Monarchy in America: What the queen’s death has to say about America’s relationship with royalty

By: Lenora Kirkland

There are few things Americans hate more than totalitarian rulers. Founded upon the concepts of democracy and federalism, the values of the monarchy could not be further from those of the American people. But now, in light of Queen Elizabeth’s death, our country lowers its flags half mast, mourning a queen we had no connection to. For almost a week, international headlines about whether or not Duchess Kate and Prince William were seen crying at the queen’s funeral took precedence over issues of gun violence and politics. Where do these emotions come from?

We consume media about the royal family in the same way we all inevitably keep up with the Kardashians (anyone who says they don’t keep up with the Kardashians is lying to you). The drama of it all is so desirable that it’s almost unavoidable. Princess Diana’s public marital issues and her controversial death, marked a turning point in the relationship between America and the royal family.

That being said, it wasn’t just the drama of her marriage and accident, but her kind heart and spirit that drew the American people in. Diana was a figure we could relate to, mainly by associating her with our widely consumed childhood fairytales. When she died we began to take an even greater interest in the royal family, fascinated by this institution’s power that we had only ever read about in fiction. 

All people desire, whether implicitly or explicitly, some form of leader to mobilize and represent the rest. Take the example of the United States presidency. We rally around this one man as if no one else could ever be as politically relevant, ignoring congress members and local government officials. We do not do this because our president is somehow the most powerful man in America. He can’t be, because he inevitably holds his position on the basis of electoral and congressional support.

But nonetheless, we look to him for identity. The same is true of the queen. Although she is not our sovereign, we are naturally drawn to the idea of a single figure to represent the rest. Queen Elizabeth may have been the queen of England, but to those of us watching from across the pond, she embodied all the values of national representation that we do in fact relate to. That being said, monarchy represents more than just a desire for national identity. 

As someone who has not lived in the United States for over a decade, I am constantly surprised by how many signs and flags people put up, outside their homes, churches, and schools. There seems to be a cultural desire to use symbols such as Make America Great Again or Black Lives Matter to showcase to others who you are. You may not be able to prove that America was ever a great nation, or showcase with your actions that you’re committed to reversing systemic inequality in our country, but by putting up a sign, you convey to those around you what ideas you want to be associated with; even if these ideals are not necessarily ones you actually champion. In the case of the queen, we ignore the postcolonial strife that lingers with her title; we choose to look past the history of exploitation and power that comes with the monarchy, and we treat the queen as a sign for the front lawns of ourselves.

We cherish the sign because it gives us a shared purpose and a clear identity, not because it represents what we fight for, or who we really are. That is why we cherish monarchy. 

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