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    Ann Rostow: Where No One Has Gone Before

    1-Ann_RostowBy Ann Rostow

    Where No One Has Gone Before

    I no longer wake up in surreal shock. In some ways, I suppose I’ve accepted the fact that Donald Trump has won the election. But I haven’t recovered by a long shot. I no longer can stomach the “Morning Joe” panels, with their smug, simplistic political blather. I no longer enjoy watching fictional TV shows about the White House. Shows like West Wing, Scandal, Madame Secretary, Designated Survivor. Oh, yes, I still watch them. But the fictional presidents, whether Republican or Democratic, are invariably thoughtful and strategic. It makes me sad to see them now. The very definition of “President” has shifted in our collective imaginations.

    I’ve retreated into Star Trek reruns, always a favorite but becoming a habit. Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, Enterprise—I’ve found an obscure cable channel (Heroes and Icons) that provides a fix of all four (and also repeats old episodes of Xena). The world of Star Trek is principled, utopian, admirable. Star Trek captains care about people and all life forms. They are good Samaritans, valiant explorers, and brave soldiers when necessary. What’s right and good prevails on Star Trek, and what’s evil and destructive is vanquished. I need these life-affirming concepts on these winter evenings, along with a cozy couch, a stiff drink, a wife, a couple of pugs and a cat.

    I exaggerate my new TV habits only slightly, but it’s true that I can only ingest a limited amount of actual news these days. There’s been a fair amount of crying mea culpa from the mainstream media, and yet they continue to fixate on tweets and shiny objects. Monday’s lead story online, for example, involved numerous headlines about something mean Trump said about Meryl Streep. No wonder the man tweets! He appears to have total mind control over the assignment editors throughout this country’s news organizations.

    As for fake news, I’ve encountered as much fake news from the left as I have from the right, in part because like many people, I’ve created a liberal news bubble for myself, so whatever fake news I get is likely to be left leaning. (For the record, Donald Trump does not have a crazy extra “X” chromosome. The notation “YXX” on his selective service form refers to his draft status, which is routinely given through a code with the letters X, Y, and Z. Nor does the draft board conduct gene tests in the first place.)

    All I can say is, thank God for Rachel.

    There They Go Again

    I didn’t intend to turn my intro into a self-pitying little rant, but there it is. The moving finger wrote and now moves on.

    Since last we communicated, the North Carolina legislature pledged to repeal the notorious anti-trans HB2, but promptly went back on their word and left it in place. Now we herald the beginning of new legislative sessions around the country, including the new session in Texas where lawmakers meet for three months every other year. Hey, it’s only the second largest state on the continent. Who needs government?

    Texas is one of several states that has decided to introduce its own version of HB2, and let me say that I have some hope this bill will be killed by the saner Republicans in the state house. Republicans have supermajorities in the Lone Star State, but the house majority is mitigated by a bunch of conservatives, led by the Speaker, who are less crazy than the really crazy ones. It’s too soon to speculate however, so I’ll get back to you on this.

    Other states embarking on anti-trans bathroom bills include Alabama, Virginia, Wisconsin, Missouri and South Carolina. I got that list from an AP story, so there may be more. Let’s just assume that we can expect dozens of anti-GLBT bills proliferating throughout the states, including religious freedom bills, bathroom bills, and bills to prohibit new local civil rights laws. Usually, you can count the number of bad bills that make it into law on the fingers of one hand, but this year might be different. State legislatures are suffused with far-right entitlement and a sense that anything goes. Will the backlash against North Carolina be warning enough to stem the tide of antigay legislation in other states? It’s our main defense.

    Goodbye Obama Administration, We’ll Miss You 

    Meanwhile, the Senate is about to review the qualifications of Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General. I think there could be no worse nominee for the post, but even if Sessions is miraculously defeated, I can’t imagine the next person in line will be that much better as far as we’re concerned.

    Say goodbye to the Justice Department’s GLBT-friendly interpretation of Title VII, and while you’re at it, wave farewell to the Department of Education’s promotion of Title IX as a ban on trans-discrimination. Does this matter? Yes. Not only will future civil rights cases proceed without the support of the U.S. Government, but also the administration will likely be arguing on behalf of the other side in those cases. After North Carolina passed HB2, the Obama administration warned that federal policy requires respect for trans-students throughout the public education system. Now, schools and universities can toss those advisory letters in the circular file if they want to, and even if they don’t.

    As for the Supreme Court, it’s hard to rank Trump’s short list, which now includes about eight people, all of them under 60. I guess I think that William Pryor is the worst option, but that could be just a result of name-recognition. I had no idea that Sam Alito would combine conservatism with legal ineptitude to become my least favorite justice, worse than Scalia and Thomas in my view, so I hardly trust myself to assess the rest of the gang of eight before us. The whole situation makes me sick. Could there be a David Souter or even an Anthony Kennedy hiding in the group?

    I’ve been reading that Trump likes to appoint people who look attractive and who he thinks fit a Hollywood image of high position. The only problem with this, aside from the obvious lunacy, is that Trump’s nominees will likely not have chronic health problems. Would that he appointed a chain-smoking justice with two hundred extra pounds and an alcohol problem. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

    By the way, I read a good piece by Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker, pointing out that successful opposition to a Supreme Court pick begins instantly, within minutes or hours of the announcement. If the stage is not quickly set for an aggressive push back, the process usually meanders around and results in confirmation. I’d say Harriet Miers was an exception to that general rule, but it was true of Bork and Garland, as Toobin points out. Keep that in mind when Trump nominates his wannabe justice.

    Namasteeeeeehhh!

    I’m searching for something nice to say, without much success. I will thank a certain source, who shall remain nameless, for news of the goat yoga classes now available in Oregon, where you can do your yoga surrounded by adorable miniature goats who nuzzle and lick you while you stretch and breathe. Oh, and they nibble at your yoga mats too!

    I also just realized that Amanda Nunes is gay! Wondering who that is? She’s the woman who won the fight against the other woman we’ve been hearing about who lost her other fight a year ago, even though she was supposed to be unbeatable. We might not follow fighting, but it’s always nice when a lesbian wins, as far as I’m concerned. Go Amanda!

    And speaking of winning lesbians, let’s hand it to Sally Sarratt and Maria Swearingen. The couple was just named co-pastors at the very beautiful Calvary Baptist Church in downtown D.C., a historic congregation that was founded 155 years ago by abolitionists. The church split from the Southern Baptists in 2012, in part, due to a disagreement over homosexuality.

    That’s three nice things. Shall we try for four? How about this one: Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry issued an apology to the gay community for decades of ruthless discrimination: “On behalf of the Department,” he wrote, “I apologize to those who were impacted by the practices of the past and reaffirm the Department’s steadfast commitment to diversity and inclusion for all our employees, including members of the LGBTI community.”

    I’ll take it. It’s nicer than anything we’d get out of Mr. Tillerson, the man who has been running a company that took years to finally protect GLBT workers from discrimination. Indeed, our community boycotted Exxon for a long time after the energy giant merged with Mobil in 1999 and promptly cancelled domestic partner benefits for Mobil’s GLBT employees (Tillerson was a top executive at the time). Exxon came around only after Obama put into place an executive order mandating anti-discrimination rules in the workplace of federal contractors. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, what will happen to that policy on January 20 when Trump has pledged to overturn all of Obama’s executive orders?

    Rage Against the Dying of the Light. Or Just Watch Cat Videos

    I know that Trump is playing with fire by making his son-in-law a White House advisor, and it’s not clear if Ivanka will have a role in his professional entourage. But she’s one of the few people who seems as if she might advocate for us, not out of any real commitment to civil rights, but more out of pragmatism. I may be grasping at straws, but I wouldn’t mind if she were given an advisory position. Oh, hell—what am I saying? I don’t know. Frankly, I wish Trump would put a few goats in his cabinet.

    Before I go, I should tell you that the Obama administration has challenged the ruling of a federal judge in Texas, who decided that the administration’s guidance on the scope of Title IX should be tossed aside throughout the country. (The Obama government believes that Title IX, which protects public schools against sex discrimination, inherently covers transgender discrimination as well.)

    In briefs to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Obama and company point out that the guidance was just that—guidance. In theory, the Texas-led group of states that sued the government over its policy do not have a live case since no action was taken. Further, the appeal questions whether or not a district judge has the jurisdiction to apply his decision nation-wide.

    I’ve resisted this subject because I assume the new administration will just drop the whole thing. In addition, the question of how courts must defer to agency guidance is also pending before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of a transgender student in Virginia who won the right to use the boy’s facilities in his high school. The student was backed by the Department of Education, and the Fourth Circuit noted that it was bound by the Department’s interpretation of the law.

    What will happen to all of this litigation now that the agencies in question, particularly the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, are about to be placed in the hands of our arch foes? Nothing good, I imagine, but I really have no idea. Note that the High Court’s transgender case will be heard by the 4–4 Court. A tie on the merits of the case will preserve our victory at the Fourth Circuit, but will not create a precedent for us to use in the future. The Court could also sidestep the merits and rule on the matter of deference.

    Finally, one of Trump’s top nominees is Neil Gorsuch, who is strongly opposed to the idea that courts must give way to agency interpretations of law. In other words, he would beat back the Fourth Circuit transgender victory with a sledge hammer. If Gorsuch is nominated, would the tied Court consider the views of its next member? Or would it make no difference?

    I recommend that we forget about all these disturbing ideas and enjoy a few Star Trek reruns together. Alternatively, check out the cat video that I just watched. The cat’s friend, a dog, had been away from home for ten days, and when the dog came back the cat meowed and hugged him around the neck for several minutes. It was adorable and it made me feel better about the world.

    arostow@aol.com