel an entire system?


Matthew Rozsa:          I hope not. I wish I could be more certain. I really hope not. I hope that – I mean, I will say this. And this is something that I find encouraging. The Supreme Court, when they refused to hear the Texas-led lawsuit, made it clear that all of the judges felt that the claims were without merit. Trump has lost roughly 60 legal cases, roughly 90 judges appointed from both parties. Many of them appointed by Trump himself have ruled against him. And I would point to that as proof that the system works, that even people who are pro-Trump and who are pro-Republican who most likely voted for Trump, who most likely wanted him to win, ultimately upheld the rule of law. And that does encourage me. That does give me faith because it shows that we are a nation of laws, not of individual leaders.


Trish Regan:               I was really stunned back in 2017, it would’ve been, when we were moving into the Electoral College phase. And you had so many Democrats standing up and saying, “No.” And there was the whole, “not my president” movement. It’s like nobody was willing to give him a chance from the get-go, right? So you had – whether it was Republican… forgive me, Democrat Constitutional leaders out there refusing to recognize him or whether it was them leading a charge, “not my president,” and then the Russia stuff that followed, it was like our country got kind of broken back then.


Matthew Rozsa:          I will say there is one crucial difference, which is that Hillary Clinton did concede on the day after the election.


Trish Regan:               It’s like she regretted it because then it was constantly, “Oh. Well, he stole the election with the help of the Russians. I mean, Biden was saying that even on the campaign trail this summer – “He stole the election.” Like, wow, that’s a really big charge to just kind of throw out there, guys. But there was that kind of language that was just thrown around.


Matthew Rozsa:          I think the 2016 election is complicated because, having read the Mueller report, there are a lot of unsavory ties, shall we say, between Trump’s team and Russian officials. At the same time, I would also say I think Clinton ran a very poor campaign. I think she did not pay enough attention to crucial swing states, including my own home state of Pennsylvania. And she politically paid for those mistakes. And the reality is, I feel like the Trump-Russia scandal does to a degree need to be decoupled from the outcome of the 2016 election because Hillary Clinton lost that election. And Trump does have connections to Russia. Those two things can be true at the same time.


Trish Regan:               Yeah. I mean, I would also point that in the Mueller report – I mean, the Russians, it was like nobody knew who was on first. They didn’t even know who to call to congratulate him when he won. Hope Hicks got, you know, an e-mail saying, Vladimir Putin would like to congratulate the new president. And she’s, you know, saying, oh, my gosh, like, who do I put him in touch with? It wasn’t like they had them on speed dial. And that one meeting – and we don’t need to go down this rabbit hole. But that one meeting that Flynn – forgive me, Sessions had was just kind of like a meet-and-greet with the then Russian ambassador.

So a lot got made of that in ways that I think were really unhealthy. I look back at it, and I kind of feel like if I’m Vladimir Putin, I’m sitting there going, uh-huh, uh-huh, this is kind of great because I’ve got the mainstream media running with this story. I’ve got the Democrats running with this story, and nobody’s trusting the results of this election. They’re saying that – and by the way, Hillary Clinton said after the fact that Donald Trump stole it with the help of the Russians. Joe Biden was saying this when he was running last summer. “Oh, Donald Trump stole it.” And that’s kind of – if I’m Putin, I’m thinking, great…. because now, Americans don’t trust the system. But my point is, that started back in 2016 and 2017, and we’re almost seeing the fruits of that coming to life right now.


Matthew Rozsa:          And I will say – and this is a point where I think we will agree – we also need to be careful to not vilify Russia too much to not seem like we’re just using a cop-out as a country and just blaming everything on Russia. We also need to make it clear – because I interviewed Michael McCall a few years ago, Obama’s former ambassador to Russia. I’ve interviewed Bill Browder, a whistleblower who’s been targeted by Putin… We need to remember that Putin is kind of pathetic in a way. Like, Putin is not the leader of a superpower. He is a despot in a country that has fallen from its superpower status and has been falling for a very long time. And what he likes to do is occasionally poke other countries in the eye to feel better about himself. So I agree that we need to, you know, take a step back and realize Putin does not secretly control the world. Putin is – like I said, he is nowhere near as powerful as Stalin was, nowhere near as powerful as Khrushchev was.


Trish Regan:               No. There’s nostalgia there. I would argue, you know, Putin would like to be more powerful. Putin would like to see Russia – and there are many Russians that would like to see Russia re-emerge on the international stage in a really big way. But they just don’t have, frankly, the economy to be able to do that. China does, though.


Matthew Rozsa:          Oh, yes. I absolutely consider China to be far more powerful than Russia. But to go back to the earlier point about the 1876 election, the thing I do find intriguing about that – and I do want to add this on a hopeful note – we didn’t go into a civil war in 1877. We didn’t have a second civil war. We didn’t ultimately dissolve into a series of independent states. Like, we did survive that. And I am – if you force me to predict what I think will happen, I think Trump is going to throw a giant temper tantrum and then be shown the door, which will be very embarrassing. But I don’t think it’ll be the end of Democracy.


Trish Regan:               No. Listen. I would agree with you on that. And I would say it won’t… I mean, yes. For some people, it would be embarrassing. I think for him, it will be a way to rally support. I think there are a lot of people that feel – just as there were a lot of people felt that the election was stolen from Hillary Clinton, I know you’re not one of them, Matthew. But I know people [laughs] that feel that the election was downright stolen by the Russians and Donald Trump from Hillary Clinton. And you’re going to have a similar contingency on the Right that really believes that this was stolen from Donald Trump. And so, that will serve – I suspect – as a political base going forward. And I’m not saying that’s entirely unhealthy. I look at what has to happen, and I think this is one thing that – you and I obviously have very different views.

We have a very different sense of what we would like for the economy. I’m a capitalist, you’re a socialist. But nonetheless, I think where we do come out is that we both know that the foundation and success of America is rooted in a very strong middle class. And however we get there, I think that that’s healthy. So the MAGA-movement has a lot of really great attributes to it in that it wants to see the success of the American worker. And I think, you know, regardless of Left or Right, that’s something that should be pretty intrinsic to what all of us want.


Matthew Rozsa:          I absolutely agree there. I think we all want – all decent people want to get rid of poverty, all decent people want everyone to have the opportunity to make the most of their God-given potential. I think in terms of what should happen when Biden is president… I hope that certainly Congress will work with Biden in terms of dealing with the pandemic and making sure that we have a complete economic recovery. And as to the MAGA-movement going forward, if Trump really cares about his voters and really cares about the people who supported him, he will work with Biden to make sure that we beat the pandemic, to make sure that we have an economic recovery. And part of that will require him to stop challenging the election results. I mean, we are roughly two weeks away-


Trish Regan:               Time is running out. We’re coming up on the 20th pretty quick. What’s your prediction? Does he go to the inauguration or not?


Matthew Rozsa:          Oh, I don’t think so. I think he’s going to pull a John Adams. John Adams famously did not attend Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration. However, I also hope he pulls a John Adams because Adams famously did accept that Jefferson won. And if Trump wants to go out petulantly, so be it. But he needs to go out.


Trish Regan:               I like the historical reference. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewRozsa. You can read all of his work there at Matthew, I always appreciate talking to you. Thank you for your patience and thank you for all your insight.


Matthew Rozsa:          Thank you for having me on. It was a pleasure as always. [Music plays and stops]


Trish Regan:               So thank you so much to my guests today, to Professor Avi Loeb, to Matthew Rozsa. I think that we’re in a really critical, important time. I do believe that there’s a lot we don’t know. There’s a lot we don’t know about everything that’s out there. And it’s important for every single one of us to keep an open mind, to respect each other, to respect each other’s opinions. I mean, isn’t that part of what life is? And whether you’re talking about the scientific community or whether you’re talking about the political science community, whether you’re talking about politics, it’s just critical that we all respect one another, respect each other’s intellect, and really have a commonality amongst us for seeking the best opportunities for America and for the world going forward.

Which is why I really do believe that you need a strong middle class to have a strong, successful society. And I think there are a lot of policies within the capitalist framework that will continue to work on behalf of America and Americans. And we need to put that front and center, right now, as we approach this new year in 2021. I want to thank you all for listening. You can catch more of me every day on Trish Intel, my daily podcast. You can catch more of my writing on as well as And I look forward to seeing you right back here next week.


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