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    Ann Rostow: Look on My Works, ye Mighty, And Despair

    By Ann Rostow–

    Look on My Works, ye Mighty, And Despair

    Join me won’t you, dear Readers, on a trip back into the past. Here we are in our ninth grade English class reviewing Ozymandius. Why on Earth do we have to waste our time on stupid poems and useless math concepts? We’re never going to use any of this stuff. Will we have time to sneak a cigarette in the woods before next period? What has Cindy Willis done with her hair? It looks weird. Should I do that? What do Jean and Emre think?

    “I met a traveler from an antique land, who said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, tell that its sculptor well those passions read which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, the hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; And on the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!’”

    “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

    Yadda, yadda, yadda. What?

    “Ann, what do you think Shelley is trying to say?”

    “Uh. Ozymandius thought he would be famous, but it sounds like he wasn’t. I mean, I’ve never heard of him.”

    I just looked up the subject, and ironically, Ozymandius was the Greek name for Ramses the Second, who remains very famous to this day—two thousand years later. I wish I hadn’t done so, because the poem is more powerful if you assume, as I had, that Ozymandius was a two-bit ruler that had, indeed, quickly faded out of history.

    But still, you can see why I’ve been haunted by the verse as I thought I was about to witness the collapse of Trump’s interior view of the world; a view that places him at the pinnacle of American greatness, and imagines the many monuments that would soon be erected in his honor.

    And yet, this election, which is not over yet as I write, has been a disaster. Even if we squeak this out, as I still hope we will, we have witnessed a massive repudiation, not of Trump, but of American norms. But if he wins another four years, my only consolation is the certainty that eventually his legacy will vanish in the lone and level sands.

    Is This Really Happening?

    I still have confidence that, within a few days, the world’s preeminent democracy will have withstood the most sustained threat it has faced since 1864, an election year where the union itself hung in the balance.

    But even if we win by a nose, the reaction of American voters towards Trump is profoundly disturbing. If we fail, I can’t imagine what our country will look like in four years.

    I was happy to see Joe Biden win the Democratic nomination, because I thought he would have the best chance of bringing the country together and defeating Trump. I was hardly alone in that calculus, and God willing it will yet prove correct.

    But still, I confess I worried about Biden throughout the campaign. As my parents warned me, getting old is not for the faint of heart. Our man looks a little frail, a little shaky. And while I’m not worried about his ability to handle the day-to-day job of president, I’m worried about how long he can sustain his energy. He will be 82 in 2024, when some younger post-Trump Republican will try to take back the White House.

    Will Biden still be fit enough to claim four more years? If not, will Harris be ready to lead the party forward? What role will she play in the Biden administration? I hope she’ll be a president-in-waiting, in charge of major policy advances and visibly running many diplomatic sessions. I hope by the time 2024 rolls around, she’ll be a powerful figure in American politics and an avatar for American leadership around the world.

    But what if the country muddles through the pandemic, the economy continues to suffer, the legislature stagnates, and the path is open for another divisive contest between Trump-like Republicans and a weakened Democratic slate? We may have to do this all over again. Bartender!

    Look, now is not the time to fret about 2024. Now is the time to nail down 2020, and grimly celebrate the defeat of the most odious man to ever sit in the Oval Office. And I hear what you’re saying. “Ann! What if Trump pulls out his reelection?” To that I say, I cannot deal with that possibility. As such, the only scenario I can write about is a Biden victory. If Trump wins, I’ll just finish up this case of Champagne, order another one, curl up in bed, and watch Below Deck reruns for a month or two. Then we’ll see.

    But assuming I’m not wrong, we’ll be operating with a narrow mandate and a GOP Senate. There goes our ambitious legislative agenda, but we will still be able to reverse a vast amount of the damage Trump has done to our reputation abroad, our environmental policies, and the country’s position on civil rights. Gone will be the ban on transgender service members. Gone will be the cabinet agency’s rollbacks on Obama-era GLBT anti-discrimination rules.

    Gone will be the craziness, the tweets, the nods to white supremacy and QAnon. Gone will be the sight of Trump saluting the Marine guard while getting into his presidential helicopter. With any luck, we’ll see the prosecutors line up to bring charges against the former president and his family. Tax evasion, money laundering, fraud, the list will go on. And who will step up to refinance that $400 million in loans coming due next year? Deutsche Bank? Saudi Arabia? We’ll be watching.

    I hope.

    Bottoms Up

    I spent Monday glued to cable news, as usual, listening to Trump complain about fake polling and how the media is censoring the many Hunter Biden scandals. After weeks of struggling, I somehow managed to navigate the choppy waters of existential dread and drifted into a calm pool of (short-lived) confidence. To celebrate this achievement, I began my planned 48-hour non-stop consumption of champagne, a drink that can serve many emotional ups and downs. It’s not just for celebration. It has a transcendent effect that can console and reassure. It’s also one of my favorite things, which I feel I deserve at this moment in history.

    This meant that my election observations would be, let’s say, more bubbly than usual for which I apologize.

    Not to mention my tipsy analysis of Fulton v City of Philadelphia, the huge gay rights case was argued before the Supreme Court on November 4. Here we go! (Cue: deep breath, serious face.) At issue is whether or not Philadelphia has the right to exclude the antigay Catholic Social Services from the city’s foster care program based on the agency’s refusal to abide by Philadelphia’s rules against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Basically, the case asks whether or not an individual or an entity has the right to ignore gay rights’ ordinances based on faith.

    It’s pointless now, with Barrett replacing Ginsburg on the Court, to hope for a ruling in our favor. That said, it remains to be seen if the Court will take this opportunity to overrule a key 30-year-old precedent, Employment Division v Smith, which said religion cannot be used as an excuse to avoid generally applicable laws that are not targeting faith. Think about that for a second. Can you claim a constitutional right to shoot off fireworks in the city for your religious ritual? To take peyote for your religious ceremony? To issue credit to men but not women? To serve whites but not Blacks based on some obscure passage in the Old Testament?

    Obviously, the answer’s no. And, in fact, Employment Division v Smith was written by none other than Antonin Scalia, Barrett’s mentor, who observed that “every man would be a law unto himself” if faith became a carte blanche to write your own regulations. Now, Amy Barrett will have the opportunity to reverse one of Scalia’s most significant precedents, and she will likely vote to do so. She is one of seven Catholics on the High Court, of which at least five seem fairly insane about religion and one (Roberts) leans toward it as well.

    The notion that the Constitution protects all Americans with a wall to separate church and state has always been in tension with a basic sense that people of faith deserved special attention and respect. We have long been able to negotiate this imbalance through shared assumptions of justice and equality. If it’s not unreasonable or disruptive, then let the Jewish staff leave the office before sundown on Friday. Let the Muslim prisoners wear a short beard. Let someone say a prayer before the city council sessions, but don’t require specifically Christian prayers at every meeting. Make room in the public square for those who don’t have any religion at all.

    Setting aside the gay and lesbian issue in this case, we are now heading into a period at the High Court where these accommodations may give way to a flat priority for religious actors. Returning to the GLBT side of things, this tilt toward faith will hit our community hardest of all. Most people don’t see racism or sexism as something that religion should protect. But the idea that devout business owners should have the right to reject GLBT customers is commonly accepted. This too may give way in time, but it’s a battle we never expected to fight uphill.

    What Else Is New? Who Cares?!

    What else is going on in the GLBT community, you ask? That’s like asking what’s on Britbox during a Category 4 hurricane. I don’t know what’s going on! I’ve been glued to the election, for heaven’s sake. Lambda won a couple of cases where married binational gay couples sought American citizenship for their kids, which was initially denied by Pompeo’s State Department based on the biological connection with the non-American parent. Bi-national straight couples don’t have this problem, so good for you, Lambda!

    And, for a brief moment, my cousin and I were excited about a headline reading: “Trump administration removes gay wolf from endangered species list,” but we had missed the “r” in grey. Still, the mental images continue to resonate.

    I see the wolf pack lumbering quietly through the wilderness. They will soon have to feed, but prey is scarce. Suddenly, the Alpha halts, his senses alert. A pair of gazelles graze in the clearing. The Alpha signals his pack leaders.


    “I thought you were going vegan,” hisses the second in command. “For your skin tone, remember?”

    “Oh, right.”

    “Look,” the lesbian wolf mother interjects. “At this rate, we’ll all be extinct. Let the sisters take them down.”

    At that, the female wolves streak towards the unsuspecting gazelles, quickly ripping them to shreds.

    In the shadows, the Trump administration policy aides take notes. It looks as if the gay wolves might be okay after all!

    I’m Tired Now

    I’ve saved a little space here for my final thoughts. I think Trump has taken our country to a dangerous place, and I think I underestimated how simple it would be to pull it back to safety. This vote reflects the spread of a cult of personality. It shows us an electorate with a widespread attraction to a classic strong man. I won’t compare him to a popular European leader of the 1930s, but you know whom I’m talking about.

    I suppose the pundits will dissect the Democratic Party and critique our election strategy, much as everyone pounced on Hillary Clinton (worst candidate ever!) in the days and months after 2016. But the Democrats deliberately went to the middle and campaigned on decency and unity. The campaign was disciplined. Should we have targeted uneducated white men living in rural counties? Of course not.

    Win or lose, the unexpected outcome reflects something deeper than demographics or strategy. It reveals an insecurity at the core of America, a sense that the American Dream no longer holds and that life has turned into a hard slog with no progress in sight for many of our fellow citizens. For many of them, Trump seems to symbolize a promise, and even though he totally ignores their interests, he personifies their hope for a better future.

    I’m afraid that our salvation will lie in a generational shift that may take a few decades. But I have no doubt our country will survive and emerge stronger. Meanwhile, I just want to win this election, no matter how narrow the vote.

    Published on November 5, 2020