Monday, September 19, 2022

A life of service

I read David McCullough's biography of President Truman last year. On August 25, 1950, in anticipation of a crippling strike by railroad workers, he issued an executive order putting America’s railroads under the control of the U.S. Army, considering the intervention critical as he had just ordered American troops into a war against North Korean communist forces and much of America’s economic and defense infrastructure was dependent upon the smooth functioning of the tracks.

A telling detail is that in the afternoon the day before,  Truman had to go out to the White House South Lawn to host a reception for nearly nine hundred convalescent veterans from nearby military hospitals, among whom there were amputees and others who moved forward in the receiving line on crutches and in wheelchairs attended by nurses in starched white uniforms. Such garden parties for hospitalized veterans had been an annual tradition at the White House since 1919. Along with the First Lady, several of the Cabinet were present with their wives, as were Admiral Nimitz and General Bradley. The Marine Band played, strawberry ice cream and lemon punch were served, and for more than an hour Truman stood warmly greeting his guests, only once glancing over his shoulder in the direction of the Cabinet Room, not that there was any sign he resented interrupting knife-edge negotiations, he considered this symbolic part of his duties as President just as important as the nitty gritty of statecraft.

Why am I telling you all of this on the day of the Queen's funeral? Because it was on reading it that I was finally persuaded that having the head of state (the public persona who officially embodies a country's unity and legitimacy) as a ceremonial figurehead, is a better idea than combining the role with that of the head of government and more (such as the President of the United States, who is also commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces). Also that a constitutional monarchy is likely the best way to do it with a certain amount of glamour and dignity as personified in Her Majesty.

I can't bear this bloody thing': King Charles gets frustrated with leaky pen
Unfortunately, someone so irascible he can lose his rag about a pen (a pen!) in public and in front of television cameras is temperamentally unsuited for life as a ceremonial figurehead. The job will not be about him, it will be about him as a vehicle through which society's honour and respect is bestowed upon others. If Charles III doesn't understand that after seventy two years, he never will.

We should have gone straight to King William V. I don't think I have ever written it here before, but Prince William did his work experience with Andy Tea years and years ago; a very genial and pleasant fella I am told, a dab hand with the photocopier, and a genuine - as opposed to affected - Aston Villa supporter. 

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