We may have bested them in the Revolutionary War, but are we more like the English than we care to admit? It was a bit of a shock to be greeted by wall-to-wall breathless coverage of William and Kate when I flipped on my TV Friday morning, though the build-up should have prepared me. I wish them well, as I would any young couple, but America’s over-the-top interest in a royal wedding is a puzzle.
It would have been nice to hear one of the anchors or royal experts question the millions spent on ceremony in a country that like ours is economically hurting. But no, it was all ritual, fairy tales and hat-watching. After I saw the dress (yes, I admit to that curiosity) I lost interest.
I always found the idea of a monarchy so odd and at odds with the idea of fair play: Accident of birth determines poverty, unlimited wealth or something in between.
America’s version of equal opportunity is better, I thought. But is it? Recent events on this side of the pond hint that some among us crave a more structured society, and wish that the walls separating us were a mite less porous.
At least the royal wedding is a fairly harmless spectacle. In America, we are in the middle of a much more insidious one; it reeks of class and race privilege that might give the British pause.
Donald Trump, a man of inherited wealth with a financial history of boom-and-bust and a personal history of bad behavior commands the media megaphone with ridiculous claims. If he were dressed in rags on the corner, we would pass him by and ignore his rants. But because he has his name on hotels and casinos and is on TV, we see him everywhere. He is indulged in a way we indulge the rich and famous.
As a journalist, I wonder why.
As a human being and an American, it makes me incredibly sad.
I was never naïve enough to buy into the idea of a country without class or race distinctions, and we know the former was bound up with the latter. I remember not being able to enjoy the rides at a Baltimore County amusement park because it was against the law for blacks to enter. But America always had its high ideals, words to live up to in founding documents signed by flawed men who wanted the country to be better.
Things have changed a lot since the beginnings, when only men and property owners and whites had a say. The American dream that hard work and dedication will be rewarded is one that many more can now share, due to the sacrifices of those who never reaped a single benefit themselves. But instead of realizing that fulfillment of a dream deferred is a positive step for the country as well as for the individuals who can contribute without limit, achievement is seen as a zero-sum game. What someone earns chips away at privilege unearned.
Here’s my birth certificate. I’m an American, really, says the first African-American president of the United States. And I get a little sick to my stomach. The image of the crowd that filled Chicago’s Grant Park on election night 2008 is supplanted if not quite erased by an exasperated President Barack Obama offering proof that he’s “legitimate.”
He cleared up something that never needed clearing up in the first place and Donald Trump takes credit. What a gem this guy is, dominating the headlines right before the season finale of “Celebrity Apprentice.” Now he moves on to question the academic credentials of the magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School who was elected president of the Harvard Law Review.
Obama’s accomplishments are diminished. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor – whose journey from the Bronx to Princeton and Yale law is quintessentially American – is lectured on her temperament by Senate inquisitors and must endure whispers about her intelligence.
Meanwhile George W. Bush’s antics and gentleman’s C’s at Yale are the stuff of casual acceptance and bad jokes – some told by Bush himself. He of the storied family name never has to show anyone his papers. We accept the fact that he belongs – everywhere.
In England, everyone gets a day off, if not the pomp and circumstance when a royal decides to take a wife.
In America, Trump may run for president — and we (the royal we, my dear) are not amused.