Friday, September 16, 2022

Royalty and Competence

I don't care much about the British monarchy. I can't tell one prince or princess from the other, forget which one is the international playboy and which one is supposed to be the geeky intellectual. Queen Elizabeth has been around my whole life, always apparently gracious and proper and likeable. Nice lady, I'm sorry to see her go. None of it affects me in any way.

In the US of course we don't have royalty, really. We have multigenerational dynasties of the filthy-rich and political wheeler-dealers, we have oligarchs, but we don't have people who acquire power as a birthright and rule by just being there.

A quote by C.S. Lewis has been going around since the Queen died, and there is something to it:

Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes or film-stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.

The Spectator, vol. CLXXI (27 August 1943), p. 192

The idea of "honoring royalty" is feral and irrational, or, as Lewis says, spiritual. You put a crown on somebody's head and they become the Great Parent to the society. The honor is completely undeserved, and that is clearly some of the attraction of it. Even if they do not make decisions or do anything other than give medals and host galas, the people look up to their royalty with love and respect. C.S. Lewis argued that people have an innate need for inequality, and saw royalty as a response to that; royalty is just an artificially created inequality that puts one person above others but does not necessarily do any real harm to the lesser population, at least in modern times.

It seems to me that logically the goal in a democracy is to select leaders who can lead. These should be people who understand the topics involved, who surround themselves with wise advisors, who make decisions based on facts and principles, who inspire the citizenry and persuade the legislature to pass laws that are good for the country. I mean, this makes sense, doesn't it?

On the other hand, the US elects movie stars, guys you'd like to have a beer with, wits and charmers, and recently a minor reality-TV character with a string of bankruptcies, divorces, and lawsuits behind him -- almost exactly as Lewis predicted in 1943.

We Americans tend to scoff at the idea of a king or queen but we can't seem to get over it. Our political campaigns are a charade of gotchas and poses, slogans, grins and handshakes, none of which have anything at all to do with running a country. We -- and looking at history I primarily mean Republicans -- seem to have a need to choose a leader based on some hard-to-explain qualities of personality. It is almost always someone who is richer than ninety-nine percent of us, at least. It is always someone with more expensive suits than you or I could afford, they belong to clubs that wouldn't take us, their hair is always perfect. The inequality between the voters and the candidates may actually be the point of the campaigns. Republican candidate's slogan: I Am Better Than You.

It seems to me we should decide, are we trying to elect someone to run the country, or do we want to pick a Daddy? Do we want good policies to be enacted or somebody to spank us when we're bad and send us to our room without dinner?

I should point out that Joe Biden has been one of the most effective presidents ever. He has passed a ton of huge bills, with little comment in the press. He is improving the country in many ways, fighting poverty, bringing down the deficit, negotiating international policies. But his favorability ratings have never been commensurate with his leadership successes.

This week the railroads almost shut down, they had already canceled a lot of trains in anticipation of a strike. Our groceries were going to rot in the fields, fuel would not be delivered, supply chains and manufacturing and trade were going to be disrupted, the American economy was on the brink of getting hammered because of a conflict between labor and management. But the president sent his cabinet person to meet with the two sides, he himself got on the phone with them, they worked it out and now the crisis is averted. This feat will not affect his popularity with voters -- this isn't what they are looking for. Daddy didn't get mad, nobody got a spanking, there was no controversy and no spectacle on TV.

Seems to me, thinking logically, this is what we want -- somebody who can run things.

There are Republican governors and others now hoping to be president, and they are paving the way by doing despicable things and making sure the TV cameras are pointed at them. They are mocking transgender people and pregnant women, taunting those who came here seeking asylum, undermining the separation of church and state, trying to break the election process, denouncing science and education, owning the libs in ways that actual liberals are generally unaware of. As leaders their decisions are bad for the people who depend on them, but that doesn't matter because they are campaigning to be Daddy (and a couple of Stern Mothers).

I am not suggesting that the US should have royalty. The grown-up thing for our country is to learn to distinguish between the feral desire for a surrogate parent and the civilized need for someone who has the skills to run a country, and to support leaders who are competent to lead.