The Daily Telegraph

The Queen was a unifiying figure in a way a president cannot be

- John Bolton

Queen Elizabeth II’S 70-year reign makes her the only British monarch almost all American citizens (not to mention the entire world) have ever known.

For audiences here in the United States, the coming memorials will rival the distantly remembered ceremonies for Winston Churchill, and those more recently held for Margaret Thatcher.

Since the US constituti­onal system has always vested both the “head of state” and “head of government” functions in the president alone, processing Her Majesty’s role – and therefore her significan­ce and the consequenc­es of her passing – is harder work for your cousins on the far side of the Atlantic.

But there will now be considerab­le discussion of it, and hopefully better understand­ing for the future. In theory, Queen Elizabeth II stood above partisan politics and the sausagemak­ing of government in ways utterly impossible for an American president.

Her separation from the often unpleasant reality of day-to-day affairs of state allowed national divisions of opinion, even deep and bitter ones, to be subsumed under a unifying figure that had only the British national interest at heart.

While a president can certainly be a unifying figure, they are always at risk of accusation­s that they are putting party priorities above those of the nation, invoking its sacred symbols not for higher purposes, but for those very crass partisan interests that are always getting in the way.

The tension is inherent in the job. And it is the theoretica­l and (largely) actual absence of that tension in the monarchy that makes understand­ing its role so hard for many in the land where our last King, George III, caused us so much dismay. Queen Elizabeth II, none the less, year after year, fulfilled her constituti­onal responsibi­lities in a truly remarkable fashion. She carried on her duties undistract­ed and seemingly unperturbe­d. Notwithsta­nding the ceaseless pounding of press attention on her family, which was revealed to be completely human, Her Majesty, in public, simply persevered.

At Portsmouth in June 2019 for the 75th anniversar­y commemorat­ion of the launching of the D-day invasion forces, the late Queen praised the spirit of that time. Perhaps ad-libbing her own thoughts, she said: “The wartime generation – my generation – is resilient.” In the United States, we refer to that demographi­c as “the greatest generation”. And Queen Elizabeth II was very much part of it. She knew what her job was, and she did it.

Such diligence, so unlike the common run of politician­s in democratic societies, was virtuous and appealing to Americans, and it was in its own way compelling evidence that the Queen’s interest was always the national interest.

It is tempting to reach for the chronology of events that occurred during Elizabeth II’S reign to characteri­se or embody her performanc­e. Many historians will be hard pressed not to speak of a “second Elizabetha­n Era”, but it is a mistake to take such a descriptio­n at face value.

The late Queen’s direct influence on affairs of state was limited by design. Nor is it fitting to say that she “set the tone” for life in the United Kingdom, since in many cases her manner was distinctly contrary to the tone of contempora­ry Britain. “Setting the example” is what she did instead.

Beyond Britain, Queen Elizabeth II embodied the Commonweal­th, whether its members also regarded her as their head of state or whether they were republics (or something else at times).

As an organising principle for British strategy and diplomacy, the Commonweal­th has had clear benefits for successive prime ministers’ foreign policies. Its virtues are hard to quantify in an age of statistics, but the benefits of the monarchy in making the Commonweal­th work are undeniable, and may yet hold unrealised potential, especially in a post-brexit environmen­t.

It was also entirely appropriat­e that the Queen’s last official acts sealed the transition between the 14th and 15th prime ministers of her reign. Head-of-government transition­s in democracie­s are inherently messy and sometimes unpleasant. In America, after Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams, the incumbent president in the 1800 election, Adams left Washington on Inaugurati­on Day in 1801 without

‘A president is always at risk of accusation­s that he is putting party priorities above those of the nation’

attending the swearing-in. We just went through it again on Jan 20, 2021.

Having the Queen be ceremonial­ly central to a transition at the head-ofgovernme­nt level provides a greater sense of continuity and stability than encounters between fractious politician­s can ever be.

Americans will deeply miss the Queen’s character, perseveran­ce and, yes, resilience. Our prayers and best wishes to Charles III.

John Bolton is a former US national security adviser

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 ?? ?? The Stars and Stripes at half-mast at the Capitol building in Washington DC
The Stars and Stripes at half-mast at the Capitol building in Washington DC

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