Opinion: A plot to end American democracy?

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Is there a potential plot to dismantle our democracy? Let’s look at one indication of what might happen.


Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, appeared on television to honor CNN Heroes. She said, “We saw the good in people, in our neighbors and in entire communities coming together to say they would not stand by while our neighbors went hungry.”


That’s nice. CNN recognizes “everyday people” who are committed to making the world a better place. But, when Meg spoke about her “neighbors” and worried about them going hungry, I had to wonder: About whom is she speaking? She and her husband live among the super-rich, and to imagine that any of her neighbors are going hungry is simply absurd.


The neighborhood


Harry and Meg live in Montecito, near Santa Barbara. Montecito is an enclave for some of the wealthiest celebrities in the nation. Their neighbors include Oprah Winfrey, Carol Burnett, George Lucas, Drew Barrymore — stop me when you think I’ve named someone who is going hungry — Angelina Jolie, Rob Lowe, Ellen DeGeneres, Kevin Costner, Brad Pitt, and on and on.

The population of Montecito is about 8,600. Not all of them are as wealthy as those I’ve mentioned, but you can’t afford to live there unless you’re pretty (expletive deleted) rich.


I’ve been there, but just to browse in a bookstore. I’m pretty sure that the only other customer at the time was Sue Grafton, the late author of the “alphabet mysteries” (e.g., “‘A’ is for Alibi” and 24 others, ending with “‘Y’ is for Yesterday”). Grafton died in 2017, and her house went on sale earlier this year for $8.5 million. When I checked it out a few days ago, the asking price had been reduced to $6,999,999.


Oprah’s house, however, is significantly more expensive. She paid $50 million for the 23,000 sq. ft. house, located on 43 acres. However, she added to the structure, and it was valued at $85 million in 2018. Then, she acquired 27 adjoining acres, making the estate 70 acres, and increasing its value to $100 million. Kinda’ nice neighborhood. And, by the way, this is only one of seven houses that Oprah owns, but — hey — she’s earned the money through her success in movies, television, and smart business ventures. She’s not going hungry.


Source of wealth


As long-time readers of this column know, one of my pet peeves is the maintenance of “royal families.” According to Time, Harry’s father, Prince Charles, “makes” his money through income from the Duchy of Cornwall which “funds the activities of whoever holds the title of Prince of Wales….” The Duchy is currently valued at $1.3 billion. Between 2016 and 2017, Chuck received $22.9 million in income.


Harry, Chuck’s son, is worth about $40 million. According to Town and Country, he’s accumulated that from funds left in trust by his mother, the late Princess Diana, as well as an inheritance from the Queen Mother, and — of course — his former salary as a captain in the British Army where he earned about $50,000 per year.


Harry’s wife Meg has wealth that was generated by her acting career that is estimated at somewhere around $5 million. So, if we consider only the money that the couple has earned by working, that would come to $6 million or less. Their 9 bedroom, 16 bath home in Montecito cost $14.65 million. And, it has a substantial mortgage. However, Harry still receives an “income” from the royal boondoggle of $450,000 annually, so I think they’ll manage to feed themselves.


Democracy


When the votes were counted and George Washington was elected as our first president, Benjamin Franklin walked up to him and said, “Congratulations, Your Majesty.” Washington told him that he was to be addressed as Mr. President or Mr. Washington, not as Your Majesty. He said, “We will have no monarchy in the United States.”


When Alexis de Toqueville, the French political scientist and politician, published “Democracy in America” in 1835, he marveled that ours was a “classless” society. As he toured our country, he must have noticed the differences among wealthy land owners, bankers, farmers, and ditch diggers. I think that his use of the term “classless” meant that we had no nobility, in distinction from most European countries of his time.


So, I find it interesting, and perhaps foreboding, that Meg is always referenced as Meghan, Duchess of Essex, and her husband is called Prince Harry.


Nearly two hundred and fifty years ago, Great Britain lost a war with its colonies on this side of the pond. Those colonies came together as the United States of America, a grand experiment in which the citizens of a country would rule themselves. During the past two and a half centuries, we’ve had economic booms and busts; scandals, great achievements, and failures; civil unrest, peaceful protests, and riots; and great leaders, mediocre leaders, and idiots who’ve needed a user’s manual in order to put their shoes on.


But, we’ve managed to muddle through without the guidance of a monarch. Now, we have a U.S. citizen and a resident alien who has chosen not to apply for citizenship, and they are referred to as Duchess and Prince. Cute names for dogs, but not appropriate titles in a country that has taken a deliberate stance against a having a nobility.


Perhaps I’ve become paranoid in my old age, but I can’t help but wonder if this is a secret plot, activated by a seemingly immortal British queen, to install the seeds of monarchy in our society. Then, as Americans become inured to having “royals” among us, British agents can more easily slip into our political institutions and bureaucracies and gradually convert us to a medieval society, pledging our troth to a hereditary ruler who lives, seemingly interminably, in Buckingham Palace.


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Jim Glynn, an avowed curmudgeon, may be contacted at j_glynn@att.net.

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