I have never been one of those Americans infatuated with the Royal Family. As a child, I remember my mother staying up half the night to watch Diana marry Prince Charles. I thought how ridiculous she was. Now from a political science angle, I get the idea of a head of state who symbolizes the nation, provides continuity with tradition, reminds the people of history, etc. But, let’s face it, the institution all seemed so undemocratic, so distant from the people. Indeed, the very reason we rebellious Americans penned that Declaration of Independence 200+ years ago. (Full disclosure, though, I have watched "The Queen.")
Yet as I watched the real 93-year old Queen Elizabeth II speak to her country—and indeed, the world—I saw things with a bit more nuance. In this period of many deaths, fear, economic instability, unemployment, and isolation, I yearned (yes, yearned) for the honesty and comfort of her words. We need someone who can rise above the partisan bickering, the narcissism, and the sound bites to both tell us the simple truth and to urge us to hope: “This is hard. This is scary. This is unfamiliar. Yes, we are struggling, but we must keep going for the sake of our communities and the world. Thank you, nurses, doctors, delivery people, grocery store workers, and millions of others for doing your job. And know that this too will pass.”
Maybe the Queen’s speech looked so great because the leadership in the US has been so pathetic. It made me think about what makes a good leader—a topic I actually had to cover (not of my own choice) when I was teaching in an MA program in development studies in Tanzania. These include humility, honesty, a willingness to listen to others, concern for one’s followers, a sense of when one must speak and when one must observe. Such virtues are needed now more than ever. I’m not saying that the Royal Family is perfect (clearly not!), but the Queen's speech--as a mere symbolic action--gave some encouragement at a key moment.