“The king is dead. Long live the king,” the traditional proclamation at the passing of an English monarch, has always intrigued me.
With perfectly imperfect symmetry — epanalepsis, according to my freshman English teacher — it says in just eight words all that needs to be said about the transitory nature of power and the inescapable mortality even of the sovereign. Doubtless a new king couldn’t fail to reflect that a day would come when he’d be the subject of the first clause, not the second.
So it goes with George W. Bush. In a nine-minute helicopter ride two weeks and a decade ago, Citizen Bush and his wife were carried away from the White House, away from the front page, and away from the world’s collective consciousness.
Over here in Morocco, President Bush’s photo on the cafeteria wall of the American school where I work got a couple of days’ reprieve, but now there’s an empty space awaiting his successor’s portrait, which we expect any day now.
A few feet away, over the piano, is the image of King Mohammed VI of the Alaouite line, descendent of the Prophet Mohammed. Six months younger than the new American president and not bound by term limits, this vigorous monarch will likely see a number of American counterparts come and go before his own picture is retired. Even then he’ll probably get continued exposure, as plenty of shops and cafés still display his father’s photo alongside the son’s, nearly 10 years after the death of the former.
(A very nice touch — something that you don’t get to see in a republic — is the way the popular young king’s pose so often matches its context: In a café, he’ll be pictured having a cup of mint tea; in a travel agency, he’ll be boarding the royal aircraft; in a teleboutique, he’s on the phone; in a sporting goods shop, he might even be on a jet ski.)
I was disappointed that Google Labs couldn’t help me quantify this, but suffice it to say that the phrase “President Bush” has dropped off the Web’s radar screen faster than Christmas decorations were pulled from the shelves at Wal-Mart a few weeks back.
What we can’t know is how much of this disappearing act is due to the normal — that is to say, light-speed — flow of electronic media, and how much of it is intentional. (The whole world is “exhaling,” as the new secretary of State said a few days after the succession, a tad undiplomatically for a diplomat.) It’s true that there was a noticeable scarcity of “looking back” features in the press around Inauguration time, but perhaps that’s because the election of President Obama was so momentous as to overshadow them.
Or maybe, since today truly has enough worries of its own, we’re not inclined to dwell on yesterday’s, not to mention tomorrow’s.
Either way, there’s something a little bit hopeful in the way we’ve so quickly been transported from one presidential universe to another: We can be certain that a time will come when today’s gut-wrenching economic news will give way to something else. Maybe something good, maybe not. But there will be something else.
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