American Royalty

Good morning, honey –

I woke up this morning with the – not realization, exactly, as it was a dream and cannot be relied on – that Tom Wopat and John Schneider might well have just been heavily into stock cars during their days at Hollywood High School, and lucked into a television series from there.

And I do mean lucked into it; for all that you and I both enjoyed the Dukes of Hazzard in our childhood – although I have to confess to having donated the DVDs you had me get you for one gift-giving occasion or another, sorry – can you imagine this series ever being greenlighted today? Sure, the idea of a comically venial and corrupt police force would still be popular, but a car with a confederate flag? Commemorating General Robert E Lee? Yeah, no.

And when I woke, the thought occurred to me that, for all our attempts to disengage our country from monarchy, we still seem to require (maybe as a universal trait of humanity) people to look up to as betters. Essentially, we created our own royalty out of sheer desperate need.

For one thing, for all our apparent egalitarianism, we didn’t get rid of a lot of surnames having to do with despised monarchy. The first thing that crossed my mind this morning was the fact that the name Duke is common in the south; or at least, common enough that I feel it by that name made an absolute fortune in the tobacco industry. Then, in an effort to repent of both the industry and his monopolistic hold over it during his lifetime, donated phat stacks of cash to a local institution of higher learning called Trinity College (not the seminary in nearby Deerfield, as you understand in a moment), and having it renamed after himself – as Duke University. And for all the attempts and repentance, the fact that he had it named after himself like that leads me to wonder if their science and economic departments might have – at least, in the early part of the 20th century – done studies to ‘prove’ that both tobacco and monopolies weren’t nearly as bad as we have learned that they are in this day.

I’m sure you can tell by now this morning’s letter he’s going to be one of those more rambly, incoherent messes. This is what happens when I wake up with a weird image and message in my mind, and grab the phone and talk to Siri as a surrogate for you first thing. For your sake, I will try to keep it to a main topic, but you’ll forgive me the occasional aside. Even now, it occurs to me but this is probably doing my prayer and life no favors, when I spend so much time ‘talking’ to you. But the subjects that come to mind aren’t really the sort of things that one would discuss with God. Sure, “the mind of a king is like a canal in His hands, and He can turn it as He pleases,” and I suppose that would go for American royalty just as easily. And while it might be amusing to tell you about the latest celebrity who seems to been fed a bottle of red pills by the very people who would wish to keep her on the reservation in the Matrix (shaming a person for apparent wrongthink is not the way to get an independently-minded American to agree with you, and I don’t understand why the powers that be don’t seem to get that), that’s not really what I’m thinking about this morning.

The thought that I woke up with this morning was simply the realization that, for all our efforts to disassociate ourselves from any form of hereditary monarchy, we seem to be unable to keep ourselves away from the concept. Just as we know that sequels are never as good as the originals, and yet we still insist on attending those movies, the same thing goes for those that we consider our betters in one field or another.

Even from our very first days as a republic; John Adams may have complained that the mythology of our country would start out with Benjamin Franklin striking the ground with his lightning rod, and general Washington springing from it like Athena from the mind of Zeus, but it was he that spawned the first political family, after all, with his son following his footsteps into the presidency. To be sure, both of them were only one term presidents, but back then, it was not insisted upon that an incumbent seek reelection as a mandate on their stewardship of the country. And for what it’s worth, JQ Adams, in particular, proved to be a remarkable congressman after having been a lackluster president, with convictions and attitudes that would not entirely be out of place in this modern time (although his cantankerous nature, and relative lack of inhibition might raise some eyebrows in the #MeToo generation).

Of course, the Adams family (snap, snap) wasn’t the only political dynasty of our relatively short history. Among presidents, we have the Harrisons, the Roosevelts, the Kennedys (yes, I know RFK was shot beforehand – he would probably have been a shoo-in had he lived) and the Bushes. Add the Clintons and the Trumps to this in terms of attempts and rumors.

But of course, the real royalty in this country are those with money and fame, rather than actual power (although, with the latter come both of the former; consider our current leader, how well he’s known and how much he owns, despite only drawing a civil servant’s salary for the past fifty years of his life). And as much as I would wish otherwise, the nation listens to these people, hanging on their every word as if from an oracle (although said oracle could be plenty misleading it its own right – just ask Croesus of Lydia, and the mighty empire he destroyed on the advice he received).

Let’s start with those given fame, for… whatever reason. There are some people for whom you understand why they’re famous: their talent in the performing arts is such that they stand apart from the average person. Others strike one as nine-day wonders on their tenth day. Everybody gets their fifteen minutes, as Andy Warhol put it, but some seem to be better at keeping that alarm from ringing. Maybe that’s a talent in and of itself that people look up to?

And then there are the people that made their fortune. These are the folks we love to hate. As much as we all wish we were as rich as they were, we seem to resent the fact that they are, and we aren’t. Which is weird, because just about any of them were one false step in their history away from (relative) poverty and obscurity. I hardly need to name names, particularly since those running the failures are forgotten. But Apple could’ve gone the way of IBM; Netflix the way of Blockbuster; Amazon the way of I could go on but you get the idea. Americans hate the rich, but want to become like them regardless. They hang onto every pronouncement of theirs, because they think that by doing so, and following what they say, they might eventually become just as rich somehow. For the most part, it’s a fairytale no different than Cinderella – where the likelihood of a happy ending is about as much as that of marrying actual royalty in medieval Europe – but it’s not out of the question here in America. People become rich on the weirdest ideas, and famous for the weirdest reasons. It may not last like political power, but if it covers their lifetime, hey, some people find it worthwhile.

As long as they die in the next fifteen minutes.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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