On being… at a historic turning point

By Ingrid Sapona 

The death of the Queen on September 8th should not have come as a real surprise, given her age. And yet, somehow it did catch me by surprise, not to mention it brought great sadness. I know I’m not alone in feeling both those things. (I wonder if Liz Truss was as surprised by the news, having just met with her about forming a new government.) 

Of course, I knew the death of the Queen also meant the accession of Charles to the throne. I hadn’t really thought about whether he’d change his name – I guess that was the fashion at a time, much as the cardinal that becomes Pope takes a different name. In any event, I’m glad Charles didn’t, as I think referring to him as King Charles will be enough of an adjustment for now. 

British historians have already commented that the Queen’s death marks the end of the second Elizabethan era. Of course, from our vantage point it’s hard to know what this era will mean 100 or 200 years from now. But, if history is any guide, the era that just ended will represent different things to different people — much as, say, the Georgian and Victorian era do. For example, to me the Georgian era (1720 to the 1830s) simply conjures an architectural style while the Victorian era (1837-1901) brings to mind various moral precepts. 

My fear is that when historians reflect on what the end of the second Elizabethan era marked, they will say her death was the end of civility, decorum, and selflessness as virtues to aspire to. Indeed, I worry that the Queen’s death in 2022 will be a mere footnote to the early decades of the 21st century, which will be remembered for the emergence of leaders whose path to power was through division of society by stoking hatred, intolerance, and violence. 

For quite some time, many of us have watched with shock and dismay as the U.S. seems to be tearing itself apart. I’m sure that to some, such a statement seems alarmist or perhaps even absurd. And yet, denial and disbelief are further symptoms of the problem at the heart of our concern: Americans seem to be taking democracy for granted. 

Democracy requires work and diligence to survive. It is built on the principles that everyone’s rights are equal and that no one is above the law. When those principles are compromised, the system will collapse. And when it does, what do Americans think will happen? Given the proliferation of guns in the U.S., how can anyone doubt that civil war is a real possibility. But, unlike the previous civil war – this time there won’t be an obvious boundary line. I believe the term for it is guerrilla warfare.  

I do feel a glimmer of hope that the U.S. will wake before it’s too late because others have finally begun openly talking about the dangers of the current political atmosphere and the potential for civil war. Indeed, on September 1st – a week before the second Elizabethan era officially came to a close – the President of the United States warned that the U.S. is at inflection point. 

Inflection point, indeed… and not just in the U.S. The recently chosen leader of Canada’s federal Conservative party – Pierre Poilievre – has taken from Trump’s playbook and gained success by spreading conspiracy theories, making ridiculous claims (for example, buying cryptocurrency is the best way to protect oneself from inflation), by railing against the media, and encouraging fringe protest groups. Many believe that Poilievre’s extremist rhetoric will not translate into a majority victory in a federal election, but that’s the same kind of denial that ended up seeing Trump in the White House in 2016. My hope is that Canadians realize the dangers of such complacent views before it’s too late. 

It would be wrong to say that I envy the Brits for their realization that the Queen’s death is a turning point in history, but in a way I do. This period of mourning has provided an opportunity for them to reflect on how their system of government works. All the news reels and commentary about the Queen’s remarkable sense of duty and her ability to keep her views to herself should be more than just a source of wistful pride. Hopefully it reminds Brits of the traits they have so long aspired to – you know, that whole Keep Calm and Carry On attitude. 

Unfortunately, people in the U.S. and other places do not seem to realize that their countries are also at a turning point in history – a dangerous one in which politicians and others have made voicing hatred and taking up arms to threaten others normalized. I guess the question is whether such normalization is ok with you. Remember, both action and inaction play a role in shaping history. So, what type of society do you want to live in – and what’s your role in shaping that society? I hope you decide the answers to those questions before it’s too late…  

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona


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