In the works of William Shakespeare, the “cuckold,” a man with an unfaithful wife, occasionally makes an appearance. He is associated with shame and humiliation because the implication is that he can neither control nor please his bride.
Infidelity was said to make the cuckold grow horns and become like a devil in Shakespeare’s time. In Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice says: “There will the Devil meet me, like an old cuckold, with horns on his head.” In Othello, the titular character is misled by the baleful Iago into believing that his beloved Desdemona is unfaithful, turning an otherwise good man wicked at the imagined slight.
Why, you might be wondering, does any of this matter? Enter the nasty lot that make up the effete-Right.
Ostensibly, this lot stands for the “principles” that President Trump lacks. No one outside of their allies at CNN or their own circle believes that line but, so far as they are concerned, that’s all that matters.
As a group, they are exemplified by the uniformly anti-Trump publication, The Bulwark. As for specific individuals, a few names come to mind; yet with his recent endorsement of Joe Biden for president, Washington Post columnist and NBC News commentator George Will is an exemplar.
Will retreated from the GOP in June 2016, incensed at Donald Trump’s then-imminent nomination as the Republican presidential candidate. In a recent conversation with USA Today’s Susan Page, Will emphatically pledged his vote to Biden, arguing that Trump and the GOP deserved to lose because they had betrayed conservative principles.
Remember, Biden plans to extend citizenship to 11 million illegal aliens. His gun-control plan will compel individuals who own AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles, and magazines holding more than 10 rounds, to either surrender them in a federal buyback program or register each of their qualifying items under the National Firearms Act (NFA).
The process to register with the NFA is $200, on top of extra fees, and it would apply for every qualifying item in one’s possession. “Given how costly some firearms can be, that registration fee may not sound like too much of an added burden,” writes Kim Kelly in the Washington Post, “but for a person who has already bought and paid for multiple qualifying firearms and magazines (or inherited them), that amount will add up quickly.”
“Those who violate the NFA will also face up to 10 years in federal prison, and a potential $10,000 fine,” Kelly adds.
Such policies used to be anathema to most conservatives. Control of the borders and Second Amendment rights are basic and bedrock principles on the Right.
Yet Will and the writers at The Bulwark are angry that “their” conservative movement (whatever that is) has walked out on them. Trump has stolen “their” party, they say. He has co-opted “their” platform, and perverted “their” cause with poisonous populism and vile nationalism. Essentially, they are driven mad by an unfaithful social force that they feel is their rightful possession. They have, in other words, been made a cuckold by their bride, Middle America, and have been wearing the horns of shame and humiliation ever since.
“Today, conservatism is soiled by scowling primitives whose irritable gestures lack mental ingredients,” writes Will in the very conservative Washington Post. Which “mental ingredients” we scowling primitives lack is unclear from his description, but with all the swagger of a bespeckled Keebler Elf, Will himself declines to offer much beyond “sugar and spice, and everything nice.”
It is not that the Reagan-era formulation of conservatism has failed or that it is inadequate to meet the challenges of our day, according to Will, but rather that Middle America has succumbed to populist cabin fever and has carelessly eloped with a nationalist lover.
When asked if his formula of conservatism has been rejected by the people who have been hurt by it the most, Will’s response is typically haughty. “There is a cohort of the American electorate that has said economic dynamism is too stressful.” Middle America, in this view, simply cannot handle the “dynamism” of the economic and political globalism that has devastated American industry, eroded national sovereignty, and flooded the country with foreigners.
Never mind that, as Reihan Salam writes, “a decrease in blue-collar employment can lead to ‘a decline in marriage and fertility, an increase in the fraction of mothers who are unmarried and who are heads of single, non-cohabiting households, and a growth in the fraction of children raised in poverty’”—all of which contributes to the drug addiction, alcoholism, and high suicide rates plaguing Middle America. Here National Review’s Kevin Williamson says what Will perhaps wishes he could and less pedantically: “The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die.”
But Will wants his movement back, and his impotent rage manifests as romantic irredentism for that which has abandoned him—or, in his mind, that which has been seduced away from him. “America needs a reminder of conservatism before vulgarians hijacked it,” he writes, “and a hint of how it became susceptible to hijacking.” As the saying goes, “lo romántico es politico.”
Middle America will—must—wise up, look upon the handsome face of Reaganism once more and learn to love this brave new world and all its “dynamism.” After all, Will is peak conservatism. He says so himself and will remind you of his Reagan bona fides with pursed lips and beady eyes peering over the rims of gilded spectacles.
And yet no one could look at the track record of these duncy doyens and take them seriously. They have been wrong about Middle East interventionism, wrong about globalism, wrong about immigration, and wrong about so much more. The death of The Weekly Standard should have put them on notice, but it didn’t. They just got nastier and morphed into the troglodytic caricatures they complained others made of them.
Will and his kind are smear merchants precisely because they are boring, unimaginative, walled-off, inadequate, and jealous. Whatever flaws Trump has—and they are many—Middle America does not seem at all interested in renewing its vows with the likes of George Will, Bill Kristol, or David French. It’s likely Trump was simply a stepping stone toward something even less palatable to Will, but nevertheless truer to the exigencies and desires of this country, closer to the psyche of a Middle America that increasingly resembles more of a proletariat than the virtually nonexistent bourgeois elite for which Will pines.
All we can hope for in the end is that, like Shakespeare’s Iago in the final scene of Othello, the George Wills of our time will realize that they, not Middle America, are guilty of infidelity, and resolve: “From this time forth I never will speak word.”