The queen is dead. Long live the king.
Queen Elizabeth II ended her reign and service to the British people like she started it. With no pomp and circumstance until the English penchant for pageantry kicked in. First with a resplendent 1952 coronation and 70 years later with an elaborate funeral.
Elizabeth was born into a royal family. Next in line to the monarchy. Brought into the world as a clueless and helpless infant.
But quickly acceptant of what tradition and citizens expected as she grew to adulthood. To be a dignified exemplar of the culture and steadying influence in chaotic and even dangerous times.
To sit atop a governmental structure that is an amalgam of both aristocratic oversight and democratic dynamism. A system that accepts its parts as mutually supportive. An aristocrat who is maternalistically wise working with a family of those who represent the partisan wishes of the people who elect them.
Generally referred to as a constitutional monarchy. Lofty wisdom reinforced by a love of the people mixed with the turmoil caused by their political preferences and demands.
Our nation is roughly modeled on that British parliamentary form of government. With major differences.
George Washington rejected the chance to be an American king and head of state. Which caused us to combine the positions of head of state and chief executive of the government into one popularly elected presidency.
That modification made sense in 1787. It makes sense to us today.
But merging those two functions causes our democracy to be overwhelmed by political rancor and petty disputes. With no prevailing aura of national purpose other than our Constitution, flag, and traditions emanating from historical highpoints.
No calming influence coming from a loving parent figure within a monarchy.
A monarchy is not a guaranteed way to modulate the governing process and avoid political acrimony. Kings and queens are human too. They can be stupid, misguided, biased, petty, and even wicked.
But they are more inclined to assume the mantle of tradition founded on ancestral principles. As in what it means to be British. Historically and in terms of customs and allegiances.
If the monarch is smart and sensitive, with a deep desire to serve the people as a voice of reason and expression of need, something transcends political debate and the advocacy of extremes. That something is undimmed vision and belief in moral continuity. Sometimes misguided and even flawed. But nonetheless present and powerful.
Then there is the quality Elizabeth II had in spades: dignity. Dignity is a characteristic politicians rarely demonstrate because their governmental systems make it hard to achieve.
Even our most esteemed political leaders lack dignity when running for office. Extreme partisanship, contentious debate, campaign missteps, and impatient or agitated temperament can extinguish dignified behavior.
And modern media has made the melee even worse than it was during the “yellow journalism” days. When powerful publishers could sway public opinion with editorials and biased reporting.
We badly need dignity in our leaders. A behavior to emulate as we navigate our own challenges in life. Dignity in the guise of authentic caring for others, respect for the opinions of everyone, the giving of credit to those who deserve it, and always telling the truth.
Believing in the value of democratic discourse, with a demeanor of reasonableness and acceptance when it is deserved.
Dignity is not pompous or selfish. It is accepting and complimentary, with a curiosity that seeks ideas and opinions of others. And incorporates them into better ways to lead. Acknowledging the worth of everyone.
Dignity is not the characteristic of a perfect human being. Christians believe that happened only once. But it can appear to be present in a few more contemporary people not possessing such celestial connections.
Among American political leaders, Dwight Eisenhower came close. As did Colin Powell.
Catholic popes have too. Certain American first ladies seem to qualify, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Barbara Bush, and Michelle Obama.
Not to be overlooked are Mahatma Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama. And a long list of others.
All icons of the warmth and graciousness known as dignity. A demeanor that invites reflection and dedication to a higher form of human interaction.
It is time for us all to demonstrate dignity in our everyday and ordinary lives. Not to just hover above the fray, but to accept each other as being worthy and valuable. Allowing political disagreements to remain in that arena of debate. Then to enter a temple of contemplation that opens insight and deeper understanding.
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