Newsletter: In an era of macho autocrats, Queen Elizabeth’s modesty reigned

Queen Elizabeth II sits looking solemnly toward the camera.
Queen Elizabeth II is seen during her address to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic on April 5, 2020.
(Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. Let’s look back at the week in Opinion.

Let me say at the outset that I harbor zero fascination with the British royal family. If I have any feeling toward the late Queen Elizabeth II or the reigning House of Windsor beyond a nagging discomfort with the idea of monarchy, it’s a dispassionate respect akin to how I feel about the king of Sweden or the emperor of Japan: Their subjects accept their legitimacy, so who am I to judge? Saying the United Kingdom shouldn’t have a birthright sovereign would be like saying the United Kingdom’s capital shouldn’t be London: Fair enough, but if you’re not British, who cares?

Still, plenty of Americans see things differently; one of them is Times editorial board member Carla Hall, who writes movingly about Elizabeth’s ability to say and do precisely the right thing at the right moment to keep the teetering monarchy closely connected with the British people. As a father of young children, I appreciate Hall recalling the queen’s recent public display of great-grandmotherly patience: “Earlier this year, celebrating 70 years as queen in a Platinum Jubilee extravaganza full of gun salutes and airplane flyovers, she stood on a Buckingham Palace balcony, surrounded by a sedate invitation-only group of family, and ignored the ritual for a while to chat up the youngest and rowdiest of the bunch — her 4-year-old great-grandson, Prince Louis. Elizabeth just seemed game, all the way to the end of her life on Thursday at the age of 96.”


Later, Hall briefly mentions the queen’s recorded message at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was addressed to her subjects but inspired and comforted people worldwide. It is this moment I recalled when first hearing of Elizabeth’s death Thursday, how her simple act of duty and humble message of “we will meet again” contrasted sharply with the malignant denialism of Donald Trump and the macho bluster of her own prime minister, Boris Johnson. (Coincidentally, Elizabeth held on just long enough for new Prime Minister Liz Truss to address Britons from 10 Downing Street upon her death.)

I also recalled how, after Prince Philip’s death in April 2021, Elizabeth sat alone at the funeral for her husband of 74 years, in accordance with Britain’s COVID-19 rules, even as Johnson secretly hosted parties at the prime minister’s residence (one such gathering was on the eve of Philip’s funeral). If anyone deserves a momentary free pass from COVID rules, it’s a 95-year-old widow burying the husband she married in her 20s, much less the sovereign of the nation. And yet, in all instances, duty and the state took precedence.

In an era of lawless strongmen enabled by legions of apologists, you don’t have to be a monarchist to admire a queen’s conscientiousness.

If you want smart stateside commentary on the queen’s death, follow the Twitter feed of The Times’ own Patt Morrison, a keen observer of the British royal family. My favorite tweet of Morrison’s since Elizabeth’s death: “#QueenElizabeth once said wistfully that had the choice been left to her, as a private person, she would have been a lady living in the country with lots of dogs and horses.” And there’s this bit of dark history: “As #QueenElizabeth’s grandfather George V lay dying, the news was, ‘The king’s life is moving peacefully toward its close.’ In fact, his doctor had given the king a drug ‘speedball’ so the death could be announced in the serious morning papers, not the rowdier afternoon ones.”

The special master order for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago documents is perverse and potentially disastrous. Columnist Harry Litman offers a former insider’s view of the federal court ruling that effectively suspended the Justice Department’s investigation into former President Trump’s handling of government documents: “Some observers are suggesting the bottom line is not so worrisome, and that the best counsel for the Department of Justice is to take its lumps and go through the process [Judge Aileen] Cannon has prescribed. As a former prosecutor and Justice Department official, I can’t see it. The Cannon order is not only grievously flawed, it threatens inordinate delay and potential scuttling of the entire criminal investigation.” L.A. Times

“I’m 16. I went to a drag show. I wasn’t traumatized.” Alexander Vidra tries to calm down Tucker Carlson and others who have expressed dismay over his stepfather, Washington Post (and former L.A. Times) columnist Max Boot, taking his family to a drag show: “This outrage seems to be premised on the fallacious assumption that drag shows are strip shows or sex shows. I can’t speak for all drag shows — I’ve only seen one — but the one we went to recently was clean, wholesome, innocuous fun.” L.A. Times

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The scourge of originalism is taking over the Supreme Court. Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, details what’s at stake with a court dominated by conservative justices who believe they can divine from the Constitution the framers’ original intent: “The implications of a court committed to originalism are frightening. In overruling Roe, the conservative justices said that a right should be protected only if it is in the text of the Constitution or safeguarded by a long unbroken tradition. Adhering to this doctrine would put in jeopardy the right to marry, the right to procreate, the right to custody of one’s children, the right to keep the family together, the right of parents to control the upbringing of their children, the right to purchase and use contraceptives, the right of consenting adults to engage in private consensual sexual activity, and the right of competent adults to refuse medical care. None of these rights can be justified under the court’s rigid historical focus.” L.A. Times

Our too little, too late climate action means triage more than prevention. Journalist and author David Helvarg writes perhaps the grimmest assessment I’ve read this year of where we are in trying to mitigate climate change: “The hope is that if we commit the remainder of this century to a new human enterprise of green transition and restoration, there might still be 10% of today’s tropical reefs and redwoods left at the end of the century along with remnant populations of wildlife, plus sufficient foodstuffs for a human population that increases by about 1% yearly and has more than doubled since the first Earth Day in 1970.” L.A. Times

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