Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Crown and the Presidency, 2016

I’ve been watching The Crown on Netflix. It’s about the accession of Elizabeth II to the British crown. It started streaming quite recently, perhaps no earlier than the beginning of November, and I began watching it a couple days before the election. It struck me that this timing was likely no coincidence, a TV show about a woman becoming the British monarch even as a woman was about to become President of the United States. But, Hilary lost.

And that leaves me free to point out another coincidence, a matter of thematic counterpoint. One of the major themes of The Crown, perhaps THE major theme, though I’m only five episodes in (out of 10 so far, it’s slated to run for 60), is the conflict between personal life and public duty. By contrast, the Presidential election seems to have been dominated by confusion between private life and public life.

Let’s start with The Crown. Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, became king when his brother, Edward VIII, was forced to abdicate. Why? Because he decided to marry Wallis Simpson, an twice-divorced American socialite and, of course, a commoner. That is, it is because he uncle chose to put his private happiness above his public duty, that Elizabeth was in a position to become monarch. This much of the story is told in flashback, but Edward, now merely the Duke of Windsor, figures prominently in these early episodes.

In the second episode we see two examples. Elizabeth’s husband, Philip, has two demands: 1) the family keep his name, Mountbatten, and 2) that they remain in Clarence House, one of the royal residences, which they’ve just renovated, rather than moving to Buckingham Palace, which is not particularly homey. Elizabeth is fine with this but the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, is against, as is her uncle Edward (the one who abdicated. Duty wins out in both cases. In the fifth episode Elizabeth gets crowned. Philip requests that he not have to kneel before the new sovereign during the ceremony. Elizabeth refuses.

And so on. There are other incidents throughout the five episodes and each is surrounded by conversation.

In the current presidential election the most obvious collision between public and private is, of course, the tape where Trump brags about his sexual harassment, which was just the last in a number accusations. There is nothing new in the wayward sexual behavior of powerful men, but the press didn’t report it, not for Roosevelt, or Eisenhower, nor John Kennedy. That changed with Bill Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal in his second term. Just why the change, I don’t really know. But it’s happened. And Trump used the Bill Clinton story to defend himself against the his own sexual accusers.

Other issues were about public-private confusion as well. Continuing with Trump, there’s his apparent tax avoidance, which may well have been legal, but was presented as a failure of civic duty, his use of his foundation, and other issues. On the Clinton side, there’s the use of a private email server for conducting public business and there’s the Clinton Foundation: did they trade political favors for donations to the foundation?

What, if anything, do I make of this? I don’t quite know. What I’m wondering, of course, is whether or not this series at this time is somehow a response to or in conversation with the kinds of dynamics which ended up driving the 2016 Presidential Election. Of course the lead-time involved in producing a TV series like this is measured in years. I’d think the scripts were written and production started before Trump and Clinton became the nominees. On the other hand, while the Obama administration has been scandal-free (as far as I can recall), blurred lines between public-and-private is a standard issue in politics.

So, it’s possible there is some kind of ‘resonance’ between the appearance of The Crown at this time and the current atmosphere surrounding presidential politics in the United States.

* * * * *

And then there’s Shakespeare’s treatment of this theme, public and private. Prince Hal pals around with Falstaff and then, when he ascends to the throne, what does he do? He rejects Falstaff. Why? What was appropriate for him as a private individual is not appropriate for him as monarch.

Well, Falstaff just got elected President of the United States.

* * * * *

The layers of potential conflicts he faces are in many ways as complex as his far-flung business empire, adding a heightened degree of difficulty for Mr. Trump — one of the wealthiest men to ever occupy the White House — in separating his official duties from his private business affairs.

Further complicating matters are Mr. Trump’s decision to name his children to his transition team, and what is likely to be their informal advisory role in his administration. His daughter Ivanka Trump joined an official transition meeting on Thursday, the day before Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey was removed from his post leading the effort.

Mr. Trump has said he will eliminate ethical concerns by turning the management of his company over to his children, an arrangement he has referred to as a blind trust.

But ethics lawyers — both Republicans and Democrats — say it is far from blind because he would have knowledge of the assets in the trust and be in contact with the people running it, making it unlike a conventional blind trust controlled entirely by an independent party.
* * * * *

From a recent op-ed by Paul Krugman (25 Nov. 2016):
Remember, over the course of the 2016 campaign, the three network news shows devoted a total of 35 minutes combined to policy issues — all policy issues. Meanwhile, they devoted 125 minutes to Mrs. Clinton’s emails.
What is it that makes those emails so salient? Could it be that they blur the line between public and private? She used a private email server to handle public business.

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