Monday, September 12, 2022

My two near encounters with the Queen/Queen Elizabeth II and the social utility of royal families


On two occasions I almost had an encounter with Queen Elizabeth.  In1979, she and Prince Andrew came to Botswana where I was a Peace Corps volunteer.  The excitement was palpable as most people were enamored of the monarchy.  However, I am baffled by the idea of a family dynasty so I boycotted her visit.

On May 15, 1991, the queen came to Baltimore with her husband. George Bush Sr., Barbara and Secretary of War Dick Cheney accompanied the royals to Memorial Stadium to see a Baltimore Orioles baseball game. Note that in 1990 Saddam Hussein made the foolhardy decision to invade Kuwait.  In January and February of 1991, a coalition of forces led by the Bush administration expelled the Iraqi forces.  Members of Baltimore’s peace and justice community were concerned that Iran would be next on the Bush administration’s hit list.  And many of us had been involved in protests against the Reagan-Bush administration’s support for death squads in Central America, So we organized a protest at the stadium, and decided to do a balloon launch.  Somehow that balloon launch managed to clear a stadium wall with a banner stating NO WAR WITH IRAN. While Cheney did not get his war with Iran, his bloodlust led the US into two disastrous wars with Afghanistan and Iraq.    

While we were outside the stadium that night in May 1991, the Irish community was inside expressing this opinion to the queen -- “England out of Ireland."  One of the leaders of that protest was Brendan Walsh, co-founder of Viva House Catholic Worker. The message was to promote an end to partition, and the two groups inside the stadium were International Community for Justice in Ireland, and Irish Northern Aid. Presumably, the Queen was not very receptive to the message of Baltimore’s Irish community.

Finally, if you are not a fan of the monarchy, consider watching these two films.  Helen Mirren is Elizabeth in THE QUEEN [2006] and Kristen Stewart is Diana in SPENCER [2021]. Kagiso, Max

Queen Elizabeth II and the social utility of royal families

By Robert Reich September 8, 2022

  The death of Queen Elizabeth II is not a tragedy. Her life was long and noble, in every sense of the word.

  That Britain mourns her passing itself signals something special about the relationship between the Brits and their Royal Family. For it is in fact their royal family – not just an archaic symbol of what remains of the British Empire but a living, breathing, soap-opera of a family that in the minds of many Brits symbolized modern-day Britain.

  To those who say it’s bizarre for one of the world’s major democracies of the twenty-first century to cling to the fiction of royalty (and it is indeed a fiction – Queen Elizabeth II, and now her son, King Charles – have no tangible political power) I say this: It’s a relatively harmless fiction – and one that arguably meets the needs of people to gossip about, project upon, and vicariously live the lives of a storybook family that tries to be of service of the nation.

Here in America, many of us romanticize our presidents and their families, at least at the start of an administration. Remember Camelot?

But because our presidents head the executive branch of the government, the two roles – the projected glamor and the political reality – often get confused, leaving us disappointed if not disgusted.

After Camelot came Lyndon Johnson who pulled up dogs by their ears. And then, eventually, Donald (“when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the *****. You can do anything”) Trump.

Britain’s government may seem drab and boring (Boris Johnson to the contrary notwithstanding) but is at least free to do its boring best.

Here, we demand that our presidents and their spouses throw formal balls and state dinners, decorate the White House like a castle, appear in person at every major national anniversary or memorial or funeral, and always symbolize the nation.  

I’m certainly not suggesting America have a royal family. Just that Britain’s infatuation with its own may have some social utility there that we Yanks don’t understand.  

May Queen Elizabeth II RIP.

© 2022 Robert Reich

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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

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