Who is this woke, sassy 21st century monarch you all seem to stan?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (if so, I’m jealous) you’ll know that Donald Trump is in the UK for his long-awaited state visit. It’s a strange time for such a visit, given that Britain’s Prime Minister just announced her intention to step aside, clearing the path for an even more horrendous Tory to have their career impaled by Brexit.
The Queen, rather than the PM, is the UK’s head of state, so the royal family usually play a central role in state visits from foreign leaders. The first thing Trump did when he landed in the UK – after insulting London Mayor Sadiq Khan on Twitter – was jump on a helicopter to Buckingham Palace. He attended a “royal welcome” with the Queen, Prince Charles, and the Duchess of Cornwall, followed by tea at Clarence House. In the evening, a ceremonial banquet was held in Buckingham Palace, where more royals were thrown into the mix.
Despite the fact that the president is a racist, misogynistic, transphobic, tax-avoiding bigot, who tens of thousands of Londoners turned out to protest against, the images of Trump with the royals are strangely normal. There didn’t seem to be much tension between climate change denier Trump and “environmentalist” Prince Charles. Prince William managed not to deck Trump after a tweet from 2012 resurfaced in which the president appeared to blame his wife for photographers taking nude photos of her sunbathing. The Queen smiled merrily, forgetting that 24 hours earlier Trump had called Meghan Markle – the mother of her youngest great-grandchild – “nasty”.
Yet even with images and videos showing the warm reception and hospitality offered to the Trumps from the Queen, another storyline has developed on social media. Lots of people seem to enjoy the idea that the Queen isn’t happy to see Trump. Some have even accused her of “throwing shade” his way.
Giving Trump a book is such quality shade from the Queen 😎👑 https://t.co/JmYkkwujZt— Hadley Freeman (@HadleyFreeman) June 3, 2019
Upon hearing the news that the Queen had gifted Trump a book that once belonged to Winston Churchill, Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman tweeted: “Giving Trump a book is such quality shade from the Queen ”. People then focused on the tiara the Queen wore to the ceremonial banquet. According to the Royal Exhibitions website, the Queen’s Burmese Ruby Tiara guards the wearer “not only against illness, but also against evil”. This spawned a hundreds of viral tweets and articles. Glamour, who were by no means the only offenders, said that the Queen is “shady as hell…”
Queen Elizabeth is shady as hell... pic.twitter.com/tzLE604AcZ— British GLAMOUR (@GlamourMagUK) June 4, 2019
Like me, you might be having trouble seeing how the Queen gifting Trump a priceless book and wearing a priceless tiara, while welcoming him into her priceless, tax-payer funded home to eat a lavish banquet at our expense is shady. After all, it’s not like she’s subtweeting Trump or leaving him on read.
Whatever the Queen’s individual feelings, it’s extremely unlikely that she was remotely uncomfortable with Trump’s presence. I wouldn’t be surprised if her first thought upon seeing him was “ah, finally, someone who’s inherited almost as much money and power as me”. In her seven decades as Britain’s monarch, she’s hosted some pretty awful people – like murderous Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe. Leaders from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Afghanistan, Sudan and China – countries with troubling attitudes towards human rights and democracy – have all enjoyed the Queen’s lavish hospitality.
So why are some people so desperate to say “yassssss Queen” that they’re willing to invent royal beef? Throughout British culture, there’s a concerted effort to project individualism on to the Queen, despite the fact that she’s a remote figure whose purpose is to be the custodian of the crown and protector of the faith. We see this in the endless stream of film, TV, and theatre projects dedicated to exploring her life and humanising her. From Netflix’s The Crown to Oscar-winning film The Queen, there is an obsession with finding the “real person” behind the pomp, protocol, and institutional power.
“The Queen can’t be an apolitical, symbolic figure while also being a sassy, woke individual who publicly shades leaders whose politics she doesn’t agree with. If we’re going to bestow individuality on to the Queen, then she also needs to be accountable for the institution she represents”
The desire for the Queen to “shade” Trump exemplifies that people like to project their views, or “the views of the nation”, on to her. BBC journalist Adrian Bradley tells me that The Audience, a play by Peter Morgan that re-imagines the Queen’s weekly “audience” with Prime Ministers, is an example of “a writer projecting his own hopes and wishes on what he thought the queen actually does and thinks”. We saw this again when the Queen opened parliament in 2017, wearing a blue hat adorned with yellow flowers, which people interpreted as a pro-EU political statement. On the other hand, in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death, we also saw backlash against the Queen for not expressing the same visible grief that the nation was feeling.
The problem here is that Royalists can’t have it both ways. The Queen can’t be an apolitical, symbolic figure while also being a sassy, woke individual who publicly shades leaders whose politics she doesn’t agree with. If we’re going to bestow individuality on to the Queen, then she also needs to be accountable for the institution she represents. After all, people acting on behalf of the crown have committed countless atrocities rooted in colonial white supremacy, violence, homophobia and elitism that’d make even the most right wing of US republicans blush. The ramifications of these actions are still felt today across the world.
SHKRFFFJJRJRJRHSHSKSHKHHHH THE QUEEN DEAD ASS GAVE DONALD TRUMP A BOOK WORTH MILLIONS THAT WE ALL PAID FOR WITH OUR TAXES 😂😂😂 WEARING A HAT ENCRUSTED WITH DIAMONDS PLUNDERED FROM EMPIRE 😂😂😂😂😂😂 WE STAN A SHADY WOKE 21ST CENTURY MONARCH 👏☕️👏☕️👏☕️— Stan The Golden Boy (@tristandross) June 4, 2019
Might fuck around and assume that a woman who has multiple castles to live in has basically the same political sensibilities as me— pixelatedboat aka “mr tweets” (@pixelatedboat) June 4, 2019
The Queen is well practiced at turning the other way when confronted with leaders who espouse racism, misogyny or murder their own citizens. It’s not like she’ll ever face the consequences of any political upheaval in the UK, where there are secret plans to evacuate her if Britain crashes out of the EU and anarchy ensues, so the risk factor for her is very low.
It might make left-leaning Queen Liz stans feel better to make her out to be some sort of woke, shady, Very Online Social Activist-type monarch. How else would Guardian columnists justify their affection for someone who represents an elitist institution that they know is immoral? But entertaining leaders like Trump is never “politically neutral”. Far from “shading” him, the Queen’s hospitality helps legitimise him. Desmond Tutu once said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”. Too often the Queen – a figure that people seem determined to imagine has the best intentions – is used so that the British government can appease oppressors for our own gain.
Hosting men like Trump and smiling politely is a normal part of the Queen’s day job. It’s her version of “a meeting that could have been an email”. But more precisely, her existence hinges on maintaining the status quo and her vast, obscene privilege, so we can expect visits from leaders far worse than Trump to continue for many years. When they arrive, the Queen – or whoever holds the crown – will smile as she prepares to offer them “generous” hospitality other people paid for. Because she probably can’t believe that, after all these years, the same people are bending over backwards to shower her with praise for doing very little at all.