Sweetly scented and hot with activity, a beehive is its own brightly buzzing democracy. Individual bees work together for the good of the hive, and at the center of it all is one very special “queen” bee.
Although every bee starts out the same—egg to larva, larva to adult—what bees are fed during their larval stage sets their distinctive destinies. Drones—the male bees which mate with the queen—get a coarse mixture of pollen and nectar. The all-female worker bees’ diet is a variation on this pollen-and-nectar theme. But for a queen-to-be? She gets only the choicest royal jelly—a mysterious, gelatinous goo manufactured by young nurse bees. These respective diets flip certain genetic switches on or off in each type of bee, dictating their future behavior.
Leaving nothing to chance, nurse bees will feed as many as a dozen larval bees royal jelly to ensure that the hive will have a capable queen. And as these multiple queens hatch? In a gruesome sort of primary election, the newly emerged queens bite, sting, and, at times, tear off fellow candidates’ wings. The last one standing has earned her place as queen. The new queen will take a few “maiden flights” high in the air, mating with the strongest, fastest drones. Officially mated, the queen is both directly and indirectly responsible for the health of the hive. Brimming with fertilized eggs, she alone will lay the eggs which will become future members of her colony. The queen also exudes “queen substance,” a complex chemical with which every individual bee must come into contact, in order to remain confident that all is well in the hive.
In one of Mother Nature’s most elegant and ingenious feedback loops, a strong and competent queen who is laying properly is able to produce and distribute plenty of queen substance. Provided her subjects are exposed to this substance, they stay on task: foraging bees go about gathering nectar and pollen, nurse bees look after their larval charges, undertaker bees dispose of the dead, guard bees keep watch, and so on. The queen’s “attendant bees,” too, know to continue to feed, groom, and protect their healthy queen. (They even carry away her waste!)
In many ways, an effective government runs much like a beehive. Our “worker bees” in the House, Senate, and sundry government offices carry out the business of our American colony. (Some foraging bees work in the Internal Revenue Service, naturally. And our guard bees? Department of Defense!) Presiding over it all is the “queen” who clearly communicates her agenda to the workers and evinces such confidence that bees of every stripe happily buzz as one.
As in a real honey bee colony, President Trump—our nation’s “queen bee”—is surrounded by a circle of fawning attendants. But, despite some similarities to a real beehive, our own government isn’t exactly humming along right now.
To truly lead, the president would need to exude that all-important queen substance—or something like it—to unite all of the worker bees and telegraph an unwavering fitness for “her” role.
But, sadly, while real queen bees work to unify their colonies, President Trump actively has stoked division. While real queen bees are devoted to the well-being of the majority, President Trump has favored a select few. Perhaps most important of all? Real queen bees maintain stability within their hives by working nearly around the clock and signaling their competence to the other bees. Meanwhile, President Trump deliberately has sown chaos. (No, the president doesn’t have to lay thousands of eggs each day, he could stand to lay off the Twitter.) As our “queen,” he is devoid of substance.
Now, in a real hive, if the queen is failing at her task, if she is sick or old or injured, or, as with our “queen,” she was out of her depth from the get-go, the very survival of the entire hive is imperiled. The weak queen will produce little to no queen substance, triggering a cascade of events intended to safeguard the colony’s future. In what could be considered one of her last acts of true leadership, the queen will lay fertilized eggs in several special cells to create her own replacement.
And once the new queen is on the scene and ready to “lead” by laying thousands of fertilized eggs? The original queen is dispatched in a truly Draconian way. The same attendants who so lovingly fed, groomed, and protected her, begin, little by little, to close in on the old queen from all sides. She is simultaneously suffocated and crushed to death. In beekeeping parlance, this is known as “balling” the queen.
Neither our imaginary Queen Trump nor the all-too-real president will acknowledge their unfitness for the job. And, although there may be pockets of quiet dissension within his inner circle, we clearly can’t expect Mr. Trump’s “attendants” to detect his marked lack of substance and sound the alarm accordingly. But it is past time to sound it.
Still, honey bees don’t feel shame or embarrassment if they bet on an inferior queen, and neither should we. They simply fix their mistake by replacing their failed queen and stepping up efforts to repair their weakened colony. Likewise, it’s up to the rest of us “worker bees”—including the citizens who quietly regret having voted in Mr. Trump and the legislators who continue to stand idly by—to admit that he needs to go.
Fortunately, we’re a little more civilized than our honey-bearing counterparts. As such, we have a more peaceful means to remove our queen: vote for a new one. The health of the “hive” that is our democracy depends on it.