Surveying The American Realm

Glen Costello

In England many years ago — in the 15th and 16th centuries to be exact — one of the more creative mechanisms of monarchic government was the ‘royal progression’. The entire government would exit damp London for prolonged visits to the drafty castles of the peers of the realm. For those pesky dukes and barons, the royal visits were a mixed blessing. They were opportunities for networking, of course, and a gracious sovereign would often leave a ‘tip’ — some more land, a couple dozen serfs, another village, or some coveted office. The downside of the royal progression however was the possibility of being eaten out of hearth and home — indeed many a swan would have to be roasted, and much mead would be guzzled.

Historians cite two reasons for the junkets. They gave the big boss a chance to take the pulse of his realm and, more importantly, to have the London premises cleared of rats, fleas and lice (if only temporarily).

Today the tradition of the royal progression has come down to us The chief difference, however, is that if we’re lucky, elections are generally what is now meant to work these days in getting rid of those rats and fleas. Well, that is unless a ‘hanging chad’ and calling on a few favors from close friends to help grease the wheels can get in the way of things. The golden coach and ten white horses once ready to transport kings and queens have evolved into Air Force One.

President Bush donned the royal mantle and earlier this year visited just a few corners of ‘our’ realm. After sporting yarmulkes in Israel and brandishing swords in Saudi Arabia, his performance then continued on into Africa. Reversing the direction of the Middle Passage, when slaves were brought to America in the 17th Century, he now brought with him some familiar catchphrases about ‘democracy’ to Africa — these words from a President that has, in this humble author’s opinion, chosen to consistently trample on the American constitution. If so desperate to aid in bringing about democracy to Africa, where might any substantive action from Bush on matters like the Sudan and Zimbabwe be, I wonder? Perhaps he’s too busy now trying to repair his future ‘legacy’ by finally seeking progress with North Korea and Iran via a process that, though he and his cohorts dismissed it long ago, might have prevented a great many problems for him and his administration in the first place: diplomacy.

Back in the days of old, a letter took weeks to get from Boston to London, giving politicians, for better or worse, a good deal of leeway. But now we have the BBC and Al Jazeera, a World Wide Web that captures every word and sound-byte, and all are there to peep into matters that most American networks gingerly avoid. Trouble in Palestine, a renewed Taliban in Afghanistan, and the growing outrage of peoples in Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Georgia to the dictators our government subsidizes to keep over them — all these truths are available for all to see.

Now McCain and Obama have begun to compete head-to-head for their own overseas royal tours, each man arguing bitterly over who will be best prepared to take over ‘our’ global realm.

American military bases are everywhere — over 1,000 at last count — and all, of course, far more comfortable than those drafty castles of old. McCain and Obama will undoubtedly sleep well when next they journey to survey the empire.

We Americans do love progress.