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Let’s face it: We Americans want our own royals

Our head of government shouldn’t also be our head of state.

Britain's Prince William and Kate, Princess of Wales, watch the Celtics play the Miami Heat on Nov. 30 in Boston.BRIAN SNYDER/Associated Press

Queen Elizabeth dies and commentators — from America, no less — start demanding the new king seize the moment and put an end to the monarchy: an absurd, antidemocratic, imperialist relic grounded in the silly notion of the “divine right of kings.”

And then William and Kate show up in Boston and we go gaga.

Instead of Britain dumping its monarchy, perhaps the United States might consider adopting one of its own.

After all, when the Brits sing their national anthem — “God save the Queen!” (now, of course, “the King!”) — they aren’t really singing about the mortal life of an individual. Rather, they are singing about the far longer life of their own country. That’s because their kings and queens (and the kings and queens of many other European Union nations, including Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Spain) aren’t political leaders. Rather, they represent something that transcends mere politics and embodies the country’s sense of itself. In effect, the Brits have neatly separated the head of government — in their case, the prime minister — from the head of state.

Not so in the United States. The job of president combines both. He (and maybe someday, she) is both a political leader and the symbol of the nation. That poses a problem, particularly in today’s hyperpartisan climate. We see presidents as almost exclusively political creatures — creatures that, depending on who’s in office, half of us adore and the other half abhor.


So what to do? Should we write to Charles III, beg forgiveness for what we did to George III, and ask if we can come back into the fold? No way. The lesson of the American Revolution was that we did not want to be ruled from overseas. We wanted to control our own destiny.


Might we find some American royalty of our own? The Kennedys, Bushes, Clintons, Tafts, and Roosevelts come to mind (and given its alliteration with king, I’d be delighted to offer up my own family as well). Nah. Our democratic and meritocratic age would never accept those options. One’s DNA does not dictate an ability to lead.

An alternative might be to put in place some formal process for choosing our own sovereign, who would represent the United States as a nation both within the country and to the outside world.

This non-monarchal model is used by a number of other nations, such as France, Israel, and Germany. The framer of the Fifth Republic, Charles de Gaulle, said the president of France should represent the “spirit of the nation,” while the prime minister dealt more with politics. But the French messed up in separating head-of-state from head-of-government: both are elected positions. In other words, it’s just two politicians battling for control.

The United States should avoid the same mistake. Indeed, it would likely be best if our own sovereign is clearly not a politician — either now or in the past. Rather, the sovereign would be an individual of exceptional merit, one who represents all of the greatest qualities of the nation: devotion to the country, selflessness, accomplishment, commitment to our founding ideals, and so on. That person would serve as sovereign for life and, upon death or disablement, would be replaced by another. (Again, I offer myself up as a possibility.)


Assuming that’s the direction we go, the question is: How do we choose our sovereign? Almost by its very nature, it should not be a political contest. One possibility might be to have the US Supreme Court make the choice — although given the court’s makeup, that might end up giving us King Donald.

If not the court, perhaps we could put together a consciously nonpartisan commission, chosen by both Congress and the president. That commission would be charged with identifying as sovereign someone who doesn’t take sides but rather represents the breadth and diversity of America, someone around whom we could all coalesce.

Such as Jeopardy! host Ken Jennings. As his own longest ever Jeopardy winning streak demonstrates, he’s wise beyond measure. He’s also gracious, interested in others, has exceedingly nice manners, and is adept at consoling those who have just suffered big losses.

OK. Choosing a sovereign might be tough. But it also might be worth the effort. Politics pulls us apart; a sovereign for the United States might be just the thing we need to pull us together.

Tom Keane is a freelance writer whose work appears regularly in the Globe.