When one is parsing the news and headlines of the day, here is a good rule to keep in mind: The British royal family is almost certainly never “snubbing” President Trump.
This week, Britain’s Princess Anne made headlines when a video went viral that showed her shrugging after her mother, the Queen, greeted President Trump and First Lady Melania at a Buckingham Palace reception marking the 70th anniversary of NATO. Some took the shrug to be a dismissal of Trump, a subtle yet bold political statement.
“Princess Anne ‘refusing to meet Trump’ and shrugging at the Queen is an absolute mood,” tweeted the Independent.
“Princess Anne snubbing Donald Trump has made her officially our favourite member of the Royal Family. *Shrugs*,” tweeted British Glamour.
“Princess Anne Refusing to Greet Trump at NATO Is Like a Real-Life Episode of The Crown,” said a headline on Refinery29.
Very cool, very brave. Only, hold on — it seems that the princess didn’t “snub” Trump at all. As royal reporter Valentine Low shared in a series of tweets, after the Queen greeted the Trumps, she turned to her daughter to see who was next in the reception line. “It’s just me,” she reportedly said with a shrug and a laugh. “And this lot,” she added, pointing to Palace staff.
Outlets quickly corrected their mistake. “It turns out Princess Anne may not have snubbed Trump after all,” the Independent later tweeted.
Part of the public’s desire to see Anne as saucy and independent likely comes from her recent portrayal on Netflix’s The Crown, which shows the young Anne as tough, confident, and seductive. But people have been projecting their own thoughts and feelings onto the royals for as long as there’s been a monarchy, a tendency that’s been hugely amplified by social media. Back in June, for example, Twitter spawned a conspiracy theory that the Queen’s choice to wear a Burmese ruby tiara during a state banquet for Trump was a way of conveying her displeasure with the president. In Burma, the theory went, rubies are believed to protect the wearer from evil, and therefore, the Queen probably wore the tiara as a way of warding off Trump’s evil.
A year earlier, during another official visit from Trump, royal watchers suggested the Queen’s decision to wear a brooch gifted to her by the Obamas was a pointed message to Trump. “Nice way to get in a dig again without having to say a word,” tweeted one person.
These aren’t digs or snubs, of course. The longevity of Britain’s royal family is due largely to their refusal, especially the refusal of the older generation, to make political statements. “The Queen’s role is being above politics, and she’s expected to disguise any personal feels she might have,” says Dr. Carolyn Harris, an author and royal commentator who works as an instructor of history at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies. For the royals, staying apolitical is a survival tactic, a way to avoid ruffling feathers, so that no one objects too strongly to their continued and expensive existence.
As Buckingham Palace said in a statement back in 2016, when rumors began to circulate that the Queen supported Brexit, “The Queen remains politically neutral as she has for 63 years.”
Let’s say though, for the sake of argument, that Anne’s shrug and the Queen’s jewelry were heavily veiled reprimands to President Trump. Who cares? A shrug, or a broach, or a tiara does nothing to counteract harmful policies, or even rectify harmful policies of the past. The rubies from the Queen’s tiara, for example, come from a region her ancestors colonized and plundered. The most profound statement she made in wearing it was not that Trump is evil, but that her family, institution, and country continue to benefit from that brutal legacy.
At the end of the the day, the royals are not secretly bold political operators. They are rich people politely hobnobbing with other rich people, no matter their politics.