By MICHAEL DAVIDOW, Radio Free New Hampshire
The Queen is dead; long live the King.
Britain has people who would like to get rid of their monarchy, but they represent a minority, and even they were respectful of Elizabeth’s death. There may be criticism of the institution, in other words, but there was near-universal agreement that Elizabeth herself did her best, and her best was quite good.
I can only admit being jealous of the British that they had someone to mourn so honestly. I have never felt any such connection to any of our leaders; I have never wept at any president’s death. My parents felt a certain bond with Franklin Roosevelt, who like the queen lasted for a long time. But even Roosevelt was hated by many. Even the best of America’s political leaders tend to be loved and loathed in fairly equal measure.
The queen, of course, was not political. The corollary here would not be a politician, then, but simply a celebrity: even worse, someone famous for being rich. But that also misses the point, because the queen’s was a life of service. So imagine someone rich, famous, and decent, who travels the country and reaches out to as many people as possible to uphold standards of kindness and responsibility. I can’t think of any American who falls into that category. No wonder the Brits liked her so much.
To their credit, people like George Soros and Bill Gates try to use their wealth for the common good, the same way Andrew Carnegie and the second generation of Rockefellers did. But we feel no kinship with them. The idea of their appearing at some random community event to wave at us and accept our regards is beyond far-fetched. Their deaths will be noted by the newspapers but only regretted by their own families. And the lion’s share of our other celebrities live in sick and strange worlds.
That the queen’s path was a hard one is attested to by Prince Harry, of all people, who apparently found it unbearable. He has since moved to the west coast for movie deals and a gated mansion. I am not sure why he thought this would bring happiness. When the queen’s own uncle decided to abdicate for similar reasons, few judged his efforts to be successful.
That same devolution of service to celebrity, though, has become a marker of our native political class. Obama left the presidency for a Hollywood deal too. Hillary Clinton still pops up now and then to assert some broader relevance for herself, but she has never been anything but a self-seeking soul, and watching her psychological torment is no more fun from afar than it ever was up close. Kevin McCarthy seems all but destined for a date on Dancing with the Stars.
And Trump. Trump was never anything but a celebrity, as shallow as a gasoline rainbow and as devoid of worth as a plastic sequin.
The British military historian John Keegan gives some insight into the nature of the monarchy. In writing about Ulysses Grant, he describes what a failure Grant had been in civilian life. He had been a poor student, he had been a poor farmer, he had flopped at business. The only thing that Grant did well was leading men in battle. Had it not been for the Civil War, his life would have been forgotten and his strengths never realized. Keegan comments that Grant’s inability to get along otherwise made him a bit of a mystery to his American peers. But he adds that Grant’s personality makes perfect sense to a British sensibility: he calls Grant a natural aristocrat.
So Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Green, that whole crowd of sycophants and closet anti-Semites who have followed Trump’s lead from governing to groveling and from caring to crying like babies: you could call them the opposite of a natural aristocracy. You could call them a natural proletariat, not just unfit to lead, but unfit to serve.
Oddly enough, the closest thing to Elizabeth’s death that I can think of, is when Ted Williams retired and Carl Yastrzemski took over in left field. Amazingly enough, Yaz was great too. Then Jim Rice took over for Yaz, and even more amazingly, the same thing happened. Fenway Park held a bit of magic for half a century; a sceptered isle of its own in the middle of Kenmore Square. It faded after Rice, though. I am not sure who plays left field for the Red Sox now. I would have to ask my son.
He is the author of Gate City, Split Thirty, and The Rocketdyne Commission, three novels about politics and advertising which, taken together, form The Henry Bell Project, The Book of Order, and his most recent one, The Hunter of Talyashevka . They are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.