England Needs a Slap, and So Does China Getting on with Brexit is the right thing to do. So is pushing back against the crackdown in Hong Kong.

Now and then a country needs to get slapped. England does, or rather the United Kingdom, but I say England because I really mean London. Its entire leadership class has been undone since Brexit passed, three years ago this month. They’ve been overwhelmed, not equal to the moment.

They are like the hysterical blonde in 1940s and ’50s movies. Something scary would happen, the monster was coming, and she’d start to scream and sob. Then another character, usually a man, would slap her hard across the face. In the shock of it she’d take hold of herself. I’m fairly certain this trope had to do with how directors saw their wives.

Boris Johnson, MP
Boris Johnson, MP

Anyway, London since Brexit has been the hysterical blonde. The British people passed Brexit in a national referendum many had requested for decades. It wasn’t close—it won by a 3.8-point margin. Turnout was huge, 72% of eligible voters. Then-Prime Minister David Cameron, who opposed Brexit but called the referendum in a stupendous and foolish bet that his people saw things as he did, was forced to step down. Theresa May, who’d opposed Brexit but with less focus and commitment, rose from the debris and had a good start. “Brexit means Brexit,” she said. And then she too misread the situation, on the ground and in Parliament. The argument didn’t end. The European Union did what everyone knew it would do and tried to stop the jailbreak. Everything got drawn out and dragged down. The whole political class floundered under the strain.

If leaving the EU was a radical decision, it was deliberately and consciously so: For six weeks the question consumed the nation, and a decision was made.

Is it not obvious what must be done? This matter has to be resolved. A great nation can’t function cut in two, with half the nation at the other half’s throats. It can’t go forward in history that way; it must be one thing or the other, as Lincoln said.

The people asked for Brexit. The government has to deliver it. You can’t insult the very idea of democracy and say, Oh, well, this is hard, so we’ll have a do-over on the vote and hope the people will deliver a different outcome. You have to accept the result and forge ahead.

Make Brexit happen, make the break. Move forward as the people instructed. If you can get EU cooperation, get it. If not, stop pleading and dragging it out. Settle this. If it works it will be apparent within a few years, so hold a parade. If it doesn’t, public opinion on a second referendum will be different.

But stop whingeing. You were hired to lead the people. If you’re not talented enough to do that, you can at least follow them.

In connection to this, the Conservative Party leadership race to replace Mrs. May began this week. Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary and London mayor, made the case for his candidacy. “After three years and two missed deadlines,” he said, “we must leave the EU on Oct. 31.” He hopes for a deal, but the next government should prepare “vigorously and seriously for no deal.” “Brexit delay means defeat,” Mr. Johnson contends. “The paradox is that we have not allayed the divisions in our society by failing to deliver the outcome. . . . We made them worse.”

He’s right. He is also probably going to win. The problem is that he is famously slippery and no one ever knows if they can trust his word. Ken Clark, the Conservative former chancellor of the Exchequer, told the Guardian that Mr. Johnson “doesn’t have any policies, certainly none that are consistent from day to day,” and added: “I don’t actually think he knows what he would do to get us out of the Brexit crisis.”

Mr. Johnson is not an especially good man. His greatest fans admit he is dishonest, even for a politician. But he has wit, verve and intellectual quickness. He has a showman’s love of comedy. A friend who’s a historian of the royal family mentioned as a reason to support him that Queen Elizabeth II has been holding weekly audiences with her prime ministers since 1952: “After all these years she deserves a laugh.” She does.

But the reason Mr. Johnson will likely win is that he is the only serious candidate who understands the politics of the situation—that Brexit simply must be put through, finally and soon. On top of that he’s a compelling figure, with an appreciation of and talent for the show businesses of politics.

He’s never seemed to believe in much beyond his right to rise to the top; he is a born cynic. When Brexit, whose cause he led, surprisingly passed, he suddenly was responsible for a difficult situation. In response he fled for the hills and was incommunicado for days. But his cynicism, perversely, might make him a good match for the EU, which doesn’t seem to believe in much beyond its right to run things whether its constituent nations like it or not. Mrs. May is a very decent person, and she was outmatched. The great thing about cynics is that they tend to do the practical and obvious thing, and the obvious thing to do now is push the EU hard, then stop.

Mr. Johnson’s admirers have the grating habit of comparing him to Winston Churchill, a flawed outsider with imperfect judgment but the right man for 1939. But Churchill was an authentic genius who wrote a masterpiece of the English language while drunk and went to war hung over. He was a gigantic character. Boris Johnson is merely a big one, and a showman. No one knows what he will achieve, but he surely knows he must deliver. My friend the historian believes Mr. Johnson can reinvigorate Britain, “which has lost confidence in itself after spending the last three years on bended knee.”

*   *   *

The second country that needs a slap this week is China. It needs to be told no—colorfully, vividly, and in a great chorus. It needs to know the upset it is causing in trying to muscle the people of Hong Kong with extradition moves is not worth the gain—that it will ruffle things in a way that is not good for China. The world admires Hong Kong’s freedoms, bustle and success. China needs to be made to understand it damages its standing and stature by bullying that little city. It would be good if it saw it is causing a great clamor.

World, be roused. Push back through word, opinion and argument. Let Beijing know there’s a price for its moves.

Chinese rulers the past few years have seemed quite full of themselves. They pride themselves on taking the long view of history, and on their heavy competence, their ability to hold their balance amid domestic pressures and internal contradictions. They are willing to sacrifice in the day-to-day to achieve long-term objectives. They’ve enjoyed three decades of economic growth, moved forward in telecom, mining, energy, manufacturing. High military spending, military modernization, Huawei, 5G. They’ve been rising for decades, all the while giving the impression that they see the West as being composed of distracted materialists with their faces in screens.

This would be a good time to make a mighty roar, and surprise them with some energy and feeling.

Overthrow the Prince of Facebook Big tech has become too powerful and abusive. We know enough about it to break up its dominance.

I’ll start with a personal experience and then try to expand into Republicans and big tech.

In the spring of 2016, Facebook came under pressure, stemming from leaks by its workers, over charges of systemic political bias. I was not especially interested: a Silicon Valley company that employs thousands of young people to make decisions that are often ideological will tilt left, and conservatives must factor that in, as they’re used to doing.

My concerns about Facebook had to do with its apparently monopolistic nature, slippery ethics and algorithmic threats to serious journalism.

Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman & CEO of Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman & CEO of Facebook

Soon after, I received an email from Mark Zuckerberg’s office inviting me and other “conservative activists” to attend a meeting with him to discuss the bias charges in an off-the-record conversation. I responded that I was not an activist but a columnist, for the Journal, and would be happy to attend in that capacity and on the record. That didn’t go over too well with Mr. Zuckerberg’s office! I was swiftly told that wouldn’t do.

What I most remember is that they didn’t mention where his office is. There was an air of being summoned by the prince. You know where the prince lives. In the castle. Who doesn’t know exactly where Facebook is?

In February 2018 Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein of Wired wrote a deeply reported piece that mentioned the 2016 meeting. It was called so that the company could “make a show of apologizing for its sins.” A Facebook employee who helped plan it said part of its goal—they are clever at Facebook and knew their mark!—was to get the conservatives fighting with each other. “They made sure to have libertarians who wouldn’t want to regulate the platform and partisans who would.” Another goal was to leave attendees “bored to death” by a technical presentation after Mr. Zuckerberg spoke.

Predictably, the conservatives “failed to unify in a way that was either threatening or coherent.” Many used the time “to try to figure out how they could get more followers for their own pages.”

After the meeting, attendees gushed, calling Mr. Zuckerberg and his staffers humble and open. Glenn Beck praised the CEO’s “earnest desire to ‘connect the world.’”

Never were pawns so happily used.

I forgot about it until last summer, when Mr. Zuckerberg’s office wrote again. His problems were mounting. I was invited now, with an unspecified group of others, to “an off the record discussion over dinner at his home in Palo Alto.” They used that greasy greaseball language Silicon Valley uses: Mr. Zuckerberg is “focused on protecting” users and thinking about “the future and how best to serve the Facebook community.”

I ignored the invitation. They pressed. Their last note reached me at an irritated moment, so I wrote back a rocket, reminding him of the previous meeting and how it had been revealed to be a mischievous and highly political enacting of faux remorse. I suggested that though it was an honor to be asked to cross a continent for the privilege of giving him my time, thought and advice, I would not. I added that I was sorry to say he strikes me in his public, and now semiprivate, presentations as an imperious twerp.

For a second I actually hesitated: The imperious twerp runs the algorithms, controls the traffic, has all the dark powers! But I am an American, and one with her Irish up, so I hit send.

And I’m still here, at least at the moment, so I guess that’s OK.

Facebook’s famous sins and failings include the abuse of private data, selling space to Russian propagandists in the 2016 presidential campaign, starving journalism of ad revenues, monopolistically acquiring or doing in possible competitors, political mischief, and turning users into the unknowing product. I once wrote the signal fact of Mr. Zuckerberg’s career is that he is supremely gifted in one area—monetizing technical ingenuity by marrying it to a canny sense of human weakness.

None of this is news. We just can’t manage to do anything about it.

Now there are moves to push back. The House Judiciary Committee will hold antitrust investigations into big tech. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is warning that “unwarranted concentrated economic power in the hands of a few is dangerous to democracy.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren has made a splash with her pushback on big tech; Sen. Amy Klobuchar included it in her presidential announcement speech.

The New York Times this week had a breakthrough report, from Cecilia Kang and Kenneth Vogel, on how the tech giants are fighting back. They are “amassing an army of lobbyists.” Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple spent a combined $55 million in lobbying last year, about double what they spent in 2016. They “have intensified their efforts to lure lobbyists with strong connections to the White House, the regulatory agencies, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress.” Facebook hired Mrs. Pelosi’s former chief of staff. The speaker herself has received major campaign money from employees and political-action committees of all the tech giants. Google pays lobbyists who worked on the Republican staff of House Judiciary.

They’ve got it wired, haven’t they?

But the mood in America is anti-big-tech. Everyone knows they’re too powerful, too arrogant, loom too large in public life.

And something else: This whole new world of new technology was born in the 1970s and ’80s. We still think it’s new and we’re figuring it out, but we’re almost half a century into it and we can see what works and what doesn’t, what’s had good effects and hasn’t. It is time to move.

We’re Americans and we love money and success and the hallowed story of the kid in the garage who invents the beautiful product that changes the world.

And Republican officials—they can’t help it, they don’t just rightly love business; they love big business, they love titans. It’s almost romantic: Look what people can do in America! He started it in his dorm room! And now we’re at lunch!

It’s all too human, and of course greedy: Maybe these guys will start giving me money! I mean Pelosi-size money!

Here’s what they should be thinking: Break them up. Break them in two, in three; regulate them. Declare them to be what they’ve so successfully become: once a pleasure, now a utility.

It all depends on Congress, which has been too stupid to move in the past and is too stupid to move competently now. That’s what’s slowed those of us who want reform, knowing how badly they’d do it.

Yet now I find myself thinking: I don’t care. Do it incompetently, but do something.

Why are Republicans so slow to lead? The Times quoted Republican Sen. Josh Hawley as saying “the dominance of big tech” is a “big problem.” They “may be more socially powerful than the trusts of the Roosevelt era, and yet they still operate like a black box.”

He’s right.

But I read about lobbyists coming at Republican congressional leaders and I think, it’s going to be like Mr. Zuckerberg’s meeting with the conservatives in 2016. A tech god will give them some attention, some respect, and they’ll fold like a cheap suit.

If they are as stupid and unserious as their critics take them to be, they will go to the meeting and be used.

They should say no and hit send.

Mueller’s Exit and an Impeachment Alternative Trying to overturn an election would be too divisive. Congress should censure Trump instead.

The investigation is complete, his office is closed, he returns to private life. And Robert Mueller leaves in his wake a great murk, doesn’t he?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald J. Trump
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald J. Trump

Even in his statement this week, presumably aimed in part at making things clearer, he spoke between the lines. What did he say, between the lines? Apparently I was too subtle for you. Apparently you are a large, balky mule in need of being hit over the head with a stick. So let me try again. I cannot bring federal charges against a sitting president because I believe it is constitutionally prohibited. And since there couldn’t be a trial, it would be unfair to leave him unable to defend himself. But someone else, according to the Constitution, can bring charges. Someone else can hold a public trial. Who? It rhymes with shmongress. Good luck, shmongressmen.

Mr. Mueller is a serious man who in a long career has earned the respect in which he is held. But he’s slipped out of public life on a banana peel, hasn’t he? He was the investigator. He led the probe. He should have advised Attorney General William Barr of his views as to whether the actions of the president merited federal charges, and let Mr. Barr take it from there.

If Justice Department guidelines had been otherwise—if federal charges could be brought against a sitting president—would Mr. Mueller have recommended them? That’s the question. Instead we get “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” Oh.

Independent counsel Ken Starr wasn’t so shy with Bill Clinton: His 1998 report outlined to Congress 11 possible grounds for impeachment.

I’m sure Mr. Mueller was trying to demonstrate probity. But it looked to me like a loss of nerve. You can have probity plus clarity, and clarity was what was needed.

The spirit of impeachment is now given a boost.

It is still a terrible idea.

It is a grave matter to overturn an election result. Why more cuttingly divide an already divided country? There is no argument that impeachment would enhance America’s position in the world, and no reason to believe it would not have some negative impact on the economy, meaning jobs. The presidential election is in 2020. What is gained from devoting the coming year to an effort that will fail in the Senate? There’s no reason to believe the public is for it. It won’t move the needle—those who like President Trump, like him; those who do not, do not; everyone already knows what they think. For Democrats it could backfire, alienating moderates and rousing those of the president’s supporters who care little for him personally but appreciate his policy achievements, such as his appointment of judges. Why rouse their wrath? If Mr. Trump is acquitted he will pose as the innocent but unstoppable victor over a witch hunt led by a liberal elite.

At this point, could Democrats even do it? Impeachment is “a heavy lift,” as Chris Matthews said on MSNBC the other day. It takes time and focus to organize it politically and legally, to get the committee chairmen on board and investigators mobilized.

And Speaker Nancy Pelosi is famously not on board. She will continue to play her careful game. “Nothing is off the table,” she said a few hours after Mr. Mueller spoke Wednesday. Democrats must investigate fully so they can find the truth and make the case. She will support hearings and subpoenas, slow and deepen the process, and, I suspect, move to impeach only if he is re-elected.

This is a way of playing for time. Progressive Democrats likely won’t be as hot for impeachment in the fall, when the 2020 contenders are taking full flight and party energy goes to helping them. Mrs. Pelosi is a practical woman.

She is always underestimated by Republicans as the Shaky Lady. She doesn’t seem shaky to me. She is running rings around Mr. Trump and her own conference.

Mr. Trump is obsessed with looking competent and in control. She actually is competent and in control. She’s held on to leadership a long time.

“She knows how to count,” they say, but it’s more than that. The young progressives in her conference who are not shy to be aggressive against others, never want to get crosswise with her. She inspires respect and fear, which is what she needs to inspire. She is said to know where everyone in her conference stands, what they need, and how to keep them or flip them. She apparently gets first-rate intel from her staff and is an epic fundraiser. She takes pleasure in the game, handles Donald Trump like a boss—she is the sole figure in Washington who seems unfazed by him—and does all this as a woman in her 70s with a public presentation that is not compelling. If she’d been born British and was a Conservative, they’d probably have Brexit by now.

History should pay more serious attention to this unique figure.

She is especially disliked by Republicans, and has been knocked in this space, for having said, during the ObamaCare debate, that Congress would have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it. I always thought it was a Washington gaffe as per Michael Kinsley, something that should never have been said because it was true. ObamaCare was a thousand-page sentiment devised by technocrats, an impulse with numbers and graphs. Few who voted for it knew or were interested in knowing how it would be executed, administered, interpreted. It was a ramshackle mess and they’d figure it out later. They seemed as surprised as anyone when it turned out if you wanted to keep your doctor you couldn’t. A lot of them lost their jobs over it in 2010. Mrs. Pelosi’s sin was not that she said it; her sin, and her party’s, was that they didn’t care. Their sentiment was more important than your reality.

But she’s Mr. Trump’s most effective foe and he’s lucky she’s there because she’s what stands between him and impeachment.

What is the best way forward? There’s a good idea floating around Washington. It is congressional censure of the president.

The harrowing part of the Mueller report is part 2, on obstruction of justice. Reading it, you feel sure the president would have loved to subvert the investigation but wasn’t good at it and was thwarted by his staff. There are seemingly dangled pardons and threatened firings. There’s a hapless small-timeness to it, a kind of brute dumbness, and towering over it all is a grubby business deal in Moscow.

It’s unseemly.

Congressional censure would be a formal registering not of Congress’s political disapproval but its moral disapproval. It is a rarely used form of shaming. Congress has censured its own members over the years, including Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1954—but no president since Andrew Jackson in 1834.

Republicans, who control the Senate, wouldn’t vote to remove the president, but to morally disapprove of him? They would. There’s plenty of suppressed resentment there at how he’s mortified them and lowered things.

That is the less invasive path, the less damaging to the country, the less pointlessly polarizing.

‘Which Way to Pointe du Hoc?’ Each generation is tested, from the Army Rangers of D-Day to the college graduates of 2019.

A friend trying to help me work through a problem once told me the story of life is competition: Everyone’s trying to beat everyone else, and I should give more weight to this fact. There’s some truth in what he said, yet I thought his comment contained more autobiography than wisdom: He was the most competitive person I’d ever known, and he usually won. I lean toward the idea a lot of us are running our own races, trying to rise to the occasion and beat some past and limited conception of ourselves by doing something great. The paradox is that you’re running your own race alongside others running theirs, and in the same direction. You’re doing something great together.

This holiday weekend I find myself reflecting again on the boys who seized back the continent of Europe, and the boys and girls now graduating college and trying to figure out what history asks of them.

U.S. troops assaulting Omaha Beach
U.S. troops assaulting Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings in Normandy.

The week after next marks the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. People will be thinking of D-Day and seeing old clips of the speechifying that marked its anniversaries. I will think of two things. One is what most impressed Ronald Reagan. He spoke at the 40th anniversary, on June 6, 1984, at the U.S. Ranger Monument, and seated in the front rows as he spoke were the boys of Pointe du Hoc.

“Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here,” he told them. “You were young the day you took those cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys.” Many were old now and some wept to remember what they had done, almost as if they were seeing their feat clearly for the first time.

Reagan spoke with each of them afterward, and what moved him most wasn’t all the ceremonies. It was that a bunch of young U.S. Army Rangers had, the day before, re-enacted the taking of the cliffs, up there with ropes and daggers, climbing—and one of the old Rangers who’d been there on D-Day and taken those cliffs 40 years before got so excited he jumped in and climbed along with the 20-year-olds.

“He made it to the top with those kids,” Reagan later told me. “Boy, that was something.” His eyes were still gleaming. Doesn’t matter your age, if you really want to do it you can do it.

A second thing I think of: My friend John Whitehead once told me, in describing that day, of a moment when, as a U.S. Navy ensign, he was piloting his packed landing craft toward Dog Red sector on Omaha Beach. They’d cast off in darkness, and when dawn broke they saw they were in the middle of a magnificent armada. Nearby some light British craft had gone down. Suddenly a landing craft came close by, and an Englishman called out: “I say, fellows, which way to Pointe du Hoc?”

Jaunty, as if he were saying “Which way to the cricket match?”

On John’s ship they pointed to the right. “Very good,” said the Englishman, who touched his cap and sped on.

John remembered the moment with an air of “Life is haphazard, a mess, and you’re in the middle of a great endeavor and it’s haphazard, a mess. But you maintain your composure, keep your spirit. You yell to the Yank, ‘Which way to Pointe du Hoc?’ and you tip your hat and go.’ ”

He would think of the Englishman for the rest of his life, and wonder if he’d survived. But of course he survived in John’s memory, then in mine, and now, as you read, in yours.

Now to the young today, the college graduates beginning heir hazardous climbs. I was with some of them last weekend, at Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. They were so impressive. They have grown up in a fairly strange country in a fairly strange era, yet their personal joy and optimism were almost palpable. The students of architecture wore on top of their graduation hats foot-high buildings, rockets and what looked like a cathedral; when their school was called they shot off sparkling confetti, and everyone cheered.

The young men were vibrant, smart. The young women have a 4.0 in neuroscience, are on their way to Cambridge, and look like movie stars.

But they’re earnest, all of them, like people who can surprise you—can surprise themselves—by meeting a historical test. And surely they’ll be given one, given many.

I’d been invited to give the commencement address, and for me this had a certain weight. I had never been to Notre Dame, but it has lived in my head since I was a child watching on television the movies of the 1930s and ’40s. And so in my mind Notre Dame is Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen, it’s the Hail Mary pass and Touchdown Jesus. It is the Golden Dome.

The day before commencement I went over to see the intended stage, and walked through the shadowed Rockne Tunnel with the banners above marking the championship years. To emerge from that tunnel and walk out onto that field—all I could say was: Wow.

In the unseen circularity of life, Notre Dame is a place deeply associated with my old boss, who early in his career played George Gipp, and ever after was called the Gipper. It is the first school he visited, in May 1981, after he was shot in March. Notre Dame that day, having a sophisticated sense of what he’d been through, wore its heart on its sleeve.

In his speech he had touched on great themes of 20th-century conservatism—America was economically bound down and needed unleashing. I would speak on 21st-century conservatism—America is culturally damaged and needs undergirding.

Before I spoke a friend teased me: Reagan would be proud. I said I thought so but actually I thought of Nancy, who would have given me a look with three layers in it and said: “Good.”

The day before commencement I met with scholars at the university’s Center for Ethics and Culture, which is devoted to the Catholic intellectual tradition within all disciplines. The students and teachers were learned, steeped in the meaning of things. I told the students the most important thing to remember as they enter the rough old world: Keep your faith. If you lose it, get it back. It is the thing you will need most, the thing without which nothing is real. “Everything good in your life will spring from it.”

“You were born into a counterculture. It is the great gift of your life. The world needs this counterculture because even the world knows it needs something to counter itself.” Halfway through I realized I didn’t have to say this, because they already knew.

Now they push off, into whatever challenges history gives them. And what’s inside them, from sheer attitude to mere style, will affect all outcomes.

Which way to Pointe du Hoc? It’s the question for them and for all, isn’t it? What will our great achievement be? And who will be there with us, climbing alongside, as we seize crucial terrain together?

The Missing Order in American Politics I grow wistful as I watch the congressional chaos while reading Kissinger’s forthcoming oral history.

I am watching Washington and thinking this: We have reached a new crisis point in Donald Trump vs. the Democrats. They are speaking of contempt citations, subpoenas, executive privilege, hearings. It’s a daily barrage. The Democrats are inching closer to impeachment, at least rhetorically, perhaps actually. We’ll see how well Speaker Nancy Pelosi can dance right up to the edge to appease some in her caucus, and not over it.

But there is such a thing as context, and the Democrats seem to be ignoring it. This is a country divided.

Almost half the country is for Mr. Trump—truly, madly, deeply. Half is against him—unequivocally, unchangeably. There is no resolving this. Or rather to the extent it can be resolved, it will be resolved at the ballot box. The presidential election is 18 months from now, on Nov. 3, 2020.

Until then, people are where they are and hold the views they hold, and don’t push them too hard.

President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Democrats unveil charges and accusations—the president is a liar, he’s a tax dodger, an obstructor of justice. But in a way Mr. Trump’s supporters accounted for all this before they elected him. They are not shocked. They didn’t hire him to be a good man. Their politics are post-heroic. They sometimes tell reporters he’s a man of high character but mostly to drive the reporters crazy. I have never talked to a Trump supporter, and my world is thick with them, who thought he had a high personal character. On the other hand they sincerely believe he has a high political character, in that he pursues the issues he campaigned on. They hired him as an insult to the political class, as a Hail Mary pass—we’ve tried everything else, maybe this will work—and because he agreed with them on the issues.

Supporters give him high marks for not looking down on them as they believe most members of the media, who are always trying to “understand” them, do. Their attitude is: “Don’t try to understand me, like you’re the anthropologist and we’re the savages. I’m an American, what are you?” They factor the cultural animosity in. When they jeer the press during rallies at the president’s direction, they don’t really mean it. They’re having fun and talking back. They’d be happy if their kids became reporters—an affluent profession, and half of them are famous. The president doesn’t really hate the press either, he wants their love and admiration. You don’t need the admiration of people you truly disdain.

Trump supporters now are looking around and thinking: Things are looking up. The economy is gangbusters, everyone can get a job, good people are on the courts. Something good is happening with China—it’s unclear what, but at least he’s pushing back. As for illegal immigration, he at least cares about it and means to make it better, though no, it doesn’t seem improved.

To take all Congress’s time right now and devote it to attacking the president, or impeaching him, will be experienced as a vast, disheartening insult by half the country, and disheartening. It will simply damage the country and be seen as extreme and destructive. It will keep good things, such as an infrastructure bill, from happening.

As a purely political calculation it will do the Democrats no good. Nonstop scandal theater starring the theatrically indignant will only make people who hate Mr. Trump hate him a little more, and people who support Mr. Trump hate his foes a little more. It will not move any needle.

Robert Mueller, often praised in this space, didn’t resolve anything, did he? People wanted clarity, not subtlety and indirection. So yes, as a last hurrah let him speak. What did he think his report was saying and implying? What in his view would be a just outcome to the story of Mr. Trump and the Russians and 2016?

Beyond that, enough already. We have to have a greater appreciation for how split we are as a nation, and how delicate this all is. And we have to remember we’re not only split, we’re conjoined. We share this country.

We are like Chang and Eng, the 19th century Siamese Twin brothers who worked for P.T. Barnum. They could not be separated and went through their long lives together, married to different women, living in different houses—a few days a week in this one, a few in another.

It wasn’t easy for them to walk through life together, but they did. We have to, too.

Now I wish to switch subjects. Don’t you?

“How to do it” is the hardest question in life after “what to do.” It’s hard enough to make the decision. Then you have to execute. A right decision poorly executed might as well be a wrong one. This is in a way the subject of a small book called “Kissinger on Kissinger” by Winston Lord. It is composed of transcripts of Henry Kissinger’s first and only oral history, based on six interviews conducted by Mr. Lord, President Reagan’s ambassador to China, and K.T. McFarland, who served as Mr. Trump’s deputy national security adviser.

“Like all oral histories, this is a brief for my case,” Mr. Kissinger writes in the introduction. “I did not go out of my way to be self-critical.” He doesn’t. But there is a lot of how-to for diplomats—how the opening with China occurred and was made to occur, how the Soviets were handled as that breakthrough became real, what drove Nixon-era Mideast shuttle diplomacy.

I should note here that Mr. Kissinger is always called “deeply controversial” because he is, that his diplomatic efforts with and under President Nixon were often bold and creative, certainly deeply consequential, and that one of the most remarkable things about him is that he is 95 and has, for 50 years, remained a major public figure and retained his status as a major thinker. Foreign leaders treat him with the gravest respect. Mr. Lord calls this “a remarkable performance of savvy, stamina and sway.”

At his 90th-birthday party, which I attended as a friend, former secretaries of state of both parties lined up to thank him for his advice, wisdom and encouragement. I admit I cannot see his public self without thinking of the 16-year-old immigrant who worked in a shaving-brush factory in New York. The tough Italian-American men he worked with teased the German refugee and took him to Yankee Stadium to learn to be an American. There he first saw the man who years later on meeting him struck him dumb: Joe DiMaggio

But I’ve gotten away from the book.

It has many good things. In the formation of foreign policy successful international negotiations, “everything depends . . . on some conception of the future.” The bias of bureaucracy is toward dailiness: there are communiqués to answer, immediate decisions that require response. In this atmosphere a leader must develop an overall sense of where he wants to go and how to get there.

Every diplomatic effort must begin with an articulated intention. He and Nixon “spent hours together asking ‘What are we trying to do, what are we trying to achieve, what are we trying to prevent?’” The “end state” is the goal, not the process.

In a way it is a tribute to order. Oh, I miss that.

Republicans in a Nation Needing Repair Less taxes and spending won’t resolve America’s deep crisis. We need a farsighted conservatism.

I want to say something big, quickly and broadly.

This week I talked with an intelligent politician who is trying to figure out the future of the Republican Party. He said that in presidential cycles down the road, it will be a relief to get back to the old conservatism of smaller government, tax cuts and reduced spending. I told him what I say to my friends: That old conservatism was deeply pertinent to its era and philosophically right, but it is not fully in line with the crises of our time or its reigning facts. As Lincoln said, the dogmas of the past are inadequate to the present: “As the cause is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”

Here is how I see it:

The federal government will not become smaller or less expensive in our lifetimes. There is no political will for it among elected officials in Washington, many of whom privately admit this. Nor is there sufficient will for it within the Republican or Democratic party, or among the majority of their voters. Even if there were such a will, both parties in Washington have trouble working together on such big things.

President Abraham Lincoln.
President Abraham Lincoln.

But beyond that fact is something bigger. America needs help right now and Americans know it. It has been enduring for many years a continuing cultural catastrophe—illegitimacy, the decline of faith, low family formation, child abuse and neglect, drugs, inadequate public education, etc. All this exists alongside an entertainment culture on which the poor and neglected are dependent, and which is devoted to violence, sex and nihilism. As a people we are constantly, bitterly pitted against each other, and force-fed the idea of America as an illegitimate, ugly, racist and misogynist nation. Even honest love of country isn’t allowed to hold us together anymore.

America to my mind is what Pope Francis said the church was: a field hospital after battle. We are a beautiful and great nation but a needy, torn-up one in need of repair.

All that takes place within a larger historical context. You can’t see all the world’s weapons and all its madness and not know that eventually we will face a terrible day or days when everything will depend on our ability to hold together and hold on. Maybe it will involve nuclear weapons, maybe an extended, rolling attack on the grid, maybe bioterrorism. But it will be bad; there will be deep stress and violence. The great question in those days, under that acute pressure, will be: Will we hold together? Will we suffer through and emerge, together, on the other side? Which is another way of saying: Will we continue as a nation, a people?

My belief is that whatever helps us hold together now, whatever brings us together and binds us close, is good, and must be encouraged with whatever it takes.

If these are your predicates—America in cultural catastrophe, and hard history ahead—you spend your energies on a battle not to make government significantly smaller, but to make it significantly more helpful.

That would mean a shift. Republicans should stand for a federal government whose aim and focus are directed toward conservative ends, a government focused on concerns that have to do with conserving. They should do this not furtively or through strategic inaction but as a matter of declared political intent, in a way that is driven by moral seriousness, not polls and patter about populism.

What would a large government harnessed toward conservative ends look like?

Judging by what its presidential candidates are saying on the campaign trail, the Democratic Party intends to aim its energies in a progressive direction—global climate change, free college, reparations for slavery. A conservative path would address the immediate crises Americans on the ground see all around them.

On domestic issues this would include the following:

• Whatever might help families form and grow.

• Teaching the lost boys of the working and middle classes, black and white, how to live. The infrastructure bills floating out there are good because we need better bridges, tunnels and roads, and the pride that would come from making them better. But also because they could provide a stage for a national mentorship program in which men teach boys how to do something constructive. Heck, they should go out and recruit in the poorest neighborhoods, drag teenage boys out of the house and integrate them into a world of dynamism and competence.

• Resolving the mental-health crisis. We need a vast overhaul of services so families can get the help they need. We deinstitutionalized sick people and closed the hospitals in the 1960s through ’80s. Liberals pushed it for reasons of ideology and conservatives accepted it for reasons of savings. It marked a great denying of reality: We need hospitals for the mentally ill.

• Helping immigrants become Americans. However the illegal-immigration crisis is resolved, or not, there are tens of millions already here. Who helps make them Americans? We used to have settlement houses for the great waves of immigrants who came in the early 20th century. Why not now? They need instruction on the meaning and history of America. Here it should be noted that we have some of the best immigrants in the world, who work hard and have no hostility to American religious culture. In fact, they’re part of that culture. Help Americanize them in other ways.

• Help revitalize small towns. Whatever will help, do it. We lose a lot when we lose those old shared ways and values. We can’t all live in cities and suburbs; we need diversity.

• Protect religious freedom. The threats are real and will grow. Americans may not always be breaking down the doors to go to church, but they respect religious life and don’t want to see it under siege.

Really, the point of conservatism is to conserve.

Here we degenerate into mere practical political advice for the GOP.

Americans would respect the Republican Party if it gave the impression its leaders are actually noticing America and have a farsighted sense of its real plights. If the government is going to be large, people might be inclined to see sober-minded Republicans as the best stewards of it. It is still only the GOP that can perform the fundamental mission of protecting the system that yielded all our wealth and allowed us to be generous with the world and with ourselves—free-market capitalism. Only the GOP can do this, because Republicans genuinely love economic freedom. You fight hard for what you love. Progressives do not love it. They just accept it.

Republicans will be expected to foster and encourage the economic growth that can at least make a mild dent in our deficits. When you are understood not to be hostile to all spending you have greater leeway to see it coolly, and go after waste and fraud in spending. Republicans naturally enjoy that.

When you think like this—we are in a crisis, it will get worse, we must accentuate what holds us together and helps us muddle through—it helps you prioritize. These are my priorities as a conservative.

How Trump Lost Half of Washington The old ambassadors were willing to give him a chance. He destabilized the whole town instead.

“How did things ever get so far? I don’t know. It was so unfortunate, so unnecessary.”

—Don Corleone, “The Godfather”

I keep thinking about the dynamics the past few years between the president and what used to be called official Washington. That relationship is ugly and broken, but it could have been otherwise.

Trump supporters have long held, and deeply believe, that none of the people in what they call the swamp were ever anything but unalterably opposed to him and meant, from day one, to remove him by whatever means possible.

This was true of about half of official Washington. They were predominately Democrats, though there were Republicans too, and certainly the media were against him, overwhelmingly.

But the other half of official Washington, though to varying degrees disapproving of Trump, often for reasons that were almost aesthetic, was willing to be surprised. They were open to persuasion. They didn’t say this but they thought it. They’d give him time and watch events closely.

President Donald J. Trump
President Donald J. Trump

I’m thinking of the old ambassadors, mostly men in their 60s, 70s and 80s. They’re woven into the town, solid citizens, friends of journalists, occasionally sources, and they know things. They’re mostly retired, and at lunch at clubs in town often begin sentences with “And so I told Zbig . . .” There’s a bit of lost glory with them, but they care about America, are personally invested in it, love it with an old-school love, and respect systems, knowing that creativity—in art, science and diplomacy—can only be born within a certain immediate order.

Donald Trump was not their type. But early on they were willing to give him a chance.

When he came in he was a shock to the system, almost literally. He didn’t act like a liberal or a Democrat, or a conservative or a Republican. It was not clear he thought, as opposed to felt. It was clear he was emotional—lots of resentments, wounds and complaints. As the first year went by and then the second the stories were out there, sometimes from his own aides. He doesn’t read, doesn’t like his briefings, he’s spending time tweeting and watching television. He’s picking fights with celebrities and haranguing the Boy Scout Jamboree about our rotten media. He’s firing people or they’re resigning—the chief of staff, chief strategist, then the generals. The travel ban, Charlottesville, he’s a “stable genius,” he’s shoving the prime minister of Montenegro and blowing up immigration talks.

Pretty quickly and to the entire edifice of Washington, it became clear Donald Trump was not a Jacksonian shock to the system, which is what his supporters think he was. He was a daily system overload, a one-man frying of the grid.

One by one the ambassadors shut down and turned away. Their objections were not about policy, they were about behavior. What they feared was not extreme conservatism or extreme liberalism. They didn’t fear originality or a new synthesis. They feared Madness of King George-ism. They’d come to think the president was, irredeemably, a screwball. In the nuclear age this is a dangerous thing.

Their fears about him weren’t assuaged by trusty old hands inside the White House because those hands weren’t there. They didn’t join the administration, because they didn’t want their résumés tainted or they thought wise counsel would never be heeded. Or because they’d signed a letter opposing him in 2016 and would never be forgiven.

So a lot of good people didn’t come in or weren’t allowed in. And those who did work for the president came to seem strange—fierce, emotional, half mad themselves. There were good people there—the generals were solid—but one by one they left.

Mr. Trump fulfilled every fear a Trump skeptic would have. So they stayed skeptics, or became active opponents. Strangely in a political figure, the president had no particular respect for his critics’ concerns or anxieties. He never understood they could be brought into the tent. They were all enemies; it was all black and white. Some supporters were like that too, but that was understandable: The job of supporters is to fight. He’s the leader, and leaders are forced to deal with reality. He would not lessen his critics’ fears through behavioral change. Heck, he won the election by not changing, why mess with his swing?

He thought he didn’t need the ambassadors. “Experts” are just guys who marinated in a little subset and memorized its clichés. If they were any good we’d be in better shape!

It was all this—the president’s disdain, his well-fed resentments—that not only left Washington thinking Mr. Trump was crazy. It made Washington itself a fertile field for crazy. It was in this atmosphere that the Steele dossier, with its whacked out third-rate spy fiction, became believable, that sober-minded officials reportedly wondered if they should wear wires when they met with the president.

He destabilized the entire town.

That, in my view, is a small sliver of how we got here.

And so a closing word on the Mueller report. I have thought since the beginning that appointing a special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election was right and justified; that Robert Mueller was an excellent choice because of his experience and integrity. Also his age and stage. He was a patriot looking to finish a distinguished career with integrity. He hired killers, tough lawyers and investigators who were hunting the whale and intended to harpoon it. They did everything they could to get the story. What they produced is a more dreadful portrait of Mr. Trump than his supporters will know, because most Americans won’t read it.

In the end, Mr. Mueller did not bring charges. He left it to Congress.

Should the Democrats move to impeach? No, not for reasons of merit but of national interest.

Progressives will want to proceed with their usual blithe rage. But the investigation lasted almost two years. It was exhaustive and consumed daily headlines. Trump supporters, almost half the country, will feel, understandably, that its work is complete. They would experience an impeachment attempt as proof of what they always assumed: that this whole thing was a cynical attempt by the left to achieve by other means what it could not achieve at the ballot box.

They would see it as subverting democracy. And anything that damages faith in democracy at this point in our national life should be rejected. We need to build trust and faith, not lessen it.

It is 2019. We elect a president in 2020. Democrats would be wise to spend the next year showing America that their party is capable of governing, up to leadership, that its ideas are not crazy but pertinent, that it actually has a philosophy.

Seriousness and calm would be nice, and after the past few years would serve as a welcome counterpoint. There is an unarticulated wish out there to return to some past in which things were deeply imperfect and certainly divided but on some level tranquil, and not half mad.

Out of the Ashes of Notre Dame One day someone will write of how his grief, his shock, opened a door and his faith came rushing in.

A few small observations on the fire at Notre Dame:

It’s interesting where your thoughts go as you watch a disaster, live. Friends kept saying they were feeling some of what they’d felt on 9/11, and this was true of me too. No one thought it the same, but the flames and smoke evoked similar feelings of grief and loss, and a sense of portent, especially for Catholics, who saw in the destruction a metaphor for—or a judgment of—the state of their church.

Notre Dame, Paris, after the fire
The Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris, after the fire

Monday evening I found myself remembering an intuition I’d had hours after the World Trade Center had fallen. TV was showing people who’d escaped the towers, covered in dust and ash, and trekking north. As I watched I thought: Some desperate person among them is escaping his life right now, planning his disappearance. He knows the scale of the disaster because he just walked out of it. He knows if he doesn’t check in for the next few days he’ll be counted among the dead. He’ll soon be at a motel in Queens, then on a plane somewhere. He will tell his story decades from now. He’ll tell us he came back once and visited the memorial on which his name is etched.

I had an intuition too as I watched Notre Dame burn. Somebody wonderful is watching at this moment and having a conversion experience. He will write of how the size of his grief, of his shock, opened a door in his head and heart and his faith came rushing in. We’ll hear about that in coming years, and maybe from more than one person. Destroyed beauty is a spiritual event.

I also thought of the great speech in Tom Stoppard’s play “Arcadia” on all that was lost when the great library of Alexandria, Egypt, burned down. Thomasina, a young would-be scholar, says: “Can you bear it? All the lost plays of the Athenians! Two hundred at least by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides—thousands of poems—Aristotle’s own library! . . . How can we sleep for grief?”

Septimus, her tutor, answers: “By counting our stock.” Don’t grieve, he says: “We shed as we pick up, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. . . . The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. . . . Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again. You do not suppose, my lady, that if all Archimedes had been hiding in the great library of Alexandria, we would be at a loss for a corkscrew?”

Those were Monday’s thoughts. Then, Tuesday morning, the shocking good news: The fire was out, the structure still standing, the great things still there—the radiant cross, the altar, the Pietà, the pews, the relics saved.

It felt like a miracle, didn’t it? I think it was.

I called my friend Liz Lev, the art historian and author of the magisterial “How Catholic Art Saved the Faith,” and asked her why the fire at Notre Dame was such a grave and emotional experience for so many people of varying faiths, not only Catholics seeing a cathedral burn.

Her answer was arresting. She said, essentially, that we are all of us more loyal to the idea of beauty than we mean to be or know we are.

“When the fire came, for two days it made us let our guard down,” she said. “It showed us that beauty still affects people, that they know they are custodians of it. We still need to believe in the beautiful.”

We sense the achievement and sacrifice that went to its making. “It’s not the tower in Dubai, which is clever, or even the Eiffel Tower”; it is “a spiritual home.” “There’s something in the building. You get the sense of centuries of people who worked on it who’d never live to see it done.”

The architecture is part of the story. “The Gothic is a paradox. It’s so lacey, it looks so fragile—the fire coming out of the lacey spire—and yet underneath you see this powerful, solid, domed facade.” This reverberates with the myths and stories we love: “The hero is strong and yet the hero is vulnerable, frail. This moves us.”

What does the art inside the Cathedral, the statues and paintings, mean? Ms. Lev noted that Notre Dame’s story is the structure more than the art inside it, and in this it is the antithesis of the Sistine Chapel, where it’s all about the interior art and decorations. But the cathedral is also about “the scattered world of France’s relationship with its faith.” During the French Revolution the exterior statues were beheaded, glass broken, the church defaced: “They put the Goddess of Reason in there.”

“Notre Dame is a shoe box of memories” of all the times French Catholics “have gone running from the church.” Tuesday morning Ms. Lev learned that the statue of Notre Dame de Paris had survived. “The statue is the same age of the consecration of the Cathedral. It’s not splendid, it’s nice, it’s pretty, but it stands by the altar and you always see people saying the rosary beneath it.” Sometimes, they are shooed away. “But she’s still there. That’s very beautiful.”

A great deal was made about the saving of the relics—Christ’s crown of thorns, a nail from his crucifixion, a tunic worn by St. Louis. I asked Ms. Lev about the Catholic preoccupation with the physicality of things. Why do we pay such attention to relics in general?

“The Christian faith is rooted in the physical world. It is incarnational.” God took bodily form. “Christian art is Christian art because Jesus became a baby who could be held, and passed from person to person—‘You hold him now.’ His passion is a wet, messy, brutal affair on his body—he bled, he sweated. . . . We are creatures of flesh. He became flesh so we could become even more beautiful, even more like unto God.”

The Sistine Chapel could never have been produced in any other culture, she said. “Only Christians can do it because only Christians celebrate the body, the bodily resurrection.”

But why do we honor the relics of saints—a hand, a heart, a knuckle? Why do parents keep a lock of a child’s hair? she asked. “The saints were here. They are not ectoplasms. Their souls are in Heaven but they were here.”

Finally, people sense Notre Dame is most powerful and central in its moments of suffering. “The Greek word for church is ecclesia—people gathered together. On the night of the fire it was gathering people together,” literally, around the church and around the world. “Notre Dame is most potent gathering them in suffering.”

This reminded me of something someone said on social media after the spire fell: Maybe the old church burst into flames so we would look at it and really see what it is.

We did.

Happy Easter. Happy Passover.

If Biden Runs, They’ll Tear Him Up The old Democratic Party was warm, like him. The new one rising is colder, less human and divisive.

Don’t do it, Joe.

Don’t run for president. It won’t work, you won’t get the nomination, your loss will cause pain and not only for you.

And your defeat will be worse than sudden, it will be poignant.

Right now operatives for the other candidates are trying to scare you out of jumping in. We all know that what you intended as warmth is now received as a boundary violation. You addressed this in a video that was crisp and friendly: You never meant to cause discomfort, you intend to change your ways.

But it’s not going away. It will linger, and more will come.

Democratic operatives do not fear you will win the nomination—they think you’re too old, your time has passed, you’re not where the energy of the base is, or the money. But they do not want you taking up oxygen the next six to 10 months as you sink in the polls. And they don’t want you swooping in to claim the middle lane. Others already have a stake there, or mean to.

Joe Biden
Joe Biden

In the past you were never really slimed and reviled by your party; you were mostly teased and patronized. But if you get in the race this time, it will be different. They will show none of the old respect for you, your vice presidency or your past fealty to the cause. And you are in the habit of receiving respect. Soon the topic will turn, in depth, to Anita Hill, the Clinton crime bill, your friendliness to big business. You have opposed partial-birth abortion. Also, the old plagiarism video will come back and be dissected. It was more than 30 years ago, and for a lot of reporters and voters it will be a riveting story, and brand new.

You backed the Iraq war. That question will be resurrected, as opposed to redebated. It is always fair to redebate it—to be asked, “Why did your generation of Democratic politicians back that war. Looking back what did you misunderstand?” But it will only be resurrected, and thrown in your face.

You will be judged to be old-school, and insufficiently doctrinaire. The current Democratic Party is different from the one you entered in the late 1960s, not only in policies but in mood, tone, style. Today’s rising young Democrats see no honor in accommodation, little virtue in collegiality.

In the old party of classic 20th-century Democratic liberalism, they wanted everyone to rise. Those who suffered impediments—minorities, women, working people trying to unionize—would be given a boost. There’s plenty to go around, America’s a rich country, let the government get in and help.

The direction, or at least the aspiration, was upward, for everybody.

The mood of the rising quadrants of the new party is more pinched—more abstractedly aggrieved, more theoretical. Less human. Now there’s a mood not of Everyone Can Rise but of Some Must Be Taken Down. White people in general, and white males in particular, are guilty of intractable privilege. It’s bitter, resentful, divisive.

And it is at odds with the spirit in which your political categories were formed. Actually, your politics always struck me as being like the World War II movies Americans of a certain age grew up on. The American soldiers are in the foxhole in Bataan, and there’s the working-class guy from Brooklyn, the tall Ivy League guy, the baker’s apprentice from Ohio. They’re all together and equal, like the country they represent. When the war’s over they’ll probably stay friends and the Brooklyn guy will be in the union and the Ivy League fancy-pants will be in management, but they’ll quickly forge the new contract and shake on the deal because back when it counted we were all in it together.

That is not the 2019 Democratic Party! This party would note, correctly, that there was little racial diversity in the foxhole, and would elaborate that its false unity was built on intersectional oppressions that render its utility as a unifying metaphor null.

The party’s young theorists are impatient with such gooey patriotic sentiment. America is not good guys in a foxhole to them, it’s crabs in a barrel with the one who gets to the top getting yanked down to the bottom—deservedly.

Your very strength—that you enjoy talking to both sides, that deep in your heart you see no one as deplorable—will be your weakness. You aren’t enough of a warrior. You’re sweet, you’re weak, you’re half-daffy. You’re meh.

At this point you’re not out of step, you’re out of place.

The press too will have certain biases, and not only because they’re 30 and 40 years younger than you and would like to see their careers associated with the rise of someone their age. Their bias is also toward drama, as you well know—toward pathos, and the end of something. They love that almost as much as the beginning of something. They can’t wait to write their Lion in Winter stories. “The Long Goodbye.” “The Last Campaign.” “Biden faltered for just a moment when a white-haired woman put her hand to his face and said, ‘I remember you from ’88, Joe. We all do, and we love you.”

And that is apart from those young reporters who consider themselves culture cops, and who enjoy beating people like you with the nightstick of their wokeness.

Why will it be painful to witness all this? Because it will mark the fall of a political figure who was normal. Who knew there was a left over here and a right over there and a big middle. Who went with the flow of cultural leftism but understood the other side’s reservations and signaled that in some way he had some sympathy for them. Who knew politics wasn’t always about absolutes.

This in contrast to the up-and-coming manipulators for whom it is second nature to feign warmth and outreach, but whose every hug is backed by the sharp and crooked finger of accusation. Their engine is resentment, their fuel is unearned self-esteem, their secret is lust for power.

You probably think they’re just girls who need a hug.

But their place is not your place.

It would be one thing if you wanted to enter the race to persuade the party on the merits of more-centrist approaches and working with the other side. But is that your intention? You’ve been apologizing for calling Mike Pence decent, and groveling over your “white man’s culture.” If you go with that flow, it will wash you away.

It is hard for the political personality to say no—to more fame, more power, more love. To the history books. It is hard for a man who’s always seen a president when he looked in the mirror to admit he’s an almost-president. It’s hard to get out of the habit of importance.

But you’ll never be unimportant. You’ll be Joe Biden, a liberal lion of the U.S. Senate at the turn of century. A man with a heart, unhated in an age of hate.

That’s not nothing, that’s a lot.

So don’t do it. Wisdom here dictates an Irish goodbye—a quiet departure, out the back door with a wave and a tip of the hat to whoever might be watching.

The Two Americas Have Grown Much Fiercer The U.S. was divided 46 years ago. But no one saw it as a fight to the death.

Sometimes you write about the most obvious thing in the world because it is the most important thing. Reaction to the outcome of Robert Mueller’s investigation shows Americans again how divided we are. If you are more or less of the left, you experienced the probe as a search for truth that would restore the previous world of politics. Instead the traitor got away with it and you feel destabilized, deflated. If you are of the Trumpian right, it was from the beginning an attempted coup, the establishment using everything it had to remove a force it could not defeat at the polls. You are energized, elated.

Now both sides will settle down, with the left as forthcoming in its defeat as the right is forbearing in its victory. I just wanted to show you my fantasy life. The Trump forces will strike with a great pent-up anger, and the left will never let go.

Police separating anti-Trump and pro-Trump supporters
Police separating anti-Trump and pro-Trump supporters

Both sides will be intensely human. And inhuman. Because the past few years the character of our political divisions has changed, and this must be noted again. People are proud of their bitterness now. Old America used to accept our splits as part of the price of being us—numerous, varied, ornery. Current America, with its moderating institutions (churches) going down and its dividing institutions (the internet) rising, sees our polarization not as something to be healed but a reason for being, something to get up for. There’s a finality to it, a war-to-the-death quality.

It is, actually, shocking, and I say this as a person always generally unshocked by American political division, because I came of age in it. When I was a kid we came together as a nation when John F. Kennedy died and manned rockets went up, but after that it was pretty much turmoil—Vietnam, demonstrations, Watergate. You were on one side or the other. The terms left and right started replacing the boring old Democratic and Republican.

I will never forget seeing, on the cover of Time magazine, in October 1972, an essay by Lance Morrow that was ostensibly about the last days of the race between Richard Nixon and George McGovern but really about something bigger. I was in college, and it struck me hard. It was called “The Two Americas,” and was elegantly written and prescient. The candidates were so unlike each other that they seemed to represent different “instincts” about America. “They suggested almost two different countries, two different cultures, two different Americas,” Mr. Morrow wrote. “The McGovern campaign marches to the rhythms of the long, Wagnerian ’60s”—racial upheaval, the war, feminism, the sexual revolution. McGovernites had a more romantic conception of what leadership could be, should be.

In Nixon’s America, on the other hand, there was “the sense of ‘system.’ The free enterprise system, the law and order system, even the ‘family unit’ system.” They were protective of it, grateful to it. And the antonym to their idea of system wasn’t utopia, it was chaos. “They are apprehensive of the disorders that the late ’60s adumbrated to them, the turmoils that they suspect a McGovern accession might bring.” They wanted evolution, not revolution.

While Nixon supporters tended to be more “comfortable,” McGovern backers had their own kind of detachment. Harvard sociologist David Riesman was quoted on part of McGovern’s constituency, professional elites: “They have very little sense of that other day-by-day America.”

Mr. Morrow noted a dynamic still with us, only more so. On both sides, “voters repeat their candidate’s themes and even rhetoric with a precision that is sometimes eerie.” He concluded with the observation that within the two Americas he saw “one common denominator,” the sophistication of the people, their earnest desire, left, right and center, to find and support the best thing for America.

It was written with a respect and warmth toward the American people that is not so common now.

The notion of a country divided reinforced what I thought at the time I’d been seeing. The facts and feel of the divisions change, but division isn’t bad, it’s inevitable and human.

In my lifetime I have seen two things that have helped us reorder ourselves as a nation into some rough if temporary unity. Tragedy, such as 9/11, is one. Sheer political popularity is another. Ronald Reagan had two authentic landslides, the second time, in 1984, winning 49 states. Today’s America doesn’t yield outcomes like that. But there was something we did then that could never happen now.

Writing is never pleasurable, at least for anyone sane, but the most pleasurable and satisfying speeches I worked on with Reagan were those in which you get to bring your love for the other side. A Rose Garden speech praising the excellence of Scoop Jackson or JFK, a speech never given on the excellence of Eleanor Roosevelt. We quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman more than Dwight Eisenhower. The boss had been a Democrat. He’d stumped for Truman in ’48 with Truman. Reagan was not sentimental about our divisions—he knew exactly why he was not a Democrat anymore—but he took every chance he could to reach across the lines and hold on.

But that kind of popularity is probably not possible in this environment. That’s for many reasons, and one is that policy demands have become maximalist. It’s not enough that contraceptives be covered in the government-mandated plan; the nuns must conform. It’s not enough you be sensitive to the effect of your words and language; you must be punished for saying or thinking the wrong thing. It’s not enough that gay marriage is legal; you must be forced to bake the cake. It won’t do that attention be paid to scientific arguments on the environment; America must upend itself with green new deals or be judged not to care about children.

Nothing can be moderate or incremental, everything must be sweeping and definitive. It is all so maximalist, and bullying.

In that environment people start to think that giving an inch is giving a yard. And so they won’t budge.

You don’t even get credit for being extreme in your views but mild in your manner, in the way that people called Barry Goldwater both extreme and mild. Now you must be extreme in your manner or it doesn’t count, you’re not one of us.

It is just such an air of extremeness on the field now, and it reflects a larger sense of societal alienation. We have the fierce teamism of the lonely, who find fellowship in their online fighting group and will say anything for its approval. There are the angry who find relief in politics because they can funnel their rage there, into that external thing, instead of examining closer and more uncomfortable causes. There are the people who cannot consider God and religion and have to put that energy somewhere.

America isn’t making fewer of the lonely, angry and unaffiliated, it’s making more every day.

So I am worried, which is the point of this piece. The war between Trump and not-Trump will continue, will not be resolved, will get meaner. One side will win and one side will lose and the nation will go on, changed.

Is it self-indulgent to note that this grieves me? I suppose it is. But it grieves me.