Today marks the anniversary of Charlemagne, King of the Franks and the first of the barbarians monarchs to be crowned Emperor of the West in Rome. Charlemagne helped create the medieval and modern world in so many ways, one of which was to sacrilise kingship. The proto-Germanic word kuningaz had once been far less majestic — closer to “chief” — but increasingly the role of monarch would have a sacred quality.
It’s why people once believed the king might cure with his touch, why you don’t kill the king in chess, and why Shakespeare’s great tragedy of 15th century England is about a nation drenched in blood because it committed the ultimate crime — regicide.
Such ideas seem absurd to us in the democratic age, and yet the human desire to place our fellow humans above us is deep and, paradoxically, more common in republics.
And now that the American media’s Heel-in-Chief has finally gone, we’re about to be reminded just how sycophantic the country’s journalists are towards those in power, and how much they desire a king or, at least, a Slay Queen. For example this, from the LA Times, is the sort of thing one associates with an authoritarian monarchy or dictatorship, rather than a republic with an ancient constitution.
A republic has no figurehead to attract feelings of love and loyalty, but then this sort of kowtowing is relatively new to American politics, perhaps part of a wider decline in republicanism. Barack Obama was treated with unprecedented reverence by both American and European journalists. For eight years there wasn’t a single joke about the US president on British television (as far as I remember), a level of respect once reserved for monarchs or religious figures.
After four years of Trump-led rancour and psychodrama, it’s easy to forget how grotesque this sycophancy got. The American journalist John Harris, referring to his time at the Washington Post, later said:
It was sometimes embarrassing to watch, and led to a huge fall in trust towards the media from 2008, and the further spread of media ghettos. And this distrust is well-earned; on more than occasion during the Trump era journalists would express outrage over some Third Reich-like policy of the Republican administration, only for someone to point out it had already been in place under Obama, except no one had bothered to report it.
Although journalists now veer more to the Left than they did in the late 20th century, I’m inclined to agree with Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s argument that journalists tend to be conformist because they’re obsessed with popularity — but in doing so, many have become courtiers.
So, looking forward to four years of holding truth to power: yaass, slay queen.