A Dog’s Breakfast of a Dinner The Correspondents’ Association fête isn’t just bad, it’s bad for America. Let this one be the last.

It’s over, the conversation has turned and won’t bubble up again till early next year but a final thing should be said about the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. It’s been persuasively argued that the dinner hurt journalism (true) and politics in general (yes). But I think it hurt America.

Here, with apologies but to make a point (the TV clips don’t capture it) is a sample of the comic stylings of Michelle Wolf, in the centerpiece speech of the evening. To put things in historical context, the tampon joke is very much like what Walter Lippmann said of Mamie Eisenhower. Oh wait, that’s wrong. But the banging bimbos reference is reminiscent of what Bobby Kennedy said about Scotty Reston. Oh dear, that’s wrong too. Anyway here’s what Michelle Wolf said.

White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

Broadcast of the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

On Mike Pence : “He thinks abortion is murder, which, first of all, don’t knock it till you try it. And when you do try it, really knock it—you know, you’ve got to get that baby out of there.” Paul Ryan has been circumcised. “Unfortunately, while they were down there they also took his balls.” Ivanka Trump is “about as helpful to women as an empty box of tampons.” “She’s the Diaper Genie of the administration: on the outside, she looks sleek, but the inside, it’s full of sh—.” “Like a porn star when she’s about to have sex with Donald Trump, ‘Let’s get this over with.’ ” “Oh, you don’t think he’s good in bed.” Of Sarah Sanders: “Like, what’s Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women? Oh I know, Aunt Coulter. ” Also, she’d like to make fun of Democrats but they’re “harder to make fun of because you guys don’t do anything.” Lucky them.

The above is an abridged version of Ms. Wolf’s quotes, because most of them didn’t make it past my editors. These are the tamer ones.

What’s wrong with those remarks? You’re thinking of words like vulgar, grubby and immature, and you’re right, and you’re detecting an embarrassing fixation on sexual organs and bodily functions, and you’re right there too.

But you also think—you want to think: This is below us. It used to be. Can’t it be below us again?

The dinner is decadent. It is the Capitol elite in “The Hunger Games.” It takes place in the great political capital of the world, with its most powerful figures in journalism and politics, and they giggle at dirty jokes.

It is weird. They are, almost all of them, better than that. But they invited the comedian and acted out mirth. Everyone who laughed was lowered.

Each year the WHCA dinner gets grubbier and more partisan. Each year there is a heavier insistence on hitting the audience’s sweet spot, center-left sanctimony. Instead of admitting and correcting all this, participants take refuge in their own form of disapproval porn: You raise one eyebrow, briefly give one shake of the head, stare at the cutlery and then, when you think the camera is off you in the reaction shot, deftly lean in and say something encouraging to the victim of a joke. In this way you think you’re preserving your dignity. You are not.

Comedians have defended the routine: “Michelle Wolf killed.” Fine, it’s their job to hate censorship and burst boundaries. They feel tribal loyalty. It’s not their job to have good judgment and uphold what remains of public dignity. It’s not their job not to embarrass the nation. That’s more the responsibility of the journalists and politicians, who failed.

The dinner hurts America in two ways. The first and more obvious is that it is, functionally, elite journalists telling half of America: We hate you. It’s as if they break out of their “This just in” face and say, “You know how you think we don’t share your values and respect your views? You know how you think we’re biased, self-infatuated twerps who think we’re better than you? It’s true! We do! Ha ha!” Mainstream media’s disdain for half the country is not news to them—they know exactly what their betters think. But how does it make our country better to grind your heel into the wound? How does that enhance the position of the press?

Second, the world is watching. It is odd journalists forget this, but they do. Every foreign capital gets the full, instantaneous report; every ambassador shares his observations in his lame weekly letter home. This week they reported on the American leadership class—its great journalists and CEOs and politicians—chortling over jokes that were primitive, squalid and deeply stupid. This just might lead the absorbers of this information to conclude the American leadership class itself is those things.

“It is,” you say.

But America in its ego often puts itself forward as a moral exemplar, the greatest nation. Maybe our friends in foreign capitals look and think, again: “They’re not just slobs, they’re liars. They’re hollow.”

When you see a hollow tree you just want to push it over.

People attend the dinner for the reasons of vanity we all share—wanting to be on the inside, wanting a public affirmation of your importance. For Republicans and conservatives there’s an additional reason: to show what good sports they are. But they should never go again. There is no need for them to cooperate in their humiliation, and no gain in it. The people back home are not impressed. The people in the room are not touched. You look like a fool.

No great newspaper, no serious organ of journalism, should ever attend again. Why hurt your profession by showing so much of your ugly side?

The dinner is an anachronism representing a world of Washington journalism that began disappearing, culturally and technologically, two generations ago. Times pass, things change. What was once an event of stature—a sign to journalists that they’d arrived or were arriving, a way for money men to get a personal bounce out of ad money spent, a way to make a good impression on a potential source, and for everyone to feel part of something meaningful and important, American journalism—is over.

It is a lost world. When you’ve got a lost world start a new one. Make it better.

The dinner’s organizers can’t reform themselves. If they could they’d already have done it. No one wants to be the censor, no one wants to be the joke Nazi, no one wants their first dinner to be called staid.

Scrap it and start again. The reason for the dinner is to give scholarships and recognition to aspiring journalists, and reward some current ones. So throw a banquet to honor the winners. The scholarship winners will be delighted to meet those they think real stars—reporters, anchors, editors. Offer witty, heartening, inspiring speeches. Impart a sense of how to be in the world, how to act, which doesn’t involve roaring over tampon jokes and the inherent comedy of abortion.

The White House Correspondents’ Association dinner is a blind, sick, stumbling horse desperate to be put down. Put it out of its misery.

“Michelle Wolf killed.” Let’s hope so.

What Does This Moment Demand of Us? In the second year of the Trump era, above all you are required to keep your composure.

Let’s ease in softly on a pretty day.

Spring came to New York this week after a month of gloomy cold and drizzle. The sun was out. Monday afternoon just before dusk there was a bird outside my window, all by itself and singing so loudly—byeet-byeet-chur-chur-chur. Over and over as if it had just discovered its voice. I was emailing with a friend, your basic hard-bitten journalist, and told him what I was hearing—it sounded like the beginning of the world. He wrote back not with irony but with the information that a band of baby rabbits had just taken over his garden and were out there hopping and bopping: “They are so excited to be on earth.” This struck me as the most important news of the day.

My bird sang on a few minutes and then flew away, but it made me think, for the first time in years, of William Carlos Williams of 9 Ridge Road in Rutherford, N.J., and his famous poem from his 1923 collection, “Spring and All”:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens

SpringNo one is sure what it means, though a poem doesn’t have to mean. To me it’s about how so much depends on reality—on what is, on the suddenly seen tenderness of what is, and how it can catch you unaware.

So now to what I’ve been thinking about, which is a question: What is required of us at this point in history? What is required of those of us who aren’t making history but observing it, watching with concern or alarm? There’s a sense now of not getting the news but listening for what shoe just dropped.

Thursday morning there was the president’s latest unhingement, in a phone interview on “Fox & Friends.” He was agitated; he spoke of witch hunts, monsters, fakes, phonies and killers. They are “trying to destroy” his doctor, who withdrew his nomination as secretary of veterans affairs. James Comey is “a leaker and he is a liar.” “There is no collusion with me and the Russians.” “Fake news CNN actually gave the questions to the debate.” “They have a witch hunt against the president of the United States.” “It is a horrible thing that is going on, a horrible thing. Yet I have accomplished, with all of this going on, more than any president in the first year in our history. And everybody—even the enemies and haters admit that.” He’s disappointed in his Justice Department. The “corruption at the top of the FBI, it’s a disgrace.” Michael Cohen represented him “with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal.” “But I’m not involved, and I’m not involved—I’ve been told I’m not involved.” He gets along with Kanye West. “I get along with a lot of people frankly.” “CBS and NBC, ABC—they’re all fake news.” They tried to suppress the Trump vote, so that his supporters on Election Day would say, “So let’s go to a movie, darling, and we’ll come home and watch Donald lose.” “Let me tell you the nuclear war would have happened if you had weak people.” “I don’t watch NBC anymore; they’re as bad as CNN. I don’t—by the way I made them a fortune with ‘The Apprentice.’ ”

You could call the interview far-ranging or scattered, you could call it typically colorful or really nuts, but you couldn’t hear it without feeling more disquiet and unease. And that was just Thursday’s installment of “As the Trump Turns.”

So what is required of us at this roiling time? What are some behavioral rules for the road? The political turbulence we’re experiencing isn’t going to go away, and what’s important at such a time is to absorb the daily shocks, think long-term, speak your mind, share your heart, and do your best.

Beyond that, I think the great requirement of this moment, in the second year of the Trump era, is: Don’t lose your composure. Don’t let it rob you of your peace. Maintain your poise. Don’t let the history around you destabilize you. Don’t become sour. Keep on your game, maintain your own standards. There are people on television who level the gravest charges against the administration. But they don’t look sad, they have a look of cackling glee. History isn’t unfolding for your amusement. If it’s such a tragedy, you could now and then look stricken.

It would be good for people to dig deep. Everything in our national political life is in flux. Don’t just oppose. Take time to look at why you stand where you stand. Why are you a Democrat? What truths, goals, realities of that party deserve your loyalty? Republicans, the same.

And we should stick to our knitting. Help your country in every way you can within your ken. National figures come and go, but local realities sink in and spread; families fail or flourish. We are a great nation and an earnest people. We forget this, especially in cynical times, but we are.

Many of our political figures are not enjoying their spring.

Republicans on the Hill are bracing for a blue wave. Some have gotten out of the way, some have hunkered down.

Mr. Trump is their problem. Whatever magic he has is not transferable. The base continues to shift under their feet.

Democrats, too, are antsy. Their party continues to split, and they don’t know where the safe area is between the rising left and its demands, and the old Clintonian moderation and its rewards.

What is required of Republican politicians who wish to survive?

To succeed in a dramatic era, a politician needs a combination of caution and imagination. Caution—a knowledge of human nature, an understanding of coalitions, and an admission that history laughs. Imagination—the ability to ascertain the lay of the land and smoke out possibilities, even find room for compromise, knowing history sometimes bows. This involves the ability to make distinctions. Being imaginative doesn’t mean being unrealistic, and caution isn’t cowardice. To be imaginative is to be open and intuitive as—yes—an artist, not like some gerbil munching on numbers with little pink hands.

You can’t allow yourself to be reduced to just repeating things that were revolutionary 40 or 50 years ago but no longer seem fully pertinent to the country we’re in, or its circumstances.

You have to be sensitive to cultural vibrations. Republican politicians treat social issues as something to be spoken of now and then, mostly when the public brings them up—in part because such issues divide, in part because they don’t know how to speak of them. They’re not philosopher kings. But a politician with a sense of how people are thinking would observe that when the conversation turns to marriage and family formation, the best commercial for both in the past decade was the recent celebration of the life of Barbara Bush. A marriage of 73 years, the idea of marriage as both love affair and partnership, was burnished and made new for everyone who passed a screen. What was being celebrated was the pleasure and sacrifice that go into building something that endures.

And you have to know what time it is. Life moves, things change.

So much depends on reality, on what is. All of politics does.

The Secrets of a Great First Spouse Barbara Bush reminded us how normal American political figures used to act before this garish age.

This is what I thought when I first met her: “She is a strong woman, not ego-driven but protective of kith and kin. Those merry eyes, the warmth, the ability to get the help cracking in a jolly way and then not so jolly. A lack of pretension, a breeziness, but underneath she is Greenwich granite, one of the women who settled the hard gray shores of the East and summoned roses from the rocks.”

That’s how I saw Barbara Bush 30 years ago and wrote in a book, and though I wouldn’t put it in quite those words today—Greenwich, Conn. has granite mostly in its supply outlets, and she grew up a few miles away, in Rye, N.Y.—it’s still how I see her.

So many words have been said of her this week, all of them true—tough, funny, hardy, sensitive to those in trouble. I’d add:

Barbara Bush

Barbara Bush

She is being celebrated so warmly in part because she reminds us of how normal American political figures used to act before this garish age. We have a newfound appreciation.

She was beautiful. She had no physical vanity and in fact mocked her looks: The strings of pearls were to hide her neck wrinkles, when her hair turned white it turned white. But the bones of her face were strong and delicate, and her eyes sparkled.

Her life spanned. As a child she used to see a young pilot named Amelia Earhart, who briefly lived nearby. She was scared by the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. She saw the Hindenburg over Long Island Sound. She lived through World War II as a Navy wife, was a participant in history from China during Mao through the fall of the Berlin Wall. She was part of the whole shebang.

As the journalist and historian Sally Bedell Smith said, “She was a great dame.”

And we are not truthful when, on TV, we use the dumb, plonking language of public death: “America is heartbroken today.” It is not. It looks at that stupendous life and feels two things, gratitude and respect.

Her death has me thinking about what first ladies—let’s cut to the chase and say first spouses, for there will be a first gent soon enough and there’s no reason language shouldn’t precede events—do. What do we ask of them?

To keep it all together, the public and the private, in a high-stakes atmosphere of daily and dramatic stress. You must be a person of balance. There’s a lot to manage: staff, state dinners, kids, friends and relatives, your spouse in an impossible job. You must perform within a context of fame, which means the mistakes you make, and have made, become famous.

It takes a lot to achieve adequacy in such a role, never mind perform it well.

The historian Michael Beschloss, completing his decadelong work on his coming book, “Presidents of War,” took time to think aloud about the role’s essentials.

It is not a constitutional role and in a way the drafters, as they often did, left it to President Washington to figure out. “George made it George and Martha,” Mr. Beschloss said. “She was his friend, wife, partner, hostess.” She helped build the public stage. “They created at Mount Vernon a setting that was up to the standard of what a great leader’s home would be—a proper frame for George Washington. ” The first ladies who followed, Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison (Jefferson was a widower), “were conscious of being like Martha—the national mother.” Had Washington not had the wife he did, “history could have unreeled differently.”

A baseline necessity of the role: “Trying to ensure the happiness and tranquillity of the president.” One heroic example: Lady Bird Johnson. Lyndon B. Johnson suffered mood swings. He got “too excited and too upset about things that are a moderate political problem,” and too depressed about serious problems. “She was enormously sensitive to his moods. She pulled him up when he was down and back to earth when he was up.” When first spouses perform this role well, “it’s not only good for the president, it’s good for the republic.”

Next, “helping the president achieve in his chief-of-state role.” A first spouse must be able to do ceremony. Here Jackie Kennedy set the standard. “Many of the ceremonies that are now associated with the White House—formal welcoming events on the South Lawn, fife and drum, people in colonial costume—were begun by her.” Mrs. Kennedy “was sensitive to the importance of ceremony in the U.S. being seen as a great power. Why should the French do it better?”

Another part of the job: policy influencer. Mr. Beschloss cites Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosalynn Carter and Hillary Clinton as “great political partners.” For others the depth of their involvement becomes clear to historians with time. Nancy Reagan famously had an impact on her husband’s view of staff and appointees. History has come to understand Jackie Kennedy did too.

First spouses have profound cultural power. When Mrs. Kennedy had Pablo Casals play at the White House, she was saying high art not only has a revered place in the people’s house, it has a high role in the people’s lives. Lady Bird’s cause was getting America to clean up its physical environment. When she became first lady in 1963 we were a nation that threw the Coke bottle out of the car onto the country road. By the time she left, somehow we didn’t.

Barbara Bush’s cause was literacy, and she worked it hard until the day she died. Mr. Beschloss mentions another area in which she made a contribution, mental health. She had suffered from depression in the 1970s and spoke of it in the White House. In her memoir, Mrs. Bush wrote: “I felt ashamed. I had a husband whom I adored, the world’s greatest children, more friends than I could see—and I was severely depressed.” She had suicidal thoughts: “Sometimes the pain was so great, I felt the urge to drive into a tree or an oncoming car.” When she was in the White House, Mr. Beschloss notes, there was “still a stigma” to mental-health problems and Mrs. Bush’s frankness was “bold and helpful.” She urged people not to tough it out but get help.

A final part of being a good first spouse: being the president’s radar. Mrs. Bush, like Mrs. Reagan, had sharp eyes and a certain skepticism about people and their motives. “They were good at spotting dangers in people. There’s an element of ‘the kindly president and the first lady who thinks the president is too good for this world.’ Ronald Reagan and George Bush found wives who provided for them what they could not do themselves.”

A final part of the job: to model dignified behavior for a nation that always benefits from the sight of it. Good first spouses know the institution they represent, the American presidency, has height. They portray that height each day by behaving with patience, humor, kindliness.

Mr. Beschloss felt we’ve been lucky in the first ladies of the recent past. He’s right, isn’t he? Whatever party, whatever foibles, the institution has stood the test of time.

So thank you, George and Martha. And thank you, George and Barbara.

Republicans Need Artists, Not Economists An old order ended in 2016. To help the new one take shape requires an ability to see things whole.

Speaker Paul Ryan’s announced departure, and the unprecedented number of congressional Republicans choosing not to run this November, has me thinking, again, of where the GOP is.

Its essential problem is that it doesn’t know what it stands for. It doesn’t know what it is. It is philosophically and ideologically riven, almost shattered, and the one piece that still coheres—represented in the House by the Freedom Caucus—is least reflective of the broader base, and the country.

Senators and representatives still have not reckoned with the shock of 2016. They’re repeating what’s been said and following an old playbook. They remind me of what Talleyrand is supposed to have said of the Bourbons, that they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Some know an old order has been swept away, but what will replace it is not fully formed, so they’re not placing bets.

The elephant in the roomIt isn’t all about Donald Trump. Mr. Trump came from the chaos, he didn’t cause it. He just makes it worse each day by adding his own special incoherence. The party’s intellectual disarray both preceded and produced him. He happened after 20 years of carelessness and the rise of the enraged intersectional left. He was the magic pony who was not like the other Republicans. But he can’t capitalize on this moment—he can’t help what is formless to find form—because he’s not a serious man.

Republicans will have to figure it out on their own. After they lose the House, they will have time!

Here’s what they should do: They should start to think not like economists but like artists.

Often when I speak people ask, at the end, about Ronald Reagan. I often say what I’ve written, that a key to understanding him was that he saw himself in the first 40 years of his life—the years in which you become yourself—as an artist. As a young man he wrote short stories, drew, was attracted to plays, acted in college, went into radio, and then became a professional actor. He came to maturity in Hollywood, a town of craftsmen and artists. He fully identified with them.

The thing about artists is that they try to see the real shape of things. They don’t get lost in factoids and facets of problems, they try to see the thing whole. They try to capture reality. They’re creative, intuitive; they make leaps, study human nature. It has been said that a great leader has more in common with an artist than with an economist, and it’s true.

The GOP needs artists.

If an artist of Reagan’s era were looking around America in 2018, what would she or he see? Marvels, miracles and wonders. A church the other day noted on Twitter that all of us now download data from a cloud onto tablets, like Moses.

But think what would startle the artist unhappily. She or he would see broad swaths of the American middle and working class addicted and lethargic. A Reagan-era person would think: But they are the backbone! They built our roads, fought our wars, worked on the assembly line making the cars that transformed our lives. Reagan came from those people but a step below. His father wasn’t a factory worker with a union card but a somewhat itinerant shoe store salesman who was an alcoholic. Reagan’s family was not fully stable, but America was, and he could rise within it. He became not only a union member but a union president.

He believed passionately in—he defended and advanced—the free-market system. Freedom, he well knew, yields unequal results. Jack Warner had a grand estate and the day workers at Warner Bros. shared a walk-up on Sunset and slept in shifts. But that’s no cause for bitterness as long as the day workers know they can rise—and the system allows them to rise.

Today something seems stuck. Free trade, global trade—yes! But you can’t invest totally in abstractions because life is not abstract. People need jobs, men especially, and a nation that can’t make things is too vulnerable in the world.

A Reagan-era artist would be shocked by our culture, by its knuckle dragging nihilism. She or he might note that constantly telling our children that the deck is stacked against them, even when that message is sent in the name of equality and justice, may leave them demoralized, driven not by hunger and joy but by unearned bitterness. The artist would be shocked that “the American dream” has been transmuted from something aspirational and lighted by an egalitarian spirit to something weirdly flat—a house, a car, possessions—and weirdly abstract.

In foreign affairs the people of that era knew why they were anticommunist. It was not only a totalitarian system that was by its nature brutal and a killer of freedoms; it was expansionist (even to Cuba, 90 miles from our shore) and atheistic. Wherever it went the churches were closed and the religious hounded. So: resist communism! But you go forward accepting the simple tragedy at the heart of life, that this isn’t Heaven, it’s earth, and man is crooked timber. You wouldn’t invade the Warsaw Pact countries even though they’ve been turned into outposts of evil.

What might an artist see as the major need and priority for America right now? Keep this country together. Keep it up and operating and give it a sense of peace with itself. The crisis is our increasing disunity, and the thinning of a shared sense of the national dream.

What should the GOP be thinking of now, as a political priority? Be more human. Show a felt sympathy for those trying to rise. Align yourself with the culturally disheartened. Be on the side—as the party was since its inception, and now seems not to be—of Main Street, not Wall Street. Take a new and honest look at impediments to the American Dream. Figure out why people don’t feel so upwardly mobile anymore. Be for populism without the bitterness, and patriotism minus mindless nationalism. And show respect—more than that, protectiveness—toward the economic system that made America rich. Republicans always think everyone favors economic freedom. But an entire generation has risen since the crash of 2008. They’ve never even heard a defense of capitalism. They’ve never heard anyone speak well of it.

And think twice about your saviors. Those NeverTrump folks trying to take back authority within the party—having apparently decided recently not to start a third one—are the very people who made the current mess. They bought into open-borders ideology. They cooked up Iraq. They allied with big donors. They invented Sarah Palin, who as much as anyone ushered in the age of Trump. They detached the Republican Party from the people.

Republicans now should be trying to see the big picture and the true shape of things.

Don’t see your country through your ideological imaginings, see your country as it is. Recognize reality, respect it, and see what you can do with it, with an eye to trying to persuade. Bend when needed. Define and then defend essential principles. Say what you stand for and stand there proudly. See and speak clearly. Be an artist, not an economist.

If Adults Won’t Grow Up, Nobody Will From Facebook to Harvey Weinstein, America’s scandals amount to a giant crisis of maturity.

I want to write about something I think is a problem in our society, that is in fact at the heart of many of our recent scandals, and yet is obscure enough that it doesn’t have a name. It has to do with forgetting who you are. It has to do with refusing to be fully adult and neglecting to take on, each day, the maturity, grace and self-discipline that are expected of adults and part of their job. That job is to pattern adulthood for those coming up, who are looking, always, for How To Do It—how to be a fully formed man, a fully grown woman.

It has to do with not being able to fully reckon with your size, not because it is small but because it is big. I see more people trembling under the weight of who they are.

If Adults Won’t Grow Up, Nobody WillLaura Ingraham got in trouble for publicly mocking one of the student gun-control activists of Parkland, Fla. She’s been unjustly targeted for boycotts, but it’s fair to say she was wrong in what she said, and said it because she didn’t remember who she is. She is a successful and veteran media figure, host of a cable show that bears her name. As such she is a setter of the sound of our culture as it discusses politics. When you’re that person, you don’t smack around a 17-year-old, even if—maybe especially if—he is obnoxious in his presentation of his public self. He’s a kid. They’re not infrequently obnoxious, because they are not fully mature. He’s small, you’re big. There’s a power imbalance.

As of this week, it is six months since the reckoning that began with the New York Times exposé of Harvey Weinstein. One by one they fell, men in media, often journalism, and their stories bear at least in part a general theme. They were mostly great successes, middle-aged, and so natural leaders of the young. But they treated the young as prey. They didn’t respect them, in part because they didn’t respect themselves. They didn’t see their true size, their role, or they ignored it.

It should not be hard to act as if you are who you are, yet somehow it increasingly appears to be. There is diminished incentive for people to act like adults. Everyone wants to be cool, no one wants to be pretentious. No one wants to be grim, unhip, to be passed by in terms of style.

And our culture has always honored the young. But it has not always honored immaturity.

I have spent the past few days watching old videos of the civil-rights era, the King era, and there is something unexpectedly poignant in them. When you see those involved in that momentous time, you notice: They dressed as adults, with dignity. They presented themselves with self-respect. Those who moved against segregation and racial indignity went forward in adult attire—suits, dresses, coats, ties, hats—as if adulthood were something to which to aspire. As if a claiming of just rights required a showing of gravity. Look at the pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking, the pictures of those marching across the Edmund Pettus bridge, of those in attendance that day when George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door and then stepped aside to the force of the federal government, and suddenly the University of Alabama was integrated. Even the first students who went in, all young, acted and presented themselves as adults. Of course they won. Who could stop such people?

I miss their style and seriousness. What we’re stuck with now is Mark Zuckerberg’s .

Facebook ’s failings are now famous and so far include but are perhaps not limited to misusing, sharing and scraping of private user data, selling space to Russian propagandists in the 2016 campaign, playing games with political content, starving journalism of ad revenues, increasing polarization, and turning eager users into the unknowing product. The signal fact of Mr. Zuckerberg is that he is supremely gifted in one area—monetizing technical expertise by marrying it to a canny sense of human weakness. Beyond that, what a shallow and banal figure. He too appears to have difficulties coming to terms with who he is. Perhaps he hopes to keep you, too, from coming to terms with it, by literally dressing as a child, in T-shirts, hoodies and jeans—soft clothes, the kind 5-year-olds favor. In interviews he presents an oddly blank look, as if perhaps his audiences will take blankness for innocence. As has been said here, he is like one of those hollow-eyed busts of forgotten Caesars you see in museums.

But he is no child; he is a giant bestride the age, a titan, one of the richest men not only in the world but in the history of the world. His power is awesome.

His public reputation is now damaged, and about this he is very concerned. Next week he will appear before Congress. The Onion recently headlined that he was preparing for his questioning by studying up on the private data of congressmen. The comic Albert Brooks tweeted: “I sent Mark Zuckerberg my entire medical history just to save him some time.”

His current problems may have yielded a moment of promise, however. Tim Cook of Apple, in an impressive and sober interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, said last week something startling, almost revolutionary: “Privacy to us is a human right.” This was stunning because it was the exact opposite of what Silicon Valley has been telling us since social media’s inception, which is: Privacy is dead. Get over it. Some variation on that statement has been made over and over by Silicon Valley’s pioneers, and they say it blithely, cavalierly, with no apparent sense of tragedy.

Because they don’t do tragedy. They do children’s clothes.

Perhaps what is happening with Facebook will usher in the first serious rethinking, in terms of the law, on what has been lost and gained since social media began.

Congress next week should surprise. The public infatuation with big tech and Silicon Valley is over and has been over for some time. Congress should grill Mr. Zuckerberg closely on how he took what people gave him and used it. Many viewers would greatly enjoy a line of questioning along these lines: “Is your product, your service, one without which we can’t live, like Edison’s electricity? It seems to me you are a visionary, sir, and we should give you your just reward, and make you a utility!”

Mr Zuckerberg invited Congress to regulate him. Wondering why, it has occurred to me it’s because he knows Congress is too stupid to do it effectively. He buys lobbyists to buy them. He knows how craven, unserious and insecure they are, and would have no particular respect for them. Nor would he have particular reason to.

I hope they are adults. I hope they don’t showboat or yell but really probe, carefully.

More than ever, the adults have to rise to the fore and set the template for what is admirable. If we don’t, those who follow us will be less admirable even than us, and those after them less admirable still. That would be a tragedy, wouldn’t it?

The Wisdom of Oscar Hammerstein A 60-year-old example of moral modesty and candor—qualities we could use more of today.

Easter, Passover, spring break, holiday weekend. Let us unfurrow the brow and look at something elevated. It’s a small thing, a half-hour television interview from 60 years ago, but it struck me this week as a kind of master class in how to be a public figure and how to talk about what matters. In our polarized moment it functions as both template and example.

In March 1958, the fierce young journalist Mike Wallace —already famous for opening an interview with the restaurateur Toots Shor by asking, “Toots, why do people call you a slob?”—decided to bore in on Oscar Hammerstein II. (For the record, Shor responded that Wallace had him confused with Jackie Gleason. ) Hammerstein was the fabled lyricist and librettist who with composer Richard Rodgers put jewels in the crown of American musical theater—“Oklahoma,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I,” and “Carousel,” whose latest Broadway revival is about to open. He was a hero of American culture and a famous success in a nation that worshiped success.

Oscar Hammerstein II

Oscar Hammerstein II

Wallace was respectful but direct and probing. He asked Hammerstein if critics who’d called his work sentimental didn’t have a point.

Hammerstein said his critics were talented, loved the theater, and there was something to what they’d said. But he spoke of sentiment “in contradistinction to sophistication”: “The sophisticate is a man who thinks he can swim better than he can and sometimes drowns himself. He thinks he can drive better than he really can and sometimes causes great smash-ups. So, in my book there’s nothing wrong with sentiment because the things we’re sentimental about are the fundamental things in life, the birth of a child, the death of a child or of anybody, falling in love. I couldn’t be anything but sentimental about these basic things.”

What, Wallace asked, was Hammerstein’s message in “South Pacific”?

Hammerstein said neither he nor Rodgers had ever gone looking for vehicles by which to deliver messages. They were attracted to great stories and wanted to tell them on stage. But “when a writer writes anything about anything at all, he gives himself away.” He inevitably exposes his beliefs and hopes. The love stories in “South Pacific” were shaped by questions of race. The main characters learned that “all this prejudice that we have is something that fades away in the face of something that’s really important.” That thing is love.

Does this reflect his views on interracial marriage?

Hammerstein, simply: “Yes.”

“The King and I,” he said, is about cultural differences. The Welsh governess and the Siamese children know nothing of each other at the start: “There again, all race and color had faded in their getting to know and love each other.” On the other hand, “Allegro,” about disillusionment and professional achievement, carries a warning: “After you’re successful, whether you be a doctor or a lawyer or a librettist, there is a conspiracy that goes on in which you join—a conspiracy of the world to render you less effective by bestowing honors on you and taking you away from the job of curing people, or of pleading cases, or writing libretti and . . . putting you on committees.” He added he was “a fine one to talk”: he couldn’t stop joining committees.

Is he religious? Here Hammerstein told a story. A year ago he was rushing to work and jaywalked. A policeman called out; Hammerstein braced for a dressing down. But the officer recognized him and poured out his appreciation for his work. Hammerstein thanked him and moved to leave, but the policeman had a question. “He said, ‘Are you religious?’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t belong to any church,’ and then he patted me on the back and he said, ‘Ah, you’re religious all right.’ And I went on feeling as if I’d been caught, and feeling that I was religious. He had discovered from the words of my songs that I had faith—faith in mankind, faith that there was something more powerful than mankind behind it all, and faith that in the long run good triumphs over evil. If that’s religion, I’m religious, and it is my definition of religion.”

Then to politics.

Wallace: “You are an active liberal.”

Hammerstein: “Yes, I guess I am.”

What connection does this have with your work?

“I think it must have a connection, because it expresses my feelings, my tendencies,” Hammerstein said. “As I’ve said before, a writer gives himself away if he’s writing honestly.”

Wallace: “Would you agree that most of our writers and directors on Broadway and television in Hollywood are liberal and that there is a liberal complexion to their work?”

“I think I would, yes,” Hammerstein replied, honestly and with no defensiveness.

Wallace’s office had just spoken to “a militant dissenter” from liberalism, Ayn Rand, author of the recently published novel “Atlas Shrugged.” She said: “The public is being brainwashed by the so-called liberal or leftist philosophies, which have a stranglehold on the dissemination of ideas in America.” How did Hammerstein respond?

He didn’t like her adding the word leftist, “because you can be a liberal without being a leftist, and many and most liberals are.” Beyond that her criticism was an example of what’s working. “I think it’s fine that there is a Miss Rand who comes out stoutly for the conservative. I think it’s fine that we have all kinds of thinkers in the world. . . . I admit that the majority of writers in this country are on the liberal side.”

But he added, of Rand: “We need her to hold us back, and I think she needs us to pull her forward.”

Italics mine. Because liberals and conservatives do need each other, and the right course can sometimes be found in the tug between them.

Wallace: “The public does rarely get anything but a liberal viewpoint from Hollywood or from television, from Broadway,” and the charge can be “safely made that there is a certain intolerance of conservative ideas among liberals.”

Hammerstein, again undefensive: “I think so too.”

What’s to be done about it? Nothing, said Hammerstein: “Just be yourself, that’s all.” If the public likes Miss Rand, “there will be a Miss Rand trend.” Let the problem work its way out in a free country.

Hammerstein said he tries sometimes to vote Republican “just for the sake of switching—just for the sake of telling myself I’m not a party man,” which he doesn’t want to be. “But somehow or other I always wind up voting Democratic.” Balancing the budget bores him. “I have an idea that the more liberal Democratic tendency—to borrow and owe money is healthier for us.” Most big corporations borrow, and they make progress with the money. When the U.S. borrows money, Hammerstein said, he felt “the people in the lower income bracket get the most out of it. But I’m no economist—this is merely a guess.”

We’re all guessing, and working on instinct and experience.

Moral modesty and candor are good to see.

In our public figures, especially our political ones, they are hard to find. I offer Hammerstein’s old words as an example—a prompter—of what they sound like.

A radiant Easter, a beautiful Passover to my radiant and beautiful readers.

Deliverance From Hillary Clinton If Democrats want to solve their Hillary Clinton problem, Conor Lamb has some good ideas.

It takes a long time for candidates to get over losing the American presidency. Some never do. It’s not just personal anger—“I will not be denied my destiny!”—it’s something more poignant. It’s that the greatest prize was there, beautiful and within your grasp and then—dust. You’re holding nothing.

You’re rocked, concussed, and as months pass even your adrenal glands don’t know what to do. Once you had to be up and ready every day to make crucial, far-ranging decisions. Now you’re wondering which channel is Bravo. Once they cheered as you walked in the room; now some avert their eyes. Once you were surrounded by top staff; now it’s the B team. Once you depended on loyalty; now you hope for discretion.

A perpetual low-grade mourning ensues. You were rejected by a nation. In time the ego rebels: Stupid nation!

Deliverance

Ned Beatty in “Deliverance,” 1972

Which is where Hillary Clinton is, still. She can’t get over it and can’t keep it inside. But by articulating the Democrats’ central national weakness this week, she did them a service. She reminded them: It’s real, the weakness, and must be remedied.

In Mumbai, at a conference sponsored by India Today, Mrs. Clinton was interviewed onstage by the newspaper’s founder, the slavishly admiring Aroon Purie —“May I take the liberty of giving you a title: Should Be President!”—who made her way too comfortable.

Why, he asked, did she lose to the outlandish Donald Trump ?

“If you look at the map of the United States,” she said, “there’s all that red in the middle where Trump won. I win the coasts. . . . But what the map doesn’t show you is that I won the places that represent two-thirds of America’s gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward.” Mr. Trump’s campaign “was looking backwards. You know, you didn’t like black people getting rights, you don’t like women getting jobs, you don’t wanna see that Indian-American succeeding more than you are.”

Why did 52% of white women support Mr. Trump? Because the Democratic Party doesn’t do well with white men and married white women. “Part of that is an identification with the Republican Party, and a sort of ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son, whoever, believes you should.” James Comey announced that he had reopened the investigation of her State Department emails, and “white women who were going to vote for me, and frankly standing up to the men in their lives and the men in their workplaces, were being told, ‘She’s going to jail. You don’t want to vote for her.’ ”

So, to recap: Trump supporters were racist, narrow and ignorant, and Trump women are not tough and modern but fearful, cowering and easily led. They live in a big mass of red in the middle (like an ugly wound, or an inflammation!) while we have the coasts—better real estate. And better people.

During the campaign Mrs. Clinton was often urged to speak her heart, show us what’s inside. It turns out it is rather dark in there. This is not precisely news—she had famously labeled half of Trump supporters “the basket of deplorables.” Barack Obama in 2008 betrayed a similarly crude, uninformed class bias and snobbery when he said of working-class voters, “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”

But it was instructive this week to see some Democrats push back. Many did so not for attribution, but some went on the record. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri told the Washington Post: “Those are kind of fighting words for me. . . . I don’t think that’s the way you should talk to any voter.” Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio told Huffington Post: “I don’t really care what she said, I just think that’s not helpful.” Ms. McCaskill and Mr. Brown are both up for re-election in states Mr. Trump carried.

It was as if they realized: People don’t want to be led by a party that looks down on them.

Mrs. Clinton’s comments prompt an essential question: To the extent those in the deindustrialized Midwest need help and support, isn’t that what the Democratic Party is for? Doesn’t it exist to help the little guy, the marginalized, the left-behind? That’s what it always said!

This isn’t help, it’s condescension.

It is “Deliverance” politics. The blockbuster movie version of James Dickey’s novel came out in 1972, when the Clintons and I were young, and made a vivid impression on a rising tide of baby boomers. It satisfied all their biases. A group of cool, modern, rational urban professionals journeyed into the backwoods, only to meet the rest of America—the cross-eyed rapist banjo players. That movie did more to shape the preconceptions of a generation of young Democrats than any other, except “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Also we’re all our first ZIP Codes. Mrs. Clinton’s was upper-middle-class suburbia and on to Wellesley. She wasn’t surrounded by working-class folk and had little reported affinity for the rustics she met as first lady of Arkansas. Her weakness is that of too many in her party: They don’t seem to like a lot of the people of the nation they wish to lead.

And those people can tell.

A path forward? Reckon with your biases and attempt to be more generous, which is the job of all of us, always.

There is probably something to learn from Conor Lamb’s victory this week in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. Tuesday night voters chose a man who won’t cut entitlements, supports tariffs to protect the steel industry, opposes a ban on assault weapons, supports union members, opposes Nancy Pelosi, and allows no criticism of Donald Trump.

Which sounds like they elected Donald Trump.

Mr. Lamb, however, is a 33-year-old former prosecutor and marine—cool, tall, with a watchful, Tom Cotton-like gaze. It isn’t hard to imagine voters saw him pretty much as Trump without the bother of Trump. His victory says several things. The president’s style, approach and nature have given offense. The Democrats came to play. They were businesslike: Keep local races local, run with the district, not away from it, and you can win.

Mr. Lamb has been called pro-life. He is not. He effectively obscured the issue by saying he personally opposed abortion but would do nothing to change the law, including ban late-term abortions.

Saying you are personally opposed but support the law is the longtime, agreed-upon position of Catholic Democrats, who’ve been saying it for 40 years. But from Mr. Lamb it sounded new. The Democratic Party now depends so heavily on pro-abortion groups for money and other support that on-the-ground Democrats increasingly fear even to admit their personal opposition. They just say they’re for “reproductive freedom”—next question.

It will be interesting to see how that plays out nationally. I suspect it will become an impediment: You don’t squelch views in such an extreme way without paying a price.

But the larger point. Democrats can continue to act as if they see America as “Deliverance” writ large, or they can be more generous in their judgments, and more human.

If they go the former route, their future national candidates will likely wind up selling books in Mumbai to audiences who love them in part because they don’t know them.

A Moment for Movement on Guns Donald Trump is making sense—jumbling categories as a ‘right-winger’ who favors tighter restrictions.

It’s two immovable forces that have to share the same country. Both sides are sincere and have reasons for where they stand.

But this is a promising moment. Some give looks possible.

What is needed to prepare the ground for progress? Squelch your own smugness. Stop needling, patronizing, misstating the other side’s position. Lay down your rhetorical arms. Deweaponize your mouth. It’s not enough to argue in good faith; you have to will yourself to see the good faith on the other side.

And don’t be maximalist.

Justin & Cary Gruber with Donald Trump

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Justin Gruber as his father, Cary, looks on.

Something changed with Parkland. In part it is that the young survivors presented themselves not as victims but as warriors. Some flooded the airwaves. They were media-savvy, had no shyness, were full of themselves in the way closely raised children encouraged in a hearty self-esteem can be full of themselves.

But the boy who broke it open was not smooth. In the president’s White House meeting with survivors he spoke with no assumption. He said, “My name is Justin Gruber, and I was at the school at the time of the massacre. I’m only 15 years old. I’m a sophomore. Nineteen years ago, the first school shooting, Columbine—at Columbine High School, happened. And I was born into a world where I never got to experience safety and peace.”

This was a powerfully reorienting statement. We are now in the second generation of public school terror.

And parents throughout the country are saying: We cannot have this anymore.

We can’t have another generation of children who fear going to school, who jump whenever there’s a loud noise in the hall. We can’t have another generation of parents afraid when they drop the kids off in the morning. You can’t ask the parents of a great nation to “get used to this.” You can’t tell them to accept that this is the way it is now. “I have my rights.” Everybody has rights. Children have rights. And they are right to be afraid.

We don’t need to rehearse why Americans have guns. Protection (my urban store, my rural home), hunting, sport. History—from the Pilgrims to the Wild West the gun was a tool of survival. Tradition—my grandfather gave me his Remington and it is, truly, a thing of beauty. Orneriness—when fancy people tell you you’re not allowed to have something, you better get it.

And something else, an aspect in which gun-owning Americans are more imaginative, more alive to history and sensitive to its trends, than affluent city and suburban liberals. They know how precarious everything is, how complex and provisional, how if you lose this piece (the electrical grid), that piece (civilized behavior) will give way. The poet James Dickey captured this in his novel “Deliverance,” published in 1970. The character Lewis: “I think the machines are going to fail, the political systems are going to fail, and a few men are going to take to the hills and start over.” He kept his body fit and his weapons oiled.

Or, more recently, a masterpiece, Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2006 novel, “The Road.” A man and his young son are alone at the end of the world. There was a terrible event—“a long shear of light and then a series of low concussions.” They trek south through a ruined landscape—“everything dead to the root”—in hopes of seeing the sun. The man has a revolver with two bullets. He is surrounded by marauders, and worse than marauders, with guns.

“The frailty of everything revealed at last.”

Those who own big guns often hope to survive—and help you survive—dark possibilities. Keep that in mind when you put them down. They may be grim, but only the grim saw 9/11 coming. The giddy censors who run around my beloved city were shocked.

Older gun owners fear the government, it’s true. But those who are not old don’t primarily fear it’s too powerful. They fear it is incapable of protecting them.

I want to go to the promise of this moment. It is that our president is making sense. Donald Trump is jumbling categories as a “right-winger” for tighter gun laws. In meetings with the nation’s governors and with congressional leaders, he said he isn’t afraid of the National Rifle Association and they shouldn’t be either. He would harden the schools, raise to 21 the age limit to buy assault weapons. He would enhance and broaden background checks so “sickos” can’t get guns. He is convincingly alive to the mental-health crisis and its part in the story. He wants cops to have the authority to confiscate temporarily the guns of the dangerous, such as those who go around threatening to shoot up schools.

Importantly, he treated the mass shootings like a crisis, not a tragedy. This country is tired of tragedy, of the weeping president and the high-toned speech. Mr. Trump doesn’t do that because he can’t, and doesn’t know how to mourn. Just as well: We’re all tired of moist and empty vows. Do something. President Obama had a sense of tragedy about the NRA and congressional blocs and those poor, sad Americans who cling to guns. In effect he gave his own party a pass when it stepped away from gun control after Sandy Hook.

Mr. Trump, God bless him, doesn’t know enough about the facts to be fatalistic about them. But he got the big picture right—at least the larger context of voters frozen along battle lines.

His presentations were stream-of-consciousness—undisciplined, scatty. And as always the question is whether he meant any of it. His opinions rest on impulses. He likes to say words. You never know which you can believe, which makes deal-making hard.

But of all recent presidents he is the one who can give cover to congressional conservatives, work with Democrats, and get something done.

As for me, I am where Ralph Peters is. The retired military man wrote a stinging, striking piece in the New York Post last week. He fired his first gun as a child when he was handed an illegal sawed-off shotgun “kept handy for woodchucks and rattlesnakes.” He served in the U.S. Army infantry, has fired automatic weapons, and owns guns: “As I write these lines, there’s an 1858 Tower musket behind me and a Colt on my desk,” he wrote.

“But I believe, on moral, practical and constitutional grounds, that no private citizen should own an automatic weapon or a semi-automatic weapon that can easily be modified for automatic effects. These are military weapons. Their purpose is to kill human beings. They’re not used for hunting (unless you want to destroy the animal’s meat). They’re lousy for target shooting. But they’re excellent tools for mass murder.”

No one has the right to “a personal arsenal of weapons designed for mass murder.”

We have an estimated 300 million guns in America. An estimated 50 million of our households keep them.

For now that is enough, even for whatever terrible day comes.

Stop selling military-style weapons now. Just stop. See what happens in America. Revisit the issue in five years. Don’t be maximalist.

The parents are right. We can’t have this anymore.

And we can’t have the world, which is watching, saying, “They kill their own children in the schoolrooms. They have lost their souls.”

Over Trump, We’re as Divided as Ever One thinks: He’s crazy . . . and it’s kind of working. But everything we know tells us crazy doesn’t last.

In just a few months, in June, it will be three years since Donald Trump announced for the presidency. It feels shorter ago and longer. I will never forget that day. I watched it live, at home, wondering where this circus act was going. But as soon as the speech was over the phone rang and it was my uncle—husky Brooklyn accent, U.S. Marine of the Korean era—who said, “So how do you like my guy?” There was silence. “He’s—your guy?” “Yeah! Maybe he can do something.” We no sooner hung up than my sister—working-class, Obama voter—called, and she too began without preamble: “I looooove him.”

And so I was alerted early on to an epochal change in our national political life. My uncle and sister are not ideological, are skeptical of both parties, and tend to back the guy who seems most promising. They love America and wear it on their sleeves. They’re patriots.

A great deal of embarrassed attention has been paid by the press as to why half the country in 2016 refused to do what it was supposed to do and reject Mr. Trump.

Fake NewsGranted: Mr. Trump didn’t start the fire. A great deal had to go wrong before America put a man like him, a TV star/brander with no political experience and a sketchy history, in the presidency. The political class right and left, Dem and Rep, had to fail, and did, spectacularly, with the 2008 crash and two unwon wars. Their biggest sin the past few decades: The wealthiest and most powerful Americans, those who had most benefited from its system, peeled off from the less fortunate and made clear they were not especially concerned about their problems. Stupidly, and they are stupid, they didn’t even fake a prudent interest. The disaffected noticed this lack of loyalty and decided to respond with a living insult named Donald Trump, whom they sent to Washington to contend with a corrupt establishment.

All granted and, in these pages, previously stated at great length.

But this is about those who do not back him, many of whom are centrists and moderates. I’m not sure enough attention is given to their thoughts. It’s also about a fairly widespread cognitive dissonance that is causing fairly widespread disquiet.

Suppose you are an able and accomplished person in business—a midlevel person, or a small-business owner, or the head of a company. You’ve navigated your way through life with judgment and effort. You’ve learned lessons.

If you are that person, when you look at the policy impact of President Trump’s first year, you see some good and heartening things.

He has established in his government a deregulatory spirit that is fair and helpful. Regulation, you know, is good—we’re all human; business leaders will make decisions that are good for the company or shareholders or themselves, but not necessarily good for the town, state, country. So regulation has an important role: It helps you be a good citizen and gives cover to you when you are one. But excessive regulation, especially when it springs from ideological animus or practical ignorance, kills progress, growth, jobs, good ideas and products.

Mr. Trump has put a sober conservative on the Supreme Court, and many conservative judges on the lower courts. This provides greater balance in the judiciary. In a split country, split courts—balance—is probably the best we can do.

The economy is improving. And Mr. Trump helped pass a tax bill that was better—maybe a little, maybe a lot, but certainly better—than what it replaced.

Not bad for a first year in office!

So you, moderate, centrist professional, should feel high enthusiasm for Donald Trump. And yet you don’t, not really. What you feel is disquiet, and you know what it’s about: the worrying nature of Mr. Trump himself. You look at his White House and see what appears to be epic instability, mismanagement and confusion. You see his resentments and unpredictability. You used to think he’s surrounded by solid sophisticates, but they’re leaving. He’s unserious— Vladimir Putin says his missiles can get around any U.S. defense, and Mr. Trump is tweeting about Alec Baldwin. He careens around—he has big congressional meetings that are like talk shows where he’s the host, and he says things that are both soft and tough and you think Hmmm, maybe that’s a way through, but the next day it turns out it was only talk. This has been done on the Dreamers, on guns and we’ll see about tariffs. He loves chaos—he brags about this—but it isn’t strategic chaos in pursuit of ends, it’s purposeless disorder for the fun of it. We are not talking about being colorfully, craftily unpredictable, as political masters like FDR and Reagan sometimes were, but something more unfortunate, an unhinged or not-fully-hinged quality that feels like screwball tragedy.

He’s on the phone with his friends: He doesn’t like the chief of staff; he may be out. He doesn’t like his national security adviser; he doesn’t like his attorney general; they may be out too. His confidante Hope Hicks is gone; so is Dina Powell ; now Gary Cohn is gone. His staff never knows what’s he’s going to do on any given day. And each day the Mueller leaks offer more evidence that whatever questionable or illegal activity took place during the campaign, Mr. Trump surrounded himself with a true Team of Screwballs.

Here is what you try to wrap your head around if you are a centrist or moderate who’s trying to be fair. You think: On some level this is working. And on some level he is crazy.

He’s crazy . . . and it’s kind of working. You struggle to reconcile these thoughts. You try to balance them.

Then you realize everything you’ve learned from life as a leader in whatever sphere—business, local public service—tells you this: Crazy doesn’t last. Crazy doesn’t go the distance. Crazy is an unstable element that, when let loose in an unstable environment, explodes.

And so your disquiet. Sooner or later something bad will happen—an international crisis, or damaging findings from the special counsel. If the president is the way he is on a good day, what will he be like on a bad day?

It all feels so dangerous.

A president who has relative prosperity and relative peace should be at 60% approval. This is why he is about 20 points lower.

Observations and criticisms like this make Mr. Trump’s supporters angry and defensive. So he’s not smooth, they say—“We never thought he was!” So he doesn’t have the right tone, he doesn’t always use the right words—“You’re like old-time snobs looking down on him because he uses the wrong fork.”

But it’s a little more essential than that.

Centrists and moderates are seeing what Trump supporters cannot, will not see.

Expecting more from the president of the United States springs from respect for the country, its institutions, and the White House itself. It springs from standards, the falling of which concerns natural conservatives.

It isn’t snobbery. The people trying to wrap their heads around this presidency are patriots too. That’s one of the hellish things about this era.

The Parkland Massacre and the Air We Breathe What’s gone wrong with our culture that produces such atrocities? It’s a very long list.

We discuss motives, but isn’t it always the same motive? “I have murder in my heart.” Why do so many Americans have murder in their hearts?

GriefThat is my question after the St. Valentine’s Day shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. We all know it is part of a continuing cultural catastrophe. A terrible aspect of the catastrophe is that so many central thoughts about it, and questions, have been flattened by time into clichés. People stop hearing when you mention them. “We talked about that during Columbine, didn’t we? That couldn’t be it.”

So we immediately revert to discussions of gun law, and only gun law. There is much to be improved in that area—I offer a suggestion at the end—but it is not the only part of the story. The story is also who we are now and what shape we’re in.

A way to look at the question is: What has happened the past 40 years or so to produce a society so ill at ease with itself, so prone to violence?

We know. We all say it privately, but it’s so obvious it’s hardly worth saying. We have been swept by social, technological and cultural revolution. The family blew up—divorce, unwed childbearing. Fatherless sons. Fatherless daughters, too. Poor children with no one to love them. The internet flourished. Porn proliferated. Drugs, legal and illegal. Violent videogames, in which nameless people are eliminated and spattered all over the screen. (The Columbine shooters loved and might have been addicted to “Doom.”) The abortion regime settled in, with its fierce, endless yet somehow casual talk about the right to end a life. An increasingly violent entertainment culture—low, hypersexualized, full of anomie and weirdness, allergic to meaning and depth. The old longing for integration gave way to a culture of accusation—you are a supremacist, a misogynist, you are guilty of privilege and defined by your color and class, we don’t let your sort speak here.

At this moment we are in the middle of a reckoning about how disturbed our sexual landscape has become. This past week we turned to violence within marriages. We recently looked at the international sex trade, a phrase that sounds so 18th-century but refers to a real and profitable business.

All this change, compressed into 40 years, has produced some good things, even miraculous ones. But it does not feel accidental that America is experiencing what appears to be a mental-health crisis, especially among the young. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported as many as 20% of children 3 to 17 have, in any given year, a mental or emotional illness. There is research indicating depression among teenagers is worsening. National Public Radio recently quoted a 2005 report asserting the percentage of prison inmates with serious mental illness rose from less than 1% in 1880 to 21% in 2005. Deinstitutionalization swept health care and the psychiatric profession starting in the 1960s, and has continued since. The sick now go to the emergency room or stay among us untreated. In the society we have created the past 40 years, you know we are not making fewer emotionally ill young people, but more.

And here, to me, is the problem. A nation has an atmosphere. It has air it breathes in each day. China has a famous pollution problem: You can see the dirt in the air. America’s air looks clean but there are toxins in it, and they’re making the least defended and protected of us sick.

Here is one breath of the air:

Two weeks ago the U.S. Senate blocked a bill that would have banned most abortions after 20 weeks. Exceptions were made—the life of the mother, incest and rape. Twenty weeks—right up to the start of the sixth month—seemed reasonable. But Democrats said it was an assault on women’s rights. So as far as the Senate is concerned, you can end the life of a 6- to 9-month-old baby that can live outside the womb, that is not only human but recognizably and obviously human.

And even if you are 100% for full-term abortion—even if you think this right must be protected lest we go on a slippery slope and next thing you know they’ll outlaw contraceptives—your own language might have alerted you along the way to your radicalism.

Imagine you are pregnant, in the last trimester, and suddenly feel movement in your belly, a shift from here to there. You say, “Oh my God, feel,” and you take the hand of the father, or of another intimate, and you place it on your stomach. You don’t say, “The fetus lurched,” or “A conglomeration of cells is making itself manifest.” You say, “The baby moved. The baby’s moving.” You say this because it is a baby, and you know it. You say it because in your wonder at it, and at life, you tell the truth.

I should add who used that example with me. A great liberal journalist who sees right through his party’s dishonesty on this issue.

The failure to ban late-term abortion is one of those central things we rarely talk about.

And I’ll tell you what I think a teenager absorbs about it, unconsciously, in America. He sees a headline online, he passes a television in an airport, he hears the quick story and he thinks: “If the baby we don’t let live is unimportant, then I guess I am unimportant. And you’re unimportant too.” They don’t even know they’re breathing that in. But it’s there, in the atmosphere, and they’re breathing it in. And it doesn’t make you healthier.

The National Rifle Association too fears their slippery slope, and their fear means nothing common-sensical can be done regarding gun law. Concede anything and it will mean they’re coming for your hunting rifle.

Congress has been talking, at least recently and to some extent, of a trade on immigration. New protections for Dreamers on one hand versus increased border security on the other. This would be a good deal. Dreamers are integrated into American life, and a good many work in education and health care. And America is a great sovereign nation with not only a right but a responsibility to control its own borders.

Compromise is often good.

On gun law, Republicans oppose banning assault weapons such as the AR-15, the one the Parkland shooter used, because of the numbers, power and contributions of gun owners and the NRA. Democrats oppose banning late-term abortion because of the numbers, power and contributions of the rising left, feminists and Planned Parenthood.

The idea: Trade banning assault weapons for banning late-term abortion. Make illegal a killing machine and a killing procedure.

In both cases the lives of children would be saved.

Wouldn’t this clean some of the air? Wouldn’t we all breathe a little easier?