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The Queen Is Dead; Long Live the King

We don't normally lead with foreign affairs news, but when a monarch who served in eight different decades passes away, we make an exception. And forgive the somewhat obvious headline, but it's a situation where nearly any other option— "The Firm Loses its CEO," "H.R.H., R.I.P.," etc.—would be disrespectful. In any event, as everyone surely knows by now, Queen Elizabeth II died yesterday at the age of 96.

We see no particular value in our writing a standard obituary. If you want Elizabeth's life story, you can read her Wikipedia article. If you want an obit, we thought the ones produced by Politico, The New York Times, and The Guardian were all quite good. Keep in mind that those publications produced 95% of those obits years or decades ago, so they had the luxury of time in terms of gathering their information and choosing their words well.

Instead, we'll just give a few assorted thoughts about the Queen and the meaning of her passing. We are not prone to writing fawning pieces about the deceased, particularly when they are not justified. But, from where we sit, Elizabeth was a person worthy of much admiration. Before ascending to the throne, she volunteered for civilian service in World War II, serving as an auto mechanic. The monarchy was thrust upon her when her fascist-loving uncle decided to put personal concerns before duty, and then her father died prematurely.

As the Politico article linked above observes, the day Elizabeth became Queen she gave up any chance of a normal life. The ability to go out in public, to wear her emotions on her sleeve, to express opinions, to have normal friendships—all gone, in the blink of an eye. Her ascension also put her marriage on the rocks, as Prince Philip—who grew up with early 20th century ideas about gender—did not take kindly to permanent status as second fiddle. Politico proposes that this ultimately condemned her to a very unhappy life, but how do they know? How does anyone know, with the possible exception of a few royal intimates (and maybe not even them)?

The Queen was the very embodiment of the stiff upper lip, and of Captain Edward Smith's alleged instruction to the doomed crew of the Titanic: "Be British!" She rarely let on, even a little bit, what she was really thinking or feeling. For more than 70 years, she lived under the world's largest and most unforgiving microscope, and was consistently a model of discipline and devotion to her country. We doubt that many people will describe her as a "feminist icon," since she was traditional in so many ways. But how many other women have spent more than half a century on the world's stage, always responding to the call of duty, consistently behaving in as classy a manner as possible, while serving as an inspiration to millions?

We don't mean to be hagiographers here, and we would not suggest that the Queen was without sin, like some sort of modern-day Lady Galahad. Inasmuch as she was forbidden from involving herself in political matters, it's dubious to blame her for her nation's faults in that arena. However, her management of the family business was sometimes problematic. She had too much a soft spot for her son Andrew, even after he proved to be a sleazeball. Understandable, given that she was a mother, too, but not exactly admirable. Her treatment of Lady Diana, and later of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, was often petty and unworthy of the Queen.

Meanwhile, as every story on her passing notes, Elizabeth was the longest-reigning monarch in British history. She is also the longest-reigning female monarch in world history. Among people whose exact dates on their respective nations' thrones is verified, she is second only to Louis XIV of France (he lasted for 72 years as compared to her 70). There are other monarchs whose reigns may have been longer, but the dates cannot be confirmed by historians. That said, all of the 70+-year claimants are male, so her status as longest-reigning female monarch is undisputed.

A reign of 70 years is really, really long. And Elizabeth's run came during a momentous period in human history. When Louis XIV died in 1715, undoubtedly the world was a somewhat different place than it had been when he ascended to the French throne in 1643. But the difference surely cannot compare to the difference between 1952 and 2022. To try to give a little context:

That went on a little longer than we expected at the outset, but hopefully it was interesting and/or instructive.

Elizabeth will be succeeded by her son Prince Charles, who has already confirmed that he will be known as Charles III. He will never be beloved in the way his mother was. First, he assumes the throne with a Joe Biden-like 42% approval rating, which is pretty well baked in. It's not like the British public doesn't know who he is. Further, he follows on the heels (no pun intended) of Queen Elizabeth II; it's rarely good for one's popularity to come right after a legend. Third, and finally, Charles lives in a media environment where scandal and gossip are an obsession. Sure, Elizabeth had her challenges in dealing with the shark-like British press, but it's nothing like what Charles faces, as she was given some leeway to grow into the job, and he won't be.

Meanwhile, in an effort to make this at least somewhat relevant to a site whose focus is American politics, we will point out that all the politicians are saying nice things, from Joe Biden to Mitch McConnell to Nancy Pelosi. They probably all mean it, to a greater or lesser extent, though as The Washington Post points out, it's a little more complicated for folks who have Irish heritage, as the President does. Of course, this is not the time to grind that particular ax, and Biden has already ordered federal facilities to fly the flag at half staff until the day the Queen is interned (which will likely be in a little under 2 weeks, though the exact date has not been announced).

We'll also note that the U.K. has never before changed prime ministers and monarchs in the same week. In fact, it's never happened in the same month. Indeed, it's only happened in the same year just one time (1830, when the Duke of Wellington and George IV both ended their time in office, though Wellington would eventually resume the premiership). So much change in a short time is going to destabilize the U.K., presumably, and that's on top of the already existing tensions caused by an endless Brexit, and inflation, and sky-high energy prices. That country could really use the stabilizing presence of Queen Elizabeth II and, say, Prime Minister Clement Attlee right now. Instead, they get Charles III and Liz Truss. We'll see if that duo is up to it. If they're not, then the U.K. could become an anchor on the economies of Europe and the world.

Finally, since we are not Britons, we thought we should get a domestic perspective, and reached out to one of our British readers and regular correspondents, A.B. in Lichfield, England, UK. Here are A.B.'s thoughts:

The news that Elizabeth II was likely dying broke at noon U.K. time. A short statement announcing that "the Queen's doctors are concerned for Her Majesty's health and have recommended she remain under medical supervision" had our sometimes sclerotic institutions immediately rousing themselves into motion. The signs that it was genuinely serious came with the news that her children and grandchildren were gathering at her summer residence in Scotland, closely followed by footage of notes being passed in Parliament as senior figures whispered in grim-faced party leaders' ears. That had me reaching for my "monarch's death contingency plans" file at work (and yes, I have one). The news that the longest-reigning monarch in British history had passed away was eventually confirmed at 6:30 p.m. local time.

It's far too soon to know what this means for the United Kingdom. In practice, the Queen was wholly above politics, an exemplary constitutional monarch whose own views on political issues remained almost completely unknown. But she was also a much-respected figure who offered a rare point of institutional continuity in a world that's changed all out of recognition since she came to the throne 70 years ago. Even my republican acquaintances would grudgingly admit admiring her staunch commitment to duty, even while railing against the privilege they felt she represented.

King Charles III inherits a throne in a country where nationalism is the defining feature of our politics (Labour-run Wales is arguably the only part of the U.K. not currently governed by a nationalist party of some description), where a deeply unpopular government led by our newly installed fourth Prime Minister in 6 years is some 15 points under water in the polls, where energy prices have skyrocketed in the last 12 months, where inflation is in double figures, where relations with the European Union remain fractious in the wake of Brexit, and where the long-term impact of Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine remains unknowable. None of this is Charles' fault, of course, but he isn't his mother, and it's unrealistic to expect him to command the same level of respect as his predecessor. In these difficult times, Elizabeth II remained a reassuring presence and a living embodiment of both historical and constitutional continuity and national unity. That much, at least, will likely be sorely missed.

Charles has considerably improved his image since the death of his first wife, but he's still seen by many as a slightly eccentric figure who's been perhaps a little too keen to share his views on some controversial issues. He's always been keen to stress that he realizes that the role of monarch is very different from that of heir, but given his well-known interest in environmental issues, Liz Truss's announcement earlier this week that she was going to approve fracking and allow for more oil and gas drilling as part of her response to fuel price rises may lead to some interesting conversations between the new monarch and the new Prime Minister.

Otherwise, those previously mentioned sometimes sclerotic institutions will now be going into overdrive. We have a state funeral and a coronation to plan, coins and banknotes to change (the old ones will remain legal tender), and a whole range of subtle adjustments to get used to—such as changing the national anthem to "God Save the King." No one born after the 1940s likely remembers personally how these things are done. It's going to feel deeply strange for some time to come.

The Queen is dead.

Long live the King.

Thanks, A.B.! (Z)

Department of Justice Appeals Special Master Ruling

The other shoe has now fallen. After taking a couple of days to consider its options, the Department of Justice has decided to push back against Judge Aileen Cannon's ruling granting Donald Trump's request for a special master to go through the documents seized from Mar-a-Lago.

AG Merrick Garland & Co. actually had two options: (1) return to Cannon and ask her to reconsider, and (2) appeal her decision to the Eleventh Circuit. It would seem they have chosen... both. U.S. Attorney Juan Antonio Gonzalez filed a notice of appeal yesterday, and also filed a response to Cannon's ruling suggesting that she might want to reconsider. The DoJ is not asking Cannon to strike everything, because that's not plausible. However, they ARE asking her to back off on portions of her order.

From our position as armchair lawyers, it certainly seems like the DoJ made the correct tactical call. Time is a factor here, and there is no way to know what will take longer: the appeals process or the special master process. If Cannon had put a strict timeline on the special master—say, one month—then that might change the calculus. But she didn't. And then when you add in the potentially troubling precedents that Cannon's decision would establish if allowed to stand, like the notion that executive privilege somehow applies here, then an appeal becomes a no-brainer. The Judge could have forestalled this, most probably, with a more limited ruling. For example: "put aside all non-classified documents, and let the special master go through them with an eye toward protecting attorney-client privilege." But that's not the ruling she made.

We haven't the faintest idea what Cannon will do in response to the DoJ's filing suggesting that she rethink things. She's been flayed pretty badly, and the filing does a good job of pointing out the problems in her reasoning without stepping on her toes too much. So, maybe she'll change course. On the other hand, if she's a True Believer, or if she has a huge ego, she might dig her feet in. Either of those is a real possibility with a Trump appointee.

When the appeal is heard by the Eleventh Circuit, three judges will be chosen at random for the job, with no distinction between "active" and "senior" status. Currently, the circuit includes appointees from Gerald Ford (1), Jimmy Carter (1), Ronald Reagan (1), George H.W. Bush (3), Bill Clinton (3), George W. Bush (1), Barack Obama (4) and Trump (6). That's 6 Trump judges out of 20, and 12 Republican-appointed judges our of 20. That puts the former president's odds of drawing at least two of his own appointees at just 21.6%. His odds of drawing at least two Republicans are 64.8%. If you assume that his appointees are in the bag for him, well, he's probably not going to be saved in that way. And his past lack of success in front of his own judges runs contrary to that assumption. If you assume that Republican appointees are all in the bag for him, then Trump's chances improve a fair bit. However, that also seems a big assumption, especially when we start talking about appointees of Gerald Ford and Bush the father.

If this moves on to an en banc appeal, then it would be heard by all the active judges and none of the senior judges. Right now, there are five non-Trump active judges and six Trump-appointed active judges. There's also an open seat; Joe Biden has nominated Nancy Abudu for that one, and she's actually scheduled to be the very next nominee to be vetted by the Senate Judiciary Committee (note that she's been waiting for a hearing since January 10 of this year). We are guessing that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Judiciary chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) are going to make confirming Abudu a top priority. She probably won't be seated prior to the three-person appeal, but she might well be in place by the en banc appeal. If so, then even if all Trump appointees sided with the former president (very unlikely), it wouldn't be enough for him to get a favorable decision without at least one other judge voting in his favor.

That, then, is where things stand on the Mar-a-Lago search front. On one hand, Trump gets vastly more consideration than any other potential defendant in the land, which is good for him. On the other hand, the courts tend to fast-track many of his cases, which is bad for him. Our guess is that Cannon will respond to the DoJ next week, and the Eleventh Circuit won't take much longer than that to put this case on their docket. (Z)

Bannon's Get Out of Jail Free Card Goes Counterfeit

There was a time, about a year or so ago, when Steve Bannon must have felt like he was bulletproof. The 1/6 Committee told him to stop by for a chat, and he told them to shove it. Thanks to his friendship (?) with Donald Trump, he had a pardon in his pocket that allowed him to avoid any consequences for his role in an apparent scheme to defraud donors who wanted to help pay to build a wall. And over and over on his podcast, he crowed like a cock about how he was putting one over on the system.

In the last couple of months, however, the wheels have fallen off. Bannon was tried for contempt of Congress and convicted. He'll find out soon how long he's going to be a guest of the federal prison system, but he's probably looking at a year or two. And now, to add insult to injury, New York just indicted him for the charity fraud. So much for that presidential pardon which, as it turns out, only excuses a person from federal prosecution. Who knew?

The indictment charges Bannon with six different counts, including money laundering, fraud and conspiracy. And since the charges were approved by a grand jury, and the authorities appear to have the goods, he looks to be in deep trouble. Bannon has already surrendered to authorities and been booked (he was also heckled while being led into the courthouse). We assume that he will soon be granted release on bail or his own recognizance, but we can find no confirmation that's already happened. If he spends the night in jail, we would suggest that his cellmates sue for their immediate release on the basis of cruel and unusual punishment.

The judge in the case appears to have a passing familiarity with the Bannon playbook, as he's already warned the former White House senior advisor that the trial will proceed whether or not he bothers to show up. The most serious charge carries a penalty of 5-15 years. Meanwhile, the case was brought jointly by New York AG Tish James and Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, the same duo that is cooperating on the Donald Trump investigation. Maybe Bragg is not as unwilling to pursue people in TrumpWorld as it seemed. If the two eventually do pursue charges against The Donald, then it might be necessary to change the nickname from "The Empire State" to "The State that Closes the Loopholes in the Federal Judicial System." (Z)

More Republicans Are Getting Nervous about Abortion

Quite a few Republican candidates are running scared on account of abortion. The Kansas referendum scared the daylights out of many of them. All of a sudden, a goal they have actively pursued their whole political lives (overturning Roe v. Wade) has been achieved and it turns out the voters don't like it. Who knew? Well, they should have known since polls have shown that there has been a pro-choice majority in the country for decades. But the Republicans were in thrall to a relatively small number of evangelical activists, and now they have a problem.

One of the most basic rules of politics (and a lot of other things) is: "When you are stuck in a hole, stop digging." South Carolina currently has a strict ban on abortions. They are not allowed if the fetus is older than 6 weeks, although there is an extension for victims of rape and incest. A new bill would have banned all abortions under all circumstances.

The bill was passed by the state House. But it ran into problems in the South Carolina Senate post-Kansas: a threatened filibuster by Republican senators. State Sen. Tom Davis (R), the former chief of staff of former governor Mark Sanford, threatened to filibuster the bill. He was joined by another Republican man, three Republican women, and all the Democrats.

One of those filibustery senators, Katrina Shealy (R), said: "You want to believe that God is wanting you to push a bill through with no exceptions that kill mothers and ruins the lives of children—lets mothers bring home babies to bury them—then I think you're miscommunicating with God. Or maybe you aren't communicating with Him at all." State Sen. Sandy Senn (R) said: "If what is going on in my vagina isn't an unreasonable invasion of privacy for this legislature to get involved in, I don't know what is." That was enough to kill the bill.

The Republicans could have stopped there, but they felt that had to throw at least a small bit of red meat to the base. They wrote a new bill that reduces the interval for women who get pregnant as a result of rape or incest from 20 weeks to 12 weeks and that requires that DNA from the fetus be given to the police, presumably to try to identify the father and convict him. (V)

This Week in Freudenfreude

Bear with us here; this is mostly a sports story, but we'll bring it home to politics.

The sport in question is baseball, more specifically baseball player Austin Meadows. He is an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers, who are in the midst of a really lousy season. Meadows is a steady but unspectacular player; he once made the All-Star team, but the odds are that only Tigers fans and/or devoted baseball fans have ever heard of him.

Why are we talking about him, then? Well, this week he announced that he likely won't be playing any more games this season. And while he could easily have cooked up a lie—who can really know if someone has a pulled hamstring, or has a case of turf toe, or is suffering from a debilitating case of jock itch—he took to Twitter to share the full and unvarnished truth:

This season has been an unfortunate struggle with a series of injuries and illness, from dealing with vertigo early on, then COVID, to bilateral tendinitis in my Achilles, and then having to go through the rehab process each time.

What I have told very few people is that I also have been struggling with my mental health in a way that has extended my time away from the game that I love so much. I've been dealing with this privately with a great team of professionals, but I need to continue to put in the hard work off the field towards feeling mentally healthy.

While I've been back in the clubhouse the past few weeks, and plan to remain with the club through the end of season, I am still not ready to return to the field. I am so grateful for my family, my teammates, and the Tigers organization for supporting me through this. I can't do this alone, and I hope in sharing my experience I can touch at least one person who might be going through their own struggles and encourage them to reach out to someone for help.

In the 19th century, mental illness was barely understood, and its various manifestations were generally interpreted as deep personal failings, or the devil's work, or both. Now, well over 100 years later, America hasn't progressed all that far in overcoming those retrograde attitudes. And, frankly, there are few areas of endeavor that are more retrograde (and testosterone-soaked) than sports. On top of that, there is no major American sport that is more retrograde than Major League Baseball (well, OK, maybe golf). In short, it was very brave and very noble for Meadows to reveal this truth, and his hope that his story might help someone else who is having a hard time is very generous. The parallels here to coming out of the closet as a public figure are salient.

There is one other area of endeavor that rivals sports when it comes to retrograde attitudes about health issues, and in particular mental health issues. And that, of course, is politics. There is little or no stigma attached to suffering a stroke, something that's happened to tens of millions of Americans. And yet, Mehmet Oz concluded that he could wield Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's (D-PA) stroke as a weapon. It was an unconscionable choice, but not an irrational one. And if something like a stroke is a political liability, how could a politician possibly admit to having mental illness, given that mental illness does have a stigma associated with it?

It is true that it would not be good to place real power, particularly something like the ability to launch a nuclear strike, in the hands of someone who might not be mentally capable of handling it. But the fact is that most cases of mental illness are not debilitating and are manageable with medicine and/or correct behavior. And it might be nice if the millions of folks who are struggling with mental illness could look to someone who has overcome that to become a major political figure. "If they can do it, maybe I can too," those folks might say. If it was possible for that to happen with a Major League Baseball player then maybe, one day, it will be possible with a politician.

As you can see, incidentally, there's no "Schadenfreude" this week. We had something planned, but it just doesn't seem appropriate to run that feature given today's lead item. It will be back next week. (Z)

Today's Senate Polls

We find it a little hard to swallow that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is in serious danger, but we can at least believe it. We also find it a little hard to swallow that Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-CA) is in serious danger; that one's even harder to believe. That said, the candidate he defeated was Kelly Loeffler (R), who was pretty awful. Maybe she was so awful that even Herschel Walker (R) is an improvement. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Florida Val Demings 44% Marco Rubio* 46% Sep 05 Sep 06 InsiderAdvantage
Georgia Raphael Warnock* 44% Herschel Walker 47% Sep 06 Sep 07 InsiderAdvantage

* Denotes incumbent

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