BY ALPHIE MCCOURT | Prince Harry toured the States last May: He came, he saw, he conquered. Men admire him. Women love him.
His mother Princess Diana died in a car accident in Paris in 1997. In our friends’ house, in Pennsylvania, we learned that she had been badly injured and, later, that she was dead. I was sad. My wife was deeply disturbed. She continued to watch the television coverage of the tragedy. I went on up to bed.
When I came down in the morning she was already transfixed by the news footage. Diana was stylish and glamorous, her good works praiseworthy. I was deeply saddened, especially because of her youth and beauty, but I felt no connection.
I tried to articulate all this but my brain was still sleeping. “Oh, is she still dead?” was what came out of my mouth. In an awkward moment I had uttered a stupid and seemingly callous remark. It was not what I meant to say. Some months later, I asked Lynn why women feel so strongly about Diana.
“Women have few heroes,” she said. “Diana was a superstar, superhero and — an English princess.”
Let’s face it: We have “a thing” for the English. We admire them and condescend to them in equal measure. We are also intimidated by them. Public television depends heavily on British programming. During the 1970s, the long-running series “Upstairs, Downstairs” fed our fascination with the English upper classes and their servants. “Downton Abbey” is our latest craze. Set on a large estate, it has an English lord and his American wife as central characters. The English are forever fascinated by the First World War. And with good reason. “Downton” begins before the outbreak of that war, continues on through and chronicles the changes that took place in English society after the war. We are no less fascinated.
The English yearn for the days when everyone in England was English, when people knew their place, when honor — and order — prevailed. Who would begrudge our own yearning for a dash of nobility and honor, of style, even? Blue and red, absolutists all, we are stuck between lockstep liberals and fevered fundamentalists. Is it any wonder that we look to the “Downton Abbey” of another time for order, stability and clarity?
Good old-fashioned openness in government has given way to something called transparency. Our leaders travel in bulletproof vehicles with tinted windows — all in the interest of security, we are assured. There is no access to our leaders.
“Money makes women horny,” Willie Nelson once said, a quote he attributed to Ray Price. It takes a king’s ransom to run for office, and payback is a you-know-what. And so, money also buys access.
What can we do? Well, we could burnish the illusion that ours is a fair system with liberty and justice for all. But why bother, when we have a de facto aristocracy already in place and the poor are relearning their proper place, while the shrinking middle class juggles the mortgage for all. And we are blessed with a virtual guarantee of perpetual war, “over there,” our no-fault insurance against ever having to bear responsibility for the bottomless chasm at home.
We can bow our heads in tribute to the Founding Fathers and still ensure that privilege takes precedence. But it’s all so dull and temptation is great. We’re human, after all, and, as Oscar Wilde said, the best way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.
So why not kill two stones with one bird, keep our simulacrum of democracy — and get us a monarch to top it off? You can lease a car, a jet or rent an escort. Why not a king or a queen? Our monarch should be English. An English-speaking king or queen will cement “the special relationship.” As a rental, the monarch’s status will not violate the Constitution and, since he or she is only a temp, we will not have to pay retirement or other benefits.
Surely, we can find a royal cousin willing to take the job. (Harry would be terrific — but a royal, wearing two crowns, would raise constitutional issues). The monarch’s term of office would run for no more than eight years, in accordance with the term limits imposed on the president. Lend-lease worked well during the war. Rent-A-Royal should work equally well. We gain a cornerstone for our new and improved democracy: Britain saves a ton of money on the upkeep of one royal.
To distinguish ours from the British monarch, HRH, Her Royal Highness, our King/Queen will be dubbed His/Her Royal Rented Highness — HRRH. HRRH will spend two-thirds of the year in the royal castles in Disney World and Disneyland. The remaining few months will be spent traveling to Minnesota, for the ice fishing or to New York, for the shopping, as the case may be. The Department of Royal Maintenance will administer the royal affairs.
HRRH will never appear in Congress, though he or she may ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, upon request. Monarch and consort will dress in ceremonial attire a few times a year. Politicians, power brokers and their consorts will join them and dress accordingly. Once a year, HRRH will dine at the White House. Horse and carriage will be the mode of transportation on these occasions.
Soon the leaders of the blue and red parties will forswear their divisive ways and readily appropriate a ton of money to maintain the royal establishments. The rich will grow richer, the privileged more privileged and the poor even more impoverished. Our stars will be perfectly aligned.
And what of the citizen? The citizen will keep his head down. Days, nights and weekends he will toil, multitasking, doing three jobs, thankful to be paid for one. Distracted by foreign wars and royal spectacle at home, he will appear not to notice his enslavement to ever-longer working hours. And the disappearance of his children’s opportunities into the maw of the 21st century.
The monarch, meanwhile, will attend the Super Bowl, with retinue in tow. Or imagine HRRH at the Kentucky Derby, knee deep in old money and fawned upon by the chosen. The Yeas and Nays of democracy will soon be drowned out by the Oohs and Aahs of our royalist fantasies. HRRH will captivate the men and wow the women. In our indifference to the corruption of our democratic tradition, we will be united. Political discourse will die and dissent become but a distant memory.
What now of the citizen? The citizen has been silent, yes, but he is never indifferent. Weary, now, of frippery and sick and tired of war, he will soon rise up at the ballot box. Vote N.O.T.A. — NONE OF THE ABOVE (or throw the bums out) — will be his battle cry. Then, with regret (for the monarch is a good guy and a Yankees fan), he will fire the royal (with a year’s notice, a good reference and, of course, a decent severance package).
And we will start afresh.