Meghan Markle: How the Chomsky-reading Trump critic will have to bite her tongue when she enters the palace

'She cannot speak directly into a current vortex of debate when everything is kicking off and that will be difficult for her'

Maya Oppenheim
Friday 18 May 2018 12:05 BST
Ms Markle, a former UN ambassador for women’s rights, spoke out in support of the Me Too and Time’s Up campaigns against sexual harassment in February.
Ms Markle, a former UN ambassador for women’s rights, spoke out in support of the Me Too and Time’s Up campaigns against sexual harassment in February. (Getty Images)

From the moment Meghan Markle ties the knot with Prince Harry, she will be expected to assume the mantle of a fully-paid-up member of the British royal family – with the associated political neutrality constitutional convention dictates.

However, it remains to be seen whether her new status will be enough to silence her when it comes to the issues she has campaigned on – issues that have fired her to voice opinions likely to elicit a raised eyebrow or two among her blue-blooded in-laws if she repeats them over dinner.

An avid reader of Noam Chomsky, a totem of the Left and guru for anti-capitalist movements worldwide, Ms Markle urged her two million Instagram followers to read his polemic Who Rules the World, saying it “exposes the hypocrisy at the heart of America's policies and actions” was a “great read” last year before adding “highly recommend”.

It goes without saying that the views espoused by Chomsky, one of the most cited scholars in history, are diametrically opposed with the interests of the anachronistic elite institution she is joining. The linguistics professor has in fact argued Ms Markle could “shake up” the British monarchy, who are obliged to remain impartial by their position as figureheads of the British constitution.

When she makes things official with the sixth-in-line to the throne at Windsor Castle on Saturday, she will be binding herself to an institution whose very existence sits uncomfortably alongside the conceptions of equality and social justice beloved of Chomsky and his adherents.

"The royal family by definition cannot be progressive. It represents the kind of values Meghan would rail against,” Dr Anna Whitelock, a reader in early modern history who specialises in the monarchy, tells The Independent.

“The monarchy cannot stop being based on hierarchy and has to be founded on privilege and birth rather than merit. It is founded on deference and the sense that some people are better than others. It is not to say they are not committed to doing good work but they are operating in a structure that is fundamentally based on discrimination and represents values Markle may be against.”

The mixed-race actor, who played determined and ambitious paralegal Rachel Zane on Suits, has previously inveighed against Donald Trump, labelling the US president “misogynistic” and “divisive”.

“We film Suits in Toronto and I might just stay in Canada,” the 36-year-old. “I mean come on, if that's reality we are talking about, come on, [Trump's presidency] is a game-changer in terms of how we move in the world here."

Ms Markle advocated voting for his Democrat rival Hillary Clinton “not because she’s a woman, but because Trump has made it easy to see that you don’t really want that kind of world that he’s painting”.

But in two days' time, her partisan allegiances and explicitly political statements will be relegated to the annals of history.

The Los Angeles-born actor was forced delete all her social media accounts in January and bid farewell to her followers. Ms Markle’s fans - of which there are no shortage - will now have to follow the Kensington Palace social media account as it publishes photos.

“She has worked on building a narrative of her life but she is going to have to give up promotion of brand Meghan and promote the brand of the royal family," Dr Whitelock says. "She cannot promote herself over and above the monarchy and detract from the firm.

“She is a woman of the 21st century and a product of the times and somebody who has a social conscience. She has promoted her lifestyle blog and has had some international attention but is going to get a lot more.”

Dr Whitlock argued the views of Ms Markle, a self-described feminist, were ultimately driven by gender politics.

“The comments about Trump were about his misogyny and have to be seen in the context of her standing up for women’s rights. What is clear is that she is very passionate about women’s causes and, given her own background, racial discrimination and equality more generally, I would say Meghan is a passionate exponent of humanitarian issues rather than political per se.

“There was a push back about her talking about the Me Too campaign, even though I would say it is not a political issue and is simply a contemporary concern.”

Ms Markle, a former UN ambassador for women’s rights, spoke out in support of the Me Too and Time’s Up campaigns against sexual harassment in February. It would have been difficult for her to have chosen a higher-profile moment to do so. She was centre stage at an event celebrating the work of the Royal Foundation and it was her first working engagement with Prince William, Kate Middleton and her future husband Harry.

“I hear a lot of people speaking about girls’ empowerment and women’s empowerment - you will hear people saying they are helping women find their voices,” she said. “I fundamentally disagree with that because women don’t need to find their voices, they need to be empowered to use it and people need to be urged to listen.

“Right now with so many campaigns like MeToo and Time’s Up there’s no better time to continue to shine a light on women feeling empowered and people supporting them.”

Ms Whitlock, director of the London Centre for Public History and Heritage, argued it might be tricky for the soon-to-be princess not to weigh in on topical issues given she was accustomed to being able to give relatively unfettered opinions as and when she wished.

“She cannot speak directly into a current vortex of debate when everything is kicking off and that will be difficult for her,” the academic said.

But she also pointed out Ms Markle would be far better equipped to decide the causes she wanted to espouse than those who had assumed the role before, because she already had a professional platform.

“Others grew into causes. The difference is she is coming in with an international profile. She is engaged with global issues and her perspective is global.”

Ms Whitlock said Prince Harry and Ms Markle would have to be careful not to draw attention away from William and Kate, especially as his older brother and sister-in-law will be in danger of looking “quite conservative and boring” by comparison.

"They don’t want to suck away attention from Will and Kate. It is not going to be long before those two are actively heirs to the throne,” she said. “If Meghan is seen to be too vocal it might not only undermine the bigger values of the monarchy, but she has to be careful not to detract from [them].”

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While public comment on all things political has of course been out of bounds for Harry for all of his life, a number of things suggest he is more interested in politics than some of his blood relatives.

The prince has reportedly been critical of Mr Trump in private. In February last year, a source who is said to be close to the royal told US Weekly the Prince “is not a fan” of the former reality TV star. They also said: “Harry thinks the president is a serious threat to human rights”.

A second source claimed the royal has “often been vocal” about his feelings towards Mr Trump ever since the Republican announced his presidential bid in 2015.

A palace spokesperson declined to comment on the matter to The Independent at the time, saying: “By long-standing convention, we never comment on reports from unnamed sources of purported private conversations involving members of the royal family.”

Furthermore, Harry struck up what to all appearances seems like a genuine friendship with Barack and Michelle Obama in recent years. It does not take a genius – not even a very stable one – to deduce which First Family he and his soon-to-be-wife would rather spend time with on any state function that calls for it.

Away from the trappings of the White House, the Obamas can now chase the causes close to their hearts without first stopping to calculate the political impact of so doing.

Come Saturday afternoon, that is a freedom Ms Markle will no longer enjoy.

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