"Arguing about the nature of the country is as American as frozen apple pie with a slice of processed cheese," says the aspirationally acute 80-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner George Will, now in his sixth decade as a leading voice in debates over culture, politics, and ideas. "If you don't like arguing, you picked the wrong country."
In 1973, Will was a young academic coming off a stint as a Senate staffer when he began writing columns for National Review and The Washington Post. Since then he has churned out "6,000 or so" pieces (his count) on a weekly schedule, calling to mind the longevity and endurance of Cal Ripken, Jr., who played more consecutive baseball games than anyone in history and whose work ethic was lionized by Will in his 1990 bestseller, Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball.
Will's newest book is American Happiness and Discontents, a collection of columns from 2008 to 2020 that covers the Great Recession and the Obama years to what he calls the crybaby presidency of Donald J. Trump and the rise of identity politics as a major force in contemporary America. Of special interest are his columns drawing complicated lessons from the World War II era, when the country triumphed over authoritarianism and genocide abroad even as it practiced racial apartheid at home. Will's analysis of and love for America is unabashedly patriotic but it is never jingoistic or untroubled by tough historical truths.
Though he started out firmly on the conservative right, Will has become more and more libertarian, especially in his insistence that mere politics should never be the all-consuming passion of human endeavor and that America remains a place dedicated to a future that is better than the present. "If we can rein in our appetite for government to dispense benefits," he says, and replace it with a government "that defends the shores, fills the potholes, and otherwise gets out of the way, we're going to see again, the creativity of the American people."