I can only imagine many Britons are still in mourning over the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8. But, like many Americans, I don’t really care. While much of the American media still treats the British royal family as iconic figures, the overwhelming majority of us couldn’t care less what they do or say.
The only member of that tribe I liked was the late Princess Diana. I always felt she had more class in her little finger than the entire gang put together. When she and Prince Charles wed in 1981, many Britons had begun questioning the purpose of a royal family. Their political power had officially been stripped decades earlier. They’re figurative leaders, and Elizabeth was considered a “Sovereign Head of State”. But there’s no question the Windsors remain deeply influential. They were among the few European royal families to survive the carnage of World War II.
Regardless of their heritage, I consider Elizabeth and the entire Windsor clan representative of the legacy of colonial repression and European superiority complex. What purpose do they – or any of the other royal families around the globe – truly serve? The Windsors own a multitude of properties in the British Isles and cost local taxpayers billions every year. England is currently in an economic crisis. The Windsors pay some taxes, but – like the wealthiest citizens of most every society on Earth – the actual percentage is questionable and unknown. That’s by design.
If you want to get an idea of what many in the British Commonwealth think about Elizabeth, watch this piece on Jamaican reaction to her death. Like the peoples of many former British colonies, Jamaicans were forced to give their lives to enrich the “Crown”. England, like France and other European powers, slaughtered millions of Indigenous Americans and then snatched millions of Indigenous Africans to replace them. After World War II, the British Empire was compelled to relinquish two of its biggest colonial prizes: Canada and India. The fought bitterly to hold onto the Falkland Islands in 1982, but eventually gave up Hong Kong in 1997.
I have to commend the British for doing something positive overall to make some kind of amends for their activities in many parts of the globe, especially Africa.
Years ago many conservative Americans criticized President Obama and his wife, Michelle, for not bowing or curtsying to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. I reminded many that our president doesn’t bow or curtsy to the British monarchy or any royal family. While the U.S. and England are historically and inexorably bonded, the American Revolution was about divorcing ourselves from the power and influence of British royalty. We represent a true democracy – not a monarchial federation.
The world knows what the French and Russians did to their royal families. I don’t suggest the same fate befall the Windsors or any other regal clan. But no one can seem to answer – what purpose do these people serve in a modern world?
I have a tenuous connection to the Windsor clan – emphasis on tenuous. Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, was a chronic smoker. So was my paternal grandfather, Epigmenio De La Garza, who was born in 1893. In February 1952, both George and my grandfather had surgeries to remove part of one lung. Both the surgeons who worked on King George and the ones who worked on my grandfather attended the same medical school. King George died. My grandfather survived and lived for another 17 years.
Fate, like irony, makes for strange outcomes in life.
The announcement of the summit alarmed everyone. They didn’t know what to make of it. What would happen? So, as the key players gathered, many held their collective breath. Others dismissed it as the usual pomp and circumstance. Again, interested parties wondered, what would come of this?
Was it another meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin? Had the World Court convened to mediate yet another dispute between Israel and Palestine? Did México’s president finally agree to pay for that border wall?
No, it wasn’t anything that dramatic – except for the tabloids. Queen Elizabeth II had summoned members of her immediate family to discuss their royal duties. More specifically if Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, really did plan to step back from their title-bound obligations. And, once again, the American press focused so much of their time and energy on this sudden turn of events.
Yet, amidst the chaos, I have to make a very simple inquiry: WHO CARES?!
Seriously! With all due respect to my British friends, acquaintances and fellow writers and bloggers, the average American citizen doesn’t give a damn what happens with the British royal family! And I suspect many average Britons don’t care either.
But here we are – AGAIN – with several American media outlets wasting more of their – and our – time telling us what that group of entitled bluebloods are doing. A while back they spent a great deal of time revealing that Prince Philip had decided to retire from his royal duties and remain at Buckingham Palace, the Windsor family’s primary abode; an 800-room monstrosity that dates to the 18th century. How does one retire from duties that really aren’t a job?
My mother retired from the insurance industry at age 70. She gets two pensions, plus social security. She literally worked for half a century – dealing with gender and racial harassment; gossipy coworkers; rude customers; and unsavory managers. I recall her bringing work home sometimes, just so she could get caught up – although she didn’t get overtime. That was on top of helping my father raise me and tending to the house. She also had to deal with migraine headaches, which often struck in the midst of meetings and conference calls. Gosh, did Prince Philip have to deal with that shit?
Ever since Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer wed in 1981, the American press has held an incredible fascination with the British monarchy. I have to concede that Diana had more class, grace and style than the entire Windsor family combined. I’m actually glad that her sons, William and Harry, inherited both her looks and her sense of generosity.
But, if you take away all of their regal extravagance, the Windsors would qualify as little more than trailer park trash here in the U.S. And, in all fairness, I’ve known people who lived in trailer parks and had more class than the Windsor clan.
Since the United States has such a close relationship with Great Britain – it’s from their tight grasp that we were born – I suppose it’s natural many of my fellow citizens would be enamored with British royalty. After all, we aren’t similarly obsessed with the royal families of India, Japan, the Netherlands, or Spain.
But, as an average American whose taxes help fund the livelihood of the First Family (in this case, the Trumps, already among the wealthiest families in the world), I have to point out that it is average Britons whose tax money funds the livelihoods of the Windsor family. While Great Britain suffered through severe economic downturns in the immediate aftermath of World War II and through subsequent national events – such as IRA bombings and coal miner strikes – money was still being sucked out of the paychecks of working people so the Windsors could move from one grand home to another and gallop across the globe. It’s British taxpayers who finance those extravagant state dinners at Buckingham Palace where only the rich and powerful can partake of exquisite meals.
Twenty years ago Prime Minister Tony Blair made a concerted attempt to tackle child poverty in the U.K. At the time officials estimated approximately 34% of children in Great Britain lived in households impacted by poverty. Blair’s goal was eliminate poverty – or at least severely reduce it – within a generation. Sadly, results have been mixed. But at least he tried.
The U.S. president is more intent on spending billions of American dollars (tax-payer money) to build a wall along our southern border to keep all those varmint Mexicans out. Never mind that my Indian and Spanish ancestors had dominated the region long before there was a United States or a Trump family. That, of course, is a different history.
I suspect much of the child poverty in England could be resolved by pulling money out of the coffers of the Windsors and inserting into health and education programs specifically aimed at children and working families. The U.S. could do something similar with taxes levied against the largest corporations and wealthiest families who already don’t pay much in taxes. Families who – much like the Trump clan – feel they’re somehow entitled to their luxurious lifestyles; an existence for them that comes at the expense of we lowly peons who struggle with increasing costs of living on a daily basis.
I don’t know what will come of the aforementioned “royal summit” and, of course, I DON’T CARE! Plenty of English citizens are opposed to the Windsors and to the general concept of a royal family. We certainly know what France and Russia did to their monarchies. I don’t wish a similar fate to befall the Windsors. But it wouldn’t hurt them to relinquish Buckingham Palace to the city of London to be transformed into a museum. Their plethora of jewels possibly could fund complete renovations of every single school building in the U.K. Elizabeth and Philip could sell off the bulk of their homes, and the entire clan could settle quietly into a single multi-room estate and write books about their privileged lives as a source of income.
See! If we average people ruled the world, there would be no war, poverty, sick and hungry children or overpriced state dinners. And everyone would have a place at the table!
Shortly after Donald Trump was sworn into office as the 45th President of the United States, I referred to various photographs of the Trump family in their multi-million-dollar New York penthouse residence. “The Donald” is, of course, featured prominently front and center, with his (third) glamorous, trophy wife perched nearby; along with their son, Baron, and the real estate magnate’s adult children. Almost as prominent are the slew of plush, gilded furnishings spread throughout the abode. I kept thinking I’d seen similar photographs before; various pictures from newspapers and magazine, as well as recollections of a TV show that truly embodied 1980s-era chic and gluttony: “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” (Trump was featured in the very first episode and made recurring appearances.)
At one point, though, I turned to my massive collection of books and spotted one that displayed an even more accurate depiction of the Trump family; another clan who lived long ago in similar plush surroundings, perched high above the lowly masses. Lindsey Hughes’ “The Romanovs: Ruling Russia 1613 – 1917” describes the life and times of Russia’s last monarchal family. For more than 300 years, the Romanovs directly impacted world politics with their wealth and power; creating a massive empire that – even in today’s watered-down version – stretches across two continents. From Tsar Michael to Tsar Nicholas II, the Romanovs maintained a steady grip on the region; impressing their subjects and striking fear in their enemies.
But, by the time the dynasty marked its tercentenary in 1913, that grip had begun to weaken. Like the rest of Europe’s royal families, the Romanovs remained encapsulated in their heavily-fortified palatial environs; far removed from the sundry plights tormenting their own people and oblivious to the real world lurking outside those jewel-encrusted walls. Nicholas II was the first of the European monarchs to be ousted from power, as World War I intruded into Russian territory, and a growing internal revolution stalked the Romanov family.
While the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophia, essentially marked the start of World War I, the death of the Romanovs signified the end – not just to the war, but also to the long-held concept that power and wealth are best held in the hands and pockets of a blessed few and that those few are part of the same bloodline that is never to be disturbed or questioned. It was shocking enough to international onlookers that a single gunman was able to kill Franz and Sophia with a few shots from a pistol; even as many outside of Europe initially wondered where was this place called Austria-Hungary. But, as news of the Romanovs’ demise trickled out, the anger and frustration of an oppressed people became brutally apparent. Nicholas and his immediate family, along with a handful of servants, were peppered with bullets in a basement far removed from their stately home; their bodies burned beyond recognition and dumped in neighboring woods.
The Trump family in their New York penthouse abode.
World War I was actually the culmination of the growing anarchist movement, which had its genesis in the heated anger of economic and social inequality among Europe’s working classes, before spreading westward across the Atlantic to plant itself in the U.S. and Canada. Even México had succumbed to the wrath of the peasant masses; with outlaws Francisco “Pancho” Diaz and Emiliano Zapata joining forces to lead a revolt against a semi-monarchal dynasty of wealthy landowners and bankers.
This was the dawn of the 20th century; where ordinary people – the one who really keep a nation moving – finally stood up and collectively announced, “Enough!” The rampages continued, as Europe began losing their colonial holdings in Africa and elsewhere, and Latin American nations saw military dictatorships crumble in the face of concerted human rights’ campaigns. One of the 20th century’s last acts of peasant anarchy came with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Romania, the chaos became lethal when leader Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were dragged before a court trial staged by their otherwise lowly subjects, found guilty and lynched in public. That something so horrific could happen in 1989 shocked the world. But, for the oppressed peoples of staunchly communist Romania, it was perhaps the best Christmas present they’d ever had.
In 1900, China’s Boxer Rebellion was a desperate attempt by commoners to boot out European interlopers, which included assaults on Christian missionaries and converts. Some 100,000 people lost their lives in the various battles that summer. But a growing dissatisfaction towards the Qing Dynasty and the family of Emperor Puyi (sometimes spelled P’u-i) compelled the working classes to descend upon the sacred and mysterious “Forbidden City.” Puyi was only 3 years old when he ascended to the throne in 1908; less than four years later he was forced to abdicate and lived out the rest of his life as an undistinguished commoner. At the start of the 20th century, it seemed that China was poised to endure the same experience as the African continent: be carved up by European colonialists. But, if the Chinese people no longer wanted single family rule, did anyone believe they’d let bands of foreigners from the other side of the globe do the same? By the 1930s, China had evicted the Europeans.
World War II fractured Europe. A few royal families managed to survive; most notably in Great Britain. But they were all financially and morally exhausted. This culminated in the U.K. losing their colonial hold on India and Pakistan in 1947. Next came the vast continent of Africa, where European decolonialization occurred over the ensuing four decades; a massive undertaking that involved millions of people on a scale the world had never experienced before.
Imprisoned by the British in 1953 following the Mau Mau uprising and exiled in 1959, Jomo Kenyatta later emerged as one of the best-known African leaders. He served as Kenya’s first president from 1967 – 1978 and founded various pan-African nationalist movements.
In the Middle East, anarchism produced schizophrenic results. Anti-royal sentiments led to the 1973 deposition of the Barakzai, Afghanistan’s royal family. That may have set the stage for the Soviet Union’s bloody but futile attempt to annex that country in 1979. However, the U.S. became unexpectedly mired in the antagonism of the Iranian populace towards their own royal family, the Pahlavis. Shah Reza Pahlavi had crowned himself emperor in 1967 and led a brutal regime where dissidence was punished with unprecedented violence and oppression – tools common among wicked oligarchs. Pahlavi’s 1978 ouster led to the notorious Iran Hostage Crisis, which caught both the U.S. and the world completely off-guard. Concerned more with the Soviet threat and the oddly-christened “Cold War,” the U.S. government unwittingly experienced its first battle with Islamic extremism.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, royal families held on in Jordan and Syria. The discovery of oil on the Arabian Peninsula in the 1930s allowed the region’s ruling families and their subjects to be pulled up from the doldrums of a tribal / fiefdom-style existence and dropped into the vats of unimaginable wealth. No one seemed to care that women couldn’t drive cars, much less vote.
Average Mexican citizens rose up in 1910 to depose President Porfirio Diaz who ruled over them off and on for nearly four decades.
While anarchist anger dominated the 20th century, does the same hold true now? Studying the Trump clan, I can’t help but conjure up images of the Romanovs. Economic inequality is just as great now as it was a hundred years ago. We’ve returned to that “Gilded Age” period where the bulk of the world’s wealth and power sit in the grubby hands of a privileged few. The recent “Great Recession” was the worst economic downturn the U.S. had experienced since the “Great Depression.” Both debacles were the result of greed and political incompetence; the former mess instigated by the verbally-challenged scion of another monarchal-type dynasty: the Bush family. Aside from producing two of the worst presidencies within a generation, the Bush clan’s close ties to the Saudi royal family essentially allowed planning for and execution of the 9/11 events to go unnoticed; thus culminating in one misguided war and another illegitimate one, as the economy glided atop a housing bubble that didn’t just pop – it exploded. If regulations and measures a liberal president had established some eight decades ago hadn’t been in place, both the U.S. economy and the U.S. populace would have sunk into chaotic and murderous oblivion.
Power and wealth usually go together; conjoined twins that sometimes have no mercy for the commoners squirming beneath them. The leftist “Occupy Wall Street” movement didn’t gain as much traction as the right-wing “Tea Party,” which claimed passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 as the seeds of their founding; when, in fact, it was the election of the nation’s first biracial president that pissed them off. If they were so upset about undue taxation, they would have put blame for the economic downturn where it belonged: on the backs of their own Washington leaders who keep propagating the myth of “trickle-down economics.”
But the rise of a foul-mouthed, thrice-married bombastic businessman to the highest office in the land has lit another fire beneath millions of ordinary Americans frustrated with a “jobless recovery”; no one going to jail for causing the recent banking / home loan debacle; and endless conflicts in the Middle East. The illegitimacy of Donald Trump’s placement in the White House makes a mockery of the American democratic experience. Our 18th century predecessors carefully designed a unique concept of governing and valiantly fought against the very people who brought them here. The United States was an outlandish experiment that could have gone seriously wrong if so many people hadn’t realized its true value and potential over the ensuing centuries. As a nation, we didn’t want a group of self-righteous elitists – families riddled with colorblindness, hemophilia and unbridled arrogance – to rule over us and not be questioned. Our American forbears understood that humanity must work as a unit to achieve the best possible society. The various civil rights actions of the past 200 years – from abolitionism to gay/lesbian rights – have helped to refine this strange idea known as democracy.
Looking again at the Trump clan, I still can’t help but think of the Romanovs and realize how much they all have in common. However, I don’t wish the same fate upon the Trumps. As brutal as we often seem to the international community, that’s not what Americans do or who we are.
Either way, we didn’t want or need a royal family 240 years ago to impose its fickle will upon our lives – and we don’t want or need one now.
Film footage of Tsar Nicholas II’s coronation in May 1896. It’s one of the earliest known (and one of the fewest surviving) motion pictures and the first known example of the new medium utilized to capture a major news event.