America Could Use a Royal Jubilee, if Not a Queen

As I followed four days of celebrations to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, I finally realized with unexpected clarity: What America needs is a monarch.

What better way to mark the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in a few years than to reverse it?

“Your Majesty, we really tried for a quarter of a millennium. We’ve had a good run as a republic, but we’ve come to the conclusion that the abuses and usurpations of your ancestors may not pose as serious a threat to our liberties as the crimes we’ve inflicted on ourselves in recent years. So, with your gracious permission, we submit once more to your tyranny. Tax us all you want. We’ll even try to find this tea for you in Boston Harbor.”

I admit. Covid finally hit me when I arrived in London so the cotton wool effect of the disease on the brain could cloud my judgement. That, or the frustration of not being allowed to return to the US, courtesy of our overlords at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, until I finally tested negative for this infernal virus was driving me completely insane.

So, to come back to reason for a moment: I am of course not advocating the restoration of the monarchy in these united colonies – sorry, states. I’m not even suggesting that America find its own native queen, although we could do worse than ask Dolly Parton to become permanent head of state.

But the US has a serious lesson to learn from the spectacular celebration Britain just threw. The Queen’s Jubilee, which marks the longest reign by a monarch in English history, reminds us of the importance of unifying institutions and symbols for a severely fragmented country in perilous times. In times of bipartisan political conflict, national cohesion needs at least something that has national legitimacy, a common object of reverence, an institution that people can trust.

The United States urgently needs that today.

Britain is a more divided country than it was when I was alive. The scars of Brexit remain open – a sizeable minority of Britons want to rejoin the European Union and will never forgive just over half the country that took them out. The unity of the kingdom itself is in doubt, with solid nationalist support in Scotland and Northern Ireland keen to take those countries out of the union.

The culture wars rage here as they do in America. Progressive ideologies on climate change, race, gender and the like form the tenets of the new state religion; the almighty BBC is their church. Meanwhile, as in the US, the despised common people who refuse to submit to this hegemony of horse manure are rebelling.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is deeply unpopular. No sooner does the rubbish from this week’s celebrations clear the streets of London than his own Conservative MPs will stage a no-confidence vote that could topple him.

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But for four days, the country found something almost everyone could unite around. Residents of the Brexit-voting, wake-hating working-class towns of northern England threw their street parties and drank the same toasts to their Queen as the cultural elites of metropolitan Soho and Shoreditch did in their Michelin-starred restaurants (although the vintage was certainly different).

This is not a trivial matter. It’s a rare reminder that this remains a nation despite temptations to the contrary.

There is no guarantee that the reverence people hold for their 96-year-old queen will be passed on to their heirs. She’s an amazingly stoic character in every way, having always put her duty above her needs for 70 years.

Part of their extraordinary success lies in their discretion, their genius in not touching hands on the dominant issues of the day. Prince Charles, heir to the throne, is quite different – just somber enough to predictably espouse all the fashionable panaceas of modern orthodoxy, and not quite bright enough to realize that he should keep his mouth shut about it. Probably the best that can be said about William, the next in line, is that he’s not his brother.

And yet the respect for the institution persists – and connects.

What is the US equivalent? It used to be said that America had the flag. But this symbol is now controversial, for many a despised totem of exploitation.

Walter Bagehot, the great political commentator, said that a constitution needs two parts – one dignified to “excite and keep the awe of the people” and one efficient to “use that awe in the work of government”. The efficient parts appeal to reason; the worthy charge the emotions. Where are the dignified parts of the American Constitution today?

America has become a nation where politics – not problem-solving, solution-finding, pragmatic politics, but a pin-wearing, abusive, destructive version – is everything. It dominates all aspects of our lives – culture, sport, art, religion.

A nation cannot live by politics alone, for politics will eventually eat itself up. There must be something above the political dispute that can only be admired as a symbol and representative of the agreed greatness of the nation itself.

America doesn’t need a queen. But it badly needs a celebration.

Queen Elizabeth II has lived an extraordinary life of service and authenticity, and as the UK celebrates its platinum jubilee, speculation about the crown’s future is mounting. Images: AFP/Getty Images/Zuma Press Composite: Mark Kelly

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