I am a strong believer in nationhood and American exceptionalism. But the inspiring address about the coronavirus that Queen Elizabeth II delivered on Sunday transcends national borders. We should be thankful for the United Kingdom’s monarch. Even though she is not our queen, in an allegorical way, she is everyone’s. And because of her personality, unique role and long life experience, her words of encouragement resound perhaps like no other person’s.
Even with the news that the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been hospitalized with the virus, the Queen’s speech, watched by 24 million people, provided authentic, credible encouragement that we will indeed make it through these dark days.
Her rare televised speech lasted only a few minutes, yet the English monarch of nearly 70 years painted a realistic but hopeful outlook, with a central message: “We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return. We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”
She lifted up her listeners: “Those who come after us will say the Britons of this generation were as strong as any.” It’s a message that reverberates beyond the U.K. to any country affected by the virus.
Queen Elizabeth’s themes of sacrifice and duty are inspiring because we know from her life that she lives these qualities, rather than just talking about them. Like all English children during World War II, Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret, lived through terrifying times such as the Blitz, when Buckingham Palace was bombed along with other locations in London. Fortunately, she had outstanding models in her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who set an example of courage against adversity.
No other politician or statesman could credibly convey the same emotional significance. The Queen evoked the same tone that she did following Princess Diana’s death, suggesting that — in trying times such as we are all experiencing — she speaks “from my heart as your Queen and a grandmother.”
Princess Diana herself once remarked, “A mother’s arms are more comforting than anyone else’s.” Though she might not have been referring to her mother-in-law, the fact remains that when we are exposed to fear and uncertainty, we all crave motherly reassurance. Another female politician, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, could not supply this quality the way that the Queen does.
Her speech was also notable because she seldom addresses the nation, except for her annual Christmas speech. Sunday’s speech about the coronavirus marks only the fourth time in her long reign that she has done so. The other three were to mark the U.K.’s entry into the Gulf War in 1991, and upon the deaths of her mother and Princess Diana.
President TrumpDonald TrumpDeputy AG: DOJ investigating fake Trump electors Former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz elected to Baseball Hall of Fame Overnight Health Care — Senators unveil pandemic prep overhaul MORE, Prime Minister Johnson and many of their colleagues must be praised for efforts to respond productively to the enormous demands of combating the coronavirus, and to communicate clearly about fearsome unknowns. Tragically, their opponents and critics have taken every opportunity to politicize the situation in an attempt to damage these leaders who are trying to save lives and economies. The Queen, however, operates outside the political arena.
We live in a nation whose head of government does double duty as head of state, so it may not be obvious to Americans the unique role that the British monarch occupies as head of state and permanent head of nation. Queen Elizabeth has perfected this role, giving her words an enduring, sincere importance, unhindered by political cycles.
As Americans, we have the best of nearly everything. But our system does not provide a role like that which the Queen fulfills. For nearly seven decades, she has steered her nation and the British commonwealth dependably through good times and bad. This week, her message about the pandemic is as important and applicable to us as it is to her citizens: “We will succeed — and that success will belong to every one of us.”
Lee Cohen is a fellow of the Danube Institute. He was an adviser on Europe to the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and founded the Congressional United Kingdom Caucus.