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    Ann Rostow: Will It Ever End?

    By Ann Rostow–

    Will It Ever End?

    I just reread my last column, which I generally do in order to avoid repeating myself from week to week. Surely, none of you loyal readers need a rehash of Fulton v City of Philadelphia, or the future of Employment Division v Smith, right? 

    But in rereading, I was reminded of what a dismal and frightening election we just experienced. True, Trump continues to endanger our short-term future and spread hostility throughout his base. Yet we won, thank God, and if we can get through the next two months without bombing Iran or screwing up whatever is going on in Afghanistan (which I haven’t really followed), we might live to see a new dawn for our country. 

    And the Senate looks better than it seemed on November 4. We have a chance at least. 

    I saved some of that endless champagne I was drinking for the moment when the networks finally called the election. I still have a bottle on ice waiting for the crazy woman who runs the General Services Administration to sign off on the Biden transition. After that, I’ll have to buy more champagne for January 20. Or perhaps for the results in Georgia on January 5!

    Meanwhile, it would almost be satisfying to watch the final days of the Trump administration if it weren’t so horrifying. Every day there’s a new danger that I haven’t thought of. Can he really sell drilling rights in the Alaskan wilderness? Can we reverse that? Would he sell national secrets to the highest bidder after he leaves office? Or is that just wild speculation?  

    Oh, and what about his 2024 campaign? Now there’s one of the few things I’m not going to worry about, because for one thing, I can’t imagine that his loose grip on reality will hold that long, and second, there are too many ambitious contenders looking to take up the dubious mantle of the GOP. But most of all, I just can’t fret about 2024 when I’m still fretting about 2020 and 2021.

    Talk About Groupthink!

    Already, we’re seeing the commentators conveniently forget about whatever mistaken views they expressed in the run up to the election, and retrofit the results for their next pronouncements. Hey, I for one believed all the polls, thought we’d have a blue wave blowout, and assumed Trump’s support would decrease sharply among all demographics. Wrong! Very, very, very sadly wrong. My faith in humanity and the electorate has been, not just stirred, but shaken.

    Today, however, I just read an op-ed by our resident New York Times conservative, Bret Stephens, that the editors have headlined: “Groupthink Has Left the Left Behind.” Stephens goes on to describe “the Left,” that is to say progressive Democrats, as “an intellectual monoculture” comprised of “entitled elites” offering “jeering moral condescension.”

    Politically correct progressives, he asserts, ignore the complex dynamics of the average American and rely instead on black and white thinking: woke or unwoke, white or Black, oppressed or oppressor. Yet his entire article is just that, a black and white simplistic view of the coalition that just elected Biden. Our party came together and bridged ideological divides from AOC to Joe Manchin. We stepped back from Medicare for All and the Green New Deal to support a public option and renewable energy. But we chose not to compromise on Covid, immigration, and police reform. 

    (If agreeing to fight systemic racism represents groupthink, then I suppose we can plead guilty to part of Stephens’ charge. But is he implying that there are fine people on both sides of this conflict?)  

    Here’s my point. After 2016, the too-smart-to-fail analysts emerged to condemn Clinton’s campaign for ignoring high-school educated white men from the rural Midwest—Monday morning quarterbacking a race that was more likely decided by misogyny and baseless scandal. Now, instead of critiquing the Trump side for losing an election by the identical electoral yardstick, we’re getting hung out to dry for underestimating our majority of the Latino/a vote or once again failing to connect with the white working class. 

    We won, guys. And we won, not with coastal elites, but with a diverse electorate from all races, creeds, and incomes. Yes, we won cities. But we also won in rural areas. Yes, we won the college grads, but we also won lots of non-grads as well. We defeated an incumbent first-term president who had achieved near cult status with a big swath of the populace. Let’s give the winning side some credit and ask the pundits to examine, not why the Democrats didn’t win big, but why Trump lost.

    My Country

    I confess I haven’t followed GLBT news lately, an oversight for which I apologize considering it’s supposed to be my beat. Mel and I spent days watching cable news, until something snapped and we binged on some Britbox shows, followed by The Crown on Sunday and Monday.

    It’s a little jarring, now that we are firmly implanted in the 21st century, that the 20th century seems so far away. It looks like an old historical era, with its taxis and telephones, its mail boxes and newsstands. Even the dates, starting with “19” seem like they might as well represent the 18th century or the 19th century, old-time periods that you couldn’t quite keep track of when you were younger, that you imagine the children of today will find as ancient as the Civil War. 

    We called it The American Century, although I’m not sure the rest of the world followed suit. But we were a young country when it dawned, and a world power when it ended. We had overrun our continent by 1900, bullied and killed the Native American tribes, stretched railroads from coast to coast. We had unlimited natural resources and land. We were strong enough to send troops and arms to fight World War I, and by mid-century our industrial might was unsurpassed, our leadership unquestioned, our technology exploding. We grew without mercy, gave ourselves myths, and held what look now to be careless assumptions about where the greatness of America drew its strength. 

    I often wonder what the country would be like at this point if Al Gore had won the election as that American Century came to an end. If we had focused on climate change 20 years earlier. If we had not destabilized the Middle East. If we had invested in infrastructure and rapid transport and education. Who knows? But here we are, an older, but not particularly wiser, country in a mid-life crisis, as a different century rolls on towards an uncertain future. It’s not as if we don’t continue to improve to some extent and provide certain benefits to the rest of the world, but we are unmoored. 

    Our greatness is always an ideal for the future, based in our striving towards equality and unity. Maybe now we can resume the struggle to make America great, not as it once was, but as it could be.

    Covid Covid Covid Covid

    There’s one Trumpism I have adopted as my own. Covid, covid, covid, covid. I sing this every time the news returns to our relentless pandemic because yes, it’s an enormous crisis, but no, I don’t want to watch yet another disastrous scene from the hospital ICU, see another disturbing chart, or listen to another despairing doctor. Mel and I have gone nowhere and seen no one since March, like you, I suppose. We get our groceries packed into our trunk and mask up for every furtive dash inside a store when we have no choice. Like, um, when we’re out of some essential commodity that we can’t get at the supermarket. Okay fine! When we’re out of gin. 

    Unlike Trump, I’m not minimizing the pandemic, quite the reverse. It is my life for now, and has been for months. I gather Brazil’s loathsome homophobic president Jair Bolsonaro was fed up the other day, bemoaning the fact that “all anyone talks about these days is the pandemic.”

    “We need to stop that,” he said in what the press called a rambling speech. “I regret the deaths. I really do. But we’re all going to die someday. There’s no use fleeing reality. We have to stop being a country of fags … . We have to face up to it and fight. I hate this faggot stuff.” He has also called Covid a “little flu,” and announced that his citizens were so strong they could bathe in raw sewage and “not catch a thing.” Must they?

    Boris Johnson, meanwhile, recently said he was “as fit as a butcher’s dog,” and will go through isolation even though he’s already had the virus. I add that tidbit, only because I was struck by the simile, which I had never encountered before. My research tells me the 19th century expression holds some ambiguity. Is a butcher’s dog really fit? Or is it overfed? Does the phrase reflect a situation where the dog gets scraps but never a chance to eat the actual meat? 

    Something to chew on.

    Steam Me Up, Niki

    Oh, speaking of Covid, have you read about the owner of the Tikkun Holistic Spa in Santa Monica, Niki Schwarz, who stockpiled 20,000 N95 masks early in the pandemic for less than a dollar a mask and was selling them for $15 each? The astonishing greed of some people. Schwarz pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor back in October, which sounds to me as if she got off lightly. Her spa was made famous, I am reading, by Gwyneth Paltrow who “recommended its many vaginal steam services to Goop readers in 2015.” I’m not sure where I originally got that quote, so I can’t give you a source. 

    Where have I been that I have never heard of vaginal steam services? Back in the 20th century perhaps. I can imagine them, of course, but I’m not sure I’d want to visit a public spa for such a treatment. Particularly a public spa run by a money-grubbing little mouse like this Niki person. What I also wonder, here, is just how “many” vaginal steam services might be available? “Many” sounds like there might be five or six different services, all centered around vaginas and steam. And yet, call me unimaginative (which no one ever has to my face), but I’m having a hard time coming up with more than two or three variations on the theme. 

    I’ll have to do some research. 

    Hard Times in the News Mill

    So, here’s the GLBT news in a nutshell. We won over 200 state and local races, which is great. At least I assume it’s good news, although for all I know there’s a clunker out there. Just because someone is GLBT does not mean they’ll be a fine representative or administrator, now does it? That said, I’m not going digging for bad apples. I choose to believe that our winners are all excellent human beings. 

    Everyone expects Biden to reverse all the GLBT-friendly policies that Trump removed during his administration. The sooner the better. Too bad we can’t give Biden a single-sheet of paper that instantly annuls every single executive order of the last four years and cancels every Trumpian cabinet guideline.  

    If we win the Senate, we can pass the Equality Act. If not, I don’t know. 

    And we all expect the High Court to screw us over from now on every time they get a chance to balance religious expression with GLBT civil rights. 

    Look, I promise to be better next time. I promise to find more international GLBT comings and goings, more court cases, more gay animals, maybe a few lesbians behaving badly, or conservative family men walking on the wild side. 

    But then again, the holidays are right ahead. We’ve got the Hallmark movies, the same hated commercials we endured last year, the gift suggestions from the people that make automotive floor mats, a range of tried-and-true bags of grist for our Christmas mill. Which reminds me! I can’t stand the car commercial with Pete Seeger singing “Hard Times in the Mill.” It’s too folksy; I have to turn the sound off. I also have to mute the ad with all the people saying “no” in different voices. I could go on, but fortunately for you, my time and space have come to an end.

    arostow@aol.com

    Published on November 19, 2020