“Give me three good reasons why…”
Queen Elizabeth II held an elegant salon, The Times of London reported, for an inner circle of British mucky mucks who knew their way around economy and politics. Appetites were whetted more for the conversation than Buckingham Palace’s canapes, which are said to be the world’s finest.
This was the summer of 2016 long before the American election when the English-speaking peoples of Britain were engaged in a raucous, hotly contested debate. The opposing camps were Brexit and Remain. Small stores and antiquaries along Portobello Road carried placards announcing a shopkeeper’s preference. London cabbies, who know something about everything, would happily give you the ‘full Monty’ if you asked (named for WWII Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery).
When visiting Hampton Court, home of Henry VIII (built by Cardinal Wolsey but donated to Henry after the latter expressed admiration), I passed several couples sipping morning coffee. They were in a deep and vexing conversation about Brexit when I butted in: “So how are you going to vote?” The distinguished gent with a handlebar mustache replied, “Leave, of course.” When I asked why, he turned to me and said, “you Yanks did it 1776.”
The group of thinkers the Queen invited to the Palace that evening were familiar with the vaunted tradition of political chatter where everyone shares an opinion then goes home for a martini. She was having none of it. Instead, she challenged the tempo of the debate by issuing a royal command that cut through the gibberish: “Give me three good reasons why (leave or stay).”
The Queen’s 90-year-old inquiring mind was calling for the bottom line to be a test of rational decision making. No journalistic fear-mongering, elitist bromides, or insipid debate about existential threats. Long live the Queen, indeed.
Stifling debate is a national pastime in America. From the Department of Justice to Ivy college campuses, to Twitter trolls, to mainstream media, we don’t debate, we disdain or shame those who dare debate us; and if you happen to attend the wrong party’s rally, protestors are permitted to clobber you over the head with impunity. Go ahead and protest, but don’t protest the protesters unless you want a black eye and a few adjustments in the dental department. Freedom of ‘screech’ is now an inalienable right.
The Queen’s point (as the media made clear) wasn’t to take sides but get to the bottom of a complex question. It was the triumph of actionable information over bias. Can that happen in America?
Why not bring to the White House the brightest minds on all sides of our thorny issues such as immigration or foreign policy or gun control and ask, ‘give me three good reasons why.” P.S. No one leaves until there is a plan.
Compromise is a beautiful thing. The meaning comes from early 15th Century Middle French in which both sides would ‘co promise’ to agree with a wise arbitrator’s decision.
The Queen of England recognized that even 600 years later, we have yet to find a better way.