America wants a king. Not all Americans, of course. You won’t find anything that all Americans want. We’re way too diverse and divided in our interests, political knowledge and tastes to agree on anything that easily.
But, judging by the election and behavior of our current president - and the fierce loyalty of his 35-percent-or-so political base - I have concluded that the job candidate Donald Trump actually was seeking, and the one to which his loyal base sounds delighted for him to have, is more royal than lower-case republican.
I’m not talking about the sort of king who exercises real power. I have the United Kingdom’s current model in mind. They have a royal family that provides a steady supply of kings and queens to perform ceremonial matters like ribbon-cutting, knighthoods and toothless proclamations while a duly elected prime minister handles the difficult and often thankless work of lawmaking.
The idea has been suggested before but, judging by President Trump’s distaste for reading, researching, legislating and the other stuff that goes into serious lawmaking, I think even he, too, might find himself particularly suited to the job.
He could make grand speeches and overblown promises without being held accountable for such mundane tasks as actually reading the fine print - or even the large print - of legislation that he wants the rest of us to support.
In recent days, for example, we have seen his party’s latest attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, collapse. We have seen his attention to Puerto Rico’s post-hurricane crisis waver in and out of sight, making President George W. Bush’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina look like a model of efficiency.
Where was our president? Focused on the Twitter fight he provoked with the National Football League.
Before the weekend, talk about taking a knee during the national anthem at pro football games occupied a very narrow slice of our national conversation. Most media attention seemed to be directed at the cowardice of NFL teams for refusing to sign Colin Kaepernick, the free agent quarterback who launched knee-taking as a form of protest while he was playing for the San Francisco 49ers during the 2016 preseason.
But in a Friday speech in Alabama and weekend tweetstorms in which Trump called for the firing of NFL players who kneel, Trump once again performed a stand we have seen numerous times before: He made the issue all about him.
Suddenly, the small and scattered knee-taking protests that Kaepernick launched ballooned into scores of players, coaches and even owners taking a knee, raising fists or locking arms in a show of unity and support for one another - and defiance of the intrusion by a president who expressed more outrage over a footballer’s knee than the white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville, Va., who he said included “some very fine people.”
Questioned about that doublethink, President Trump insisted Sunday that his harsh speech and tweets against protests by players who mostly happen to be black had nothing to do with race, which to me is a sign that the protests actually have a heck of a lot to do with race.
“This has to do with respect for our country,” he said, “and respect for our flag.”
So he says. Kaepernick’s original purpose in taking a knee, he said, was to call attention to questionable killings of unarmed African-Americans by police. Trump decided it was about disrespecting the flag and the national anthem, despite repeated denials by the protesting players.
So, as divisively as Trump’s tweets drove a wedge between the NFL and his supporters, he succeeded in unifying NFL players, coaches and owners - against himself.
Meanwhile, Trump continued to tweet with apparent glee, to the point of offering critiques on the quality of Sunday’s protests: “Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!”
Bad ratings? Ah, yes, Trump’s past career as a brand-building reality-TV host has conditioned him to equate merit with ratings. Concern with crowd-pleasing can corrupt sound decision-making in the world of governance. But Trump’s supporters don’t seem to mind a president who apparently prefers watching “Fox & Friends” to reading intelligence briefings.
Even Trump might prefer to be an elected ceremonial royal. He could leave lawmaking to the regular lawmakers and focus on ratings. Good ratings.
Clarence Page is a member of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.