I Love a Parade, but Not This One Trump’s supporters and opponents alike are decent and patriotic. If only he lived up to their standard.

Traveling this week in California and Texas, I was struck again by how every political discussion is about Donald Trump. People who used to bring up state races—“We’ve got a hot election for governor going on here”—rarely mention them, and immediately revert to the national. Like no other president in my lifetime, he obsesses the nation.

I heard two things that stuck with me and reminded me of what a lot of us know is the special tragedy of this moment—that most people on both sides of the pro- and anti- Trump divide are trying to be constructive, to think seriously and help the country. That is what makes our division so poignant.

Soviet Military ParadeA rock-solid Republican, a veteran of the Reagan wars who knows what it is to have all forces arrayed against you, spoke of opposing Mr. Trump. It isn’t a matter of style or snobbery, isn’t knee-jerk. The veteran said: People who are for Trump always say “Look, he’s got an unfortunate character and temperament, but he’s good on regulation, good on the courts.” The problem, the veteran said, is the but. Once you get to the but, you are normalizing him—you are making him normal, which means you are guaranteeing a future of President Trumps. That means you have lowered the presidency forever, changed it forever, just when the world’s problems are more dangerous, and thoughtfulness and wisdom more needed.

The veteran is trying to be protective, and a patriot.

Trump supporters, on the other hand, chose him and back him because he isn’t normal. They’d tried normal! It didn’t work! Of course he’s a brute, but his brutishness was the only thing that could surprise Washington, scare it, make it reform. Both parties are corrupt and look out only for themselves; he’s the one who wouldn’t be in hock to them and their donors. Is he weird? Yes. But it’s a weird country now. He’s the only one big enough to push back against what’s pushing us.

They were trying to be patriotic, too.

It is a central belief of Trump supporters that of course he’ll make mistakes—he’s not a politician, he’s new, he’ll learn. An underestimated aspect of Trump support is sheer human sympathy. They see him taking a pounding each day in the press and feel for him as a human being. The press misses this, but Mr. Trump doesn’t. He uses it.

The second thing I heard was from an executive in a large American company. He was frustrated. It was clear to me he wants Mr. Trump to succeed, and wants to support him, because in setting in place a deregulatory spirit in the government the president is helping his industry. And his industry employs a lot of people, pays well, and makes possible the building, expansion and peace of a lot of families.

His criticism went right at the Trump supporters’ faith that he will learn in the job. The executive said: He doesn’t learn! He’s not able to. He doesn’t have that mechanism inside that allows people to analyze problems and see their part in them. And without that you can’t improve.

I left thinking again it’s such a great country, filled with such thoughtful people. And pro- and anti-Trump not only is a division between two big groups but an inevitable collision between two good groups. And somebody’s going to win.

On three of the week’s events:

The Rob Porter story reminds us in part that life is mysterious, we are mysterious. He is by all accounts an impeccable public servant—correct in his bearing, helpful, modest, sound in judgment. A professional and a patriot. In his private sphere he was apparently a shambles—violent, unstable, an abuser of women. If his two former wives are speaking truthfully, he betrayed the classic pattern of the abuser: He roughs you up, is contrite, vows to change, roughs you up. But I keep thinking of something not directly related. “It’s hard to know another person’s motives,” a friend once said. “But then it’s almost impossible to know your own.” We are often mysteries to ourselves. The area between your true self and the mystery—that’s where trouble happens.

Trump foes find the story exciting. It is tragic. Wasted gifts are a terrible thing to see.

Scrutiny of the White House’s FBI clearance operation is legitimate. Those who work for presidents are subject to a full field investigation, and it’s a scary thing. They try to interview everyone you ever knew—and it’s the FBI, so you better play it straight. If Mr. Porter was working for a president after the FBI reported this, it is concerning.

You can’t really blackmail Donald Trump on personal conduct because nothing said about him would surprise or shock. Mr. Porter, however, was blackmailable. Why did they let him stay on? Maybe because they were desperate: He was a respected establishment pro who could do the job. The administration struggled to attract such people. Without them it was all Omarosa.

The stock market wobbled in a way that seemed dramatic. The president has perhaps learned he should not constantly brag about the Dow Jones Industrial Average as proof of his good economic stewardship. I am sure there is truth in what market analysts say: It was an inevitable correction after a strong rise, and driven by inflation fears and algorithms. I would add the big secret everyone knows both here and abroad and that occasionally springs to the forefront of the mind: A fundamental is unsound. Compared with other countries we look good, but compared with ourselves we do not. Our ratio of total debt to gross domestic product has grown to more than 100% and can’t keep growing forever. Because of it, no matter how high the market goes it will never feel sound. There is no congressional appetite for spending control because there is no public appetite for it.

No one in Washington is forging a plausible solution to the problem. So the markets may continue on an upward trajectory, but mood, fear and data will keep the economy unsteady.

The Journal’s Julie Bykowicz reported this week that the Pentagon is beginning to plan the big military parade ordered up by the president. He saw one in France during his state visit in July and liked it a lot. So we should have one too, perhaps on July 4, to honor the military.

It is a ridiculous and embarrassing idea. If you want to show respect for the military make the Veterans Affairs Department work. A big, pointless, militarist display with gleaming weapons and shining tanks is so . . . Soviet. What do you gain from showing off your weaponry? What are we celebrating—that we have nukes? That we have to have them is a tragedy.

“The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power.”

I see a line of thinking among those normally critical of the president that the idea’s a ten-strike: The people will love it, what’s wrong with it, who doesn’t like a parade?

But I think people will see right through it.

If there’s a parade that purports to honor our military men and women, they will go. But they’re not stupid, they’ll know what it is. It is Trump being Trump, and obsessing the nation. It’s bread and circuses.

And it is not like us, at least the old and honored us.

The Left’s Rage and Trump’s Peril The Democratic base is even worse-tempered than the president. But Mueller could still harpoon him.

The State of the Union speech was good—spirited, pointed, with a credible warmth for the heroes in the balcony, who were well chosen. They were beautiful human beings, and their stories were rousing—the cop and his wife who adopted the baby, the hardy North Korean defector who triumphantly waved his crutches, the mourning, dignified parents of the girls killed by MS-13. My beloved Cajun Navy.

The thing about the heroes in the balcony is it reminds you not of who the president is but of who we are. “With people like that we can’t miss.” I had that thought when Ronald Reagan gave tribute in 1985 to a young woman who as a child desperately fled Saigon as it fell. She and her family were among the boat people, spotted and saved by a U.S. ship. Reagan called her to stand, and Jean Nguyen stood—proudly, in the gleaming uniform of a West Point cadet. She would graduate within the year.

State of the UnionThe recognition of heroes in the balcony is called a cliché. It certainly is. An inspiring and truthful one, and long may it live.

The Democrats in the chamber were slumped, glowery. They had chosen to act out unbroken disdain so as to please the rising left of their party, which was watching and would review their faces. Some of them were poorly lit and seemed not resolute but Draculaic. The women of the party mostly dressed in black, because nothing says moral seriousness like coordinating your outfits.

Here it should be said of the rising left of the Democratic Party that they are numerous, committed, and have all the energy—it’s true. But they operate at a disadvantage they cannot see, and it is that they are loveless. The social justice warriors, the advancers of identity politics and gender politics, the young who’ve just discovered socialism—they run on rage.

But rage is a poor fuel in politics. It produces a heavy, sulfurous exhaust and pollutes the air. It’s also gets few miles per gallon. It has many powers but not the power to persuade, and if anything does them in it will be that. Their temperament is no better than Mr. Trump’s . It’s worse. But yes, they are intimidating the Democratic establishment, which robs itself of its dignity trying to please them. It won’t succeed.

As for the president’s base, I am coming to a somewhat different way of thinking about it. It’s true they are a minority, true that his approval ratings are not good, are in fact historically low for a president with a good economy at the end of a first year. But Mr. Trump has just more than a solid third of the nation. They are a spirited, confident core. What other political figure in this fractured, splintered country has a reliable third of the electorate? And it’s probably somewhat more than a third, because Trump supporters know they are not and will never be respected, and just as in 2016 you have to factor in the idea of shy Trump voters.

What they are not sufficiently concerned about is that Mr. Trump has not expanded his popularity. He has kept his core but failed to reach out consistently and successfully to others. He has not created coalitions.

His position is more precarious than his people see.

He has too much relished the role of divider. When you’re running for office you are every day dividing those who support you from those who don’t, and hoping your group is bigger. But when you win you reach out to your enemies with humility, with patience—with love!—and try to drag ’em in to sup in your tent. You don’t do this because you’re a hypocrite but because you’re an adult looking to win. Or a constructive idealist. That happens sometimes.

His supporters don’t know what he doesn’t know: He must grow or die.

They are happily watching The Trump Show as he sticks it to people they hate. They don’t know Shark Week is coming.

In November he may lose the House. That’s what the generic ballot says is coming, that’s what was suggested by last year’s GOP defeats in Virginia and Alabama.

I know what Republicans are thinking. They are going to run on an economy that is expanding thanks to tax reform and deregulation. They are going to run on bigger paychecks and unexpected bonuses. They’ll run on the appointment of conservative judges to balance out Barack Obama’s liberal judges at a time when the courts have taken a more powerful role in American culture. They’ll run on We Will Stop Illegal Immigration and Give a Break to the Children of Illegal Immigrants.

The Democrats, on the other hand, are running on Trump is unpopular and so is his party, he is a fascist, and any limit on immigration is like any limit on abortion, tyrannical on its face.

Republicans are thinking nobody’s noticing but they’re in a pretty good place. I suspect they are right.

Except.

Special counsel Robert Mueller will likely, before November, report his findings to the Justice Department, and you have to assume he is going to find something because special prosecutors exist to find something. When Mr. Mueller staffed up he hired Ahabs, and Ahabs exist to get the whale. You have to assume Mr. Trump will be harpooned, and the question is whether it’s a flesh wound or goes deeper. If it goes deep the Democrats may well win the House, in which case he will be impeached.

Trump supporters don’t view this with appropriate alarm. They comfort themselves with the idea that he is playing three-dimensional chess and his opponents are too stupid to see it. That’s not true—he is more ad hoc and chaotic than they think. They should help him by trying to improve his standing, which means telling him what doesn’t work.

He thinks he rouses and amuses his supporters with feuds and wars, tweets and grievances. In reality, as Trump supporters know, it’s something they put up with. For everyone else it’s alienating, evidence of instability.

He calls out fake news and wars with the press while at the same time betraying a complete and befuddled yearning for their approval. Mr. Trump is a little like Nixon in this—embittered and vengeful at not getting the admiration of those he says he doesn’t respect.

These things don’t speak of tactical or strategic brilliance.

His supporters argue the media is against him, and this is true and should be acknowledged. But they were totally opposed to Reagan, too. They more or less admit his greatness now, or at least concede his towering adequacy, in part because Trump-shock has left them reconsidering the bogeymen of the past, in part because they like all dead Republicans.

But Reagan didn’t need the press to feel like a big man or be a success, and Mr. Trump looks unmanned to be so destabilized by their antipathy.

The president’s supporters should be frank with him about his flaws. They’re so used to defending him, they forget to help him. They should give him the compliment of candor.

Who’s Afraid of Jordan Peterson? When a British interviewer tried to shut him up, I knew he had something interesting to say.

When I speak with young people beginning their careers I often tell them that in spite of the apparent formidableness of the adults around them—their mastery of office systems, their professional accomplishments, their sheer ability to last—almost everyone begins every day just trying to keep up their morale. Everyone’s trying to be hopeful about themselves and the world. People are more confused, even defeated by life, than they let on; many people—most—have times when they feel they’ve lost the plot, the thread. So go forward with appropriate compassion.

Clinical psychologist and social philosopher Jordan Peterson

Clinical psychologist and social philosopher Jordan Peterson

This flashed through my mind when I saw the interview this week between British television journalist Cathy Newman and clinical psychologist and social philosopher Jordan Peterson. It burned through the internet, in part because she was remarkably hostile and badgering: “What gives you the right to say that?” “You’re making vast generalizations.” He seemed mildly taken aback, then rallied and wouldn’t be pushed around. It was also interesting because she, the fiery, flame-haired aggressor, was so boring—her thinking reflected all the predictable, force-fed assumptions—while he, saying nothing revolutionary or even particularly fiery, was so interesting. When it was over, you wanted to hear more from him and less from her.

I wondered when I first read the headlines: What could a grown-up, seemingly stable professor (former associate professor of psychology at Harvard, full professor for 20 years at the University of Toronto) stand for that would make a journalist want to annihilate him on live TV—or, failing that, to diminish him or make him into a figure of fun?

He must have defied some orthodoxy. He must think the wrong things. He must be a heretic. Heretics must be burned.

I had not known of his work. The interview was to promote his second book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.” Mr. Peterson is called “controversial” because he has been critical, as an academic, of various forms of the rising authoritarianism of the moment—from identity politics to cultural appropriation to white privilege and postmodern feminism. He has refused to address or refer to transgendered people by the pronouns “zhe” and “zher.” He has opposed governmental edicts in his native Canada that aim, perhaps honestly, at inclusion, but in practice limit views, thoughts and speech.

This is unusual in a professor but not yet illegal, so I bought his book to encourage him.

In it he offers advice, much but not all of it based on decades of seeing patients as a psychologist, on the big eternal question: How to Live.

He is of the tough school: Know life’s limits, see and analyze your own, build on what you’ve got and can create.

And be brave. Everything else is boring and won’t work.

Deeper in, you understand the reasons he might be targeted for annihilation. First, he is an intellectual who shows a warm, scholarly respect for the stories and insights into human behavior—into the meaning of things—in the Old and New Testaments. (He’d like more attention paid to the Old.) Their stories exist for a reason, he says, and have lasted for a reason: They are powerful indicators of reality, and their great figures point to pathways. He respects the great thinkers of the West and the Christian tradition.

More undermining of the modernist project, Mr. Peterson states clearly more than once that grasping at political ideology is not the answer when your life goes wrong. There’s no refuge there, it’s a way of avoiding the real problem: “Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?”

That is a dangerous thing to say in an ideological age.

What should we do instead? Admit life ain’t for sissies. You will die and on the way to death you will suffer; throughout you will be harassed by evil, both in the world and in your heart: “Earthquakes, floods, poverty, cancer—we’re tough enough to take on all of that. But human evil adds a whole new dimension of misery to the world.”

The only appropriate stance: “Stand up straight with your shoulders back” and “accept the terrible responsibility of life with eyes wide open.” Literally: “Quit drooping and hunching around. Speak your mind.” Competitors and predators will start to assume you’re competent and able. Moreover, it will “encourage the serotonin to flow plentifully through the neural pathways desperate for its calming influence.”

“Aim up. Pay attention. Fix what you can fix.” Respect yourself, take part, keep “the machinery of the world running.”

Don’t be arrogant. “Become aware of your own insufficiency. . . . Consider the murderousness of your own spirit before you dare accuse others, and before you attempt to repair the fabric of the world. And above all, don’t lie. Don’t lie about anything, ever. Lying leads to Hell. It was the great and the small lies of the Nazi and Communist states that produced the death of millions of people.”

He’s suggesting here the personal is political, but not in the way that phrase is usually meant.

If I were of the radical established left, bent on squelching contending thought, I’d hate him too.

Success is a mystery, but failure is not: “To fail, you merely have to cultivate a few bad habits.” Drugs, drinking, not showing up, hanging around with friends who are looking to lose, who have no hopes for themselves or you. “Once someone has spent enough time cultivating bad habits and biding their time, they are much diminished. Much of what they could have been has dissipated,” he writes. “Surround yourself with people who support your upward aim.”

The past is fixed but the future is not. You can learn good by experiencing evil. “A bullied boy can mimic his tormentors. But he can also learn from his own abuse that it is wrong to push people around.” Your future is not preordained by experience; don’t be cowed by the stats. “It is true that many adults who abuse children were themselves abused. It is also true the majority of people who were abused as children do not abuse their own children.”

“Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.”

It is a good book, blunt and inspiring.

We live in a time when so many young (and not so young) people feel lost, unsure of how they should approach their lives, or life in general. Mr. Peterson talks about the attitudes that will help find the path. It is not a politically correct or officially approved path, but it is an intensely practical and yet heightened one: This life you’re living has meaning.

Back to the hostile interview, and the labeling of Mr. Peterson as “controversial,” which is a way of putting a warning label on his work. When people, especially those in a position of authority, like broadcasters, try so hard to shut a writer up, that writer must have something to say.

When cultural arbiters try to silence a thinker, you have to assume he is saying something valuable.

So I bought and read the book. A small thing, but it improved my morale.

America Needs More Gentlemen The age of social media has worked against the ideas of decorum, dignity and self-control.

I used to think America needed a parent to help it behave. Now I think it needs a grandparent. Our culture has been so confused for so long on so many essentials, and has gotten so crosswise on the issue of men and women, that we need more than ever the wisdom of the aged.

That was my thought as I read this week’s sexual-harassment story, about the 30-something TV star, the girl in her 20s and their terrible date.

The woman in the story, recounted on the website Babe.net, went unnamed, and it doesn’t feel right to add to the man’s social-media misery. Nor is it necessary to assign blame since they were both such hapless representatives of their sex.

They had one thing in common: They were impressed by his celebrity. He deploys it to get what he wants, she wanted to be close to it. They met at an industry party, flirted by text; he asked her to his apartment and took her to a restaurant where he rushed her through dinner. They returned to his home, where he immediately made overt sexual advances, which she accepted but did not want. She seems to have had no sense that any outward show of respect was due her. Taken aback by how quickly he was moving, she tried to slow things via “nonverbal cues.” Among them was allowing him to perform oral sex on her, and performing it on him, which in fairness he might have interpreted as an indication of enthusiasm. She is an articulate person but was for some reason unable to say, “Stop, this is not what I want. I have to leave.” At no point does she allege he threatened her, either physically or professionally, or tried to bar the door.

He was boorish, a slob, what used to be called a wolf. He wished to use her sexually and didn’t understand her reservations. Isn’t that what first dates are for?

Is he a creep? Of course. She has been accused of trying to jump onto the #MeToo movement, painting herself as a victim, and exhibiting no sense of “agency.” (Though she is at least competent at revenge.) She expects us to understand why she didn’t walk out. Why did she stay, and expect such a gross figure suddenly to show sensitivity? In his interactions as she reports them, he never pretended not to be a pig.

Here is why we’re discussing this. All the stories we’ve read the past few months about predators—not those accused of rape and sexual assault, which are crimes, but of general piggishness, grabbiness, manipulation and power games—have a common thread. The men involved were not gentlemen. They acted as if they’d never heard of the concept.

We have lost track of it. In the past 40 years, in the movement for full equality, we threw it over the side. But we should rescue that old and helpful way of being. The whole culture, especially women, needs The Gentleman back.

A person of the cultural left would say that is a hopelessly patriarchal thing to say. But one thing the #MeToo movement illustrates is that women are often at particular risk in the world, and need friends and allies to stand with them. That would be men. And the most reliable of them are gentlemen.

There are a million definitions of what a gentleman is, and some begin with references to being born to a particular standing. But in America any man could be one who had the guts to withstand the demands.

The dictionary says a gentleman is a chivalrous, courteous, honorable man. That’s a good, plain definition. The Urban Dictionary says: “The true gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will . . . whose self control is equal to all emergencies, who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity.” That’s good, too.

Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn

Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn in ‘The Philadelphia Story’ (1940).

A website called Gentleman’s Journal offers a list of 20 traits that make a man a gentleman. I liked “A gentleman always walks a woman home.” He doesn’t pack her off alone to an Uber downstairs, in the back of which she weeps as she sends her friends horrified texts, which is what happened with the Hollywood star and the girl. I liked, “A gentleman ruins his lover’s lipstick, not her mascara.” And “If a woman comes with baggage, a gentleman helps her unpack it.”

A gentleman is good to women because he has his own dignity and sees theirs. He takes opportunities to show them respect. He is not pushy, manipulative, belittling. He stands with them not because they are weak but because they deserve friendship. Once at a gathering of women in media, I spoke of a columnist who years before had given me helpful critiques of my work and urged me on. “A gentleman is an encourager of women.”

It goes deeper than memorizing and repeating certain behaviors, such as standing when a woman or an older person enters the room. That is a physical expression of inner regard. Being a gentleman involves not only manners but morals. The 19th-century theologian John Henry Newman —an Anglican priest who became a Catholic cardinal—said a gentleman tries not to inflict pain. He tries to remove the obstacles “which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him.” He is “tender toward the bashful, gentle toward the distant, and merciful toward the absurd. . . . He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantage.”

David Gandy, a fashion model, wrote a few years ago in London’s Telegraph that his work had taught him “being a gentleman isn’t about what you do or what you wear, it’s about how you behave and who you are.” A gentleman “holds chivalry and politeness in great regard. He holds the door for people; he gives up his seat; he takes off his coat to a lady on a cold evening.” These are old-fashioned actions, but a gentleman still holds to them “even though the world has changed.”

Yes, a gentleman does.

A man once told me it’s hard to be a gentleman when fewer of the women around you seem interested in being ladies. But that’s when you should step up your gentleman game. We are all here to teach and inspire.

By the way, I notice there are definitions of what a gentleman is and how you can be one all over the internet.

Someone must be looking for this information. That’s good.

The age of social media has worked against the ideas of decorum, dignity and self-control—the idea of being a gentleman. You can, anonymously, be your lowest, most brutish self, and the lowering spreads like a virus.

But you can’t judge a nation by its comment threads, or let’s hope so. You can judge it by its struggle to maintain standards. For inspiration we end with Hollywood, with Jimmy Stewart in “The Philadelphia Story.” The character played by Katharine Hepburn makes a pass at him, and he notes he could have taken advantage of the moment but she’d been drinking and “there are rules about that.”

Here’s to the rules, and the gentlemen who help keep them alive.

Trump, Oprah and the Art of Deflection Will American politics return to normalcy in 2021 or 2025? I’m not betting on it.

Deflection as a media strategy has become an art form. Its purpose is to avoid answering a charge by misdirecting it and confusing the issue. It’s often used during crisis.

Running from the monsterThere are classics of the genre. After Princess Diana died in August 1997, the British press came under severe pressure, accused of literally driving the poor half-mad woman to her death. The paparazzi had chased her like jackals, raced after her car in the tunnel, surrounded it, and taken pictures after the crash. Fleet Street hunkered down in confusion, perhaps even some guilt. Then some genius noticed Buckingham Palace wasn’t flying a flag at half-staff. The tabloids rushed to front-page it: The cold Windsors, disrespecting Diana in death as they had in life. They shifted the focus of public ire. Suddenly there was no more talk of grubby hacks. Everyone was mad at the queen.

Another: In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Monica Lewinsky had a problem. Hillary Clinton was running, which meant the Monica story would be regularly resurrected. If she took a step wrong she’d be targeted by ferocious Clinton staffers. In any case she’d be hounded by the press: Monica, how do you feel now about being slimed as a stalker? Have you forgiven Hillary for calling you a “narcissistic Looney Tune”?

Ms. Lewinsky had gone into virtual hiding in 2008, when Hillary last ran, and didn’t want to do it again. So in 2014, just before the cycle got serious, she rather brilliantly wrote a piece for Vanity Fair in which she announced yes, she’d been a victim in a national scandal and the true culprit was . . . the press, the internet and the “feedback loop of defame and shame.”

In fact she was the Clintons’ victim, but she successfully deflected your gaze. Once Mrs. Clinton’s people understood Monica would be taking shots not at Hillary but at Matt Drudge, Ms. Lewinsky’s problem went away.

The best deflection has some truth in it. The Windsors were a chilly lot, and the internet does amplify a personal humiliation.

I thought of all this last weekend as I watched the Golden Globes. Hollywood has known forever about abuse, harassment and rape within its ranks. All the true powers in the industry—the agencies, the studios—have one way or another been complicit. And so, in the first awards show after the watershed revelations of 2017, they understood they would not be able to dodge the subject. They seized it and redirected it. They boldly declared themselves the heroes of the saga. They were the real leaders in the fight against sexual abuse. They dressed in black to show solidarity, they spoke truth to power.

They went so far, a viewer would be forgiven for thinking that they were not upset because they found out about Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, et al. They were upset, as Glenn Reynolds noted on Twitter, that you found out, and thought less of them. Anyway, they painted themselves as heroes of the struggle.

Deflection is brilliant, wicked, and tends to work.

When something works you’ll be seeing more of it, in entertainment and politics. Keep your eyes sharp.

When Oprah Winfrey spoke, she brought the crowd to their feet, which gave rise to a new wave of speculation about whether she will run for president. I would be surprised if she did. She has what looks like a richly enjoyable life. She’s never been brutalized in the way that national contenders are. If in the past few decades she’s been insulted to her face, or even rudely interrupted, it has gone unrecorded. But to run for president is to be insulted every day. I think sometimes of what Gov. Chris Christie said to debate moderator John Harwood in 2015: “Even in New Jersey, what you’re doing is called rude.”

But could she win? Absolutely.

Oprah is stable. Oprah is smart. Oprah is truly self-made. She has a moving personal story. She has dignity and, more important, sees the dignity in others. She is fully wired into modern media; she helped invent modern media. Reporters and editors are awed by her. People experience her not as radical but moderate. She has been a living-room presence for two generations and is enormously popular. The first poll, published Wednesday, had her leading President Trump 48% to 38%.

It would all depend on what she wants and, if she decides she wants it, whether she could accept what goes with it.

But it freaks you out, doesn’t it? Not that American presidents now don’t have to have the traditional credentials and governmental experience, but that maybe they can’t be fully accomplished and appropriate because that’s boring. History has been turned on its head. In falling in love with celebrity and personality, we are acting not like a tough and grounded country but a frivolous, shallow one.

And yes, of course Donald Trump changed it all. When he walked through the door he blew out the jambs. He left a jagged opening big enough that anyone could walk through after him. He was like a cartoon character that bursts through a wall leaving a him-shaped hole. Last April I had a disagreement with a friend, a brilliant journalist who said when the Trump era is over, we will turn for safety to the old ways. We will return to normalcy. Suddenly we’ll see the mystique of the solid two-term governor in the gray suit, the veteran senator with the bad haircut. After all the drama of Mr. Trump, normality will have a new charisma.

No I said, I see just the opposite. We will not go back for a long time, maybe ever. We are in the age of celebrity and the next one will and can be anything—Nobel laureate, movie star, professional wrestler, talk-show host, charismatic corporate executive.

The political class can bemoan this—the veteran journalists, the senators and governors, the administrators of the federal government. But this is a good time to remind ourselves that it was the failures of the political class that brought our circumstances about.

When at least half the country no longer trusts its political leaders, when people see the detached, cynical and uncaring refusal to handle such problems as illegal immigration, when those leaders commit a great nation to wars they blithely assume will be quickly won because we’re good and they’re bad and we’re the Jetsons and they’re the Flintstones, and while they were doing that they neglected to notice there was something hinky going on with the financial sector, something to do with mortgages, and then the courts decide to direct the culture, and the IRS abuses its power, and a bunch of nuns have to file a lawsuit because the government orders them to violate their conscience . . .

Why wouldn’t people look elsewhere for leadership? Maybe the TV star’s policies won’t always please you, but at least he’ll distract and entertain you every day. The other ones didn’t manage that!

The idea that a lot had to go wrong before we had a President Trump, and the celebrity who follows him, has gotten lost in time, as if someone wanted to bury it.

Sometimes I see a congressman or senator shrug and say, in explanation of something outlandish, “It’s Trump.” And I think: Buddy, you’ve been on the Hill 20 years, and we didn’t get to this pass only because of him. That’s a deflection.

‘Button’ It, Mr. President JFK and Reagan had the good sense not to speak flippantly about nuclear weapons.

From the Oval Office address by President John F. Kennedy informing Americans of the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, Oct. 22, 1962: “Our policy has been one of patience and restraint, as befits a peaceful and powerful nation which leads a world-wide alliance. We have been determined not to be diverted from our central concerns by mere irritants and fanatics. But now further action is required, and it is under way; and these actions may only be the beginning. We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of world-wide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth; but neither will we shrink from that risk at any time it must be faced.”

Cuban Missile Crisis

President Kennedy meets with U.S. Army officials during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

From his commencement address at American University, June 10, 1963: “What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children. Not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women; not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.

“I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age when great powers can maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost 10 times the explosive force delivered by all of the allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations yet unborn.”

From the address by President Ronald Reagan after the summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Oct. 13, 1986: “I told him I had pledged to the American people that I would not trade away SDI”—the Strategic Defense Initiative. “There was no way I could tell our people that their government would not protect them against nuclear destruction. I went to Reykjavik determined that everything was negotiable except two things: our freedom and our future. I am still optimistic that a way will be found. The door is open, and the opportunity to begin eliminating the nuclear threat is within reach.”

From Reagan’s remarks at the signing, with Mr. Gorbachev, of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, at the White House, Dec. 8, 1987: “The numbers alone demonstrate the value of this agreement. On the Soviet side, over 1,500 deployed warheads will be removed, and all ground-launched intermediate-range missiles, including the SS-20s, will be destroyed. On our side, our entire complement of Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles, with some 400 deployed warheads, will all be destroyed. Additional backup missiles on both sides will also be destroyed. But the importance of this treaty transcends numbers. We have listened to the wisdom in an old Russian maxim. And I’m sure you’re familiar with it, Mr. General Secretary, though my pronunciation may give you difficulty. The maxim is: Dovorey no provorey—trust, but verify.”

Mr. Gorbachev: “You repeat that at every meeting. [Laughter]”

Reagan: “I like it. [Laughter]”

This is how American presidents have always talked about nuclear weapons and the nuclear age—blunt, direct, factual and clear: We never want these weapons used again.

Until now. President Donald Trump’s tweet, 7:49 p.m., Jan. 2, 2018: “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times,’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

We’re not going in the right direction, are we?

Here are the reasons Mr. Trump’s tweet is destructive and dangerous.

Because it is cavalier about a subject that could not be graver. Because the language and venue reflect an immature mind, the grammar and usage a cluttered and undisciplined one. By raising the possibility of nuclear exchange on social media, the president diminishes the taboo against nuclear use. Anything you can joke about on Twitter has lost its negative mystique. Destigmatizing the idea of nuclear use makes it more acceptable, more possible—more likely. Bragging about your arsenal makes it sound as if nuclear weapons are like other weapons, when they’re not.

Using a taunting public tone toward an adversary such as Mr. Kim, who may be mad, heightens the chance of nuclear miscalculation. The president’s tweet is an attempt to get under the skin of a sociopath. Is it a good idea to get under the skin of a sociopath who enjoys shooting missiles?

Blithe carelessness on an issue with such high stakes lowers world respect for American leadership. It undermines our standing as a serious and moral player, which is the only kind of player you would trust, and follow, in a crisis.

The sober and respected Sam Nunn represented Georgia as a Democrat in the U.S. Senate from 1972 to 1997, and is co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit trying to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction. “The danger of nuclear use is greater now than during the Cold War,” he said. The impact of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric? “It increases the risk of blunder.”

There are more nuclear nations, more independent actors, including terrorist groups. “Nuclear material is not fully secured, scientific knowledge of how to make a bomb is increased.” And there is the cyber threat—hacking into weapons systems, supplying false data. “Want a war between India and Pakistan?” Mr. Nunn says. “Simulate a missile attack.” Make it appear missiles are incoming when they’re not.

The risky world becomes riskier. “Add to that the heated rhetoric and name calling, and that increases risk and lays the foundation for a catastrophic blunder.”

You always fear miscalculation and misinterpretations, he says. But the chance of a blundering into disaster is probably greater than the chance of deliberate use.

Mr. Nunn notes we have been lucky that 73 years into the nuclear age there have been no accidental launches, no catastrophic decisions. The nuclear nations have been careful, professional, restrained. But yes, we’ve been lucky.

And should do nothing to press that luck.

Bragging about nuclear arms increases the likelihood of proliferation. “If we’re trying to get countries around the world not to go nuke, then we shouldn’t talk in a way that enhances their importance,” Mr. Nunn says. “There’s a lot of countries out there looking to take their small button and make it into a big button.”

By the way, Reagan’s INF Treaty, that turning point in the history of arms control, remains in force but could unravel due to charges of violations and bad faith. Keeping it up and operating will require work but be heartening for the world.

Focus there. And don’t tweet about it.

The Lies of ‘The Crown’ and ‘The Post’ When people get history from entertainment, Hollywood’s obligation to the truth is heightened.

We often write of the urgent need for more truth in politics. A hope for 2018 is more truth in art and entertainment, too.

The past week I watched the Netflix series “The Crown” and Steven Spielberg’s movie “The Post.” Each is enjoyable, yet fails in the same significant way.

Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in ‘The Crown.’

Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in ‘The Crown.’

There’s dramatic license, which is necessary or nothing’s fun, and historical truth, which is necessary or nothing’s understood. Ideally in any work they more or less coexist, however imperfectly. But in “The Crown” and “The Post” the balance is far off. A cheap historical mindlessness marks much of the first, and there’s a lie at the heart of the second.

I couldn’t help like “The Crown”: it was so beautiful to me. The acting, the stillness, all the money and thought that went into making the rooms look right, the period clothing, right down to the cuff links—in these matters the creators are deeply faithful to reality. In its treatment of history, however, there’s a deep, clueless carelessness.

Example: The treatment of future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan is churlish and unknowing. He was not a sallow, furtive weasel of a man, which is how he is portrayed; he was a politician whose humanity, courage and wit even his adversaries acknowledged. He did not deviously scheme, during the Suez crisis, to unseat Prime Minister Anthony Eden, who did not throw a pen at him and call him a liar in a cabinet meeting.

 

As prime minister his weekly meetings with the queen were not testy, marked by condescension on his side and strained patience on hers. He respected and admired her; she became his confidante. In his diaries he called her “a great support because she is the one person you can talk to.” He would not have taunted her with the glamour and intelligence of her supposed rival, Jackie Kennedy. He would not have taunted her at all.

As for what is said of his private life, he realized early in his marriage that his wife, Dorothy, had fallen “irrevocably in love” (in the words of biographer Alistair Horne), with Robert Boothby, a brilliant member of Parliament who was a bit unstable in the way of bright English politicians. Their relationship continued almost 40 years.

Everyone knew of it. It was the great wound of Macmillan’s life. He considered divorce, but stayed. “I had everything from her, owed everything to her,” he explained in a late-in-life interview. “I told her I’d never let her go.”

He was not a man who, as “The Crown” has it, would drive her to her assignations like a pimp.

More absurd is the series’ treatment of President and Mrs. Kennedy. JFK was not, as “The Crown” asserts, enraged with his wife for dazzling Paris on their first state trip to Europe. He was thrilled at her success; it elevated him on the world stage. Suddenly he saw her as what she was, a political asset to be deployed. She transfixed Charles de Gaulle, that stern and starchy old man who was always mad at America, often with good reason. Biographer Richard Reeves quotes JFK to his wife: “ ‘Well,’ he told her, ‘I’m dazzled.’ ”

There is nothing—literally nothing—to support the assertion in “The Crown” that after the trip JFK, in a rage at being upstaged by his wife, drank, threw things and lunged at her. There is no historical evidence that he ever got rapey with his wife.

Also he didn’t smoke cigarettes.

All of this, and more, is so vulgar, dumb and careless. It is disrespectful not only of real human beings but of history itself.

A bonus anecdote, only because it’s real and I like it: When JFK met with Prime Minister Macmillan after Paris, he complained of some press coverage of Jackie. JFK was indignant. “How,” he asked, “would you respond if the newspapers called Lady Dorothy a drunk?” MacMillan replied: “I’d respond, ‘You should have seen her mother!’ ” Kennedy roared.

Now to “The Post.” When you can say you spent two enjoyable hours watching a movie, it’s a good movie. But it’s not an honest one.

Others have noted flaws. The movie is a celebration of the Washington Post for printing the top-secret Pentagon Papers, which revealed U.S. government lies about the Vietnam War. But it was the New York Times that showed the greater enterprise—it got the story first—and the greater valor, because its editors could not fully guess the legal repercussions and would presumably have to handle them on their own.

But what the heck: It’s still a good story, and the Post did show style.

What is bad is the lie at the movie’s heart. President Nixon is portrayed as the villain of the story. And that is the opposite of the truth.

Nixon did not start the Vietnam War, he ended it. His administration was not even mentioned in the Pentagon Papers, which were finished before he took office.

When that dark, sad man tried to halt publication of the document, he was protecting not his own reputation but in effect those of others. Those others were his political adversaries—Lyndon Johnson and Ben Bradlee’s friend JFK—who the papers revealed had misled the public. If Nixon had been merely self-interested, he would have faked umbrage and done nothing to stop their publication. Even cleverer, he could have decried the leaking of government secrets while declaring and bowing to the public’s right to know.

Instead, he did what he thought was the right thing—went to court to prevent the publication of secrets that might harm America’s diplomatic standing while it attempted to extricate itself from a war.

Being Nixon, of course, he had to crow, in a way that became public, that he was sticking it to those liberals in the press. His attempt to stop publication was wrong—the public did have a right to know. But he did what he thought was the responsible thing, and of course pays for it to this day.

Were the makers of “The Post” ignorant of all this? You might think so if it weren’t for the little coda they tag on to the end. Suddenly a movie about the Pentagon Papers is depicting the Watergate break-in, which would take place a year later. As if to say: OK, Nixon isn’t really the villain of our story, but he became a villain soon enough. It struck me not as a failed attempt at resolving a drama but an admission of a perpetrated injustice.

Why does all this matter? Because we are losing history. It is not the fault of Hollywood, as they used to call it, but Hollywood is a contributor to it.

When people care enough about history to study and read it, it’s a small sin to lie and mislead in dramas. But when people get their history through entertainment, when they absorb the story of their times only through screens, then the tendency to fabricate is more damaging.

Those who make movies and television dramas should start caring about this.

It is wrong in an age of lies to add to their sum total. It’s not right. It will do harm.

This Tax Bill May Do Some Good But a dignified celebration would have been better than the embarrassing White House rally.

On the tax bill we begin grouchy and wind up, as befits the season, hopeful.

Grouchy: Wednesday afternoon’s big White House rally celebrating its passage was embarrassing. All these grown men and women slathering personal, obsequious, over-the-top praise—“exquisite presidential leadership,” “a man of action,” “the president of the United States, whom I love and appreciate so much”—as Donald Trump emceed and called new praisers to the stage. They do this to keep the president happy, feed his needy ego and insist on his competency. It looked less like praise than self-abasement.

President Donald J. Trump and Republican lawmakers

President Donald J. Trump and Republican lawmakers

Actually, and I’m sorry to say this, the mood reminded me of the tale of Stalin telling some lame joke in a dinner speech. His ministers all laughed as if it were the wittiest thing they ever heard. Then they kept laughing, louder, and wouldn’t stop, because they knew the first one to stop would be noticed by Stalin and would soon be gone. So boy did they laugh.

The president thinks this kind of thing makes him look good. It doesn’t, it diminishes him: Keep the buffoon happy. Here is what would make him look good, and elevate him: normal human modesty. If he modestly waved off the praise, shut it down, said, “Please, let’s talk about the bill and how it will help our country . . .”

He would look bigger, as modest people always do, and his praisers would not look smaller.

On to hope: The fair way to judge the tax bill was never through the mindless, whacked-out rhetoric on both sides—the worst bill in the history of the world, the best thing since Coolidge was a pup—but through the answer to one question: Will this bill make things a little better or a little worse? There is much reason to believe it will make things better. It is imperfect, to say the least. But it is good to cut the corporate rate from an absurd and uncompetitive 35% to a more constructive 21%; it is compassionate to double the child tax credit; it is fair to cut taxes for small businesses, many of which are struggling.

America is waiting and hoping for a boom. By all means encourage the circumstances in which it can take place.

And the bill is going to prove popular. The Democrats bet wrong on this. Almost immediately on passage, Wells Fargo and Fifth Third Bancorp announced a raise in their lowest wage to $15 an hour. AT&T said it would give about 200,000 unionized workers a $1,000 bonus and increase capital spending $1 billion. Comcast said it would give 100,000 employees bonuses and spend more than $50 billion in infrastructure improvement.

You can sit back in your sophisticated way and say, “Hmm, that looks like a curiously orchestrated public relations push.” You can say, “How nice, the malefactors of great wealth are giving their workers a little tip.” You can wonder if they’re spreading cheap good cheer to grease their mergers. But if you are working the line in Smalltown, U.S.A., and just got bumped up to $15, or you’ve been surprised by an unexpected thousand dollars at Christmastime, you will see this not as a tip but as a real and concrete break, thanks to that most unexpected of benefactors, the U.S. government.

Who cares about CEOs’ motives if they’re doing something good?

It is true the tax bill is not popular in the polls. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC survey put support at 24% with 41% opposing it. But here’s something I’ve been meaning to mention for a while: During the Reagan era, I noticed a funny thing about public opinion and tax policy. When you run for office and promise you’ll cut taxes, the crowd cheers lustily. Then once in office you put together a tax bill and the polls show public support is lukewarm. Then you pass it and its popularity bubbles around in the polls. Then an election comes and you win and the voters tell pollsters they backed you because you cut taxes. There are a lot of reasons this might be—a campaign vow is intentional and abstract, a final bill is real and messy—but I suspect there’s something in this: Voters don’t like to tell pollsters they’re for tax cuts. They have the feeling it’s the wrong position, that it’s small-minded and if they were nicer, they’d be less self-interested.

Anyway, polling doesn’t matter right now. Down the road it matters.

As for me, I am interested in my own lack of sustained dismay. I share this information because I’m wondering if there isn’t something of a broader public mood in my reaction. As a salaried worker in a high-tax state, I am about to get clobbered with the loss of the state and local tax deduction. And yet I find myself not minding so much. America is in so much and so many kinds of trouble that if this thing makes it a little better, then OK. Please, 2018 tax bill, make it better.

I end with this. This bill gives American big business more than a boatload of money, it offers a historic opportunity—a timely and perhaps final one.

Big corporations can take the gift of the tax cut (and the continuance of the carried interest loophole, that scandal) and do superficial, pleasing public relations sort of things, while really focusing on buying back stock and upping shareholder profits.

And they’ll do this if they’re stupid, and craven.

Or they could set themselves to saving the system that made them, and helping the country that made their lives possible.

They can in some new way see themselves as citizens—as members of America, as people with a stake in this nation, a responsibility for it. They can broaden, invest, hire, expand and start the kinds of projects that take the breath away. They can literally get young men and women out of the house, into the workplace, learning something. They can change and save lives. This would be costly. Spend.

One of our two political parties is being swept by a young and rising new left that is fiercely progressive and on fire for socialism. It may well in coming decades sweep the CEOs and their corporations away if they cannot rouse themselves to present economic freedom as an ultimate and democratic good.

This may be the last opportunity for business leaders to do what hasn’t been done in a generation, and that is defend the reputation of capitalism.

Wall Street once had statesmen; it wasn’t dominated by dumb quarterly-report jockeys. Shareholders were assumed to be patriots, and grateful ones, because they had so profited from the luck of being born here, into a system where the quick and sturdy could go from nothing to everything.

That system is troubled. If they cannot see private interest as utterly aligned right now with public interest, then they are truly as stupid and venal as their enemies take them to be.

Are they? I hope not. But I also hope they see this moment for what it is.

And now on to Christmas. God bless us every one.

Alabama Teaches America a Lesson All of us need to sober up, think about the long term, and be aware of the impression we’re making.

In 2018, we have to do better, all of us. We need to improve. In the area of politics this means, in part: sober up, think about the long term, be aware of the impression you’re making, of what people will infer from your statements and actions. So much hinges on the coming year—who is in Congress and what they think they were sent there to do, the results of the Mueller investigation. If the latter finds crimes and the former goes Democratic there will be moves for impeachment in 2019. There will be international crises as always, but 2018 may produce one of unprecedented historical gravity in nuked-up North Korea.

This is a dead-serious time, and we keep forgetting it because the times have been serious so long.

Senator-elect Doug Jones

Senator-elect Doug Jones

It might help if all public actors, from leaders and investigators to journalists and voters, made a simple vow to make it a little better, not a little worse. The other night a dinner partner marveled at the expensive new fitness monitor he wears on his wrist. I wish there were an Ethical Fitbit that could report at the end of each day that you’d taken 12,304 constructive steps, some uphill, or 3,297 destructive ones, and appropriate action is warranted.

There is inspiration in the Alabama outcome. To see it in terms of the parties or Steve Bannon is to see it small. The headline to me: American political standards made a comeback. Roy Moore’s loss was not a setback for the GOP; it was a setback for freakishness. It was an assertion of prudential judgment by the electorate, and came as a relief. A friend landed at JFK on an international flight on election night. As the plane taxied to the gate, the pilot came on the PA and announced that Doug Jones was in the lead. The entire plane, back to front, burst into applause. “A big broad nerve was hit in this thing,” said the friend, an American and political conservative. He meant not only here but around the world.

Thirty-three states have U.S. Senate races next year. Primary voters should absorb what happened to Alabama Republicans after they picked Mr. Moore. They took it right in the face. They misjudged their neighbors. They were full of themselves. They rejected the sure victories offered by other contestants and chose a man whom others easily detected as not well-meaning. They weren’t practical or constructive and they didn’t think about the long term. They didn’t, for instance, take into account that there were independents in the state whose support could be gained with the fielding of a more serious Republican.

And now they’ve lost it all. Voters in coming primaries should observe and absorb. There is something we have been saying in this space for almost a decade, since the Sarah Palin experience. Something happened when she ran. Suddenly to seem real and authentic some Republican candidates thought they had to be polar and extreme. They had to show umbrage, signal resentment, wave guns. But these are not indications of authenticity. They are a sign voters are being played, probably by a grifter. When a candidate is equable and experienced it is not a sign of cynicism and not evidence that he is “establishment.” It’s a sign he can maybe do a good job—and win. Conservatives who are real conservatives don’t ape the social-justice left and make politics a daily freak show. They keep their cool, argue their case, build broad appeal and become, in this way, politically deadly.

Which gets us as always to President Trump. The Alabama number that should scare him was in the exit polls. In 2016 Mr. Trump won the state with 62% of the vote, to Hillary Clinton’s 34%. Tuesday night the exits had him at 48% approve, 48% disapprove. And this within a national context of good economic news.

Mr. Trump’s political malpractice has been to fail, since his election, to increase his popularity and thus his power. He has a core but it remains a core. He could have broadened his position with a personal air of stability and moderation, and with policies that were soft-populist. He has failed to do so, primarily due to his self-indulgence—his tendency to heat things up when he should cool them down; his tendency always to make the situation a little worse, not a little better. His tweets, his immaturity, his screwball resentments and self-pity alienate and offend.

Trumpism led by a competent or talented Trump would have been powerful and pertinent to the moment. It would have reoriented the Republican Party in terms of understanding that its own base was increasingly populist, yet also ideologically moderate. That new understanding hasn’t developed.

The great and fateful question now, the one to which we may well get an answer in 2018, is: Can this man lead through a crisis? That is the question that has to be on your mind when you think about North Korea. Can he be credible, persuasive; will Americans feel they can follow him? Will the West? No one looks forward to finding the answers to these questions.

As to his foes in the other party, the biggest silence in American political life is not from the Republicans, who can’t stop arguing. It is from the Democrats when they are asked what they stand for. What economic policy do they want? What is the plan, the arrangement they hope to institute? What philosophy are they trying to put in place? What in terms of foreign policy do they want?

Domestically the only thing they’re clear on is identity politics. Who’s going to unite or find the place of common ground between the rising left and the older middle? What program can accomplish that?

Donald Trump has been a great gift to the Democrats. Opposition to him is the one thing that keeps them united. But he won’t be there forever—they’ll try to see to that!—and when he’s gone, the squirrels will really begin to fly.

Finally the FBI, the Justice Department and the special counsel look dinged right now. Those who support serious probes to answer big questions and thus support the Russia investigations, as I do, hope whatever findings come from the special counsel are and can be treated with respect. To earn it the investigators must appear every day to be clean as a hound’s tooth. Is that how it’s looking? Or are critics getting ammunition?

Snotty, partisan text messages between FBI investigators, including one in which an agent said he could “smell” the Trump supporters at Walmart, expressed anti-Trump biases. Government employees have a right to political opinions, but the FBI, Justice Department and special counsel should be running a tighter ship. During the Clinton-Lewinsky wars, the left went after Independent Counsel Ken Starr, sliming him as surrounded by Republican operatives. It did him, and America, no good.

We are a divided country. The special counsel’s findings could prove momentous. Everyone involved should sober up, think about the long term, and be aware of the impression they’re making.

Al Franken Departs Without Grace And a reminder for Alabama voters and social conservatives that character is crucial.

Al Franken has promised under pressure to step down from the U.S. Senate “in the coming weeks.” He was not accused of such grave crimes as rape or preying on underage children. He was accused instead of grabbing, fondling, lunging at and humiliating seven women. If true, and I think we see a pattern here, this would make him a pig, a bully and a hypocrite. His departure, while personally sad, is no loss to American democracy.

It was not mad Puritanism that chased him from office; it was his colleagues’ finally, belatedly announcing and establishing standards of behavior. This is not an unreasonable or unhelpful thing to do.

Senator Al Franken

Senator Al Franken

Journalists and political figures of my generation have been wryly remembering what we had to put up with in the old days—how a woman couldn’t get on an elevator with Sen. Strom Thurmond without being pinched or patted. All true. But even Thurmond would not have survived a photo of him leering over a sleeping woman and posing—deliberately, perhaps sadistically, so the moment could be memorialized—as he grabbed or simulated grabbing her breasts, which is what Mr. Franken did. The Franken case represents not a collapse of tolerance for flawed human behavior but a rise of judgment about what is acceptable.

People speak of mixed motives and say it’s all brute politics. The Democrats are positioning themselves for the high ground should Republican Roy Moore be elected. They’re aligning themselves with the passions of their base, while clearing the way for a probe into sexual-harassment accusations against the president. New York’s Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who led the charge that forced Mr. Franken’s departure, hopes to run for president in 2020 as a champion of women, so the move was happily on-brand. I don’t doubt all of this is true. Little in politics comes from wholly clean hands.

The speech in which Mr. Franken announced he would leave was too clever. Rather than a quick, dignified statement in which he put the scandal on his back and bore it away, he spoke on the Senate floor for 11 minutes. He milked it. Modesty was called for, but he wasn’t modest. He spoke of hard work and sacrifice, said it often wasn’t fun, asserted he “improved people’s lives.” Of the charges: “Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others, I remember very differently.” He seemed to want the female Senators who’d asked him to step down to feel guilty. As a senator, “I have used my power to be a champion of women, and . . . I’ve earned a reputation as someone who respects the women I work alongside every day.”

He named as a key issue fighting for “kids facing bullying.”

He took a hard shot at President Trump and Mr. Moore, finding “irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assaults sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.” The latter is not true, and a professional like Mr. Franken would know it. If Mr. Moore had the full support of his party, the polls would not be close, and Mr. Moore’s supporters would not be daily denouncing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican establishment.

The bitter tone was odd in a speech summing up a political life, but perhaps he means to extend it. We’ll see. He spent a lot of time lauding the people of Minnesota.

Mr. Franken’s weakness as a political figure was having no sympathy for those who disagree with him, not bothering to understand how the other side thinks, while always claiming for himself the high moral ground. This now common attitude frays political bonds; once it was considered poor political comportment.

Mr. Franken is a media master who has spent his entire adult life in front of a camera. He will no doubt go on to write books, teach, go on television. “I’ll be fine,” he said. Who would doubt it? In coming years he may slyly position himself as the victim, long ago, of a mindless moral backlash. He is talented and this may come to be believed.

As for the Alabama Senate election, in a strikingly good New York Times essay this week, Commentary’s Sohrab Ahmari told Christian conservatives, especially those who’ll vote next week, some things they needed to hear. Mr. Ahmari stated forthrightly what many, including in this space, have been casting about for and not quite achieved.

Calling himself “a staunch social conservative,” Mr. Ahmari addressed evangelicals and social conservatives—“people I consider allies”—about their embrace of Mr. Moore, the subject of credible charges of sexual predation.

The question of how social conservatives “should practice politics in the age of Trump” has again presented itself, Mr. Ahmari observes. The president offers them “an appealing menu of policies and judicial nominations,” and it is understandable that they’d find them attractive “after a decade during which the left embraced a new, aggressive mode of secular progressivism and continued its war against tradition long after it had won most courtroom and ballot-box battles.”

But “vulgar populists” exact too high a price, Mr. Ahmari adds—namely, “complicity in the degradation, conspiracism, thinly veiled bigotry and leader-worship that is their stock in trade.” A public culture “informed by the Bible and traditional morality is essential to America’s constitutional order,” but the answer is not to accept “a terrible bargain” by backing men such as Moore.

Putting conservative judges on the federal bench “is not the only path to political success in America.” Mr. Trump picked Neil Gorsuch, to his credit. But any of the 2016 GOP contenders would have picked someone similar. We look to our leaders not only to enact policies but “to represent our nation on the global stage with the dignity that their offices demand.” American exceptionalism takes a hit every time the president demeans someone on Twitter; the Senate will be harmed if Mr. Moore is seated.

“Idolatry of class, nation, race and leader is a constant temptation for people of faith, and too many are succumbing to it today,” Mr. Ahmari writes. Supporters of Messrs. Trump and Moore are deeply and understandably pessimistic: “Many fear that under secularism’s relentless onslaught, Judeo-Christianity will be banished,” in time, from the public square. “I feel similar angst.”

But in our time “the Christian idea bested Soviet Communism, an ideology that was far more hostile to religious faith than America’s Enlightenment liberalism has ever been.” In America, Christians have “the First Amendment and freedom of conscience.” And there are other reasons for optimism. The sexual abuse scandals themselves suggest liberals may be rethinking “some aspects of the sexual revolution.”

Noting that “Christians are called to live in faith, hope and charity,” Mr. Ahmari urges them not let fear drive them to tie their fate to insufficient and inadequate leaders.

It is sound if hard advice: Don’t let your fears—even wholly legitimate ones—drive you. Hold on, have faith, retain standards.

In the short term this can be difficult. In the long run it’s the only way to win.