Would Any American’s Death Stop Life in the United States?
One of the remarkable things, to this ugly American, is how much daily life in the United Kingdom seems to have stopped in the wake of the death of Queen Elizabeth. Sports events have been canceled, businesses have been shuttered, there’s an endless line of people wanting to see her coffin even though there might not actually be anyone in it. It has been 11 days since the Queen died and the country appears to still be stuck in stasis. For crying out loud, in the United States, 11 days after September 11, we were back to the business of choosing Miss America.
This is not meant to be disrespectful of the late Queen, or those who mourn her. She was the Queen for 70 years, after all, the center of British culture in every possible way (in fashions good and bad), and a certain amount of pomp and circumstance should certainly be expected. But seriously: They’re shutting down hospitals and food banks in the U.K. One would think you could mourn the Queen and still go to McDonald’s if you want to.
But this got me to thinking: Is there anyone in American life whose death could cause us to do anything like this? Is there anyone even close?
The obvious answer is the President of the United States. If Joe Biden died suddenly, it would be shocking: More shocking than the Queen’s death, by a wide margin. (For all the talk of how old Joe Biden is, he’s still 17 years younger than the Queen was when she died.) There would be much upheaval: Kamala Harris would have to be sworn in, we’d have to find a new vice president, we’d be so sad for his family, and, Lord, the news cycle would be absolutely exhausting. I can see us still dealing with the ramifications of his death 11 days later. But I also think, at the risk of sounding crude or disrespectful, that he’d be long buried by the end of the first 11 days, and businesses and hospitals and schools would all be pretty much back to normal after just a day or two.
And he’s the President! It’s tough to see anyone else’s death having that sort of impact. We managed the deaths of Prince, David Bowie and Michael Jackson, and those are arguably the last three universally known public figures to have died. Is there anyone like that left? Oprah? Beyonce…