Commentary: We need an office of American dignity

By Janet Williams
TheStatehouseFile.com 

There is a powerful scene in episode seven of “The Crown,” the Netflix series about the early years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, where the young monarch confronts that aging lion of Great Britain, Winston Churchill.

Janet Williams, editor, TheStatehouseFile.com

Churchill had had a debilitating stroke in the summer of 1953 and with the help of his doctor, family and close political allies managed to keep the illness a secret from the public. In the Netflix version of the event in “The Crown,” he also kept it secret from the queen.

In their fictional confrontation, Elizabeth forcefully yet respectfully reminds Churchill that they each have a role in their life of their country — one dignified and the other efficient. The monarchy is the dignified part while the office of prime minister is the efficient side.

She told him that by concealing his illness, and with it his ability to lead the country, he broke a trust. That, she said, was irresponsible because he put the nation at risk.

The implied message was that Churchill, in looking for a way to hang on to his own political power, put himself ahead of his country.

I thought as I watched that episode that maybe the United States needs a queen or someone of similar stature for the dignified part. (The efficient part would be the subject of another column.) We need someone who would tell the politicians that they are being irresponsible when they commit foolish or dangerous actions because they are looking out for their own self-interest over the interests of the nation.

I am not advocating for a monarchy. We neither want nor need one, but perhaps an office of American dignity would do the job. That way when the president tweets an image of himself bonking Hillary Clinton on the back of the head with a golf ball, a person in that position would remind him that he is supposed to be the leader of the free world, not a third-rate bully.

This week the keeper of American dignity would have been busy. She or he would have had to tell the president that he isn’t putting America first when he threatens the leaders of other nations with annihilation as he did with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un before the United Nations.

And that person would have reminded Trump that he needs to behave with more dignity rather than resort to petty, grade school name calling as he did when he called Kim “Rocket Man.” Funny line but hardly befitting the stature of the office he holds.

It is also — as the queen told the prime minister — irresponsible.

She or he would tactfully yet forcefully remind the president that the last thing we need is a grade school spitting match that has the potential to escalate into nuclear war. She/he would acknowledge that yes, the United States has the military might to reduce North Korea to rubble. But at what cost? A nuclear bomb fired at Chicago, Seattle or even Indianapolis?

So, the person holding the office of American dignity would let the president know that no, there is no nuclear option. It’s bad for all parties, Republican or Democrat.

Eventually, we might see the value of the role in reining in the worst instincts of Congress, such as when Republicans once again try to slam through so-called health care reform that appeases their big donors at the expense of the rest of us.

The keeper of American dignity would remind all members of Congress as well as the president that once they take office they are responsible for governing all Americans, not just members of their own parties.

What we really need in this role is someone like Joseph N. Welch, the general counsel for the Army in the 1950s when Sen. Joseph McCarthy was investigating the so-called communist infiltration of the military.

Welch defended a young staffer from McCarthy’s character assassination by saying, “You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Good words for our era, too. 

Janet Williams is editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. She can be reached at jwilliams4@franklincollege.edu.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Share This Post