The road not taken…

Early this morning I watched the House of Lords and the House of Commons presenting their condolences to King Charles III. Later I watched the solemn pomp and ceremony that carried the mortal remains of Queen Elizabeth II from Holyroodhouse to St. Giles.

I’m struck, more than anything else, with a sense of regret – of the road not taken. When the American colonies careened towards independence in the 1760s and ’70s, there was something greater in our grasp. With negotiation, we could have had American Members of Parliament, American Peers, and unity of the English speaking peoples throughout an Imperial Commonwealth. In the fullness of time, I like to speculate that America could have emerged as a center of gravity to rival the mother country within the Empire. 

But we didn’t. A few men in Boston didn’t want to pay three pence a pound on their tea. The rabble roused, a minority of the population set us off inexorably on the road to independence.  More fool us.

We say Americans have no interest in royalty. Our rapt attention during their great occasions – their births, weddings, and now their funerals – says differently. We’re still very much invested in ebbs and flows of the family of King George III. 

We could have been part of that great stream of history stretching back beyond the Conqueror, beyond Alfred, but here we are, simple spectators despite our ongoing and profound interest. I’m not advocating we turn back the clock. That particular ship has, sadly, sailed. But, God did we miss an opportunity.

Spectacle…

While the airwaves are filled with commentators, opinion makers, protestors, and politicians both for and against, the one certainty is that in just about 87 hours President-Elect Donald Trump is going to be sworn in as the 45th President of the United
States. Baring something unprecedented and Inauguration 2005.jpgunforeseen, he will be president, notwithstanding the calls of “not my president,” “not your president,” whatever. He’s going to be sworn and take office. Whether you voted for him or not, whether you find him appealing or appalling, whether you march in protest or toast the victory, this inauguration will roll forward with every bit of pomp and ceremony officialdom of the United States can muster.

Despite my grave disquiet at being out among large groups of people, I’ve attended two inaugurations. The first, in 2001 was the last staged in the era before “big terror” was an issue. The crowds came and went and security was the occasional glimpse of a rooftop sniper or mounted police officer working through the throng. The second, four years later was the first inauguration of metal detectors, fenced pens, and bomb sniffing dogs. The contrast couldn’t have been more stark.

I can’t imagine a circumstance where I’ll ever attend another inauguration in person. I’ve not got enough patience now for the crowds or the five hundred yard wait to process through security. Sill, though, it’s one of those uniquely American experience I’m glad I’ve had. Standing on The Mall, half frozen, the 21-gun salute booming in your chest, the simple and utterly remarkable act of a peaceful transfer of power, and the sense that what you’ve just been a small part of is something historic is a moment that sticks with you.

We here in this happy land may have thrown off the cloak of monarchy in our long ago fit of revolutionary anger. The inauguration of our president, though, is one of those rare moments in the life of the republic when we give ourselves over fully to the purely ceremonial; when we celebrate the office if not the man. It’s really something to see and an American experience worth having, regardless of party affiliation.