Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Queen, 9/11 and Guys Called "John"

This weekend's Jubilee celebrations brought into sharp relief the strange, perhaps anachronistic, constitution under which we live in the United Kingdom.

There is no doubt that the monarchy has its detractors - a glance at my Facebook feed shows posts of strident support for a Republic to be instituted in the UK, among the affirmations of Royalist sentiment.

However, as the Guardian/ICM poll suggests, there is no serious possibility of the monarchy being decommissioned any time soon. 69% of all respondents felt the country would be worse-off without the royal family.

These sort of numbers are unimaginable for any President (except Putin, of course, who has the universal support of Russians, no matter how they vote). In 2012, the Jubilee and its flag-waving crowds of all political and social persuasions, stand in stark contrast with the bitter divisions of the election happening in America.

I want to lay out how this all happened; how one Head of State unifies a country while the other divides it.

As so often is the case, we go back to 11/9/2001 to find our starting point. After the twin towers were demolished and thousands slaughtered in the terrorist attack, the American media focussed on George W. Bush, and looked to him to provide some sort of unifying message about the assault and where the country would go from there.

Bush responded willingly, standing atop the rubble promising that the "evil doers" would pay for their deeds. It created a media storyline straight out of an action flick, with GWB cast as the John McLane, the John Wayne, the John Conner, the John Rambo, the John Matrix, the John Cutter (Passenger 57? Anyone?); he was the every man hero, fighting against the terrorist mastermind.

GWB rode a tidal wave of goodwill, achieving an approval rating of somewhere between an ice-cream and a blow-job for about a week after the attacks he failed to prevent. He was the focus of patriotic feelings; he was the voice of the nation's anger; he was the embodiment of America.

That is part of the job for any Head of State.

Unlike in the cinema, however, this storyline had to stretch for more than an hour and a half, and much of the audience became dissatisfied with the supposed hero. The bodies that he left behind weren't simply thrown to the ground and forgotten; they lay there and festered.

The country became divided as the Bush administration suspended Habeas Corpus, demonstrated unsophisticated morality and invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2004, the election went his way thanks, mostly, to an uninspiring candidate on the Democratic side and a populous still petrified by the thought of another terrorist attack.

Thereafter, the rhetoric of the liberal media and some very few Democratic politicians was ratcheted up to present GWB and his brain's trust as war criminals (nb: as point of fact, they are war criminals).

The Republicans had to convince their support that water-boarding was not torture, that permanent imprisonment with no trial was justice and that the administration who failed to protect them on 11/9/2001 were the only one's qualified to protect them in the future.

Initiatives to redefine black as white, up as down and the world as flat stalled in committee because they lacked for ambition.

So the Republican politicians and support base had to either accept these policy positions and tactics, or tolerate them for what they saw as the greater good. Or they had to stop being Republicans.

Democrats could not support such an agenda, either because of their shared moral commitment to peace and civil rights, or because they didn't like their intelligence being insulted.

To support George W. Bush through this period necessitated that one bought in to his philosophy, his rhetoric and his policies. The Head of State, who's job it is to provide a focus for national unity, became not just 'The Decider', but the divider.

His attitude, and the attitude of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, was "either you are with us or you are with the terrorists". GWB himself said this to the international community, but this sentiment was repeated throughout his homeland.

Thus it was that Barrack Obama inherited a divided nation. Despite his principled and intelligent attempts to be the President for all Americans and the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the nation remains sullenly divided. Republicans cannot admit the horrendous and illegal nature of Bush's policies because if they did they would lose all legitimacy.

This means that 45% of the American populous is in denial over the Bush years, and that delusion feeds in to their nomination of Mitt Romney, whose lies on the campaign trail are bewildering. It is as if he lives in a different universe. He states things that are factually wrong as if they were true and the audience accepts it, because they have already accepted far bigger lies.

If they didn't they would be left with the awful reality outside of the planet Conserveranus. Obama cannot reach these people, cannot be their president, because the fissure torn through the country is between fact-based reality and bizarro world.

"What the hell", I hear you ask, "has this to do with monarchy and the Jubilee?"

This is what: I don't believe that GWB could ever have hoped to maintain the unity of the nation. I'm not giving the guy a pass on the catastrophic series of decisions he made, but the office of the presidency is one of policy and decision making. If Obama had been president then, the result would have been similar. Making decisions and pursuing agenda items is inherently divisive.

His role as Head of State is compromised by his role as leader of a political party and ratifier of policy. Bush could have done a better job; he could have kept the pursuit of Bin Laden and the destruction of al-Queda out of the political arena - but the President himself still could not have continued as the unifying face of America.

The Queen is burdened by no such responsibilities. Her position as Head of State demands only that she fulfil functions such as welcoming other Heads of State, making a speech at the opening of Parliament, and again to the cameras at Christmas and living a dignified example of a life between times.

She fulfils her role in ceremonies, dines with presidents and kings and gives private counsel to her own Prime Minister. She does not have to push a plan to sort out the budget. She does not send our troops overseas. She does not have to defend ministers who are caught with their fingers in the till, or with their trousers around their ankles.

She represents Britain and the Commonwealth without making any decision on any matter anywhere but in her own household. Thus her role is not an inherently divisive one. Whether there should be a monarchy or not may present a divergence of opinion, but not many things that the Queen actually does can be a matter for debate beyond "should the tax-payer pay for it?"

She presents a focus for feelings of national pride and unity without having to make divisive decisions. That is how the monarchy works in the modern age. That is the benefit of separating the role of Head of State from the democratic process.

The price? To be represented by someone appointed, supposedly, by God, and not by the people.

1 comment:

  1. Not appointed by the people maybe, but certainly approved by us - Charles I, James II, Edward VIII show what happens to the disapproved. As for politicians transcending politics, Churchill's the only one I recall, perhaps because a maverick. GWB and Lloyd George in similar circs could not kick the political habit. Oliver Cromwell tried to discard monarchy, ended up doing the job himself. Our constitution is the product of evolution, the monarchy rather like the peacock's tail - doesn't do much, but without it we'd be just like everyone else.