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Royal We

Friday, 15 February 2019

Dear Mr President,

Your pronouncement on the bi-partisan agreement on border security – “I am extremely unhappy” – signaled more than perhaps many noticed. Of course the literal meaning of these words registered on everyone and set off nervous speculation in the ranks of the punditry about whether your unhappiness would manifest itself in another government shutdown, an emergency decree, or a declaration of martial law.

Those four words – “I am extremely unhappy” – betrayed that your cause is not so much about ideology as about ego – the matter not public, but personal.

In fact, of course, you were relieved to be given a way out of your self-painted Wall-or-Nothing corner. By going along, however grudgingly, you could seem to be acting like former presidents who studied facts, consulted advisors, negotiated language, and arrived at compromise. And by being “unhappy”, you could gull the faithful into thinking that your cause has not been lost.

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But more important, those four words – “I am extremely unhappy” – betrayed that your cause is not so much about ideology as about ego – the matter not public, but personal. And not, of course, personal to the kids in the cages or their brown-skinned parents, but personal to you. The dark cloud of your mood will hang over us all until your whim lets the lightning flash. When Louis XIV frowned, courtiers trembled in corners and whispered about whether the king’s displeasure meant war or peace.

Thus we are moved another step toward monarchy. The public has already absorbed without comment your reference to “my generals” and scarcely allowed themselves to realize that you don’t think they are “our generals”. You have gradually shrunk and reshaped the White House staff into the concentric circles of a royal court: the King, the Royal Offspring, a few temporarily trusted ministers, and an outer circle of sycophants, kept insecure and divided by alternating signals of favor and rage.

The final step will have been taken when you adopt the “Royal We” to mean just yourself. When “I am unhappy” becomes “We are not amused”, we will know it is too late.

dan embree 300

Dan Embree

Received by the White House at 12:01 AM EST, 15 February 2019.