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Meghan & Harry Should Not "Push the Envelope"

Monday, July 30, 2018

On Friday, the Duchess of Sussex attended her first red-carpet polo match as a royal. The new princess wore a feminine and flattering Carolina Herrera dress and carried a trendy J.Crew clutch. She posed with her dapper prince before enjoying a luxe luncheon, and of course, the match!

I mentioned on Instagram that it reminded me of Kate's appearance in Santa Barbara, which was her first big-ticket polo event post-wedding. These "firsts" are always very exciting for fans, and very memorable.

At the conclusion of the match, Meghan presented the winners with a trophy. Nacho Figueras, a champion player and chum of Harry's, accepted on behalf of the team. After congratulating him, Meghan swiveled and gave her Harry a congratulatory kiss. Unlike the more reserved Cambridges, Harry gave Meghan a full-on kiss, to the absolute delight of fans! It was a money shot, and I joined many royal fans smiling and applauding.

In the day or so after the picture went viral, though, Figueras posted a glowing tweet expressing his admiration for Meghan, but also with encouragement that is plain inappropriate. This is what he said:

This is terrible advice to give senior royals of a modern monarchy that wants to stay extant! The royals play an important role. They maintain traditions and stand for a history that is central to Britain's patrimony and national pride. The monarchy is a remarkable and admirable institution. But, if you review history, it is extraordinary that the monarchy still exists. There is little doubt that it does because Elizabeth II has carefully and with great pains helmed the ship through the very rocky waters of transition from the "old world" to today. 

The simple fact of the matter is that Harry and Meghan's job is not to push the envelope or, frankly, change the world. People who get to push the envelope and change the world are people who can take controversial positions, ruffle feathers, and alienate others in their chosen quest. On the other hand, people who are privileged to hold senior positions in institutions of tradition and history--and pass that precious heritage to another generation--they have to forego the rough and tumble. They don't get to push the envelope, and it is unlikely they will change the world in the immediate, action oriented sense we use that term today.

The voices that encourage Figueras's comment are encouraging the erosion of the institution. The Brits already have people who debate political and social issues, and they have people with the power to push the envelope and change the world. Those people are democratically elected. Harry was born a prince. He fell in love with Meghan, and he didn't have to ask the public's permission to marry her and make her a Princess of the United Kingdom. The reason that in 2018 he gets to be who he is, hold a title, live in palaces, enjoy the protection of constant security, command prestige and a world platform for his charitable causes, is that his job description has some very important limitations. Some of those limitations are that Harry and Meghan don't get to do and say whatever they want. They don't get to be mavericks. They don't get to shake up the status quo. 

I am still not sure if the Sussexes fully understand all this. I hope that Harry and Meghan know better than to be encouraged by the good (but misguided) intentions of friends. I remember that Meghan expressed a desire to change the world in her engagement interview. It worried me then, but I believe in giving people not just a first chance, but several first chances. Anything Meghan said or did, or frankly mistakes she makes for the first year, are subject to a generous learning curve. I thought her "change the world" comment was ill-chosen, but she is idealistic and she is high on love. I can give her some time to learn the ropes and accept some of the strictures of the world into which she has married. Harry, however, has been living the reality of royalty for over thirty years, and as charming and fun as he is, I also think he has a bit of a blind spot for some of the harsher realities. 

Harry, and now Meghan, are not independent operators. They are essentially public servants whose first duty is to support Her Majesty the Queen and the broader institution. The British royals hold an incredible position in a modern world where democracy is the trend. They are born into lives of privilege and influence, and they maintain that place because they do not wade into issues that cause controversy. 

In many respects, we are in a golden age of royal popularity. That might make us forget that this has not always been the case, and it is not guaranteed to last. Charles and Diana's toxic marital meltdown almost destroyed the monarchy in Britain a mere two decades or so years ago. The monarchy recovered in the years that followed Diana's tragic death, and the public invested emotionally in her two sons as they came to maturity. But if they start paddling into waters that are politically or socially charged, start throwing their weight around in areas of debate where people vigorously disagree, that's when the bulldozer of modern democracy will level the ancient institution of the monarchy. The British Monarchy has weathered close to a millennium of human history! Don't push the envelope and end up changing the world by eliminating a wonderful institution.

Long may they reign...impartial, apolitical, and beloved by all.