A Modest Proposal: Let's Adopt A Ceremonial Royal Family for the US To Safely Absorb People's Apparent Need for Powerful, Charismatic Presidents

I have been watching the Crown as well as the new PBS Victoria series, and it got me to thinking.  Wow, it sure does seem useful to have a single figurehead into which the public can pour all the sorts of adulation and voyeurism that they seem to crave.  That way, the people get folks who can look great at parties and make heart-felt speeches and be charismatic and set fashion trends and sound empathetic and even scold us on minor things.  All without giving up an ounce of liberty.  The problem in the US is we use the Presidency today to fulfill this societal need, but in the process can't help but imbue the office with more and more arbitrary power.  Let's split the two roles.

Update:  Don Boudreaux writes:

A Trump presidency comes along with awful risks for Americans.  Yet one very real silver-lining is that Trump’s over-the-top buffoonery and manic barking like a dog at every little thing that goes bump in his sight, along with his chronic inability even to appear to be thoughtful and philosophical and reflective and aware that he is not the center of the universe, might – just might – scrub off some of the ridiculous luster that has built up on on the U.S. Presidency over the course of the past 90 or so years.  Let us hope.

He also links a good article from Kevin Williamson on the cult of the Presidency


  1. mharris717:

    That's ..... kinda a good idea. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

  2. Maddog:

    Or we could just box the knobs up and send them back to merry old England.


  3. bobby_b:

    I thought that's why we worship movie stars.

  4. Jesse H:

    In Canada we have this down to a sciene. Said figurhead family does not even need to live here, so we dont even have to deal with the fall out of their off days...

  5. johnmoore:

    That's a great idea!

  6. esoxlucius:

    Great idea. Seriously. It's the most insight I've heard in a long time.

  7. irandom419:

    That actually makes some sense for the Oprah types. Some to say I feel your pain and other things all day long.

  8. kidmugsy:

    I prefer our system of a crowned republic to yours of an elected monarchy.

    It's a lovely example of Hayek's point that the results of human action can be far more successful than the results of human design. Nobody designed constitutional monarchy: the British, Dutch, Danes, and so on just developed it as the decades rolled by.

  9. auralay:

    Well, we have an ageing prince over here that you're very welcome to. Beware what you wish for - you might get it! http://www.breitbart.com/london/2017/01/18/the-prince-of-waless-ladybird-book-on-climate-change-is-not-a-spoof-unfortunately/

  10. Sackerson:

    If you're advocating Britain to reabsorb the Colonies, sorry, we can't handle your problems as well as our own. But at least could we please get away from this business of the First Lady? What next? First Daughter? First Cat? (The Clinton had Chelsea and Socks the Cat).

  11. Ike Evans:

    Two words: Kim Kardashian.

  12. Q46:

    The British Constitutional Monarchy provides another important function, all the powers of State are invested in the Crown but by Constitutional convention and tradition these powers are devolved to Parliamentary control and will not be used by the Crown except on the advice of Ministers.

    Thus it is not a case of the power the Monarch has, but the power it deprives others.

    Well that was so until the political elite started transferring those powers to the European Commission in Brussels. Some might view that as treason, but explains Brexit.

    In the USA there has been a drift of power from Congress to the President and Supreme Court. For example control of the budget was given to Congress (echoes of Magna Carta) precisely as a means of limiting the Executive Branch, but now it is widely accepted that it is 'obstructive' and contrarian for Congress, none of its business really, to control the budget and deny the President his money.

    Of course this same dispute arose between Charles I and Parliament, civil wars followed, Parliament won and cut Charles' head off - I think this to be a more salutary lesson in restraint to future Kings, Presidents - elections are cost and consequence-free.

  13. Q46:

    We could swap Scotland for the 13 Colonies.

  14. Q46:

    And you don't even have to pay for it, the British do.


  15. Sackerson:

    How about we give you Scotland as the 51st State? That gets them away from the hated English without (from frying pan into fire) throwing them into the EU.

  16. Mars Jackson:

    We could have a system more like France where the President has limited powers but also serves as a figurehead, while the Prime Minister oversees much of the day to day operations of the government.

  17. Penkville:

    It's called being Canada...

  18. kidmugsy:

    There's a lovely remark in the Scottish Claim of Right of 1689: "Whereas King James the Seventh ... [did] invade the fundamental constitution of this Kingdom and altered it from a legal limited monarchy, to an arbitrary despotic power ..."

    The sacking of James and the appointment of William and Mary marked the end of the doctrine that the monarch had a divine right to the throne: the Parliaments (of Scotland and of England) would thenceforth appoint the monarchs and further limit their powers.

  19. slocum:

    But not really. Trudeau seems to inspire the same kind of pants-tingling among his supporters as Obama. And it was even more true of his parents. His mother glammed it up with celebrities more than any American first lady:


  20. Penkville:

    There's no system that can entirely prevent brainless adulation by the masses but at least in Canada and other similar Commonwealth countries their power is limited...

  21. Fred_Z:

    The US needs to re-institute nobility as well. I stole this idea from L. Sprague de Camp, I think.

    Lot's of people would do an awful lot to be called Sir John, or William, Duke of Arkansaw. Not to mention the pressure from their spouses. If the patent of nobility were for life only, what's the harm? If Hillary could have swanned about wearing a tiara and calling herself a Duchess, think how much less trouble she would have caused.

  22. slocum:

    But in parliamentary systems, there's no way for the populace to elect a divided government to try to throw some sand in the gears. Although, unfortunately, in the U.S. this does not work as well as it used to:


  23. kidmugsy:

    Yeah, we call those Life Peerages. Almost every male who accepts one explains that it's really because of his wife. Does he want to be Lord Snooks? Not at all, but his beloved is so keen to be Lady Snooks that he feels he must accept the offer.

  24. James Porteous:

    It's absolutely correct that no system can entirely prevent brainless adulation - good heavens, we've had Trudeaumania twice here in Canada despite having a monarch - but I'm not sure it's entirely accurate to say that in Canada the power of the PM is limited relative to the American President's. Perhaps in Britain or Australia, but not here at least.

    Some parliamentary systems keep at least some power in the hands of legislators, who feel at least somewhat comfortable rejecting or opposing their own party's rule - British Labour MPs triggered a leadership contest last year without too much difficulty (even though Corbyn ultimately won). Famously Australian party leaders live in fear of rebellion and dismissal by their MPs. In those systems the Prime Minister's power is at least somewhat checked by the legislature.

    In the case of Canada, party leaders typically can eject MPs from their party on a whim (and getting elected as an independent is basically impossible here - party is everything and almost nobody knows who their MP is). Combined this with a large number of whipped votes and no tradition of MPs ousting party leaders means that, in effect, our PMO can rule as a sort of Canadian equivalent of the American jobs of President and Speaker of the House combined - but in a system where their own party would never dare challenge their leadership. Imagine if Trump could kick people out of the Republican Party congressional caucus if they made fun of his hands - and if this were a death sentence to a representative's career - and it gives you a rough estimation of how much clout the Canadian PM has within our system. Nobody wants to be the first MP to stick their neck out.

    Unless our parliament has a minority government, there are effectively no checks on our PM's control. (And while our Senate can reject bills in a limited way, it has no effective and consistent veto power over legislation - it's a long story but essentially there are workarounds.)

    tl;dr: It depends on the parliamentary system, but some of them (e.g., Canada's) are prone to incredible concentrations of power and occasional bouts of leader-worship.

  25. Penkville:

    Sounds bad I agree. As you can see now in the UK, it's rare for a government to be so powerful that they can do what they like, and almost all PM's are eventually deposed by their MP's rather than the voters (who of course don't vote directly for a PM). So there's no constituency system in Canada then? Certainly in the UK the MP represents a geographical area and while it's true there are some constituencies where there is tribal loyalty to a party, that's not usually the case, even in so-called heartlands, as Labour found in Scotland a few years ago.

  26. James Porteous:

    For Canada and the UK, our systems are basically identical (to my knowledge), we just have slightly different party rules and traditions that result in surprisingly different outcomes. We have a strong multi-party system but once a parliament is elected with one party having a majority, our PM Office has significantly more power than the American president. (Proportionally - we don't have nuclear launch codes, but the agenda is much more tightly controlled by the PM.)

    We passed some legislation last parliament that in theory strengthened MPs relative to party leaders, but only if the MPs in each party voted in favour at the start of each new parliament (binding on their own party only). Surprising nobody, the parties each rejected almost every provision.

  27. DaveK:

    Let's see... that would take a complete rewrite of the constitution. Gosh, what could possibly go wrong?