On my mother’s side of the family, I can trace my ancestry in America back to a Scottish immigrant named Archibald MacEachron, who came to the British colonies in 1648, before America was America.

Archibald and Scots like him were sent to upstate New York, at what was then the edge of the frontier, to act as a human buffer zone between the Native American nations, who weren’t super thrilled at the uninvited squatters, and the real English settlers. His grandson Cornelius “Neil” MacEachron fought on the side of the colonists in the Revolutionary War. And I’m an inveterate coffee drinker. All this is to say that I’m a bit wary of the British monarchy in general.

I understand that for many people, Queen Elizabeth II was the personification of Britishness and a meaningful figurehead for seven decades. For some (a lot of people, considering the size of the royal family trees), she was a beloved relative. Their feelings of loss are certainly valid. But for many other people around the world – including but not limited to the Irish, Indians, Sri Lankans, Singaporeans, Malaysians and the citizens of several Caribbean countries and more than a dozen African nations – Queen Elizabeth II can’t be separated from some of the most oppressive, violent periods in the history of their nations. I literally can’t list all the countries that the British colonized and plundered, because it would take up too much space and newsprint is expensive these days. And Elizabeth didn’t just represent the hereditary descendants of ancient colonial history.

She was, for example, actively sitting on the throne of the England that brutalized Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s, which saw British forces systematically raping, torturing and forcing Kenyans into concentration camps. It was Irish revolutionary James Connolly, referring to King George V, Elizabeth’s paternal grandfather, who said: “We will not blame him for the crimes of his ancestors if he relinquishes the royal rights of his ancestors; but as long as he claims their rights by virtue of descent, then, by virtue of descent, he must shoulder the responsibility for their crimes.” He makes a solid point.

Whether a monarchy has any rightful place in the modern world is not a subject I’m particularly equipped to debate about or opine on. However, there is one thing I really do admire about the British system of government, and that is: the fact that the head of state and the head of the government are two different people.

In America, the head of state and the head of government is the same person: the president. I think this is one of the reasons presidents have such terrible approval ratings in general, and one of the reasons polarization just keeps increasing in our country. The head of any government, no matter how good, is going to piss off some people, just by dint of, you know, running the government. You can’t effectively make laws, collect taxes and generally keep the place going without upsetting someone. Some groups will think they are being taxed too much; other groups think they aren’t being taxed enough. One corporation will win a government contract and all the other ones will get upset. It’s pretty much impossible, then, for the head of the government to successfully be the head of the state, because the “head of state” is supposed to represent the country as a whole.

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That’s the genius of the British system, I think. Even if you hate the new prime minister (and there always seems to be a new one these days), you can still look at the queen and think, “Chumble that bobble, at least we’ve got Her Majesty representing us to the world.”

Having a secondary person to project your nation-feelings onto can be a powerful drainage channel for negative emotions. Humans are naturally drawn towards charismatic leaders. This probably wasn’t a huge problem in our early days as bands of hunter-gatherers, but when that tendency takes hold on the scale of industrial society, that’s when you get fascism. (Also, cults.) Having a figurehead toward whom to devote loyalty and attention – but who has no power to make laws or command armed forces – could be a useful safeguard.

That does beg the question of who, in the United States, could be our head of state? Not many people inspire universal, inoffensive loyalty. Bob Ross might have been good, but he’s no longer with us. Maybe Dolly Parton? The glamour, the kindness, the rags-to-riches American Dream story could be perfect to represent us on the world stage. Can’t you imagine her leading the U.N. in a singalong? There’s Willie Nelson, who is so chill that all the crowds flocking to see him get a contact high. (He could also do a U.N. singalong.)

Beyoncé, maybe? Michael Jordan? Tom Hanks? My personal vote would be for Patrick Dempsey – he’s from Maine (always good!), raises money to take care of cancer patients and has a face carved by the hand of God himself. It’s hard to choose. That’s why democracy is often so difficult. Actively choosing a person to represent you to the world is so much harder than having one divinely appointed. But the right thing is not always the easy thing. And democracy is definitely still the right thing.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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