Sep 12, 2022

The death of Queen Elizabeth.

The death of Queen Elizabeth.
Photo by Mathew Browne / Unsplash

Plus, a question about Mexico's immigration system.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 11 minutes.

The death of Queen Elizabeth. Plus, a question about Mexico's immigration policies.

Waxwork of Queen Elizabeth II on display at Madame Tussauds, Marylebone, London, England.
Photo by Mathew Browne / Unsplash

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Quick hits.

  1. Ukraine made significant territorial gains in the northeastern part of the country during a counteroffensive which has forced Russia out of several key cities. (The counter)
  2. Steve Bannon was charged by prosecutors in New York with money laundering and conspiracy in connection with an alleged scheme to defraud donors who gave money to help build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He plead not guilty. (The charges)
  3. New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency after the polio virus was found in wastewater in New York City. Hochul hopes to increase vaccination rates. (The declaration)
  4. An elected official in Nevada was arrested and charged for the killing of a local Las Vegas reporter who had published stories critical of him. (The arrest)
  5. Yesterday, Americans observed the 21st anniversary of September 11, 2001. President Biden honored victims at a ceremony at the Pentagon. (The ceremonies)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.

Today's topic.

Queen Elizabeth. On Thursday afternoon, Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving British monarch, died at her estate in Scotland. She was 96 years old, and had ruled for 70 years after acceding to the throne in 1952.

Reminder: The Queen was the head of state not just for Britain, but 14 other countries. The British monarch has a very restricted role in government, mostly constrained to embodying traditions. For instance, the monarch leads the ceremony for appointing a new prime minister, gives ceremonial royal assent to bills, and can dissolve Parliament, but only as a formality following government action. Still, the queen had enormous public influence, which — in politics — is a form of soft power.

Queen Elizabeth was a particularly notable monarch for how much modern history she witnessed personally. When she was crowned, Winston Churchill was the prime minister. As BBC noted, her tenure "spanned post-war austerity, the transition from empire to Commonwealth, the end of the Cold War and the UK's entry into - and withdrawal from - the European Union."

She served with 15 British prime ministers, during the terms of 14 presidents of the United States, traveled to 117 countries, and hosted 112 state visits. As professor Brandy Jolliff Scott put it, these events can influence public opinion, extend the tenure of other leaders and improve bilateral trade.

Queen Elizabeth's son Charles III will take her place as King, and his wife Camilla has been named Queen Consort. His son, Prince William, and William’s wife Catherine, have become Prince and Princess of Wales and Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Cornwall, adding Charles and Camilla’s previous titles to their own.

Queen Elizabeth did not just work with many prime ministers and presidents and see many world events, but also endured much personal tragedy and drama. In the span of a year in 1992, Windsor Castle burned down and three of her children's marriages fell apart. In 1997, Princess Diana died in a car accident in Paris, and the Queen was harshly criticized for not initially sharing in the public grief. In 2020, Prince Harry (her grandson) and Meghan Markle announced they would be stepping back as senior members of the Royal Family.

As news of her death spread, many from across the world and the political spectrum mourned. Some, too, turned a critical eye to the traditions and history of the monarchy.

Today, you'll hear some of those opinions.

What the left is saying.

  • The left mostly mourned her passing, though some used it to criticize colonialism and the monarchy.
  • Many said it was the end of an important era of service and selflessness.
  • Some said we should not whitewash the crimes of Britain — even ones the Queen oversaw.

The Guardian editorial board acknowledged the end of an era, and the pivotal role Queen Elizabeth II played in millions of people's lives.

"The Queen’s life spanned the entire history of modern Britain. She was born when Britain ruled a global empire of some 600 million people," they wrote. "She died when Britain was a medium-sized northern European country with an uncertain future. She came into the world before all British adults had the vote. At 10, she witnessed the abdication of her uncle that made her heir to the throne. At 14, she lived through the existential threat to the nation that followed the fall of France. As monarch, her first prime minister was Winston Churchill, who had participated in a cavalry charge at Omdurman in 1898, yet she had already been on the throne for 23 years before the current prime minister, her 15th, was even born.

Her visit to Ireland in 2011 "played a pivotal part in the historic reconciliations of that time," the board added. "Another was the dispassionate care and affection, which often contrasted with the indifference of some politicians, that she displayed towards the nations of the United Kingdom, embodied in particular in her love of Scotland. Even more long-lasting was her important formal part in the retreat from empire. This had begun under her father, when India became free in 1947. But from 1957 on, when Ghana became independent, many of the 'possessions' that the Queen had sworn to govern in her coronation oath became self-governing instead, while mostly remaining within the Commonwealth. The post-imperial grouping mattered to the Queen and how it will survive her death is unclear."

In CNN, Peter Bergen said "duty" was the one word that defined Queen Elizabeth.

"The Queen selflessly gave of herself. Hers was a role that is ceremonial, but it is also deeply embedded in the oldest constitutional monarchy in the world and in a country that has given the world so many of the concepts and policies that we associate with democracy," Bergen wrote. "In many ways the Queen symbolized the 'special relationship' between the United Kingdom and the United States. A rite of passage for almost every one of the 14 US presidents since she took the throne was her hosting a state visit for the president in the UK, or her attending a formal state dinner put on by the president in Washington, DC. Most recently she met with President Joe Biden in June at Windsor Castle.

"During her long reign, the Queen presided over the dissolution of great swaths of the British Empire, continuing a process that began under her father's reign. She also officially installed three women as her prime ministers -- Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May and, just on Tuesday, Liz Truss, who met with the Queen for her formal investiture as prime minister at Balmoral Castle in Scotland," Bergen said. "The contents of the Queen's weekly meetings with the 15 British men and women who have served as her prime ministers have mostly remained tightly held secrets, but one can imagine that a monarch who met regularly for seven decades with an extraordinary range of prime ministers from Churchill to Thatcher had some sage advice for many of them."

In The Washington Post, Karen Attiah said "we must speak the ugly truths" about Queen Elizabeth and Britain's empire.

"In the wake of the queen’s death, propaganda, fantasy and ignorance are being pitted against Britain’s historical record and the lived experience of Africans, Asians, Middle Easterners, the Irish and others," Attiah said. "In the global north’s imagination, the queen is a symbol of decorum and stability in the post-World War II world. But to people of places that Britain invaded, carved up and colonized over centuries, the 96-year-old grandmother — and the rest of the royal family — evoke complex feelings, to say the least. Uju Anya, a Carnegie Mellon professor who is Nigerian, came under intense attack after tweeting Thursday, 'I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is dying. May her pain be excruciating.'

"Those are harsh and hateful words toward the queen, but they shouldn’t be surprising — not to anyone who has truly grappled with the generational agony of families, such as Anya’s, that have suffered massacre and displacement at the hands of the British," Attiah said. "When Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952, she inherited a Britain with a weakened grip on global power. Rebellions were gathering strength in its colonies. The economic drain from the conflicts, coupled with the growing independence movements in Africa and India, all but forced Britain to pull back. Yet, even then, Britain under Elizabeth did not just let its prized colonies go. From 1952 to 1963, British forces crushed the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, forcing between 160,000 and 320,000 Kenyans into concentration camps. Kenyan tribes are suing the British government at the European Court of Human Rights for land theft and torture."

What the right is saying.

  • Many on the right celebrated her rule, calling her a steady hand.
  • They praised her for being selfless and working until the end.
  • Some questioned if the monarchy could survive her death.

In The Washington Examiner, Tiana Lowe celebrated Queen Elizabeth for working until the very end.

"Twice — first by her uncle’s misguided passion for Wallis Simpson and then by Hitler’s war on Europe — she was forced into a role she had never asked for," Lowe wrote. "Thus, she began more than 80 years of service to her country, more than 70 of them as queen. During World War II, she remained in the United Kingdom even as it was bombed, first addressing the nation’s children with a radio address when she was 14, then as a wartime driver and mechanic as soon as she turned 18. At age 25, Elizabeth, a young, beautiful wife and mother, became queen... During the coronavirus pandemic, the queen proved perhaps Britain’s only leader to live by the rules made by the government.

"When she lost her consort of more than 70 years, Prince Philip, the queen mourned in solitude, tears streaming behind a black mask, during her husband’s scaled-back funeral in St. George’s Chapel," Lowe added. "The queen could have resigned at any time, but true to her declaration at 21 that she would fulfill her duty for life, she saw the role through. She did not gamble the future of the monarchy on Prince, now King, Charles, who spent his energies attempting to restore the popularity of his own consort, Camilla. She remained steady even as her grandson Harry seemed keen to burn the whole royal family down. Two days before her death, she met with Truss, standing, cane in hand, for photos, proving she would work until the very end."

National Review's editorial board celebrated an extraordinary life of extraordinary service.

"One of the strengths of the British system is the thread of historical continuity that runs through its institutions," the editors said. "Over the years those institutions have evolved, sometimes too rapidly, sometimes too slowly, but never leaving the past entirely behind. The monarchy, itself an institution that has undergone enormous change over the centuries, has been the axis around which those institutions revolve and, however indirectly, a source of their legitimacy. The monarch is best understood these days as a symbolic incarnation of the British state, a 'living flag,' to borrow a term from Lenin. The monarchy is powerful as a result of its formal powerlessness. It transcends the political fray, partly because it cannot (except, theoretically, in extraordinarily rare circumstances) play any material part in it.

"As such, it can play an invaluable unifying role, which is reinforced by the living link it represents with the past, a link that was only reinforced, in Elizabeth’s case, by the length of her life and, in an increasingly fractious United Kingdom, her close connection with, and fondness for, Scotland (her mother was of partly Scottish descent and was brought up there). It is somehow appropriate that Elizabeth died in Balmoral, a place that she loved," the editors said. "The queen’s qualities, her generally careful adjustments to modern times, and, as the years passed, her seeming permanence have helped Britain weather turbulent and rapidly changing times."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board called her a "reliable symbol of national unity."

"Her reign was itself the result of a crisis in Britain’s constitutional order—the abdication controversy of 1936 in which her uncle Edward VIII ceded the throne to his younger brother in order to marry an American divorcee," they wrote. "The tumult put the young Elizabeth into the line of succession, and all but guaranteed she would inherit from her father, King George VI, an institution still rebuilding its credibility. Her country needed that institution in ways foreigners often find hard to understand. As the old empire evolved into a Commonwealth, and as the nations within the United Kingdom struggled toward new constitutional arrangements, the monarchy has proven to be a steadying influence for a country in transition from a great power to a still significant one.

"Much of this is the result of Queen Elizabeth’s approach to her office," they added. "She eschewed politics in a way her son and heir Charles has found difficult to do. Her personal views on the important political questions of her reign, from the Suez crisis to Brexit, remained unknown for many years after events and sometimes to this day. She mastered the art of being present in the public eye without attracting the tabloid headlines that have marked her children and grandchildren. These traits made her that rarest of things in the modern world: a widely beloved national figure also respected around the world."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. It is meant to be one perspective amid many others. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, you can reply to this email and write in. If you're a paying subscriber, you can also leave a comment.

  • I don't follow the royal family, and don't have particularly strong feelings here.
  • That being said, I think it is silly not to criticize them now; this is a perfectly appropriate time to do so.
  • Queen Elizabeth's legacy seems quite complicated, and there is merit to praising her steady hand while acknowledging the horrors of the British Empire.

I've never followed the royal family closely, so my opinion here isn't born out of a deep connection or understanding of Queen Elizabeth or the British Empire. I simply never found them that interesting, and have long been more concerned with the elected British government and its interactions with American political life.

But observing the reactions to the Queen’s death has me thinking a lot about tradition and the powerful role of the media in covering figures like her, which prompts me to point out a few things.

For starters, I reject the notion that now is an inappropriate or unfair time to criticize the Queen or the monarchy. On the contrary, I think her death is the perfect time to talk about her legacy and the role the monarchy has played historically and will (or should) play in the future. The idea that critics should remain quiet while the throne is passed and then elevate their criticisms only once everyone is no longer paying attention (and have moved on to the next news cycle) strikes me as childish and naive. Queen Elizabeth herself said that it was healthy to question the monarchy's role in British life.

“No institution… should expect to be free from the scrutiny of those who give it their loyalty and support,” she said. “Not to mention those who don’t.”

Second, it strikes me as equally silly to frame her now as little more than the innocent grandmother of the empire. She is, and was, one of the most powerful and influential figures in global politics. While so much of the monarchy is shrouded in secrecy, a person like the head of the royal family who regularly gets to bend the ear of heads of state, prime ministers and presidents, should not have their influence diminished simply for lack of constitutional authority.

In that same vein, criticizing the history of British brutality and colonialism is equally in-bounds. Karen Attiah's Washington Post piece did this well, without being overtly cruel or fair but while also being straightforward and harsh. Just as the Queen was a powerful figure of unity, comfort and steadiness for millions, she is also a powerful figure of cruelty, wealth, nepotism, massacre and injustice for others. It's fair to point out that, of all the British monarchs, Queen Elizabeth II's hands were undoubtedly the cleanest. It's also fair to point out that the early decades of her rule included precisely the kind of horrors in Kenya and Nigeria that bring about so much criticism now. The ugly side matters.

As any historian will tell you, the way we remember history is often a product of who gets to tell it. If you want a complete telling of Britain's history, we'd be wise to elevate the voices of the people who suffered at their hands just as much as we parrot the narratives of the BBC or Buckingham Palace.

With that said, I'm also struck by another truth: Just as those born into poverty or despair didn't choose their lives, many born into wealth and power didn't, either. Queen Elizabeth was dealt a hand that would be many people's envy, but she didn't choose power. And, if you think about it, you may not be interested in being subject to the strict rules governing her behavior, dress, comportment and schedule she’s had to endure since she was a teenager. That’s to say nothing of the rabid press and tabloids desperately trying to invade her private life.

However much her role as Queen may serve to whitewash British history before her, she didn't colonize Kenya or lead the expansion of the empire. She was thrust into her role as a child, as the British Empire was shrinking and its days waning, first as the unlikely princess and then as youthful queen, through a series of bizarre events within the royal family.

And it's hard to argue that she was reckless or deviant or evil with that power. Her greatest crime, or the greatest crime of the monarchy under her rule, is the effort they took to cover up state secrets. Through the mid-1970s, the Queen sat on the throne as officials systematically destroyed evidence of imperial crimes in Kenya, Malaya, Malta, Yemen, Nigeria, Uganda, and Singapore. Acknowledging this does not mean Queen Elizabeth wasn't a steady symbol of unity in Britain or a graceful public figure or even a kind and thoughtful public servant. But pretending it didn't happen is to tell an incomplete tale.

So yes, criticize the Queen. Celebrate her. Talk about what she did right and wrong and do it so future leaders — monarchs, presidents, prime ministers — might understand that the watchful eye of the public and historians will judge their legacies not necessarily favorably, but honestly. That's a fair way to remember the Queen, and it's a legitimate way to push leaders of the future to serve in the most honest and ethical ways they can.

Your questions, answered.

Q: I am wondering what the Mexican immigration laws look like. What do they do with illegal aliens that come into their country? It seems that all of the people that arrive in the US have decided not to stop there.

— Ralph, Wayzata, Minnesota

Tangle: It's complicated. Historically, Mexico's immigration enforcement has been very restrictive, especially by U.S. standards. For instance, the penalty for illegal entry used to be a ten year prison sentence. That being said, it's also hard to say, because Mexico has usually been an immigrant-sending country. Recently, its immigration system has become more liberalized largely due to pressures from the U.S. In 2008, Mexico began reforming their laws — reducing the punishment for illegal entry from a ten year prison sentence to a maximum fine of 5,000 pesos. Then in 2011, they passed the Migratory Act, which allows migrants in Mexico more access to Mexican courts and reforms its humanitarian admissions system, which covers things like the refugee and asylum system.

Still, it is in many ways incoherent and far less welcoming than the American immigration system. Conservatives, including former President Trump, have long bemoaned the fact that Mexico's policies on its southern border are much stricter than ours.

In 2018, Manuel Lopez Obrador was elected president of Mexico  promising a more humane approach and a coordinated effort to handle Central American migrants passing through Mexico to get to the U.S. But watchdog groups and journalists have said for years that such an approach never materialized.

Generally speaking, Mexico detains and deports as many migrants as it can on its southern border. Some 12,000 members of the Mexican National Guard were deployed in 2019 to their southern border, which (as in the U.S.) has driven migrants to find more remote and dangerous areas to cross — often leaving them more likely to fall into the hands of smugglers and criminal groups. Similar actions were taken again in 2021 when migration flows increased.

This piece has a good, quick summary of Mexico's policies over the years. It is written from a pro-immigration perspective, but worth reading for a grasp on where things are currently.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

America's supply chain could be in for another major shock. The country's largest freight railroad companies are in negotiations with unions representing over 115,000 workers, and the risk of a strike is high. The deadline for a deal is this Friday. If railway workers were to strike, the country's trucking system would have to pick up the slack, something that would be costly and highly unlikely, given its own already strained capacity. A strike could amount to a $2 billion daily hit to the U.S. economy, and it comes at a time when port workers on the West Coast are also negotiating a new contract. Reuters has the story.

Have a story you think is slipping under the radar? Submit one here.


  • 75%. The percentage of Britons who said they liked the queen, according to a recent YouGov poll.
  • 8%. The percentage who disliked her.
  • 1926. The year Queen Elizabeth II was born.
  • 30+. The number of corgis she owned in her life.
  • $426 million. Her estimated net worth.
  • 2,868. The number of diamonds in the Imperial State Crown.

Have a nice day.

The United States performed its one millionth organ transplant last week, a major milestone for the medical profession. The first organ transplant was performed in Boston in 1954. In the  decades following, the number of transplants remained low due to the difficulty of the procedures and availability of donors. But in the 1980s, the number of kidney, heart, liver and pancreas transplants began to increase with the rise of anti-rejection medications. 500,000 transplants have been performed since 2007, and 41,000 were performed in 2021, twice as many as occurred 25 years ago. While some 5,000 people still die waiting on transplant lists each year, experts are hopeful that the proliferation of donors and successful surgeries may soon reduce that number to zero. ABC News has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.