Please address me as Mister: How informality hurts us

“Angela?” My goodness. “Ms. Merkel,” “the chancellor,” “Chancellor Merkel” (if that usage is permitted in Germany), “madam chancellor” or “Dr. Merkel” would be fine. But “Angela?”

“Angela” is one of the most powerful and important heads of government in the world today. And she was a guest, not only of the president but of the United States. Even if the president and the chancellor are on a first-name basis in private, she ought to be given respect by being accorded some distance through formality. Using her first name in public is beneath her station — and yes, station is the right word.

Our society is suffering from a tyranny of informality. It is rude. It is false intimacy. It is a product of the utopian, egalitarian fiction that society is one big happy village. A friendship circle, where we’re all holding hands. Station and hierarchy should be leveled because they are so nineteenth-century. In the modern world, we are all equal — so we are all pals.

And, of course, in the deepest sense we are all equal: equal before God, equal in moral worth. C. S. Lewis, the Christian apologist, wrote that “you have never talked to a mere mortal.” And you haven’t. All people, as Lewis put it, are “immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”