On June 21, 2017, during what is still the most recent state opening of parliament, the British Queen wore for her speech before the legislature a hat which was a sort of purply blue, with little yellow-gold flowers on it. Despite the speech being focused mainly on outlining then-Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans to Leave the European Union, it was immediately decided, by hardcore opponents of Brexit, that this could only mean one thing: the Queen was definitely on their side.
“Absolutely not coincidental,” one tweet claimed, “All her clothes are carefully considered with optics and message in mind.” And the Queen's hat, you see, looked (aside from looking like the sort of hat that the Queen wears to basically every public event she attends) almost kind-of like an EU flag.
During the actual Brexit referendum campaign, Tory minister Michael Gove (allegedly) took it upon himself to claim that the Queen was a Brexiteer. But in the wake of that (still, despite all the farcical bullshit smeared everywhere across the political spectrum in the years that have followed, gut-wrenchingly awful) result, the belief that Britain's ancient, infinitely wealthy, hereditary head of state is secretly on the side of all that is Good and Sensible and Progressive seemed — until very recently — to proliferate unchecked.
Not to be facetious but the Queen's hat looks like the European Union flag pic.twitter.com/1nDJ3sWDTd— Federica Cocco (@federicacocco) June 21, 2017
One of the most persistent offenders on this score has been Madeleina Kay, aka “EU Super Girl,” a prominent Remain grifter best-known for crowdfunding large sums of money so she can do “activism” by going on holiday around Europe in a sort of pro-EU costume. “In a world of identity-politics, the #EUSupergirl presents a positive, aspirational identity for the future of Europe which I hope serves as a role-model to other citizens,” her funding page claims, coherently. Over the years, Kay has produced a series of cartoons celebrating the Queen as a stalwart figure of the anti-Brexit movement.
But this is not simply a belief associated with what has become, in the years following the referendum result, the Remain side's extreme fringe. “The royals have become potential allies in the rebellion against lunacy,” wrote Zoe Williams in a recent op-ed column for The Guardian:
“Could the prime minister really refuse to resign following a vote of no confidence, and use the lack of precedent and fog of chaos to force through a no-deal Brexit? 'Oh, the Queen would never have it.' We hope. 'She’d be bound to intervene. She loves the constitution. It’s her favourite thing, after the Commonwealth.' We envisage the monarch intervening with sound sense, while Prince William goes on a Pride march and Prince Charles gives Davos a piece of his mind about carbon emissions.”
A lot of this is “wishful thinking,” Williams admits, “but there's a truth,” she claims, “at its heart. English nativism, in all its petty media iterations, has turned the royal family into renegades.”
It's not just Brexit that the Queen has been ostensibly opposed to. This June, when Donald Trump arrived on a state visit to the UK, a bunch of people decided that the Queen was sending him secret messages with her outfit. “That's the Burmese Ruby Tiara,” one tweet noted of the Queen's dress. “It was designed by Her Majesty herself in 1973 using gems from her collection. It consists of 96 rubies that were gifted to HM The Queen by the people of (then) Burma as a symbolic protection against illness and evil. Make of it what you will.” People were similarly impressed by the Queen's choice of gift: a book. “Either she doesn't know Trump or she's trolling him,” the Daily Show host Trevor Noah “quipped.” “Why would you give Donald Trump a book? Everyone knows the man doesn't read.”
Something almost identical happened during Trump’s state visit the previous year, when it was speculated that the Queen was sending Trump coded messages with her choices of brooch. The other month, the i columnist Jane Merrick decided that the Queen choosing to plant a tree by herself (?) was in some way a defiant message about Trump saying he would “no longer deal” with the British ambassador to Washington (??).
In all this, the Queen is imaginatively projected as being somehow “sassy” — a wise, loveable old matriarch just as any family might have, royal or not; given to “throwing shade” at the likes of Trump. (I feel like it's worth noting at this point that there is a popular twitter account — with more than 1.5 million followers and a book deal — dedicated to representing the British Queen as a saucy, gin-swilling old sort).
The Queen is far from the only dubious figure the self-styled politically sensible have taken it upon themselves to mythologize.
This all hit a bit of a speed-bump last week when the Queen literally approved the suspension of parliamentary democracy in the UK in order to help a totally unelected de facto minority government force Brexit through, apparently with no complaints whatsoever (although the Queen has basically no constitutional authority to do anything other than approve whatever her government happens to tell her to approve). This has led to something of a shift in attitude towards the monarch among “Remainers” — although there are still some holdouts who think she may have only approved the prorogation of parliament because she’s been lied to.
lmao FBPE are going to behead the queen pic.twitter.com/f3ydmvTng2— a a dril (@demarionunn) August 28, 2019
But the Queen is far from the only dubious figure the self-styled politically sensible have taken it upon themselves to mythologize. At the start of the year, Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi was held up as a (British Queen-style) “shady icon” for the way in which she clapped Trump during the State of the Union address. A similar phenomenon can perhaps be observed in the case of presidential hopeful Joe Biden, whose weirdly hard-to-shake status as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination can be in part attributed to his representation in The Onion as a chill, beer-swilling good time fuck-up who is banned from Dave & Buster's.
This phenomenon’s prevalence demands the question: why exactly do people need to think this sort of thing? Presumably, they find the illusion comforting: the idea that in an uncertain world, where all the people in or about to assume power are bad, there exists a form of power that is still uncomplicatedly Good. The Queen — who has largely spent her whole reign cultivating an image of being somehow beyond politics, an image that goes beyond even the will-less, malleable neutrality she is constitutionally obliged to maintain — has been the perfect cipher around which such an illusion can be built.
But of course it’s false: the power the Queen exercises isn’t anodyne, and how could it be? The royal family is an institution that exists as a vestige of the feudal power with which the British state never quite did away, just transformed into capital. They thus work to confer a sort of ancient legitimacy onto the wholly contemporary and wholly selfish power which actually rules in their name. The idea that Britain’s legislature needs a monarch to oversee it at all is itself at least as anti-democratic as the fact that the government has demanded said monarch to delay its re-constitution beyond the date at which it might realistically prevent Britain’s exit from the European Union.
The idea that the Queen has anyone’s interests at heart other than her own (and possibly those of her class) has always been dubious in the extreme. The amount she cares about ordinary British people can be gauged by a 2004 the episode in which she asked ministers to allocate part of a state poverty fund to help her heat Buckingham Palace.
And even if its power was genuinely responsive to the public in any way at all — if you were looking for an institution which seems likely to join you in standing up to the far-right — you probably couldn’t pick many worse than the British royal family. Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex might be a bit down on the prospect of the complete destruction of mankind as of late, but they, if anything, are on the family's extreme-left fringe.
That the Windsors were a hotbed of Nazi sympathy is historically well-documented; the Queen’s uncle is widely believed to have conspired with Hitler to become his puppet king — photographic evidence exists of the Queen herself, as a child, giving a Nazi salute — and three of her paternal aunts were members of the Nazi party. In more recent controversy, the Queen’s son, Prince Andrew, has been caught up in allegations over his involvement with notorious pedophile sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
Likewise in America, Pelosi is the multi-millionaire figurehead of a deeply cynical and almost bafflingly ineffectual Democratic establishment, who in truth seems much more concerned with undermining her party’s left than criticizing Trump (she has even explicitly stated that her clapping of Trump during the State of the Union was sincere). Biden is a deeply creepy man who hates young people and loves dead segregationists, and whose political vision essentially amounts to “nothing will ever change.” Indeed, the guy responsible for Biden's Onion portrayal has since apologized for making him look so good.
Still, some illusions are useful. “What does man actually know about himself?” Nietzsche asks in his essay “On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense”:
“Is he, indeed, ever able to perceive himself completely, as if laid out in a lighted display case? Does nature not conceal most things from him — even concerning his own body — in order to confine and lock him within a proud, deceptive consciousness, aloof from the coils of the bowels, the rapid flow of the blood stream, and the intricate quivering of the fibers! She threw away the key. And woe to that fatal curiosity which might one day have the power to peer out and down through a crack in the chamber of consciousness and then suspect that man is sustained in the indifference of his ignorance by that which is pitiless, greedy, insatiable, and murderous.”
According to Nietzsche, it is only by deceiving ourselves about our true nature — subscribing to the right illusions — that we can “live with any repose, security, and consistency.” Perhaps in a horrible and harsh world, it’s good to imagine some essential core of niceness, which despite everything (all those horrible ministers getting the nice old Queen to do bad things, perhaps) still persists? Perhaps that could even give us courage?
But in recent years, this particular illusion has proved manifestly un-useful. The persistent (and, empirically speaking, just... utterly bizarre) belief that there must be some “good” people in power, a faction of the ruling class whose interests for whatever reason fail to align with what the “bad” ones are trying to accomplish, has resulted in a public far less likely to question the workings of power in general.
The far right, in particular, thrives off their opponents’ respect for the institutional norms that they themselves have no problem violating. And I’m not just talking about the proroguing of the British parliament here — recently, the U.S. Supreme Court, now stacked with conservatives, effectively ruled that gerrymandering is constitutional. Establishment liberals gripe and moan, of course, but ultimately they seem determined to let the right get away with it, every time. Either what is going on here is treacherously cynical or deeply naïve. Any serious opponent of fascism needs to develop a healthy skepticism towards the rules of their own.
All this said, I do think it seems likely the Queen has been sending us messages with her hats. It’s just that this message has never been “I don't care for Brexit” or “this Trump fellow is not entirely to my taste.” What the Queen has been telling us with her hats, variously covered in different plundered jewels, has never been anything more or less than: “Fuck all you people, I have a hat covered in plundered jewels.”