We Still Need a Queen — Now More Than Ever

October 31, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

As Durkheim noted long ago, the function of a ritual, regardless of its specific content, is to heighten group solidarity. So the important symbols in a ritual represent the group as a whole. Those symbols are objects, but they are also people — usually the group’s leader. That’s why America needs a queen. Or someone like her.

When Trump announced that we would go to Pittsburgh, the mayor asked him not to come. Many Jewish leaders said he should not come. Thousands of people signed a petition asking Trump to stay away from Pittsburgh. So did leaders of the Tree of Life Synagogue.

Nevertheless, he persisted. Thousands of people took to the streets in protest. The mayor and “the top four Republican and Democratic congressional leaders who were invited to join [Trump] all declined.” Not all of Pittsburgh’s tens of thousands of Jews opposed the visit. The Times reports (here) that “more than 40 ‘members of the Jewish community’” signed a letter welcoming Trump because they like his stance on Israel. Wow, more than forty.

If only we had a queen. Back in 2007, I wrote a blogpost with this same suggestion. I had just watched the movie “The Queen..”

Most European countries, with their long histories of monarchy, have retained a nonpolitical figure as symbolic ruler of the country. In some countries (England, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, etc.) it’s an actual monarch; in others, it’s a president, who has only ritual duties, while the actual business of running the country falls to the elected prime minister. But in the US, we have this strange system where a partisan politician is also our ceremonial head of state.

The “partisan politician” at the time was George W. Bush. Today “partisan” seems like too weak a word. Trump rarely tries to accommodate the entire nation. He likes winning. . . . and gloating about winning, waving his triumph in the loser’s face. And when he does try to be accommodating, he’s not very good at it.

The family of Daniel Stein, a victim of the attack who was buried on Tuesday, explicitly told inquiring federal officials that they did not want to meet with the president. They cited Mr. Trump’s comments immediately after the shooting that the Tree of Life should have had an armed guard. “It was just a worthless thing to say,” said Steven Halle, Mr. Stein’s nephew. “When something tragic has happened, you don’t kick people when they are down. There should have been an apology.”

“You don’t kick people when they are down.” Well, Mr Stein, maybe you don’t.

One other observation from that 2007 post now strikes me now as quaintly amusing.

An early scene in “The Queen” shows Tony Blair coming to Buckingham Palace. He has just won the election in a landslide, but he will not be prime minister until he kneels before the Queen and is officially requested by her to form a government. As historian Robert Lacey says in his commentary track on the DVD, “People feel it’s good that these politicians have to kneel to somebody to be reminded that they are our servants.”

The president, going before someone who symbolically represents the entire nation, and kneeling. Imagine that, if you can.


brandsinger said...

You seem gleeful that Pittsburgh's Jews scorned the President of the United States. Liberals who are Jews seem to believe that Trump is anti-Semitic... and that his presence has provoked anti-Semitism. Do you believe that, Jay? The man whose favored daughter converted to marry a devout Jew?... a man who works with Jews all his life... comes from NYC... moved the US embassy to Jerusalem... Really? Do you know a man't heart, Jay? Is there a special anti-Semite detection gene?

Did you notice this line from the NYT a few days ago: “For Jews who are deeply opposed to Donald Trump and truly believe he is an anti-Semite, it’s deeply problematic that he’s got a Jewish son-in-law and daughter. How can that be?” said Dr. Jonathan D. Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University.

"How can that be?" asks a man who is a "professor"... Perhaps his basic assumption is wrong. That would answer his sad puzzlement.

Jay Livingston said...

Thanks for the comment. Because of it, I went back, reread the post, and found a typo, which I have now corrected. What I did not find was any mention of whether Trump is an anti-Semite. Oh well, it’s not the first time someone has responded to what they wish I had written rather than what I actually wrote. Curious though that you go out of your way to defend Trump (er, I mean the President of the United States and Leader of the Free World) against an accusation that wasn’t there. And who are these “liberals who are Jews” who think Trump is an anti-Semite? Provide some links so I can check them and see the basis for that judgment.

brandsinger said...



there are countless articles. this one is called "liberals accuse Trump of anti-Semitism."

Hardly worth doing a search because the references are limitless,

Jay Livingston said...

If the references are “limitless,” why did you have to go to some obscure publication — the Israel National News? Be honest; had you ever heard of it before? As for the content of the article, you’re right that the headline says “Liberals accuse Trump of anti-Semitism,” but nowhere does the article cite one liberal making that accusation. Not one.

Neither does the WaPo article, though one person it quotes, one, says something close. The others criticise Trump not for being an anti-Semite himself but for his failure to distance himself from White nationalists and other anti-Semites or even to criticize them. They say that this refusal on Trump’s part has encouraged the anti-Semites.

I have long realized that you don’t respond to what I actually say but rather to what you imagine I say. I thought it was just me. But apparently you extend this approach to articles that support your position.

If you want to convince me that “liberals who are Jews” accuse Trump of being an anti-Semite, find me a couple of article written by liberals (they don’t even have to be Jews) accusing of being an anti-Semite.