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County Hall Corner: Long and Well Lived the Queen

This column is devoted to political activities that concern people in Lycoming County. But the passing of Queen Elizabeth after a reign of 70 years provides a useful template to compare our democracy to that of our friends across the pond.

The United Kingdom is the proper name for the countries of England, Wales, and Scotland (known as Great Britain) and Northern Island. This federation, known as the United Kingdom, is a constitutional monarchy. That seems like a strange definition, given that the reigning monarch has no responsibility for making any open political decisions. These are all done by the government and Parliament.

So it begs the question — why is the government of the United Kingdom known as Her (now His) Majesty’s government? Very simply, because the Queen or King represents their country. The tradition goes back over a thousand years, and though it is an antiquated, anachronistic, way past its expiration date tradition — the Brits still love it! It is worth reflecting on why.

Think about the United States for a moment and ask yourself what represents our country. Immediately the American flag comes to mind. At the recent 9/11 Memorial Ride, virtually every motorcyclist had a flag on their bike if not more than one. Does any other country have an image as powerful as the six US Marines raising the American flag on the top of Mount Suribachi at the Battle of Iwo Jima? I know a young man who lost his US passport in Estonia and had to find the US Embassy in Tallinn’s capital city. He was having difficulty locating it until he saw the American flag in the distance. Just seeing it assured him everything would be OK.

The Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial — all resonate with our heritage and what our country represents. Yet, as profound as the symbolism of our flag and all these other memorials are, they lack something important. They are static. They are not alive. They have no soul. We cannot really interact with them, only acknowledge them.

Compare this with Queen Elizabeth. She became Queen in 1952 at the age of 25 with the passing of her father, King George VI. Since then, the Queen has met every US president, from Truman to Biden, with the exception of Lyndon Johnson. Think about that for just a moment. Imagine how different those fourteen presidents were from one another, yet they all represented our country. Our presidents are received very differently in the world based on their politics, but the British royalty is always treated around the world like — well, royalty.

And consider how Queen Elizabeth has represented her country. Her image is on stamps, coins, and bank notes that have been circulated around the world. In countless public events, she exemplified the attributes of duty and responsibility with the utmost dignity and grace. Her role was to promote her country, and she did it well, possibly meeting more people than anyone in history. She was not expressing herself as Queen Elizabeth — she was the very embodiment of the United Kingdom.

Through seven decades of wars, tragedies, and crises, the Queen was a rock that would not be moved. And beyond that, she did not allow her personal concerns to impact her service to her country. For example, in 1992, her son, Prince Andrew, divorced, her daughter, Princess Anne, separated, her son, the heir apparent, Prince Charles, separated from his wife Diana, and just to add a little more misery was the daughter-in-law, Sarah Ferguson, frolicking half nude in the tabloids. And oh yes, her official residence, Windsor Castle, burned down that year.

Yet when asked about all this, she replied, “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.” That is class. This is why the British loved their Queen so much; she kept them centered, and she never wavered no matter what. The great British novelist and scholar C. S. Lewis explained this, “Where men are forbidden to honor a king, they honor 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.”

Let us acknowledge that the British have something special that has served them well. We have nothing like that in the United States, nor should we. Our birth as a nation was entirely different. We have to work harder to maintain our heritage, values, and rights because the symbols of our nation are not alive. We have to give them breath. We must remember when we see our flag or iconic buildings or monuments that they celebrate our history and the best of who we are. And this must never be taken for granted.

Benjamin Franklin realized this from the beginning. Legend has it that a woman asked him as he exited Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787. “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”