Normally, I refrain from voicing my opinion on politics. I find discussing that topic often leads to division and I breed enough of that already as it is. Today is an exception because today isn’t “normally”. See below:
If there’s anything I’ve held in low regard and nearly no esteem, it’s the monarchy and all things (save Socrates’ “philosopher kings”, the tremendous fashion sense of the Duke of Windsor, who coincidentally abdicated the throne, and the LA hockey team) related to the notion of the “divine right of kings.” Prattle. I’m much more sympathetic to Monty Python’s take in the Holy Grail that power is only derived from a mandate of the masses and not from some watery wench handing over a sword from the depths of a lake.
However, my two years in Spain softened my opinion. It began the day I started teaching at the Air Force in Arguelles. On the wall of my inherited classroom was a painting of an obviously important pilot standing before his jet, white gloves in hand.
“Who’s that guy?” I asked with a smack of disregard.
Forgiving my disrespect, they said “That’s our king, Juan Carlos!”
“King? Spain has a king?” I further volunteered my ignorance.
In case you didn’t know either, Spain has a king, at least they had one. Today the king announced he’d be stepping down. Normally, I would consider this cause for celebration. I loved the familiar refrain: “The king is dead!…” ignoring the second sentence of the line, the one that followed.
“What? Spain has a democracy (sort of) and a prime minister!” I said.
“Yes, because of Juan Carlos!”
They have me a quick history lesson. Franco (Spain’s dictator from 1939 to 1975 and you can imagine how I feel about dictators) chose Juan Carlos (grandson of Spain’s King Alfonso XIII) in 1969 to be his successor when he died. Until Franco’s death, Juan Carlos remained quiet about his intentions. It was assumed he enjoyed Franco’s endorsement and would continue the establishment. He didn’t. Almost immediately, upon Franco’s death, Juan Carlos started pushing for reforms, HUGE reforms, dramatic upheavals that would bring an end to his authority and instead place it in the hands of the people. In effect, he sacrificed his own power so that his people could have it. I was in awe. As an ego-centric American knowing nothing about any country other than his own and very little about even that, I was humbled and stupid. The man in the painting was no longer the object of my ridicule, instead he was the author of my applause.
Though the source of some controversy lately due to scandal and some foolish decisions (going on an expensive vacation/hunting trip in Africa while the rest of Spain is in the middle of a recession, the unemployment rate of people in their mid twenties was above 40% for instance), when confronted, Juan Carlos did something few others, let alone kings, do. He apologized.
Today, Juan Carlos, king of Spain and giver of democracy, did something else few other kings have done, he announced he would abdicate his throne. I confess, I’m somewhat sorrowful.
Although I can’t say I’m ready to embrace the monarchy entirely or that my distaste for royalty has vanished, Juan Carlos (and perhaps a few others) is an exception. Any ruler who gives up control and authority and places it in the hands of the people earns my respect. For that, for his sacrifices, for his faults, for his humble admissions and for his humanness, allow me for perhaps the first time to offer up, the second sentence of the previously unfinished refrain…
“…Long live the king!”