Opinion

Opinion: The Need for a Royal Distraction on This Side of the Pond

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle offer relief from White House and congressional dysfunction

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their engagement on Nov. 27 and will marry at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle in May 2018. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Though it was heresy in some quarters at the time, I cared not one whit when Prince Charles took Lady Diana Spencer as his bride — and yes, it was pretty much him choosing her as a suitable spouse. I did not indulge in the ritual some Anglophile friends bragged about, setting clocks to wake up to view the 1981 spectacle in real time while nibbling on some British-like snack.

I did not care about the carriage, the bridal party or the design of the wedding dress. These were folks with a guaranteed income, home and life, and I had more serious concerns.

Didn’t America fight a war to be rid of allegiance to such folderol?

When the marriage turned out not to be an idealized fairy tale as advertised, I did not smirk, though I did feel slightly vindicated.

Then why does the tiniest bit of news about the upcoming royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle make me smile and steal a glance?

Perhaps British Conservative MP Robert Halfon put it best. “At last an interlude to Brexit glumbucketness! Congratulations to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle,” he tweeted, before adding a little pop culture panache. “P.S. I’ve always loved watching Suits,” he wrote, dropping the name of the TV show Markle has walked away from.

Boiled down to its essence, his message of congratulations appreciated what many need right about now — a distraction.

So did the well-wishes of Prime Minister Theresa May, not long removed from a bruising election and facing the task of disentangling the very tangled Brexit negotiations. As if she didn’t have enough homegrown worry, May’s need for escape has been fueled by a transatlantic fight — though after Donald Trump tweeted violent videos from a British far-right, anti-Muslim group, it provided the miracle of bringing Britain’s political factions together in opposition the U.S. president.

The royal soap opera is one that the British and many Americans keep returning to time and again. 

Now, finally, I can understand the appeal.

Chaos model

It is all a welcome distraction amid the disquieting news of the day, month and year. Though Britain certainly has had its share, its onetime colony is modeling how chaos is done.

Just dip into year-end shenanigans: a controversial tax bill passed quickly in the Senate, a looming government shutdown dependent on a budget that will need a nod from at least some Democrats, the prospect of incredibly shrinking national parks and health care confusion.

Throw in former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn pleading guilty to charges he lied to the FBI, along with polls that indicate Republican Roy Moore, kicked off an Alabama court for failing to obey the law and accused by a lineup of women of accosting or dating them when they were teens and he was in his 30s, is about to represent his state in the Senate. 

We don’t have to wait and wonder if longtime Democratic Michigan House member John Conyers Jr. will step down; he has.

Since the Trumps in the White House are the closest thing Americans have to a royal family — and some of them are showing up in reports on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation — tarnished British royalty is looking shinier by the minute.

There are a few similarities. The lawmakers who give Trump a pass on every gaffe and blunder are treating him more like a figurehead than the leader of the free world. And then there is a royal tradition of sharing the wealth and passing down privilege to children and family, much like the Trumps, whose businesses and bank accounts are doing well and will do even better if said tax bill passes. Conyers has said he favors his son as his replacement.

Still, as far as I know, the queen of England can’t escalate a nuclear war with North Korea. 

Predictability problems

The monarchy is derided by some as anachronistic, creaky and merely a drain on state coffers. The one thing it has going for it is stability, a word few associate with the U.S. at present.

It has survived beheadings and betrayals, divorces and hypocrisy, disgraceful imperialism and Jonathan Groff’s effectively silly portrayal of King George III in “Hamilton.” 

But there is something to be said for knowing the folks at the Palace (or Palaces), misbehaving or not, will be there to be gossiped about and chronicled every moment of every day.

They are just like us and nothing like us.

On this side of the Atlantic, where each day brings a surprise, that very predictability is a pleasure we can only dream about when we have so many worries.

Will Donald Trump find a new villain to attack on Twitter, or will he make do with the current cast of Democrats, Republicans, NBA dads, NFL players, the FBI and journalists?

Will all these questions and more be answered during the holiday season — when a group of lawmakers may undo New Deal-era social safety net policies and leave Dreamers in limbo?

Of course, the current royal couple-to-be is triggering more nasty sniping than usual. The prince had to take down critics who early on went after Markle. That she is a divorced American a few years his senior whose mother is African-American and father is white unleashed every racial, social and cultural stereotype you could imagine and conjured up a few new ones.

Some ugly attitudes, unfortunately, are global.

In a way, though, that makes it easier to get lost in this particular distraction. Those attacks give permission to view this light occasion through a less than rose-colored lens.

As long as they send ripples through households across the land, it may never be possible to step away from the workings of Washington. 

Still, I can’t wait to see what Meghan Markle is wearing when she walks down the aisle.

Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3. 

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