Head Of State

I stumbled on this in the in-laws’ lounge the other day. After yesterday’s post, I thought another taste of British “tradition” might be worth noting. I’d had no idea “The Lady” is still being published?:


The magazine itself notwithstanding, that cover of the Prince of Wales got me thinking about this. The U.S. and France of course have the role of national “head of state” and “head of government” vested in a single individual: a party politician. (France technically has a prime minister too; but never mind.) As we well know also, that invariably means that 40 plus percent of the population – at least – at any given time largely despise their head of state…. because (s)he’s first and foremost a party politician.

Britain is different. The prime minister is a politician, yes; and those who didn’t vote for his/her party naturally aren’t fond of who’s in Number 10 Downing Street. Yet even if someone is not a monarchist, the Queen (or King) is almost universally respected as the “head of state”: the apolitical representative of the British people as a whole.

I suspect that latter was what the U.S. presidency was meant to be when George Washington was first elected: a man (1790 usage) above faction. But, as we know, the role quickly became partisan. By the time John Adams was elected in 1796, and then Thomas Jefferson in 1800, the President was also seen as a leader of a party: a politician.

I will admit I’ve become partial to the idea of the U.S. head of state being separated from the head of government – with two people in the separate jobs. Imagine a new setup in which the “president” was only a ribbon cutter, visitor to disaster areas, national comforter, attender of foreign funerals, and non-political figure, serving alongside a “vice president” who actually handled the day to day of often ugly and dirty politics? Maybe then we could all finally agree “to like” our U.S. president. 🙂

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Author: “Conventions: The Garden At Paris,” “Passports,” “Frontiers,” and “Distances.” British Airways frequent flier. Lover of the Catskill Mountains...and the 1700s. New novel of 1797-1805, "Tomorrow The Grace," due out in 2019.