The news was spread far and wide last weekend that George F. Will is no longer registered as a Republican and is now politically “unaffiliated,” owing to the GOP’s acceptance (however grudging) of Donald Trump as its presidential nominee. “Far and wide” is probably a good deal further than the columnist’s reputation, or even name recognition, extends today.
A protégé of Irving Kristol’s (Kristol, the father of William, was one of the early neoconservatives) who was hired by William Buckley as National Review’s Washington and literary editor in the 1970s, Will was for a decade or two a minor celebrity in print and on television, the face of “rational,” “polite,” and “acceptable” conservatism. In private, he considered Buckley to be not a serious person. Will is nothing if not serious, which is why he is virtually a non-person four decades later. (“The opposite of funny,” Chesterton said, “is not serious, it’s ‘not funny.’”) Buckley, whatever his faults, was never priggish, a word that abundantly describes George Will.
Of the many sorts of people who dislike Donald Trump, moral and intellectual prigs are among the foremost. H.L. Mencken, who was certainly no prig and in consequence very funny, would have known precisely how to deal with Mr. Trump. First, he would not have held his nose. Second, he would have appreciated and exploited the humor of Trump’s meteoric rise and the priggish disdain it has elicited among polite observers (his least favorite people). Mencken, unlike George Will, is still read today, a half century after his death. Was Mencken a registered Republican? I don’t recall. Would he support Trump today? Why would anyone who has ever read the man confidently assume not?
Chilton Williamson, Jr., was the senior editor for books for Chronicles since 1989, and was appointed as editor beginning June 1, 2015. He is the author of several books, including Mexico Way, The Education of Hector Villa, The Hundredth Meridian, The Immigration Mystique, The Conservative Bookshelf, and After Tocqueville: The Promise and Failure of Democracy. His latest book, Jerusalem, Jerusalem (Chronicles Press), released in 2017.