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Monday, December 09, 2019

UK

Queen Elizabeth II

As a person whose eight great-grandparents were born in Ireland, my enthusiasm for British royalty is rather limited.

Irish Times columnist Patrick Freyne may have put it most succinctly: “Having a monarchy next door” he wrote in 2021, “is a little like having a neighbor who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window, and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbor who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.”

That said, I never took it personally. I’d pretty much overdosed on ethnic nationalism by age 12 or thereabouts, tired of being told there was a proper“Irish” opinion on every imaginable topic, and that it agreed with my maternal grandfather’s. I don’t recall how he answered when I asked why he spent so much time talking about a foreign country he’d never visited. It was a rhetorical question. Many of my classmates at school had grandparents with one foot in the Old Country — Ireland, Italy, Poland, wherever. We were American kids.

Even so, at our wedding, to give you some idea, my mother demanded to know of Diane’s family, “What nationality are you people, anyway?” (Louisiana French.) They were flabbergasted. Indeed, my wife was never forgiven for not being named Ginger O’Grady. But that was nothing to do with me.

But no, I never held all that sad history against Queen Elizabeth. So her ancestors caused mine to die of famine. Nothing she personally could have done about it. Insofar as I could tell, she played the hand she was dealt with grace and dignity. Even back when she was Princess Elizabeth, driving ambulances during the London Blitz and giving radio pep talks to British children.
She reigned a very long time.

Out of curiosity, I checked the front page of the Irish Times on the day she died. The lead story was the arrival in Dublin of country singer Garth Brooks for a series of shows. He’s hugely popular there; the Irish love ballads. The queen’s death was relegated to the bottom of the page. Coverage was respectful, but muted, in contrast to the worshipful spectacle on American TV.

No matter. What the English have given us — Irish, American, Canadian,Australian, Indian, et al.— is their language: The language of Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Austen, Tolkien and Orwell. Also of Jefferson, Twain, Joyce Carol Oates, andTa-Nehisi Coates. If you love books, you’re pretty much an Anglophile, as I certainly am.

My English friends vary from stridently anti-monarchist to mildly sarcastic about the Royal Family. “It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true,” Orwell wrote in 1941, “that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during God Save the King than of stealing from a poorbox.”

“Unquestionably,” indeed.

“Bloody royals,” snarls my friend Lawrence from his garden on the Isle of Wight. Useless parasites all, he insists. He even quarrels with my observation that Duchess Kate is terribly beautiful. Too scrawny, he thinks. He’d surely agree withTwain’s suggestion that they be replaced with a family of cats.

“They would be as useful as any other royal family, they would know as much, they would have the same virtues and the same treacheries,” Twain wrote, “they would be laughable, vain, and absurd and never know it, they would be wholly inexpensive, finally, they would have as sound a divine right as any other royal house.”

Indeed, millions around the world find themselves riveted by the ongoing soap opera that is the Royal Family. All those castles, all the tiaras and crowns, and the Queen’s kin are every bit as crazy as your own: complete with racist
grandad, adulterous uncle, his doomed, betrayed wife, a second funny uncle with a lech for underaged girls, not to mention grandson’s preening, Drama Queen wife…

The British royals behave every bit as badly as the inhabitants of any Arkansas trailer park or New Jersey tenement. Millions derive great comfort from that.

Upon Queen Elizabeth taking the throne in 1952, Churchill described the monarchy as“the magic link, which unites our loosely bound but strongly interwoven commonwealth of nations.” If anything, she presided over its steady, inevitable demise. Born to the globe-spanning British Empire, she leaves her son and heir King Charles III pretty much all that’s left of the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Even that may not last, leaving Charles ruler of a small island nation in the North Atlantic. Even so, Elizabeth left it better than she found it. Had I been born to her privileges and burdens, I’d also have chosen to spend my time on a country estate surrounded by dogs and horses, to all appearances the best of the lot.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg

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On Tuesday, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a U.K. Brexit minister of 12 years who is loyal to both Boris Johnson and new Prime Minister Liz Truss, got a fancy new title. Rees-Mogg will serve under Truss as the secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy. This is terrible news for anyone concerned about the climate crisis given Rees-Mogg has made his money as an oil and coal mining investor. He’s supportive of fracking, drilling for fossil fuels until the North Sea is tapped, and has frequently misconstrued climate science to suit his needs. His position may prove no different as Rees-Mogg is expected to once again work on his own betterment instead of the planet’s.

The Guardian offers a comprehensive writeup on the many ways that Rees-Mogg, who’s known as “the honorable gentleman from the 18th century,” will fail to meet the moment. Rees-Mogg’s nickname comes from his sartorial choices, though his devotion to fossil fuels certainly has an antiquated quality to it, as does his history of slamming IPCC reports and disinterest in reaching net zero. Though the U.K. has drastically slashed its emissions over the years—thanks, in part, to Rees-Mogg’s predecessor—it will be that much harder for the country to continue its course toward net zero if the person charged with leading that fight has no desire to even engage in it.

Greenpeace UK slammed the decision to appoint Rees-Mogg. “Rees-Mogg is the last person who should be in charge of the energy brief, at the worst possible moment,” Greenpeace UK Politics Head Rebecca Newsom told Bloomberg. “This will either be a massive own goal for Truss’s efforts to tackle the cost of living crisis or Rees-Mogg will have to do the steepest learning curve in history as he gets to grips with the issues facing our country.”

With the U.K. as a signee of the Paris Agreement and COP27 on the horizon, it’s anyone’s guess how obstructionist of a role Rees-Mogg may play in negotiations at the November conference. Nearly 200 countries will work to address a crisis that has only grown more pressing. It will certainly be a major change given that the last United Nations Climate Change Conference took place in Glasgow, where local leaders looked to position themselves as leaders in reaching net zero goals. But that’s simply not something Rees-Mogg is interested in, and that spells disaster for not just the U.K. but the entire planet.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.