The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
Perhaps I was not the only American viewing the folderol of the recent coronation of King Charles with a little more appreciation — even a bit of wistfulness — than we might have felt only a few years ago.
Our nation was founded on the rejection of a monarch, of the idea of monarchy. I would guess that to most Americans monarchy seems a ridiculously expensive vestigial organ.
But in the present moment, with our country so divided that it seems nothing but squabbling factions, some of us may be in a mood to appreciate monarchy’s express function as neutral, purely ceremonial space representing a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Couldn’t we use something like that now?
In theory the American presidency itself is supposed to serve that function. We have the word “presidential” to suggest exactly that quality: an above-the-fray, statesmanlike leadership of all the people.
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Most presidents at least give the concept lip service, proclaiming their intention to transcend their own party and represent all the people. But Trump seemed to take delight in trashing even the concept.
Since the post-Trumpocracy presidency seems the last place to look for the symbol and embodiment of wholeness, we are left looking around for what or who else in our culture might play the role.
The Supreme Court, which long seemed an august institution of solemn responsibility to the whole nation, is now widely seen as no more above politics than Congress.
The New York Times was perhaps at one time regarded as such a high-minded, politically neutral institution. But the former highly respected “paper-of-record” for the nation is now “fake news” to millions.
How about the professoriate and “institutions of higher learning,” that “higher” suggesting transcendence? But for a lot of Trump supporters those institutions are also coming to seem fronts for “elites” and manufacturers of “fake news” in academic disguise.
As for human individuals to represent the whole, lacking ancient royal families, we’d have to turn to celebrities. Walter Cronkite was once, I think, voted the “most trusted person in the world” or some such. He would have been good. (Clearly neither Rachel Maddow nor Tucker Carlson need apply).
Hollywood could supply Morgan Freeman, who more than once has played God, the ultimate example of presidentiality. Or the universally beloved Tom Hanks. Or Meryl Streep, who can play anything.
“The Crown,” the popular Netflix series about the career of Queen Elizabeth, makes a big point of the difficulty of maintaining the monarchy’s high and vital function, given the all-too-fallible material of designated royal human beings. The queen got pretty good at it. However flawed as a person, she was quite clear on the job description.
It really isn’t about being an exemplary person; the queen was criticized for being emotionally cold; she was biased in favor of horses and was buddies with the morally dubious horse-loving Sheikh of Dubai. (She was at least as far as we know not a murderer like a number of her ancestors.) But she was good at playing queen.
“Her majesty’s a pretty nice girl but she doesn’t have a lot to say … ” sang the Beatles; not having a lot to say was sort of the point. Her reticence worked for her in maintaining her queenly neutrality.
Her son, the new king, has had a lot to say and that’s a problem, even if some of his ideas are good ones. Can’t open his mouth without alienating someone. Not clear how he’ll do at fulfilling the job description of playing a human flag.
But it really isn’t about the monarch’s personal behavior. Polls show Brits very divided over whether they see royals as role models for leading their own lives. But they are clear that approve of the function.
The royals have many of the defects of the ultra-wealthy elites and yet instead of being hated as elites in our country, their role as symbols transcends the foibles of their socio-economic status.
None of the monarch’s human frailty — including, most likely, even Charles’ having, unlike his mother, ideas of his own — finally matters in a country determined to have its ceremonial representative of the whole.
Despite all the many books exposing the seamy underside of the monarchy — Prince Harry’s memoir just the latest — a strong majority of Brits would not want to see the monarchy abolished. An institution that exists only to symbolize the country itself as a whole is apparently worth the money.
George Washington is much honored for having resisted the suggestion that he be promoted to king. What if he was wrong?
Brent Harold is a former English professor and writer, is an Arizona Daily Star contributing writer. He lives in Tucson. You can reach him at email@example.com.