Victoria and The Crown (about Elizabeth II) are television dramas that portray the experiences of two young women who find themselves with the imperfectly defined power of the Monarch in a serious country having enough weight to affect the world. Both dramas appear reasonably true to prominent details of history, and both deal extensively with the people around the Queens. There are subplots about competition for position in the palace and influence upon the Monarch, including the actions of elected officials up to the level of Prime Minister.
Both programs feature episodes that deal with high policy on issues that matter, as well as with petty squabbles, maneuvers, and romance in the lower depths of servants, courtiers, and the royal family. How much reflects reality, and how much has been jazzed up for the audience is something we’ll leave to others.
The dramas provoke thoughts about the presidency of Donald Trump. The key American player is a 70-something overweight, daily reinforcing his reputation as a gross ass, as opposed to innocent and attractive women in their teens or early 20s when their stories begin. And the American President is arguably the world’s individual with the greatest personal access to economic and military power, as opposed to young Monarchs whose positions are important, but much more in the realm of ceremony and symbolism than any capacity to make key decisions about national and international issues.
Both the British Monarch and the American President exist amidst institutions having many people with the primary functions of serving, protecting, and advising the person at the center. And as Trump’s first half year has demonstrated, there is no less maneuvering for influence and position among the high flyers of advisers as in the cases of Victoria and Elizabeth. Stories about Sean Spicer, Stephen Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, and John Kelly record the failures and what may be the temporary success of those who have reached the heights. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are families as well as staff, and we’ll see how the combination protects one or both from the pressures. So far their family status has not buffered them from official and media inquiries. Jared has been involved in the Russian issue and Ivanka in problematic efforts to use the high office on behalf of commercial ventures.
What brings Donald Trump closer to the characters portrayed as Victoria and Elizabeth than any previous President (at least, perhaps, since Warren Harding) is the need for a staff to educate and protect him from a lack of familiarity with how things are done. In Trump’s case, moreover, the task is a process of protection from his own proclivities. Call him his own worse enemy and you’ll be joining a lot of commentators.
Look at any major news site and the central stories are likely to be about Trump’s latest wonder-raising actions, statements, and tweets. Critics who gasped at his clumsy efforts to equate Nazis and the KKK with leftists demonstrators found another challenge of cherished values with the pardon given to an aged sheriff with a record of racist comments and actions who had been found guilty of violating a court order. Trump asserts repeatedly what is clearly not true (e.g., the size of the crowd at his inauguration), chides media critics as producers of fake news, and describes ranking members of the judiciary as “not real judges.”
In previous presidencies, the issue of “keeping a lid on the White House” meant limiting the public squabbling of aides. Now it means keeping control of the President. Shortly after John Kelly became Chief of Staff with the apparent task of controlling aides and the President, he was shown rolling his eyes while the President was in his tweeting while speaking mode. Leading Congressional Republicans are prominently at odds with the President and are said to be calculating the damage to themselves and their party associated with maintaining the Trump presidency, as opposed to what might be gained or lost in public support from criticizing or even dumping the man at the top.
Trump’s Attorney General and Secretary of State have kept their distance. One has officially stayed away from the Russian inquiry, that would normally involve his office, and the other has said that the President speaks for himself.
The Republican National Committee has been pointedly more forceful than Trump in condemning White Supremacists. A CNN headline (fake news?) is that “Trump makes a mess for Arizona GOP with Arpaio pardon.”
Both the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State spoke of continuing diplomacy with respect to North Korea shortly after the President said that actions will be more important than words.
Occasional presidential expressions have suggested for optimists a softening of Trump’s posture toward North Korea, but in this case, he may already have provoked an individual even less stable than himself, and with a closer reach to a nuclear trigger. What we know about North Korea includes stories that the Great Leader will kill subordinates–by the cruelest of means–who violate his wishes. Contrary to popular discourse, the US President is not actually the Commander-in-Chief. A legislated chain of command is meant to protect us from a crazy President, whose orders must pass through (and may be modified or ignored) by the Secretary of Defense and then senior uniformed officers. If the President says go, and the Secretary of Defense refuses, the President can fire the Secretary. In that case, however, the appointment of a successor will involve a lengthy process of Senatorial confirmation. Or it’s lack.
Stay tuned, not that you have many choices. It may be a long four years, but there are those maneuvering to make it a shorter term.
Many would prefer Victoria or Elizabeth at the head of the world’s most powerful government, but that ain’t gonna happen.
Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post