A thousand-year-old English castle echoed with the exhortations of a black preacher and a gospel choir on Saturday, as Prince Harry wed Meghan Markle, an American actress, nudging the British royal family into a new era.
New York Times, 19 May 2018
"Camelot, located no where in particular, can be anywhere.”
Norris J. Lacy, Arthurian Scholar
Like millions of people around the globe, I began yesterday morning at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, albeit from the comfort of a couch, not a wooden pew. I was prepared to start the morning with grim television reportage of the tragic school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, or a fresh round of conspiratorial condemnations from America’s prevaricator-in-chief, aided and abetted by his roving barrister, Rudy Giuliani.
Instead, I was transported to the wedding of Prince Harry and his bride, Meghan Markle, and for an hour or more, I watched in silence as the ceremony, whose choreography derives from centuries of custom, but which was enhanced by bold new cultural infusions, took me by total surprise. I had no expectations, nor did I anticipate that I would last long as a viewer.
It was a Proustian moment, however, without the madeleine and the tea, for the thoughts it engendered about how far we have fallen from our tradition of behaving well during moments of national ceremony. Though a royal wedding and a presidential inauguration are wholly different occasions, they are both moments in which we are expected to display our best face and to honor our common values.
To enjoy this particularly festive wedding was to be reminded of how dreadful the inaugural ceremony of the 45th President was, from the divisive, discordant presidential address about “American carnage” and the failure of all those presidents who had preceded him, to the day-after shenanigans about crowd size, climatological conditions, and the sorry spectacle of the speech at the CIA.
On the one hand, there was the joy of being present at such a moment — with its glorious assemblage of choral and musical performances, the Kingdom Choir and “Stand By Me,” the exquisite cello artistry of Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the soaring oratory of an African-American Episcopal preacher, the vibrant colors and architectural shapes of hat-fascinators, and the invigorating sense of energy and promise that all of this and the bride, Meghan, and groom, Prince Harry personify. It was a magnificent start for the day, and for that hour or more, it seemed like the brilliant blue, sunny skies of Windsor were right outside our window.
But, of course, they were not.
All of that was thousands of miles away, across an ocean, and in a country where the monarchy is the institutional rock upon which is anchored the nation’s solidity, continuity, and tradition. Meanwhile, England’s Brexit-stained political landscape is buffeted by the ill winds of nativism, faux-nationalism, and fear of the foreigner.
Here at home, we have the ill winds, but no rock.
Where once we could believe that a President could be the standard-bearer of our best traditions — not unfailingly, but when kismet came calling — and the White House the repository of our Constitutional bedrock, today we are bereft, bankrupt at the very top.
Instead of a paragon or even a journeyman, we have a grifter, an habitual fabricator and fabulist, a malignant presence who delights in the dismantling of existing relationships, partnerships, and alliances, and who has assembled through a mixture of cunning and crass communications tactics and techniques, an army that wears red hats, cheers wildly at his attacks on the ‘deep state,’ and which delights in his stentorian denigration of the institutions upon which this democracy was built — the judiciary, the press, and the exercise of First Amendment rights.
His former opponent called these people ‘deplorables,,’ which placed the name tag on the wrong party. Instead, it’s an apt characterization for the President himself and the corps of collaborators who are his lieutenants, enablers, and proxies, and who participate in the boorish, vindictive behaviors that are at the core of the Trump disposition.
But for ‘one brief, shining moment’ yesterday, we were with Harry and Meghan, their family, friends, and supporters around the globe in celebration of their marriage. It was a moment of unexpected exuberance, genuine glee, and a nourishing vacation from the vulgarity that is our lot for the nonce.
We may not have our Camelot, but we can surely set our sights on ridding ourselves of this Babylonian dominion and America’s Nebuchadnezzar.