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    Ann Rostow: The President’s New Clothes

    1-Ann_RostowBy Ann Rostow

    Every day, every week, every month, this Trump business has gotten worse. It’s all been worse than I expected, and believe me, dear readers, my expectations were very low indeed. I had not quite realized the extent of my general tendency to hope for the best, but now I can see it clearly; it’s a tendency that has usually held me in good stead, but which now produces regular blows to my psyche. It’s like getting sucker punched over and over again, even as I sort of see it coming.

    One of the chants that circulated during Saturday’s marches was “Not my President!” I wanted to join in, but I couldn’t. Tragically, he is my president, period, and no amount of wishful chanting will change that for now.

    My only choice is to keep reeling, or expect the absolute worst, which is just not possible. Recession, pollution, war, poverty, sickness, massive inequality in education, health and opportunity? All overseen by a belligerent puffball, toying with our country like a toddler with a loaded gun? I can’t give in to that future. I will have to hope and continue to reel.

    But here’s how far I’ve descended. At this point, I would prefer Mike Pence to be President.

    Think about that. Unlike Trump, Pence is a hard-right ideologue, committed to an antigay agenda. Unlike Trump, Pence would probably control the levers of power effectively. Where Trump would deliver chaos, Pence would likely usher in systemic conservatism, the antithesis of all my political aspirations. Unlike Trump, a President Pence might roll to re-election. Pence might name three High Court justices, threatening our somewhat fragile legal status for the indefinite future.

    For these reasons, I’ve kind of thought that Crazy Trump might be better than Pence as long as he didn’t do lasting damage to the nation and the world. But I can’t count on that premise any longer. Pence does not appear to be clinically insane. Trump does.

    This is not hyperbole. I’ve googled “is Trump insane,” looking for an explanation into his behavior. Yes, we all recognized his many eccentricities during the campaign, but his demeanor over the last months and in the days since inauguration has been inexplicable. Do the people around him not see this? Forget Russian connections or the emoluments clause. Forget his ignorance of policy and government. He’s not all there, folks! That’s the elephant in the room.

    Okay, It’s Time to Be Afraid

    I could carry this train of thought to the column’s end, but we have other subjects to confront.

    Remember that tendency to look on the bright side I mentioned? I fear it has come into play during my speculation over the Supreme Court and our legal status in general. Could a future Court upend our right to marry, I asked in recent weeks? Not in a million years! Our 5–4 gay rights majority remains in place, regardless of who replaces Scalia, I pointed out. And even down the road, the Court’s interest in constancy and the implausibility of rolling back what is now an established civil right means that marriage equality will remain the law of the land.

    But will it? What if we’re still allowed to marry, but businesses and state governments are also free to limit marriage benefits to heterosexual couples? Take another example. What if we’re still allowed to have abortions, but state governments close down most clinics or slap a ten-week limit on the procedure?

    That’s only a small exaggeration, but the fact is abortion rights are still being litigated on a case by case basis four decades after Roe v Wade was decided. So are we in danger of having to defend marriage rights against piecemeal legislation or policies for the duration of GOP dominance?

    At first glance the answer is no. And there’s an obvious distinction in the analogy to abortion. The right to an abortion can never be absolute. No one would countenance an abortion at eight months unless a mother’s life were at risk. (Indeed this is why a ban on late term abortions is particularly cruel. They are always medically required by tragic circumstances.) It’s not hard to see how anti-abortion activists could whittle away at a woman’s right to choose, one week at a time.

    But surely our marriages can’t be reduced to mere symbolism when public benefits and policies are applied to heterosexual unions. That’s why the Windsor Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and that’s why the same majority ruled in favor of marriage equality in Obergefell v Hodges.

    It seems obvious, but why then has the Texas Supreme Court recently reversed itself and agreed to consider a case of marriage discrimination? Never known for progressive rulings, the Texas Supremes nonetheless declined to rehash marriage rights nearly unanimously when previously asked. Now, this month, under pressure from our far-right state officials and under the harsh new light of Trump’s America, the justices have flip flopped and agreed to hear arguments in March. The astonishing question before the bench is whether or not Houston can offer marriage benefits to straight couples only.

    This is a case that I didn’t even bother to mention to you because a) it was so absurd and b) not even the Texas Supreme Court would waste their time on it. Now I don’t know what to think. I suppose it could simply be a political gesture to the powers that be. But is it possible that the conservative members of the Texas court think they can get away with eviscerating both Windsor and Obergefell? Do they think that they can rule against us and bring the issue back to a more conservative High Court? Perhaps a Supreme Court with not one, but two Trump appointees?

    But surely, not even a conservative Court could simply overrule two recent precedents, right? Normally I’d say right. But Justice Kennedy’s opinions, all four of them if you include Romer v Evans and Lawrence v Texas, are a fluffy pile of sweet rhetoric sitting high on a small foundation of who knows what. Justice Kennedy, our champion, came down on our side every time. But he did so while deliberately avoiding strong legal statements or clarifying exactly how future courts should evaluate gay rights cases.

    We yelled and clapped and cheered and popped the Champagne corks every time. And rightly so. It was no small accomplishment to end sodomy laws, to crush the Defense of Marriage Act, to win marriage equality. But only the lawyers among us paused to analyze the reasoning behind our victories, and sometimes even they couldn’t figure it out. Is our right to marry based on Equal Protection? Due Process? Both, sort of. Is sexual orientation a minority status, are laws that touch us likely due to discrimination? Maybe, maybe not. Who cares! We can get married!

    For now.

    Hello Mudda, Hello FADA

    So, what else lies in store for us? You may recall that a little time bomb called the First Amendment Defense Act lies in wait in the bowels of Congress, a proposal that elevates opposition to same-sex marriage or gay rights into a sacred position that transcends discrimination laws. We also have a few mini-FADAs lurking around the states along with the usual bathroom bills and who knows what.

    It continues to irk me that everyone assumes opposition to gay people in general is part and parcel of a legitimate array of religious mandates. Hell, even our side accepts this premise, arguing against religious loopholes instead of challenging the idea that antigay sentiment is religious to begin with.

    Racism used to be a “faith based” stance. People can still point to Biblical passages about separating the races, but they don’t. We no longer accept the fact that Christianity requires an allegiance to the white race.

    So when will people stop dumping homophobia in with, I don’t know, not eating pork, shaving, wearing a scarf and all of the other religious prescriptions that the Constitution protects? Sure, some Christians don’t like us. Others do. Can certain Christians ban adulterers from shopping at their bakeries or staying at their bed and breakfasts?

    Oh, by the way, I just read about a beautiful gay movie, set in Italy, entitled Call Me by Your Name. Guys, google it.

    At any rate, I’m hoping (here I go again) that Congress will be too busy with bashing immigrants, building walls, isolating our country with odd trade deals, collaborating with Putin, slashing taxes and dismantling our health care system to bother with us. A girl can dream, right?

    Cue: Pharrell Williams

    I’m not sure I can bear to continue this dismal recitation. The guy Trump is considering for head of civil rights at the Justice Department is the lawyer who has been defending North Carolina’s HB2 in court. He’s on my list, but I’m not even going to go there. Everywhere we look, a disaster.

    I just googled “fun news” and learned that a good time was had by all at the Bloody Mary Mix Off in Spring Lake, Michigan. Glad you enjoyed yourselves Michiganders, and thanks for nothing last November.

    “Cute animals” brought news of a bar in Brooklyn that put together a 15-hour tape of, yes, cute animals to air during the inauguration festivities. Wish I had thought of that. Mel told me to put the TV on Friday morning but be sure to put it on some non-political channel so that our household would show up in the ratings as dismissive of Trump. But I couldn’t hold out. You only experience a limited number of presidential inaugurations in one lifetime and you probably don’t watch the first three or four. Plus, how would the ratings people know what we were watching? Is everyone monitored? Surely not!

    Finally, “happy news” led me to a 12-minute TED talk by a man who is now leading a 75-year Harvard study on the lives of over 700 men, of which some 60 are still alive and in their eighties or nineties. Keeping the study going for so long was an accomplishment in itself considering these men were regularly required to fill out forms and submit to home interviews throughout their lives. The bottom line? Good relationships, not fame or fortune, lead to happiness and satisfaction and longevity. I think I’ve read that somewhere before.

    So, if Trump is depressing you, make dinner for your significant other or get back on the GLBT equivalent of

    We Don’t Have to Fake It

    I was reading that the new White House dot gov website has no references for a search of “GLBT” or “LGBT.” As for “gay,” that search leads you to a note about Calvin Coolidge’s wife, who had a gay time in the White House—or something like that.

    But guess what? At this point, the website also provides no results for “Title IX” or “Title VII” and only 17 results for “civil rights,” none of them germane to the subject. In other words, the website is basically empty, and the lack of gay policy is nothing personal. The only actual result for “African American,” for example, tells us that Michelle Obama was the first African American First Lady. The other four “African American” links include separate references to “American” and “African.”

    This observation allows me to conclude this column with another warning to my brothers and sisters on the left. Fake news is non-partisan, and we ourselves must not participate in this insidious discourse. A claim like: “Trump website erases references to gay community,” is simply not accurate in its implication. The Trump website has, apparently, erased references to almost everything. We must check our information, and we must particularly check negative stories about Trump. There is more than enough real news to horrify us (including “Trump administration fails to launch main government website”). Let’s not undermine our outrage with anything short of that.