Robert Reich: King Charles III – OpEd


The coronation of King Charles III, with all its pomp and pomposity, signals something special about the relationship between the Brits and their Royal Family. For it is in fact their royal family – not just an archaic symbol of what remains of the British Empire but a living, breathing, soap-opera of a family that in the minds of many Brits represents modern-day Britain.

To those who say it’s bizarre for one of the world’s major democracies of the twenty-first century to cling to the fiction of royalty (and it is indeed a fiction – King Charles III has no tangible political power) I say this: It’s a relatively harmless fiction – and one that arguably meets the needs of people to gossip about, project upon, and vicariously live the lives of a storybook family that tries to be of service of the nation.

Here in America, many of us romanticize our presidents and their families, at least at the start of an administration. Remember Camelot?

American’s projection of its hopes and fears on presidents and their families can pose a larger challenge than Britain’s projection on its royal family. Because our presidents head the executive branch of the government, the two roles – the projected glamor and the political reality – often get confused, leaving us disappointed if not disgusted.

After Camelot came Lyndon Johnson who pulled up dogs by their ears. And then, eventually, Donald (“when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything”) Trump.

Britain’s government may seem drab and boring (Boris Johnson to the contrary notwithstanding) but is at least free to do its boring best.

Here, we demand that our presidents and their spouses throw formal balls and state dinners, decorate the White House like a castle, appear in person at every major national anniversary or memorial or funeral, and always symbolize the nation.  

I’m not suggesting America have a royal family. It’s just that Britain’s infatuation with its own may have some social utility there that we Yanks don’t understand.  

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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