Will Virginia Teach Trump Fans a Lesson? A plurality of college-educated whites supported him in 2016. This week a majority went Democratic.

Look, it wasn’t just Virginia. It was Westchester and Nassau counties in New York. And in Virginia it wasn’t only the governorship the Republicans lost. When all the votes are counted, their 66-34 majority in the House of Delegates may turn into a minority.

The Democrats had a big night Tuesday, and the president of the United States took it right in the kisser. And it was all about him.

I spent Wednesday and Thursday talking to Virginia Republicans, from centrists to hard rightists. Not one expressed surprise at the outcome. All acknowledged the cause was Donald Trump.

Polling StationAbout future prospects, the state Republican Party was blunt. Yes, out-of-state money and groups had an impact, as did Republican congressional inaction. But 68% of voters under 45 voted Democratic, and Republicans lost nonwhite voters 80% to 20%. “If we do not find a way to appeal to these two groups,” the party chairman said in a statement, “the results will be grim.”

A smart, experienced Republican elected official: “It was a total repudiation of Trump—no other way around it. Voters, more women than men, were literally walking in and saying ‘I’m here to vote against Trump.’ The name of the victim on the ballot didn’t matter.” Accomplished mainstream legislators lost along with bomb throwers.

Mr. Trump lost Virginia last year by 5%, worse than Mitt Romney’s 3% defeat, and distributed differently. “Trump in 2016 lost in the growing areas—suburban, diverse—and won big in the shrinking areas—rural, white,” the official observed. “The suburban educated women problem will grow in states that are getting bigger and more diverse. We have hitched our wagon to the shrinking team.”

And although “it was a suburban bloodbath,” it went “well beyond the suburbs. Losing so many seats in our House of Delegates was historic—half of the losses in Northern Virginia, but losses too in Virginia Beach, where we have military population, and the Richmond suburbs.” Gov.-elect Ralph Northam is from the Virginia Beach area.

The official explains: “The female backlash about Trump is in part a response to the resurgence of male chest-thumping following Hillary’s demise and Trump’s victory. Trump has unleashed men to be more oblivious to real sexism at a time when women are feeling liberated by the demise of Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, etc. They can’t vote against Harvey or Bill, but they can vote against Trump and anyone remotely near him.”

A GOP political operative who worked on one of the Virginia races said “there is a Catch-22: We can’t win with Trump, and we can’t win without him.” Republican Ed Gillespie worked hard, but “authenticity matters.” He made a fortune as a lobbyist and political strategist—a swamp creature. Trump supporters didn’t embrace him as a friend.

Mr. Trump’s first year has left almost everyone embittered: “Democrats are furious at Trump, and rational Republicans are deeply depressed. Regular Republicans feel nothing is getting done—I heard this everywhere I went.”

The bottom line is that the election was about Mr. Trump: “How do you win when your leader has an approval rating of 35%?”

From a 45-year Virginia resident, a conservative with libertarian impulses: “A lot of Virginians are more or less moderate-to-liberal.” Mr. Northam was “nonthreatening—a doctor, former military,” and “as long as Democrats sound moderate, they’ll do OK.” This Virginian thought the weather significant: “It rained all Election Day. People had to be highly motivated to come out. The people who are anti-Trump are highly motivated!”

From a 30-year Northern Virginia resident and conservative intellectual: “Midterm elections almost always go against the party in the White House, and Trump hasn’t changed that. But look, Trump is very unpopular—I won’t dispute ‘friggin’ hated’ for much of the country, maybe most. and Republican attempts to repeal ObamaCare are particularly unpopular.” Health care was the top issue to Virginia voters; exit polls showed those for whom it was most important went Democratic 77% to 23%.

Finally, from a New York-based political veteran: “It was a referendum on Trump, and he lost. Fifty-seven percent of Virginia voters disapproved of him, half of them strongly. It was the higher end of Blue America unloading on him. Whites with college degrees gave 51% of their vote to the Democrat. Last year Trump won that demographic [in Virginia] 49% to 45%. They turned up at the polls as 41% of electorate. Last year it was 38%. They went out of their way to unload on him, and succeeded.”

He thought Tuesday was also a verdict on Trump’s equivocations after Charlottesville: “Trump and Steve Bannon treated Charlottesville as a nonevent. Virginia voters thought otherwise.” The administration’s “marriage to the alt-right comes with a cost.”

The larger picture? We’re in the early scenes of big change. We’re seeing the gradual cratering of both parties. Tuesday night obscured this for the Democrats and highlighted it for the Republicans. Democrats are split between moderates and a rising progressive left, which has all the energy, enthusiasm and intellectual action. Mr. Trump united the Democrats in Virginia. That won’t last forever.

The Republican Party is divided by serious questions about its essential purpose, and by Mr. Trump. As the Virginia officeholder observed: “Trump’s divisiveness makes it more challenging to have a center-right Reaganesque approach, because it’s all about Trump—you’re either not praising him enough or not attacking him enough. . . . All the oxygen is Trump or anti-Trump.”

The threat for Democrats is that they’ll overplay their hand—that heady with their first big win since Barack Obama’s re-election, they’ll go crazy-left.

If they are clever they will see their strong space as anti-Trump, socially moderate and economically liberal. Will they be clever? Hunger encourages discipline, and they are hungry. But emboldened progressives will want to seize the day.

Tuesday night’s losses could have a helpful effect on Trump enthusiasts. They imagine the number and strength of his supporters as bigger than it is. They imagine his opponents as unappreciative sellouts: Trump has won and will continue to win, you just don’t get it. After Virginia, they must surely see trouble. Donald Trump has not built support in the middle, he’s alienated it. The press’s antipathy to Mr. Trump is real and unchangeable, but you cannot blame all his problems on it. Pros get around the press, use it as a foil and straight man, and speak every day to independents, centrists and the softly aligned.

Mr. Trump has not been able to do this. It is the big story of the year since his election—that he has not a growing base but a smaller, so-far indissoluble core.

The parties are each in an existential crisis. The Democrats, split between the Sanders/Warren progressive vision and the old Clinton vision, will fight more passionately among themselves as 2020 approaches. The Republicans are left knowing that day by day, Mr. Trump is crashing. The wiser of them suspect that when he’s gone, what replaces him is nothing. Because the Republican Party is riven and no one knows what it stands for anymore.

In both parties there is too much distance between the top and the bottom. In both, ambivalent leaders are chasing after voters they no longer understand. That is the second big fact since Trump’s election.

Finding Relief on the Streets and at the Office Terrorists are much weaker than we feared in 2001. And sexual harassers are suddenly more vulnerable.

New York

In 2001 I thought it would be a suitcase bomb, a homemade nuclear device, not airplanes going into buildings. I’d felt something coming, had written of it, but that day, amid all the grief and carnage, I felt a lurking relief. I’d feared worse—tens of thousands gone, parts of the city rendered uninhabitable.

I feel a version of that relief now, after Tuesday’s truck attack downtown, within the shadow of the Freedom Tower. Barely three hours later, on Lexington Avenue from the 90s through the 70s, the streets were crowded with kids and parents out for Halloween. The mood was not a sag-shouldered “This is the new normal,” but a collected sense of “We can handle this.” There was an air of gallant enjoyment. It made the emotionalism of the mayor’s remarks—“We will not be cowed”; “This action was intended to break our spirit”—seem both hyped up and rote, and appropriate to another time.

Halloween

Near the scene of the terror attack in New York City, Oct. 31.

Yes, ISIS is here; yes, this will happen again, and security is appropriately high for this weekend’s marathon. But it’s obvious, and has been for some time, that we’re in a different moment, a different part of the battle. For months and then years after 9/11, we feared al Qaeda would hit us again, harder. Sixteen years later what we see is a series of single, random-seeming acts by weak, stupid, highly emotional men who read propaganda sites and become excited in the way of the weak, stupid and highly emotional. Their attacks are low-tech, limited.

Graeme Wood had a smart piece for the Atlantic hours after the attack. “The details strongly suggest that the man was a complete idiot,” Mr. Wood wrote of the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov. “I harp on Saipov’s apparent stupidity for one reason: As long as Islamic State’s attackers are idiots like Saipov, our societies can probably handle them. . . . The Idiots’ Crusade is a manageable problem. Much less tolerable would be a campaign of competent terror—the kind of mayhem enabled by training, like the 2015 Bataclan killers in Paris had, or by patient planning, as Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas did.”

Continued vigilance is in order: “As Islamic State loses territory, the greatest danger remains the prospect that some of the battle-hardened fighters will return home, raising the average IQ of attackers, and making possible attacks that would be many times more deadly than this one.”

The bad guys now seem incompetent. But the bad guys will never go away, and it is to the deep and everlasting credit of U.S. law enforcement, especially the New York City Police Department, that they have been so contained. Some day they’ll hit us hard again, so no relaxation of efforts is possible. But right now it feels more like Britain’s long struggle with the Irish Republican Army than an existential threat, and we must be thankful when feelings improve. This was my small epiphany Tuesday night as I moved among people dressed as bumblebees, Pharaohs, Godzilla and an angel with black wings. I liked the gallant enjoyment. I shared it.

*   *   *

Here we shift to another thing that has changed, this one permanently. Before it goes away as a regular front-page story—and it will, because as Thoreau said, once you’re familiar with a principle you become less interested in hearing of its numerous applications—it must be noted that what has happened the past month regarding sexual harassment in the workplace is epochal, a true watershed and long overdue.

The revelations will have a huge impact, not because men now understand that sexual abuse and bullying are wrong—they always knew, and for many the wrongness would have been part of the enjoyment—but because they now know, really for the first time, that they will pay a terrible price if their misbehavior is revealed. And from here on in, there’s a greater chance it will be revealed, and believed.

The price to be paid was the real lesson of the past few weeks of resignations and firings. Celebrity abusers understand the first paragraph of their obit will now include something like, “. . . but fell from his position of power in the sexual-abuse scandals of the 2010s.”

That there is a price to be paid will have a deterrent effect. Human sin won’t stop; harassment will continue—but something important happened here.

In July 2015 New York magazine put 35 women on the cover who alleged that Bill Cosby had sexually violated them. Until then it had been a cloudy, amorphous story. Suddenly it was no longer he-said/she-said: You saw the faces, read the testimony, and knew what Mr. Cosby really was. A year later Gretchen Carlson, and later others, went up against Fox News’s Roger Ailes ; her lawsuit was settled for $20 million. Then came the revelation of the Bill O’Reilly settlements.

But Black October for sexual harassers began with the New York Times stories by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey on Harvey Weinstein’s history of abuses and payoffs, followed by Ronan Farrow’s lengthy investigation in the New Yorker, and then on to other men in show business and the news media.

Something happened. Media outfits made a commitment—expensive in terms of resources, personnel and legal costs—to get the story. What they found was numbers—the sheer number of abusers and the number of accusers who’d testify. They discovered details that established patterns.

This is all good. And one of the things that fell is the phrase “everybody knew.” That is now a self-indicting phrase.

I close with a point that may grate on those who, like me, are glad at what has happened and wish to see just revelations continue.

The challenge is to pursue justice while keeping a sense of humanity. Human-resources departments terrified of costly lawsuits will impose more and stranger rules that won’t necessarily thwart bad guys but will harass good men. This is the way of things. Two recent anecdotes: At a yearly checkup, a male doctor went through his short list of how to stay healthy in New York. It included: don’t stray onto the curb, stay on the sidewalk, keep back from careening trucks that take a corner too tight and knock people down. I got it, I said—I take the arms of cellphone zombies and guide them a step back to keep them safe. I’d done it recently with a young woman. He got a poignant look. “I can’t do that now,” he said. If he put his hand on a strange woman’s arm, it might be misunderstood.

I was told the other day of a news executive who complimented his co-worker on her boots. He was later taken aside by a colleague: You can’t talk like that now! He hurriedly called the woman and apologized: He meant no offense, didn’t mean to sound leering. She said: Are you kidding? I knew it was a compliment, no offense at all.

That was human. Common sense is better than antihuman edicts.

It’s good the pendulum has swung. You want it to hit the bad guys hard, and leave the good ones untouched.

Trump May Be Following Palin’s Trajectory Support for her cooled due to antic statements, intellectual thinness and general strangeness.

The president has been understandably confident in his supporters. They appreciate his efforts, admire his accomplishments (Justice Neil Gorsuch, ISIS’ setbacks), claim bragging rights for possibly related occurrences (the stock market’s rise), and feel sympathy for him as an outsider up against the swamp. They see his roughness as evidence of his authenticity, so he doesn’t freak them out every day. In this they are like Sarah Palin’s supporters, who saw her lack of intellectual polish as proof of sincerity. At her height, in 2008, she had almost the entire Republican Party behind her, and was pushed forward most forcefully by those who went on to lead Never Trump. But in time she lost her place through antic statements, intellectual thinness and general strangeness.

The same may well happen—or be happening—with Donald Trump.

One reason is that there is no hard constituency in America for political incompetence, and that is what he continues to demonstrate.

Palin & TrumpThe first sign of political competence is knowing where you stand with the people. Gallup this week had him at 36% approval, 59% disapproval. Rasmussen has him at 41%, with 57% disapproving. There have been mild ups and downs, but the general picture has been more or less static. Stuart Rothenberg notes that at this point in his presidency Barack Obama had the approval of 48% of independents. Mr. Trump has 33%.

He proceeds each day with the confidence of one who thinks his foundation firm when it’s not—it’s shaky. His job is to build support, win people over through persuasion, and score some legislative victories that will encourage a public sense that he is competent, even talented.

The story of this presidency so far is his inability to do this. He thwarts himself daily with his dramas. In the thwarting he does something unusual: He gives his own supporters no cover. They back him at some personal cost, in workplace conversations and at family gatherings. They are in a hard position. He leaves them exposed by indulging whatever desire seizes him—to lash out, to insult, to say bizarre things. If he acted in a peaceful and constructive way, he would give his people cover.

He acts as if he takes them for granted. He does not dance with the ones that brung him.

Asked by reporters why he hadn’t issued a statement on the death of four U.S. soldiers in Niger, he either misunderstood or deflected the question by talking about how he writes to and calls the families of the fallen. Other presidents, he said, did not do as much—“some presidents didn’t do anything”—including Mr. Obama. When former Obama staffers pushed back he evoked the death of Chief of Staff John Kelly’s son Robert, a Marine first lieutenant, in Afghanistan: “You could ask Gen. Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?” Mr. Kelly, a private and dignified man, was said to be surprised at the mention of his son.

Soon after, Mr. Trump called Myeshia Johnson, widow of Army sergeant La David T. Johnson, and reached her in the car on the way to receive her husband’s casket. Someone put the call on speakerphone. A Democratic congresswoman in the car later charged that Trump had been disrespectful. In fairness, if the congresswoman quoted him accurately, it is quite possible that “He knew what he was signing up for” meant, in the president’s mind, “He heroically signed up to put his life on the line for his country,” and “But still it must hurt,” meant “I can’t imagine the grief you feel even with your knowledge that every day he put himself in harm’s way.”

And indeed Mr. Kelly, in a remarkable White House briefing Thursday, recounted what Gen. Joseph Dunford, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had told then-Gen. Kelly in 2010, when Robert died: “He was doing exactly what he wanted to do. . . . He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1%. He knew what the possibilities were, because we were at war.”

Mr. Kelly was moving, fully credible, and as he spoke you had the feeling you were listening to a great man. It was unfortunate that when the controversy erupted, the president defaulted to anger, and tweets. News stories were illustrated everywhere by the picture of the beautiful young widow sobbing as she leaned on her husband’s flag-draped casket. Those are the real stakes and that is the real story, not some jerky sideshow about which presidents called which grieving families more often.

This week Sen. John McCain famously gave a speech in Philadelphia slamming the administration’s foreign-policy philosophy as a “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.” Fair enough—the famous internationalist opposes Trumpian foreign-policy notions. There are many ways presidents can respond to such criticism—thoughtfully, with wit or an incisive rejoinder.

Mr. Trump went on Chris Plante’s radio show to tell Sen. McCain he’d better watch it. “People have to be careful because at some point I fight back,” he said. “I’m being very nice. I’m being very, very nice. But at some point I fight back, and it won’t be pretty.”

FDR, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were pretty tough hombres, but they always managed to sound like presidents and not, say, John Gotti. Mr. McCain, suffering from cancer, evoked in his reply his experience as a prisoner of war: “I’ve faced far greater challenges than this.”

That, actually, is how presidents talk.

I must note I get a lot of mail saying this is all about style—people pick on Mr. Trump because he isn’t smooth, doesn’t say the right words. “But we understand him.” “Get over these antiquated ideas of public dignity, we’re long past that.” But the problem is not style. A gruff, awkward, inelegant style wedded to maturity and seriousness of purpose would be powerful in America. Mr. Trump’s problem has to do with something deeper—showing forbearance, patience, sympathy; revealing the human qualities people appreciate seeing in a political leader because they suggest a reliable inner stature.

Meanwhile Steve Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, goes forward with at least partial support from the president and vows to bring down the Republican establishment. But Mr. Trump needs to build, not level. He needs a Republican House and Senate if for no other reason than one day Robert Mueller will file his report, and it will be leaked, and something will be in there because special counsels always get something. It is Republican majorities—the Republican establishment—that the president will need to help him. He will need the people he’d let Mr. Bannon purge.

Meanwhile polls say the Republican nominee for Republican Alabama’s open Senate seat is neck and neck with his Democratic opponent.

Meanwhile the president absolutely has to win on tax reform after his embarrassing loss on ObamaCare. He shouldn’t be in this position, with his back to the wall.

None of this speaks of competence. And again, in America there is no hard constituency for political incompetence. Mr. Trump should keep his eye on Sarah Palin’s social media profile. She has 1.4 million Twitter followers, and her Facebook page has a “Shop Now” button.

What Bob Corker Sees in Trump His concerns are widely shared. The senator deserves credit for going on the record with them.

In early March I met with a dozen Republican U.S. senators for coffee as part of a series in which they invite writers, columnists and historians to share what’s on their mind. The consuming topic was the new president. I wrote some notes on the train down, seized by what I felt was the central challenge Republicans on Capitol Hill were facing. The meeting was off the record, but I think I can share what I said. I said the terrible irony of the 2016 campaign was that Donald Trump was the only one of the 17 GOP primary candidates who could have gone on to win the presidency. Only he had the uniqueness, the outside-the-box-ness to win. At the same time Mr. Trump was probably the only one of the 17 who would not be able to govern, for reasons of temperament, political inexperience and essential nature. It just wouldn’t work. The challenge for Republicans was to make legislative progress within that context.

It was my impression the senators were not fully receptive to my thought. Everyone was polite but things were subdued, and I wondered later if I’d gone too far, been too blunt, or was simply wrong. Maybe they knew things I didn’t. Since then I have spoken to a few who made it clear they saw things as I did, or had come to see them that way.

Senator Bob Corker

Senator Bob Corker

I jump now to the recent story involving Sen. Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. In August he said publicly that Mr. Trump had not yet demonstrated the “stability” and “competence” to be successful as president. Last weekend Mr. Trump, in a series of tweets, mocked the senator, calling him gutless and “Liddle Bob Corker.” Mr. Corker tweeted in response: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.”

After that he turned serious, in an interview with Jonathan Martin of the New York Times .

Mr. Martin asked if Mr. Corker was trying to “sound some kind of alarm” about the president. Mr. Corker said “the president concerns me.” He likes him, it isn’t personal, but “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House it’s a situation of trying to contain him.” He said there are “some very good people” around the president, “and they have been able to push back against his worst instincts. . . . But the volatility is, to anyone who has been around, is to a degree alarming.” In particular, he observed: “The tweets, especially as it relates to foreign policy issues, I know have been very damaging to us.”

Mr. Martin asked if Mr. Corker has Senate colleagues who feel the same way. “Oh yeah. Are you kidding me? Oh yeah.”

Mr. Martin asked why they did not speak out. Mr. Corker didn’t know: “Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here. There will be some—if you write that, I’m sure there will be some that say, ‘No, no, no I don’t believe that,’ but of course they understand the volatility that we are dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes from people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”

Among them are Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Chief of Staff John Kelly : “As long as there’s people like that around him who are able to talk him down, you know, when he gets spun up, you know, calm him down and continue to work with him before a decision is made. I think we’ll be fine.” He said of the president: “Sometimes I feel like he’s on a reality show of some kind, you know, when he’s talking about these big foreign policy issues. And, you know, he doesn’t realize that, you know, that we could be heading towards World War III with the kinds of comments that he’s making.”

This is all pretty striking from a sitting senator, even one not running for re-election.

At roughly the same time, some sharply critical pieces on the president were coming from the nation’s newspapers. The Los Angeles Times had a story on Mr. Trump’s reaction to Mr. Kelly’s efforts at imposing order on the White House: “The president by many accounts has bristled at the restrictions.” The article quotes allies of the president describing him as “increasingly unwilling to be managed, even just a little.” A person close to the White House claimed Messrs. Kelly and Trump had recently engaged in “shouting matches.” In the Washington Post, Anne Gearan described the president as “livid” this summer when discussing options for the Iran nuclear deal with advisers. He was “incensed” by the arguments of Mr. Tillerson and others.

Also in the Post, Michael Kranish interviewed Thomas Barrack Jr. , a billionaire real-estate developer and one of the president’s most loyal longtime friends. Mr. Barrack delicately praised the president as “shrewd” but said he was “shocked” and “stunned” by things the president has said in public and tweeted. “In my opinion, he’s better than this.”

Thursday, Vanity Fair’s Gabe Sherman said he’d spoken to a half-dozen prominent Republicans and Trump associates, who all describe “a White House in crisis as advisers struggle to contain a president who seems to be increasingly unfocused and consumed by dark moods.” Mr. Sherman reported two senior Republican officials said Mr. Kelly is miserable in his job and is remaining out of a sense of duty, “to keep Trump from making some sort of disastrous decision.” An adviser said of Trump, “He’s lost a step.” Two sources told Mr. Sherman that several months ago, former chief strategist Steve Bannon warned the president the great risk to his presidency isn’t impeachment but the 25th Amendment, under which the cabinet can vote to remove a president temporarily for being “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

There are a few things to say about all this. First, when a theme like this keeps coming up, something’s going on. A lot of people appear to be questioning in a new way, or at least talking about, the president’s judgment, maturity and emotional solidity. We’ll be hearing more about this subject, not less, as time goes by.

Mr. Corker deserves credit for going public with his reservations and warnings. The U.S. is in a challenging international environment; it’s not unfair or unjust to ask if the president is up to it and able to lead through it.

But we are a nation divided on the subject of Donald Trump, as on many others, and so this is a time to be extremely careful. Unnamed sources can—and will—say anything. If you work in the White House or the administration and see what Mr. Corker sees, and what unnamed sources say they see, this is the time to speak on the record, and take the credit or the blows.

What a delicate time this is. Half the country does not see what the journalists, establishment figures and elites of Washington see. But they do see it, and they believe they’re seeing clearly. It’s a little scary. More light is needed.

The Culture of Death—and of Disdain Why do Americans own so many guns? Because they don’t trust the protected elites to protect them.

When news broke at Christmastime five years ago of what had happened at Newtown a friend, a news anchor, called and said with a broken voice: “What is the word for what we feel?” I thought for a moment. “Shattered,” I said. “We are shattered, all of us.” When people in ensuing days spoke of what had been done to the little children in the classrooms, I’d put up my hands and say no, we can’t keep putting those words in the air, we can’t afford it. When terrible images enter our heads and settle in, they become too real, and what is real is soon, by the unstable, imitated, repeated.

When Columbine happened in the spring of 1999, it hit me like a wave of sickness. I wrote a piece about the culture of death that produced the teenage shooters: “Think of it this way. Your child is an intelligent little fish. He swims in deep water. Waves of sound and sight, of thought and fact, come invisibly through that water, like radar. . . . The sound from the television is a wave, and the sound from the radio; the headlines on the newsstand, on the magazines, on the ad on the bus as it whizzes by—all are waves. The fish—your child—is bombarded and barely knows it. But the waves contain words like this, which I’ll limit to only one source, the news:

Gun Rack“. . . was found strangled and is believed to have been sexually molested . . . had her breast implants removed . . . took the stand to say the killer was smiling the day the show aired . . . said the procedure is, in fact, legal infanticide . . . is thought to be connected to earlier sexual activity among teens . . . court battle over who owns the frozen sperm . . . contains songs that call for dominating and even imprisoning women . . . died of lethal injection . . . had threatened to kill her children . . . had asked Kevorkian for help in killing himself . . . protested the game, which they said has gone beyond violence to sadism . . . showed no remorse . . . which is about a wager over whether he could sleep with another student . . .

“This is the ocean in which our children swim. This is the sound of our culture. It comes from all parts of our culture and reaches all parts of our culture, and all the people in it, which is everybody.”

We were bringing up our children in an unwell atmosphere. It would enter and distort them. Could we turn this around?

And here is the horror for me of Las Vegas: I was not shattered. That shatters me.

It was just another terrible story. It is not the new normal it is the new abnormal and deep down we know it’s not going to stop. There is too much instability in our country, too much rage and lovelessness, too many weapons.

On television, the terrible sameness. We all know the postmassacre drill now. The shocked witness knows exactly what the anchor needs and speaks in rounded, 20-second bursts. Activists have their bullet-point arguments ready because they used them last time and then saved them in a file called “Aurora,” “Virginia Tech” or “Giffords, Gabby.”

We are stuck, the debate frozen. The right honestly doesn’t understand why the left keeps insisting on reforms that won’t help. The left honestly doesn’t understand how much yearning there is among so many conservatives to do something, try something, make it better. They don’t want their kids growing up in a world where madmen have guns that shoot nine rounds a second. Many this week at least agreed bump stocks can be banned. It probably won’t help much. But if it helps just a little, for God’s sake, do it.

But: Why do so many Americans have guns? I don’t mean those who like to hunt and shoot or live far out and need protection. I don’t mean those who’ve been handed down the guns of their grandfather or father. Why do a significant number of Americans have so many guns?

Wouldn’t it help if we thought about that?

I think a lot of Americans have guns because they’re fearful—and for damn good reason. They fear a coming chaos, and know that when it happens it will be coming to a nation that no longer coheres. They think it’s all collapsing—our society, our culture, the baseline competence of our leadership class. They see the cultural infrastructure giving way—illegitimacy, abused children, neglect, racial tensions, kids on opioids staring at screens—and, unlike their cultural superiors, they understand the implications.

Nuts with nukes, terrorists bent on a mission. The grid will go down. One of our foes will hit us, suddenly and hard. In the end it could be hand to hand, door to door. I said some of this six years ago to a famously liberal journalist, who blinked in surprise. If that’s true, he said, they won’t have a chance! But they are Americans, I said. They won’t go down without a fight.

Americans have so many guns because drug gangs roam the streets, because they have less trust in their neighbors, because they read Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” Because all of their personal and financial information got hacked in the latest breach, because our country’s real overlords are in Silicon Valley and appear to be moral Martians who operate on some weird new postmodern ethical wavelength. And they’ll be the ones programming the robots that’ll soon take all the jobs! Maybe the robots will all look like Mark Zuckerberg, like those eyeless busts of Roman Emperors. Our leaders don’t even think about this technological revolution. They’re too busy with transgender rights.

Americans have so many guns because they know the water their children swim in hasn’t gotten cleaner since Columbine, but more polluted and lethal.

The establishments and elites that create our political and entertainment culture have no idea how fragile it all is—how fragile it seems to people living normal, less privileged lives. That is because nothing is fragile for them. They’re barricaded behind the things the influential have, from good neighborhoods to security alarms, doormen and gates. They’re not dark in their imagining of the future because history has never been dark for them; it’s been sunshine, which they expect to continue. They sail on, oblivious to the legitimate anxieties of their countrymen who live near the edge.

Those who create our culture feel free to lecture normal Americans—on news shows, on late night comedy shows. Why do they have such a propensity for violence? What is their love for guns? Why do they join the National Rifle Association? The influential grind away with their disdain for their fellow Americans, whom they seem less to want to help than to dominate: Give up your gun, bake my cake, free speech isn’t free if what you’re saying triggers us.

Would it help if we tried less censure and more cultural affiliation? Might it help if we started working on problems that are real? Sure. But why lower the temperature when there’s such easy pleasure to be had in ridiculing your mindless and benighted countrymen?

Partisanship Is Breaking Both Parties Republicans fail again on health care, while Democrats refuse to get serious about taxes.

The subject is realism. It involves seeing clearly your moment in time and where you are within it. We have a heck of a time with this. Our dreams, hungers and illusions get in the way.

But I’ve never seen such a lack of reality among our two great political parties in Congress.

Their own survival as parties requires bipartisanship—concrete achievements and progress. They have to work together and produce! Nobody likes them. The biggest “party” in America is those who call themselves independent. Gallup has the Democrats’ and Republicans’ favorability each at about 40%. Both parties are internally riven, warring and ideologically divided. Neither is as sure as it’s been in the past of its philosophical reason for being. Both have to prove they have a purpose. Otherwise they will in time go down, and it may not take that long.

Republicans announce their tax-reform plan, Sept. 27.

Republicans announce their tax-reform plan, Sept. 27.

Both parties go forward as if they are operating in a pre-2016 reality. But the election, now almost a year ago, should have changed so many assumptions. For instance, when the Republican nominee promised not to cut entitlements, his crowds—Republicans, Democrats and independents—cheered.

Health-care reform this week went down, again. The Republicans did not have the votes in the Senate, again. How they tried to get the bills through suggests they are living in a dream. The dream was that once they held the House, the Senate and the White House, they would be able to call the shots, crush the foe, bully their way through. They thought they would finally be able to do what the Democrats did when President Obama and the Democratic Congress bullied through Obamacare.

That was a mistake. What the Democrats did shouldn’t be emulated.

Sen. John McCain, who basically killed the two Republican bills, did it based on a central insight as to the facts of the moment and the issue: The path to a new health-care law runs through the Democrats. The path to a bill better than ObamaCare—and it would have to be bad indeed to be worse than ObamaCare—runs through the Democrats. Changing one-sixth of the American economy cannot be successfully done without them. The American people will never accept a health-care law that is not backed by both parties. That means regular order—hearings, debate, negotiations—as Mr. McCain has said.

The Republicans failed because they tried to do what Mr. Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid did, passing ObamaCare on a party-line vote. But bills that make great changes in how Americans live, such as Social Security and Medicare, must always have broad, two-party support. The Democrats pushed ObamaCare without fully understanding what the bill even contained. “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it,” said Mrs. Pelosi, mindlessly and in a way accurately: They were content to let regulators and administrators figure out the implications of everything.

But fierce pushback followed—the tea party uprising grew; the Democrats lost the House in 2010. Then came the failure in 2013 of the website on which the entire program depended, the admission by one of its architects that it was marketed to take advantage of “the stupidity of the American voter,” and the revelation that the central promise—“If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor”—was a lie.

The bill failed on its own terms, and it is still the law of the land. When Republicans tried to replace it, they tried to do just what the Democrats did—hold party-line votes on bills that few in the electorate fully understood. The difference is the electorate had previously been scalded. They’re not in a trusting mood.

Health care is experienced now as a fully national issue, and there are signs America is tilting left on it. (A bipartisan health-care bill might help blunt the coming movement for single payer.)

Democrats have to be part of fixing ObamaCare. And though they should be in a weak position, having lost the congressional majorities and the White House, they’re holding strong cards. The Republicans have crashed and burned twice, and there’s no reason to think they’ll magically succeed next time.

Health-care reform will have to come from both parties or it will not be accepted by America. It will have to be a compromise that comes from both parties or it will not pass the Kimmel test, the nonsensical but powerful showbiz bar such a bill must now clear. That means it will be more liberal than the Republicans want, and more expensive.

The Democrats will be hellish in negotiations. They will not call it “repeal and replace”; they’ll call it “repair and reinforce.” They’ll be demanding. And this is unjust. They caused the problem in the first place! They should be feeling chastened; they should be desperate to create a fix. Instead they’ve been amusing themselves watching the hapless Republicans blow it again. They should amuse themselves less.

Now the Republicans turn to tax reform. Again they move from a weakened position. They’re going forward without the momentum of victory, without the confidence of recently demonstrated skill. As he unveiled the plan this week, Speaker Paul Ryan wore a weirdly triumphant smile. “Today,” he said, “we are taking the next step to liberate Americans from our broken tax code.” He compared this moment to 1986, when Ronald Reagan won tax reform. But that was another world—a broadly popular president, both parties strong, each working, however reluctantly, with the other.

As strange as Mr. Ryan’s enacting of a happy warrior’s joy was the Democrats’ response. They reverted to their own antique playbook, taking potshots, being unserious. The Republican plan is “a massive windfall for the wealthiest Americans,” said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “It seems that President Trump and Republicans have designed their plan to be cheered in the country clubs and the corporate boardrooms.” It should be called “wealth-fare.” Sen. Bernie Sanders said the plan is “morally repugnant and bad economic policy.”

But the tax code is too big and too complicated, as Mr. Ryan said. It would do the country good to see it improved.

Both parties are breaking and broken. They both need a win. They could recover some of their standing with a bipartisan victory. It would show America the two-party system itself can win and produce something needed. This would reinforce the position of both parties. It would suggest they’re needed! If they can’t produce something big together, more Americans will become certain they are not.

Meanwhile, thousands of K Street tax lobbyists will be crawling the halls trying to affect the shape of the bill for their clients.

Everyone is acting as if they don’t know what time it is, or what position they themselves are in.

America is in trouble, with huge problems. The people need improvements in health care, in the tax code. They’re desperate for is a sense that improvement is actually possible.

This is no time for Democrats to be small, tatty and cheap, to do the old class warfare, to issue one-liners instead of thoughts. They should wake up and get serious.

It’s weird to see everyone going through the old motions, dream-like.

Trump Gets Blunt at the United Nations Will bracing clarity make things better or worse? We’ll know soon enough. But he said things the world needed to hear.

I’m not sure President Trump’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly has been fairly judged or received. It was a strong speech—clear, emphatic, remarkably blunt. The great question is whether the bluntness will tend at this point in history to make things better or worse. We’ll find out soon enough.

Often Mr. Trump grows bored with prepared speeches and starts throwing in asides and improvising adjectives. But he was committed to this speech and focused: It looked like Trump believing what Trump was saying. Detractors say, “Oh, his speechwriters just put something in front of him,” but all presidents, from the most naturally eloquent to the verbally dullest, have speechwriters. The point is what a president decides he wants to say and how he agrees to say it. In the end he directs what goes in and what comes out.

President Trump speaking at the United Nations General Assembly

President Trump speaking at the United Nations General Assembly

Mr. Trump explained to the U.N. the assumptions he sees as driving his own foreign policy, which showed a proper respect for the opinion of mankind. He outlined the central problems facing the world as he sees them—a tradition in such speeches, and a good one, for it matters what an American president thinks.

Mr. Trump’s speech was rhetorically dense, in that a lot was in it and little time was wasted. There were moments of eloquence—the U.N. must not be complacent; we cannot become “bystanders to history.”

He began with the usual bragging: The U.S. economy is improving, and we are militarily strong and getting stronger—and fairly quickly kicked into hopefulness, and respect for the U.N.’s history.

On his administration’s driving foreign-policy attitudes: “We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions or even systems of government. But we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every sovereign nation.” Then: “In America, we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to watch.”

He painted “America First” as benign, politically realistic. “Our government’s first duty is to its people, to our citizens—to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values. As president of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always put your countries first.” Still, the nations of the world must “work together in close harmony and unity to create a more safe and peaceful future for all people.”

The U.S. has always been “a great friend to the world” and will continue to be. “Our citizens have paid the ultimate price to defend our freedom and the freedom of many nations represented in this great hall,” he said. “We want harmony and friendship, not conflict and strife. We are guided by outcomes, not ideology. We have a policy of principled realism, rooted in shared goals, interests and values.”

All this is the opposite of democracy promotion and nation building and dreams of eradicating evil. The president has spoken like this before. This section was less statement than restatement for an international audience.

But there was an interesting question of emphasis. Throughout the speech Mr. Trump stressed the importance of national sovereignty, of countries protecting their own ways and needs.

Sovereignty, of course, is crucial. But as he spoke, my mind went back to 1914 and all the fiercely sovereign nations that decided to go to war with each other, putting an end to a unique and rising European civilization. In 1945, after World War II, they put greater emphasis on a more corporate approach, on cooperation and transnational institutions. That path can be abused too, and has been. But it hasn’t been all bad.

It has been charged that Mr. Trump virtually ignored Russia, mentioning it only once, in thanks for supporting sanctions against North Korea. But he also said: “We must reject threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea.” That is not ignoring Russia. “We must uphold respect for law, respect for borders, and respect for culture,” he said. “We must work together and confront together those who threaten us with chaos, turmoil, and terror.”

The most publicized section of the speech was on North Korea. He characterized its regime as “depraved,” “twisted,” a “band of criminals.” True enough. North Korea’s “reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles” cannot be allowed to continue. In the speech’s most famous flourish: “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.” The U.S. “has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

Is this too hot, or helpful, or both? During the Cold War colorful candor produced a great deal. When Ronald Reagan was drop-dead blunt about the nature of the Soviet Union, foreign affairs was a high-stakes chess game between two superpowers. The context now is a less clearly demarcated world in which anyone with a weapon of mass destruction is, for the moment, a “superpower.” It’s hard to know if blunt talk will excite nuts into greater activity, or if bracing clarity about the risks they’re taking will slow them down, make them question their ambitions and intentions.

But the U.N. needed to hear clearly and unequivocally the gravity with which the American president views North Korea. Ultimately, as Mr. Trump noted, confronting this question is “what the United Nations is for.”

A great line—because it spoke a great truth—was this: “The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.” Mr. Trump then paused and looked at the audience. It struck some as a “please clap” moment. It struck me as a stare-down: I’m saying something a lot of you need to hear. You’re not going to like it, and I’m going to watch you not like it.

Two final points: One is that Mr. Trump is on a roll, a sustained one the past few weeks, and this is new. All levels of government performed well in the hurricanes. Mr. Trump showed competence, focus and warmth. His bipartisan outreach, however it ends, went over well with core supporters and others. He had a strong speech at the U.N., in fact a successful U.N. week, beginning to end. His poll numbers are inching toward 40%.

Which gets us to point two: This is a very important moment for him. History suggests he will ruin it any minute with intemperate statements, wiggy decisions or crazy tweets.

He does this because he’s somewhat compulsive and has trouble governing himself. He also does it because he thinks his supporters like it. Some do, but most don’t. He thinks they all do because he misunderstands his base.

Mr. Trump’s supporters should push back when he starts to go slightly mad. They should tweet at him: “Stop, Donald! Be U.N. Donald, not Twitter Donald.”

They should tweet this to him by the millions. Because he does feel some loyalty to them, and it’s possible he might try to listen.

Under Anesthesia, Everything Was Beautiful My American dream made me feel proud, like there’s hope for our political class.

I saw this: The exhausted woman on the shelter cot was surrounded by stressed children when Melania came over, bent down and asked, “How are you doing?” The woman said “Well—hurricane.” She realized who she was talking to and got flustered. “Those are nice shoes,” she said. They were flat ankle-boots, the kind you wear on the street or the park, only of the finest leather. “Thank you,” said Melania. She saw the woman’s soggy sneakers. “What size do you wear?” she asked, “Oh, 9,” said the woman. “They got bigger with the kids.”

Melania took off her boots and put them on the woman’s feet. She did this in a way that was turned away from the press, so they wouldn’t see. The woman’s daughter said, “Mommy, they’re nice.” Melania took from her bag a pair of white sneakers, put them on, and said, “Oh good, these are so comfortable.” They talked some more and Melania left and the mother looked to her kids and said, softly, “These are the first lady’s shoes.”

Shaking handsDonald was with an old woman in a wheelchair. She was spunky and funny and he loved her. She gestured toward his head and said, “It looks nice today.” He said, “I’m having a good hair day.” “Why do you do that?” she asked.

“Well, it’s a habit,” he said. “When I was young I had this thick brown hair that went down my brow like a swoop, and I looked like a Kennedy and it was beautiful. Then it started to get thin and gray, and it made me feel old, and old is weak.”

“Not for me, honey,” she said. “Does it take a long time to do?”

“About 20 minutes. After the shower, I comb, blow-dry, tease it a little, finish the blow-dry, then a lotta spray.”

“Why don’t you not do that?”

“It’s kinda my brand.”

“You got a new brand,” she said. “You’re president. Be normal.” He paused and said: “I was actually thinking of that.”

She told him she used to be a hairdresser. She said she’ll come to the White House and cut his hair. He turned, gestured; an aide ran over. “My beautiful friend here is coming to see me next week with scissors. Arrange it.” He kissed the old woman on the forehead. She gave a wave. “Goodbye, big boy.” The press was surrounding the FEMA guy with the update and missed it.

This happened just before the Mnuchin story got cleared up. The Treasury secretary had not asked for a government plane to take him on his honeymoon. His request got all bollixed up in transmission, but there was a paper trail. It turned out he was waiting at the airport with his new wife when he saw a guy in Army fatigues comforting a young woman in a white and yellow dress. She was crying. Mr. Mnuchin sent over an aide to find out what’s wrong.

The guy in fatigues had literally just flown in from Kabul. He and the woman had just married, in a chapel down the street. They’d been bumped from their honeymoon flight to Bermuda. Mr. Mnuchin said: “Give them my plane. Louise—we’re flying commercial.” They booked seats on the next flight to France and went to duty free, where they bought the best champagne and placed it in her Hermès bag. They wrote a note: “Every soldier on leave deserves a honeymoon, every bride deserves champagne.” The couple discovered the bag on the plush leather seat just as the pilot was saying: “Please be seated and buckle up, we’ve got special clearance.”

Also at this time Hillary Clinton’s book came out and it was transcendent—a book of historical heft, of depth. She was modest. No, humble. And she loves America like you wouldn’t believe.

“I know what you expect, a blame-shifting revenge fest,” she wrote. “But that would be a book of what I’ve come to see as ‘political little-ism’—a book that reduces everything to personalities and polls, operatives and excuses. Smallness is killing us. I have been a major political figure in the late 20th and early 21st century in America. My elective career is over. Here I tell you what I know about the age we’re in, its most crucial challenges, what gets in the way of our meeting them, and how we can get around what gets in the way.”

She was unsparing. She said that after 30 years at the top of American life she knew the biggest, most dangerous shift in our political reality came “when the American people began to detach from those at the top, for the simple reason that they’d come to understand the top had detached from them.” She covered the landscape—wars, political money-grubbing, bad faith, immigration, globalism. “Those at the top,” she wrote, “proceeded as if they were unconcerned with what was being asked of the middle and the bottom. My candidacy got caught in the crossfire—understandably, because I had long been at the top, and many saw me as oblivious.”

Cynics expected she would blame her 2016 loss on the fact that she is a woman. America is sexist, misogynistic—in its dumb way, cannot imagine a woman as president.

“To be candid,” she wrote, “I had that in my first draft.” Sheer honesty left her reckoning with Angela Merkel of Germany, democratically elected and seen since the Obama era as the true leader of the West. “I had to wrestle, too, with the groundbreaking leadership of Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher, of Indira Gandhi and Cory Aquino. America is not more backward than their nations, the engine of its heart is not driven by ugly isms.”

Yes, she noted, women in national life, especially in this technologically and culturally brutalist age, have it harder. Only a fool would say otherwise. But she wondered if there wasn’t something deeper: “Part of the challenge is that voters expect not less from women, but more. They have higher expectations, because deep down they think more of women. It is a compliment, though a difficult one. Golda is the toughest, Indira the most ruthless, Thatcher the most unwavering. They elect a woman when they can tell she’s better than the guys. And not enough saw me as better than the guys. They saw me as one of the guys—one of the leadership class that sank us.”

She didn’t blame sexism for her loss, she said, because she didn’t want to demoralize girls or discourage women. And she didn’t want to scapegoat boys and men: “They have no cultural champion now, no one’s officially on their side, they’re culturally out of style. But they need encouragement too.”

On the book tour she let everyone into her appearances free. America saw her anew. People listened. She was redeemed and appreciated.

It made me feel proud, like there’s hope for our political class.

That is what I saw this week.

I should note—this part is true—that I saw much of it while anesthetized for a minor surgical procedure. For an hour afterward, even knowing it was either a fantasy or a dream, I felt so . . . hopeful. Cheerful. Proud. I give it to you.

Trump Finally Pivots—but Will It Last? He had a great meeting with ‘Chuck’ and ‘Nancy.’ What comes next is anybody’s guess.

And so, the pivot.

I thought it would come sooner, on the heels of the inaugural address in which President Trump deliberately declared his distance from the Republicans of George W. Bush’s era and the Democrats of Barack Obama’s : “Washington flourished—but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered—but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.” That was the famous “American carnage” speech, and it was Mr. Trump saying he was something new, a beginner of things, a party of one.

He didn’t follow through.

Congressional leaders meet with President Trump

Congressional leaders meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office

Because the pivot has come late, after almost eight months of fumbles and blunders that hardened sides, the outlook for any new and sustained legislative progress seems doubtful at best. But yes, what we saw this week was Mr. Trump’s pivot toward the Democrats.

It’s amazing he didn’t try it sooner. Mr. Trump is not, as all know, a conservative; he has in his history of statements and positions been at least as much a Democrat as a Republican, and long contributed money to both parties. His core supporters have always been misunderstood as right-wing when they’re something broader and more complicated than that. Mr. Trump has never been a standard Republican. He beat all the standard Republicans in the primaries. On top of that, to govern successfully in an increasingly postpartisan nation, he always needed Democrats on the Hill more than he needed Republicans. He could always, for instance, get most Republicans to support some kind of tax reform, but he’d need Democrats to get a bill comfortably over the top and broadly accepted by the people. Mr. Trump instead threw in with Republican leaders, was disappointed on health care, and concluded they were useless.

Now, after weeks of insulting them—“They look like fools,” he tweeted after that loss—comes what reportedly happened in the Oval Office this week. The president, meeting with Hill leaders from both parties, rebuffed Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and embraced Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s recommendation to raise the debt ceiling and finance the government for only three months. He did this literally in front of the Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and while overruling his own Treasury secretary. Later the president spoke of his great meeting with “Chuck” and “Nancy.” At a tax-reform rally in Mandan, N.D., he invited the state’s Democratic senator, Heidi Heitkamp, who’d flown out with him on Air Force One and is up for re-election next year, onto the stage, and praised her as a “good woman.”

As Ben Domenech noted in the Federalist, it can be assumed there was something of a personal angle in the pivot: Mr. Trump “doesn’t like McConnell and Ryan, never did. He likes Chuck Schumer, and knows him, and thinks he can work with him. And he knows Chuck always makes money for his partners.” That last is a brilliant allusion to “The Godfather, Part II.”

I suspect most voters will like the deal made this week—get something done, pass a bill! America doesn’t need a government shutdown or a prolonged debt-ceiling debate or a stupid argument over helping Houston (and soon Florida). North Korea is bubbling, hurricanes are battering—people won’t mind this deal, and a lot of them will actively approve of it. The president’s core supporters won’t hold it against him. Again, he had a lot of support from traditional Democrats. His core is not far right, it’s opposed to how Washington has comported itself the past few decades. They have a tropism toward the outsider, and the more the mainstream media hate him, the more they’ll stick with him.

Will the pivot last? There are plenty of reasons to doubt it.

Mr. Trump’s nature lacks constancy. He’s shown he’s unsteady in his direction. He’s changeable. This is part of why he doesn’t do long-term strategy but focuses on daily, shifting tactics. The Dreamers can depend on him, he’ll take care of them. The Dreamers are out of here in six months. The Dreamers have nothing to fear, he’ll work something out. Soon Mr. Schumer or Mrs. Pelosi will get him mad, and he’ll be on the phone with Mr. McConnell saying: “I miss you, at least you have principles. Come see me.”

Mr. Trump isn’t moving toward the Democrats from a position of strength. After the inauguration, he would have had the mystique and power of a new force who’d just won an amazing election. Now he’s battered. Mr. Trump has always put himself forward as the best deal-maker in history, and his core supporters have respected that—he’s “The Art of the Deal,” a survivor who finagled his way through bankruptcies; he’s shrewd. But he hasn’t demonstrated this in the presidency.

Triangulating—making deals with the other party while holding on to your own—requires real policy depth. You have to know what’s nonnegotiable, what can be given up without much damage. It requires a kind of philosophical reach—knowing what you and your supporters stand for and why. Without that knowledge you’ll get outfoxed. Without it you’ll get rolled.

As for the Democrats, their base has come to hate the president as never before. He’s done little to bring them over or blunt their antagonism. That base with its rising left will make Democrats on the Hill pay a heavy price for working with him. They’ll howl and call Democratic leaders sellouts, complicit, accuse them of doing deals with the devil. To get around this, Democratic leaders will have to press Mr. Trump hard to the left in the deals they make.

That in turn would set Republican lawmakers on a path of true rebellion. The president gives the leadership no credit for it, but Republicans have been patient with him, squelching their criticism after embarrassing tweets and statements. They did so not only because they fear Mr. Trump’s core supporters, which they do, but because they hoped to make real progress with him, as they did early on, with Justice Neil Gorsuch’s appointment. But if a Trump being forced too far left frees them from the idea that they must work with him, some will turn on him, venting their long-tamped-down fury. This will further, and in a formal way, rupture the party.

Finally, a Trump in close alliance with Democrats will be disorienting to his closest allies in the House, the conservative members of the Freedom Caucus. They broke with the president on health care, but they come from largely pro-Trump districts, they’ve defended him more vocally and enthusiastically than the GOP leadership has, and they have good relations with him. But they are traditionally conservative in their philosophy and stands. They would in many ways be philosophically opposed to the new Trump.

For now the pivot is a major development. Democratic leaders in Congress are smiling and preparing wish lists. If the pivot lasts and works, it will be remembered as big.

If not, it’s just another zany, fleeting, unconnected moment in Trumpland.

The American Spirit Is Alive in Texas ‘Hold the line,’ Jim Mattis exhorted soldiers. In the face of a disaster, civilians are doing just that.

Give Texas what it needs. It has endured a disaster without precedent. Washington must move quickly, generously. There should be no “The relief bill must be offset by cuts in federal spending.” There should be no larding it up or loading it down with extraneous measures. This is an emergency.

This is no time to threaten government shutdowns. It’s no time to be dilating on debt ceilings. This is the time to know as never before that everything that holds us together as a nation must be strengthened wherever possible, and whatever sinks us in rancor avoided and shunned.

Give Texas everything it needs, and do it right quick.

Washington crossing the Houston floodMost Americans, including Texans, don’t have more than a few hundred dollars in available savings. Most live close to the edge, paycheck to paycheck. Most homeowners in Houston don’t have flood insurance. When they’re lucky enough to get out of the shelter, they’ll return to houses that are half-ruined—wet, moldy, dank, with no usable furniture—and with kids coming down with colds and stomach ailments from stress or from standing water that holds bacteria and viruses. It will be misery for months. When the trauma is over, there’ll be plenty of time for debate. Do we need to hold more in reserve for national disasters? Do local zoning laws need rethinking? All worthy questions—for later.

There is such a thing as tact. It has to do with a sense of touch—an ability to apprehend another’s position or circumstances, and doing or saying the right thing. There is, believe it or not, such a thing as political tact. It too involves knowing the positions of others, and knowing what time it is.

Politicians, don’t use this disaster to score points or rub your ideology in somebody’s face or make your donors smile by being small, not big.

Now another subject, which ties back to Houston. A lot of people this week were saying, “You should see that Mattis speech.” A frequent answer was: “I did. I play it over and over.”

A week or so ago, probably in Jordan, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had an impromptu meeting with what looked like a few dozen U.S. troops. Someone taped it. This is what Mr. Mattis said: “Hold the line.”

“For those of you I haven’t met, my name’s Mattis,” he began. “Thanks for being out here, OK? I know at times you wonder if any of us know . . . but believe me, I know you’re far from home every one of you, I know you could all be going to college you young people, or you could be back on the block. [We’re] just grateful. . . .

“The only way this great big experiment you and I call America is gonna survive is if we’ve got tough hombres like you. . . . We don’t frickin’ scare, that’s the bottom line.

“You’re a great example for our country right now. It’s got some problems—you know it and I know it. It’s got problems that we don’t have in the military. And you just hold the line, my fine young soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines. You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it, of being friendly to one another. That’s what Americans owe to one another—we’re so doggone lucky to be Americans.”

He ended: “I flunked retirement, OK? Only reason I came back was to serve alongside young people like you, who are so selfless and frankly so rambunctious.”

This was the voice of true moral authority, authority earned through personal sacrifice. Speeches like that come only from love.

But it was particularly poignant that Mattis’s speech, with its refrain—“Hold the line”—spread so far and fast this week.

And so, to selfless and frankly rambunctious Texas:

If you gave just a few minutes to the news, you saw it all—the generosity and courage, the sense of community, of people who really care about each other. You saw the pontoons and air mattresses and bass boats and rowboats and pool floats in which people were rescued. No one knows how many were saved or how many saved them. Every disaster at some point becomes a jumble, and people stopped counting. But surely tens of thousands were saved.

We all saw it, often live, on television and the internet because of excellent reporters and crews:

A mother with little children was marooned, the water in her home rising dangerously. “I didn’t know who to call. I didn’t know if it was going to be too late.” Suddenly, there were men outside the house coming for her. “It was just an angel,” she said as she wept from the back of their boat.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo honored Steve Perez, the 60-year-old cop who drowned in his patrol car. When Mr. Acevedo spoke to Perez’s widow, she told him she’d begged her husband not to go in but he’d told her, “We’ve got work to do.” The chief told her: You know who he was, if he had to die, he wouldn’t want it to be home in bed, he would have wanted it to be on the job and trying to help. “Because he has that in his DNA,” said Mr. Acevedo.

On one channel they were looking for what they’d heard was a group of abandoned horses being led through the streets by a guy in a jet ski. In Columbia Lakes a local man showed a reporter the homemade barrier he’d built to protect his neighbors in case the levee broke. He wasn’t afraid: “We don’t do drama.”

On Facebook there was the story of the woman who went into labor while the waters quickly rose. Word spread through the apartment complex. Soon a huge, heavy truck made its way to her door. Neighbors formed a human chain to help her out. She got to the hospital and gave birth to a girl.

There were a lot of human chains. And often when they showed people being pulled from houses the families were all ethnicities and races, the whole American mix—black mamas, white papas, mixed kids, an Asian child. On the national level America always sounds like a constant argument over race. On the local level, meantime, everybody has been happily integrating in the most personal possible ways.

The local ABC station caught a young Catholic priest, a French Canadian assigned to a Houston parish, out in a kayak in heavy rain looking for people who could use a Mass. “I guess this is how the Americas were evangelized as well with a canoe,” he said, “and this is a kayak. I hope that can bring a smile to a few people.” Noticing the TV cameras, he said: “I guess we’re live. The Lord is alive, and the Lord is always with us as well.”

And of course there was the Cajun Navy, from Louisiana, performing its own spontaneous Dunkirk. Texas had taken them in after Katrina. Now it was “Sam Houston, we are here.”

We are a great nation. We forget. But what happened in Texas reminded us. It said: My beloved America you’re not a mirage, you’re still here.

If they’d done only that, they’d deserve whatever they need.

They held the line.

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