America’s underlying longing for kings

Our adoration of monarchy means we’ve got one

Todd Walton is the author of Buddha in a Teacup.

When I lived in Sacramento, Princess Diana came to town for a visit.

As part of her tour, she took a peek at Sutter’s Fort (which is not really Sutter’s Fort but a replica for tourists and schoolchildren). Lady Di was expected to draw a small crowd when she visited the fake fort. Little did local authorities expect the tens of thousands who came to gawk at the royal celebrity.

I happened to be bicycling downtown, unaware of the princess’s visit when I collided with the fringes of the mob.

“What’s happening?” I asked the camera-laden gawkers.

My question was greeted with snorts of derision. Did I not know that She had come? She, the royal brood mare of He who might one day be king?

When People magazine decided to sell all its ad space for a single issue to a single advertiser, it launched the program with a Princess Diana cover story. This made sense, because whenever People ran a Princess Di cover, it sold 10 million more copies than usual.

Ten million.

Clairol bought the ad space for that issue. Beauty products. How appropriate.

In recent news, Obama’s health-care plan was compared to McCain’s health-care plan. Nevermind that neither really has a plan, but what struck me was the commentator’s use of the words “his” and “he.” Suddenly, the puzzle pieces fell into place and I understood American history more clearly than ever before. I understood our nation’s voracious hunger for glimpses into the lives of celebrities. I understood why we would impeach a president for lying about a blow job but not for intentionally lying so he could go to war, bankrupt the nation and kill countless innocent people. I understood why we elected a movie star to be governor and president, and why we’ve elected another movie-star governor, though neither man knew anything about governing. I understood why Congress rubber-stamps trillions for “his” war. I understood why political campaigns are about appearance and deportment, and not about policies. I understood why our government tolerates and engenders massive poverty.

And I understood the terrible machinations of the CIA and the FBI: the assassinations, the coups and the infiltration of grassroots movements. I understood why we have a two-party system instead of a parliamentary one. I understood why the president appoints the Supreme Court justices rather than their being chosen for brilliance and impartiality. I understood the contempt for the Constitution among members of our Congress. I understood why television convinces more people how to vote than substantive argument does. I understood why we don’t rise up and throw the bastards out.

It’s because, at heart, we’re a nation of monarchists, and the ruling class knows it.

And which famous monarchy do we now most resemble? I’ll give you a hint: When the people revolted against that particular king and ruling class, they used the guillotine to cleanse the blood, as it were, of the nation.