For nearly a year between 2014 and 2015, Navy pilots training over the Atlantic Ocean encountered unidentified flying objects that appeared to have capabilities beyond the means of earthly technology. Video from the fighter jet cameras "showed objects accelerating to hypersonic speed, making sudden stops and instantaneous turns — something beyond the physical limits of a human crew," according to The New York Times, which broke the story to great excitement over Memorial Day weekend.
The question now is, which 2020 candidate is going to seize this moment and take up the possible existence of extraterrestrial life as a campaign issue?
To be sure, there is only the remotest chance that little green men have made it to our planet. The Times quotes astrophysicist Leon Golub's significant caveat that the so-called "Roosevelt Incidents" in '14 and '15 could merely be the result of "bugs in the code for the imaging and display systems, atmospheric effects and reflections, [or] neurological overload from multiple inputs during high-speed flight." Writing at Slate, Shannon Palus dismissed the possibility that the Navy pilots' encounters were extraterrestrial, calling the thought "akin to getting a headache, skimming WebMD, then announcing that you might have cancer." BuzzFeed News reporter Rosie Gray deadpanned her own astute observation on Twitter: "Why are the aliens flying around harassing Navy pilots instead of coming down to Earth and conquering us."
It's true that to talk about unidentified flying objects in polite company is to immediately reveal oneself to be a bit "out there," which is not how any of the 2020 candidates are likely hoping to distinguish themselves. The mistake, though, is in assuming that UFO encounters such as those reported by the Times aren't a valid political issue. It was Hillary Clinton — a former secretary of state and the Democratic presidential nominee in the last election cycle — who laid the groundwork for 2020 candidates by refusing to laugh off government reports as pure nonsense. Appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2016, she corrected the host's use of the phrase "UFO" by noting "it's unexplained aerial phenomenon. U.A.P. That's the latest nomenclature." She also vowed that if she became president, she would open up the government's X-files: "If there's nothing there, let's tell people there's nothing there," she said. "If there's something there, unless it's a threat to national security, I think we ought to open it up to the public."
Clinton, while perhaps the highest profile politician to make E.T. an actual campaign issue, is hardly the only one in government to think there's something out there that's worth exploring. Her briefing on the topic had come from her campaign chairman, John Podesta, who for good measure was clarified to be a "well-respected Washington hand" by The New York Times despite his enthusiasm for the X-Files TV show and the fact that he once tweeted that his biggest failure leaving the Obama White House in 2014 was "once again not securing the #disclosure of the UFO files." Harry Reid, the former Democratic Senate majority leader, meanwhile helped secure funding for the mysterious Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, and insisted that "I'm not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going. I think it's one of the good things I did in my congressional service."
UFOs are a bipartisan issue, too: Alaska's Ted Stevens, who was once the longest-serving Republican senator before being surpassed by Orrin Hatch, claimed to have been tailed by an unidentified aircraft for miles while flying transport missions over China in World War II. Then there is President Trump's whole "Space Force" thing.
Christopher Mellon, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence, reacted to the Times' Memorial Day weekend report by telling Fox & Friends "we know that UFOs exist. This is no longer an issue. The issue is why are they here?" (Mellon appears, along with a number of army and intelligence officials who spoke to the Times, in the History Channel's Unidentified: Inside America's UFO Investigation, which begins today).
If any 2020 candidate is poised to make a move on becoming the "second E.T. candidate" after Clinton, though, it's Andrew Yang. The Democratic primary outsider told New Hampshire's Conway Daily Sun — which asks candidates about their belief in government UFO disclosure — that "I'm very curious about UFOs. I have a feeling they probably do exist," Newsweek reports. Clinton in 2008 had expressed similar resolve to the paper, telling them "yes" on the question of UFO disclosure, and adding in 2016 "I think we may have been [visited already]. We don't know for sure." (Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, "had no interest in the UFO question," Newsweek quotes Sun reporter Daymond Steer as saying). With the New Hampshire primary in February next year, more 2020 candidates may soon have an occasion to express their stance on letting the public in on what the government does or does not know.
I personally count myself among the skeptics who are wondering why the aliens are apparently taking joy rides across the Atlantic and not making themselves more useful to earthlings (don't the aliens know we're in the midst of a climate catastrophe and could use their renewable energy intel?). I can't help remembering the un-explosive publication of the JFK files, or the two dozen American diplomats who mysteriously became sick due to a strange sound in Havana, sparking rumors of a "futuristic sonic weapon" built by the Cubans, Russians, or Chinese, only for scientists to conclude the noise was caused by "the singing of a very loud cricket." Our time and money — and potential future leader's attention — should go toward the much more pressing and urgent problems facing our country. Right?
On the other hand, the question of opening the government files on Area 51 et al. is one of simple government transparency, an issue so basic that it might be described as the beating heart of American democracy. Clinton was right: Why not make them public, either to prove there's no "there" there or to change the world by showing government evidence that there might be? While only about half of Americans believe in aliens, a whole lot more probably believe in the generous disclosure of government information, especially if it's not a national security threat. And if it is — if those hypersonic objects over the Atlantic that have reportedly nearly collided with U.S. planes are of earthly origin — then explaining the aerial phenomena couldn't be more pressing and important an issue.
It takes courage, though, to be the first one to stick your neck out and make unidentified flying objects a political talking point. You can practically imagine the Trump tweets about "tin-foil Tulsi" (or whomever) now. Still, unexplainable aerial phenomena are now a mainstream issue and the truth — no matter how mundane it may end up being — is out there.