This was originally posted on Facebook in the wake of Trump’s at best awkward visit to England. It isn’t terribly profound, but I remain struck by the way Trump’s term in office makes us revisit what we know about governance because he’s so terrible at it.
What struck me yesterday, seeing Trump with Elizabeth, wasn’t that he didn’t know how to behave with royalty. I don’t either, though I’d study up if that were the job I’d signed up to do.
It struck me that Elizabeth is the embodiment of this bizarre, archaic institution of hereditary governance, that she sits on a throne that’s held rulers so bad they’ve prompted shifts in European philosophies of power, that her blood is the symbol of a country that has literally tried to take over the world.
What has she done with that? Mostly she’s embraced the small-c conservatism of the position, remained a symbol as a monarch. That leaves governance to the elected bodies and protects their claim to legitimacy of power. It isn’t a radical use of her power for good by any means, and she’s been very well compensated for it, partly through imperial (colonial) holdings. Still, that long period of stability has produced a real possibility that the British monarchy will end peacefully in another generation.
Oh, and then there was that time WWII happened and she badgered her da (the king) until he let her serve in an official military capacity along with her state duties. This too was largely symbolism, but her country recognized the power of that symbol.
Contrast that with Trump. The United States’ Constitution was written to be a radical change from and challenge to British imperial power. That we recognize many of its failures of imagination and courage now doesn’t change that it was meant to be a manifestation of the ideals of freedom and representative democracy.
Trump, on the other hand, acts as though his power is a divine right, as though any check on it were a personal affront. Anyone who challenges or criticizes him is a terrible person or illegitimate institution. The people who didn’t vote for him must not be real citizens, and he’ll see to it that they’re treated that way. His position is for personal enrichment, and if he sends the people of our country to war, well, so what? He and his won’t be fighting.
I’m not a fan of the queen. It says something about the direness of our situation that simply putting Trump next to her makes me admire her for being more than her position would allow her to be because he is so much less than his demands.