Let Calm and Cool Trump ‘Fire and Fury’ The Cuban Missile Crisis came at a less dangerous time, and involved less dangerous men.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”—President Trump Tuesday

“During the Cuban Missile Crisis we stood behind JFK. This is analogous to the Cuban Missile Crisis. We need to come together.”— Sebastian Gorka, a White House national-security aide, on “Fox & Friends,” Wednesday.

What is happening with North Korea is not analogous to what happened in 1962, except for the word crisis. Fifty-five years ago was a different age with vastly different players and dynamics. We all mine the past to make our points, but Mr. Gorka’s evoking of the Cuban crisis to summon political support is intellectually cheap and self-defeating.

Cuban Missile Crisis

Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

The Soviet Union and Cuba were trying to hide what they had—offensive missiles in Cuba. Kim Jong Un enjoys showing what he has and taunting the world with it. President Kennedy gave great and grave attention to reassuring a nation and world understandably alarmed by nuclear brinkmanship. Does Mr. Trump? Not in the least.

The current crisis is Mr. Trump’s responsibility but not his fault. His three predecessors attempted, without success, to defang North Korea. How Mr. Trump handles it is his responsibility, and one hopes will not be his fault.

More now even than in 1962—especially when the central players are talking so loud and so big—a great threat is of miscalculation, of misunderstanding a signal or overreacting to some chance event or mishap.

In that area, at least, there are useful lessons to be drawn from ’62. In that crisis, Kennedy was verbally careful. He never popped off, because he knew words had power and how they will be received is not always perfectly calculable. He knew he could not use language—fire and fury—that invited thoughts of nuclear war.

He knew that precisely because you are a nuclear power, you can’t make nuclear threats. A thing too easily referred to will lose its horrifying mystique, its taboo. So don’t go there when you speak, or allow people to think you’re going there.

Kennedy tried for a kind of de-escalating clarity, except when he went for a de-escalating vagueness. He famously called his blockade of Cuba a “quarantine,” because a blockade is a military action and a quarantine is—well, whatever you think it is. He worked hard with aides on public statements, hammering out each phrase. He sometimes used dire language—we don’t want “the fruits of victory” to become “ashes in our mouths”—but he knew who he was up against, a Soviet premier whom he’d met in summit, and whose understanding of such messages could be at least roughly gauged.

In Nikita Khrushchev Mr. Kennedy was up against a rational player. America and the Soviet Union had settled into a long Cold War. Our strategy was Mutually Assured Destruction, but the reigning assumption was that neither side would deliberately launch, because we weren’t evil and they weren’t crazy.

We can’t assume that now. It is not clear Mr. Trump is up against a rational player. He must therefore ask if inflammatory language is more likely to provoke than inform.

Some thought Kennedy, at 45, too young and immature for his job, but few thought him crazy, nor was Mr. Khrushchev’s reputation that of a madman. More than half the world at this point would see Kim Jong Un as mad, and some significant number might view Mr. Trump similarly. Thus the current high anxiety, and the need from America for calm, cool logic, not emotionalism.

Many are relieved Mr. Trump is, in this crisis, surrounded by experienced and accomplished generals such as Jim Mattis, John Kelly and H.R. McMaster. Kennedy, on the other hand, viewed some of his generals as hard-liners reliving World War II, men who hadn’t come to terms with the lethal reality of the nuclear age. After a back-and-forth with Gen. Curtis LeMay, Kennedy was quoted in the Oval Office saying his generals had at least one thing going for them: “If we listen to them and do what they want us to do, none of us will be alive later to tell them that they were wrong.” (This is from Richard Reeves’s excellent history “President Kennedy, Profile of Power.”)

The general public now, however, would see Mr. Trump’s generals as the reliables, the dependables, the sophisticates of the administration. It would be good if they could become the American face—and voice—of this crisis.

Some elements that helped resolve the Cuban crisis peacefully could probably never happen now.

JFK himself called the publisher of the New York Times , the president of the Washington Post and the owner of Time magazine to request pledges of cooperation and discretion. All agreed. He filled in his Republican predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, on the plan to blockade Cuba. “Whatever you do,” said Eisenhower, “you will have my support.”

Before his Oval Office speech announcing the blockade, JFK briefed congressional leaders of both parties with complete confidence. Military aircraft were sent for some of them. Mr. Reeves notes House Majority Whip Hale Boggs of Louisiana was fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. “A military helicopter found Boggs, dropping a note to him in a bottle. ‘Call Operator 18, Washington. Urgent message from the president.’ ”

Ten days into the crisis, the president asked his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to meet privately with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Dobrynin. The purpose was to make sure the Russians understood the gravity with which the Americans were approaching their decisions; they didn’t want the U.S. position misunderstood. Both men were tired, and Dobrynin at one point thought RFK was near tears. The U.S. military, he told the ambassador, was pressing hard to invade Cuba. The president would have to agree if Khrushchev didn’t take the missiles out now. Dobrynin said he didn’t know if the Politburo, deeply committed to its position, would back down. They were both telling the truth and lying. RFK was putting it all on the military, Dobrynin on the Politburo, but both were under pressure.

It was a private, high-stakes meeting held, successfully, in secret. Notes were not leaked.

Could any of this happen now?

Parenthetically, Dobrynin did not have a reliable telephone or telegraph connection with the Kremlin. To transmit a summary of his crucial conversation, he called Western Union. A young man, “came by on a bicycle to pick up the telegram,” Mr. Reeves recounts. “Dobrynin watched him pedal away, figuring that if he stopped for a Coca-Cola or to see his girlfriend, the world might blow up.”

Actually, it was lucky the players in the Cuban crisis lived in a slower, balkier world. They had time to think, to create strategy and response. The instantaneous world—our world—is so much more dangerous.

Lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis? Crises have a million moving pieces and need a central shepherd to keep track of them, to keep a government focused. Real-time decisions made under pressure need to be not only logical but logically defensible. And it’s wise to keep the temperature as low as possible, especially when things turn hot.

Can Kelly Conquer the White House Chaos? The new chief of staff has the confidence of a general and the power of the last available grown-up.

I realized as I wrote this that I’ve never met a Kelly I didn’t like, who wasn’t admirable. There was the great journalist Michael Kelly, lost in Iraq in 2003 and mourned still by anyone with a brain: What would he be making of everything now? There’s Gentleman Jim Kelly, formerly of Time and an award-winning journalist. Ray Kelly was one of New York’s finest police commissioners. Megyn Kelly is a brave, nice woman. I wrote once of a small miracle in which a group of friends arrived, late and in tears, to see John Paul II celebrate Mass in New York. The doors of the cathedral were shut tight. A man in a suit saw our tears, walked over, picked up a sawhorse, and waved us through. As we ran up the steps to St. Patrick’s, I turned. “What is your name?” I cried. “Detective Kelly!” he called, and disappeared into the crowd.

Grace Kelly was occasionally brilliant and always beautiful. Gene Kelly was a genius. There is the unfortunate matter of the 1930s gangster “Machine Gun Kelly,” but he is more than made up for by Thomas Gunning Kelley (an extra e, but same tribe), who in 1969 led a U.S. Navy mission to save a company of Army infantrymen trapped on the banks of a canal in South Vietnam’s Kien Hoa province. He deliberately drew fire to protect others, was badly wounded, waved off treatment, saved the day. He received the Medal of Honor. There are other Kellys on its long, illustrious rolls.

John Kelly on Capitol Hill

John Kelly on Capitol Hill

So Gen. John Kelly (retired), U.S. Marine Corps, veteran of Anbar province, Iraq, and new chief of staff to President Trump: onward in your Kellyness.

Everyone wonders what he’ll do, what difference he’ll make. He is expected to impose order and discipline, tamp down the chaos. I suspect his deepest impact may be on policy and how it’s pursued, especially in the area of bipartisan outreach.

American military leaders are almost always patriotic, protective, professional, practical. They’re often highly educated, with advanced degrees. Mary Boies, who for two decades has worked with the military as a leader of Business Executives for National Security, said this week: “In general, military top brass are among the most impressive people in our country.”

It’s true. And in a nation that loves to categorize people by profession, they can be surprising.

Generals and admirals are rarely conservative in standard or predictable ways, ways in which the term is normally understood. They’ve been painted as right-wing in books and movies for so long that some of that reputation still clings to them, but it’s wrong.

They are not, or not necessarily, economic conservatives. Top brass are men and women who were largely educated in, and came up in, a system that is wholly taxpayer-funded. Their primary focus is that the military have what it needs to do the job. Whatever tax rates do that, do that. They are not economists, they don’t focus on Keynesian theory and supply-side thought. They’re like Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who saw the historically high tax rates of the Roosevelt-Truman era and thought fine, that’s how we won World War II. He didn’t seem concerned about tax rates until he’d been president for a while and started hearing about the problems of business while playing golf with CEOs.

Generals are not romantic about war, because it’s not abstract to them. Ms. Boies: “Army officers know better than anybody the limits of military hard power. Military people hate war because they’ve seen it and know both its limitations and its devastating effects.”

In my observation generals are both the last to want to go in (“Do you understand the implications of invasion? Do you even know the facts on the ground?”) and the last to want to leave (“After all this blood and sacrifice, this hard-won progress, you’re pulling out because you made a promise in a speech?”). They hate hotheaded, full-of-themselves civilians who run around insisting on action. Those civilians are not the ones who’ll do the fighting, and as public allies they’re not reliable.

On social issues they generally tend to be moderate to liberal. I have never to my knowledge met a high officer who was pro-life. They largely thought Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell a reasonable policy, but they’re realists: Time moves on, salute and execute. They don’t want to damage or retard their careers being on the wrong side of issues whose outcomes seem culturally inevitable. You don’t die on a hill that is not central to the immediate mission.

They are as a rule not deeply partisan. Those who work in the Pentagon have to know how to work with both parties and negotiate their way around partisan differences. (Enlisted men in my experience are more instinctively conservative, though often in interesting ways.)

*   *   *

When things are working right, chiefs of staff have an impact on presidential thinking. They guide discussions toward certain, sometimes directed conclusions. They’re expected to give advice, and it’s expected to be grounded in knowledge and experience.

It may be easier for Mr. Kelly to impose order than people think. Sacking Anthony Scaramucci sent a message. The warring staffers around Mr. Kelly know it won’t be good for them if they don’t support him, at least for now. If they fight him with leaks, they’re revealed as part of the problem of the past six months. If they are compliant and congenial, it will look like they weren’t the problem; someone else was. Also they’re tired of being part of a White House that has been famously dysfunctional. It will help their standing in the world to be part of something that works. Similarly with Mr. Trump: If it works with Mr. Kelly, the first six months were Reince Priebus’s fault, if it doesn’t work, it was the president’s.

Beyond that, a good guess is that Mr. Kelly will not be especially interested in partisan differences; he will not be ideological. He will guide Trump in the direction of: Solve the problem.

On tax reform, for instance, his instinct will be to figure the lay of the land and try to get to the number it takes to pass a bill with both parties. A friend who once worked with Mr. Kelly said: “He won’t go ‘This has to be comprehensive, historic.’ He’ll figure the few things both sides agree on and build out from there. You’ll get a compromise. It won’t solve everything, but it will be good for the country and it will get Trump on a path to somewhere, because right now he’s on a path to nowhere.”

Generals are not known for a lack of self-confidence. If he goes up against Mitch McConnell it won’t be big dawg versus eager puppy, it will be big dawg versus big dawg. And Mr. McConnell has already disappointed the president. Mr. Kelly hasn’t.

Mr. Trump, whatever his public statements, doesn’t need to be told things haven’t gone well; he knows. He has nowhere else to go, and the clock’s ticking.

Mr. Kelly has the power of the last available grown-up.

Another advantage: He doesn’t need the job. He’s trying to help, as a patriot would. But this is not the pinnacle for him. His whole career has been pinnacles.

Trump, ObamaCare and the Art of the Fail What happens when we elect a president who prefers to freelance rather than to lead.

It was a political drubbing of the first order. A new Republican president and a Republican Senate and House put everything they had into a bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare, and couldn’t do it. The leadership is rocked. The president looks confused and hapless, while publicly enacting determination and a scolding tone toward those who’d let him down. He rarely showed signs of fully understanding the details or even the essentials of the plan he backed. His public remarks were all over the place: He’ll let ObamaCare collapse of its own weight; he’ll replace it with something big and beautiful; just repeal it; no, let it collapse. He criticized Hill Republicans: They “never discuss how good their healthcare bill is.” But neither did he, not in a persuasive way.

Republicans on the Hill need a popular president with the quasi-mystical clout presidential popularity brings. Mr. Trump does not have it. They need someone who has a serious understanding of his own policies and can gently knock heads together. I remember the story of a GOP senator whose vote President Reagan badly needed. Reagan met with him privately, pressed hard, the senator squirmed: I just can’t do it, Mr. President. You know I’d jump out of a plane if you asked me, but—

Senator Dean Heller and President Trump

Senator Dean Heller and President Trump

Reagan leaned in and said: “Jump.” The senator laughed and gave up. I’m going to tell anecdotes like this until I feel better.

It is true that a central dynamic of the failure was the truism that once people are given an entitlement, they aren’t keen to see it taken away. But another reason some senators voted to repeal ObamaCare in the past and refused now is they believe the ground has shifted. Back in their home states, in the almost-decade since the economic crash of 2008, and since the Obama era, what they’ve seen is more need, not less, more anxiety and dysfunction, and more public skepticism that change will constitute improvement. In politics you have to know how to read the ground, the real topography. You can’t just go by the work of past mapmakers, you have to see clearly what’s there now. It’s unconservative not to.

As for Mr. Trump, the first six months of his presidency suggest many things, including that what made him is thwarting him. He is a man alone, independent and ungoverned. He freelances not because circumstances dictate it but because he is by nature a freelancer. He doesn’t want to be enmeshed in an institution, he doesn’t want to have to bolster and defend it and see to its life. He wants to preserve his freedom—to tweet, to pop off, to play it this way or that. One of the interesting things about his New York Times interview this week was that he met with the reporters alone save for his aide Hope Hicks. Afterward members of his own White House reportedly had to scramble to get tapes so they’d know what the boss said.

But presidential leadership involves being to some degree an institution man, upholding not only a presidency but a government, even its other branches. He doesn’t understand this. In any case he doesn’t do it. It is all a personal drama. This aspect of his nature will probably make further legislative failures inevitable. In time, though no one in the White House seems to fear this, it will lead to his diminished support. His supporters will likely never hate him, and won’t be severely disillusioned because they weren’t all that illusioned. They’ll probably always appreciate him for blasting open the system and saving them from normality—i.e., the dumb, going-through-the-motions cynicism of Washington. They are sympathetic because of everything he is up against—every established power center in Washington—with no one behind him but his original supporters.

But at some point baseline political competence is going to become part of the story. If the president continues to show he doesn’t have the toolbox for this job, he’s going to go from not gaining support, which is where he is now, to losing support. He’s not magic and they’re not stupid.

As for health care, Sen. John McCain, recovering from surgery, had it right: “One of the major problems with Obamacare was that it was written on a strict party-line basis and driven through Congress without a single Republican vote,” Mr. McCain said in a statement. “As this law continues to crumble in Arizona and states across the country, we must not repeat the original mistakes that led to Obamacare’s failure.” Congress, he said, must return to regular order, hold hearings, work across party lines, “and heed the recommendations of our nation’s governors.”

Mr. Trump should have done this from the beginning.

Is there any legitimate hope of a bipartisan solution? It can be fairly argued, as Jim Geraghty does in National Review, that a Democratic Party that relentlessly lied to pass ObamaCare—you can keep your plan, you can keep your doctor, premiums will go down—is unlikely to consider conservative reform ideas in good faith. Democrats will press to keep individual and employer mandates and the status quo on Medicaid; they’ll want billions in higher subsidies to get insurers back into failing exchanges. Some will want more money to offset larger-than-expected claims for insurance companies in the state and federal marketplaces, some will want single-payer. Mr. Geraghty: “Conservatives who oppose government mandates, subsidies, bailout and state-run health care won’t like any of that.”

They won’t.

And yet no fix or improvement in health care is going to be broadly accepted unless it comes from both parties. No reform will be accepted unless it’s produced in a way that includes public hearings in which representatives make the case and explain it all. And any fix, because of America’s current political nature, will be temporary. Democratic presidential hopefuls will be campaigning two years from now on single-payer, whatever happens with this bill.

And health care in battered, anxious America will continue to play against Republicans.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, beats the drum for the bipartisan approach. His logic: The ACA is wobbly; if nothing is done “prices will get outrageous and people will revolt and rebel.”

“Why inflict this much pain?” he says in a telephone interview. “The elderly, the vulnerable—you’re scaring the bejesus out of them.” The Republicans, he says, have tried everything else. “Why don’t you sit down and work with us?” He too asks for regular order.

Yes, he says, some Democrats see this as an opportunity to go for single-payer, but that would be “a big change”: “If you want to talk about that, do a working group.” For now, Mr. Manchin says, both parties should focus on Medicare, Medicaid, the private market, pre-existing conditions—issues on which quick or clear progress can be made. He notes that the Senate has 11 members who are former governors. As executive branch veterans with on-the-ground experience, they’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. They’re mostly moderate, not extreme. Get them in on this, he urges. “We still have some reasonable people here,” he says. “Some are just a little too quiet.”

Trump Is Woody Allen Without the Humor Half his tweets show utter weakness. They are plaintive, shrill little cries, usually just after dawn.

The president’s primary problem as a leader is not that he is impetuous, brash or naive. It’s not that he is inexperienced, crude, an outsider. It is that he is weak and sniveling. It is that he undermines himself almost daily by ignoring traditional norms and forms of American masculinity.

He’s not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key and determined; he’s whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself, sobbing, on the body politic. He’s a drama queen. It was once said, sarcastically, of George H.W. Bush that he reminded everyone of her first husband. Trump must remind people of their first wife. Actually his wife, Melania, is tougher than he is with her stoicism and grace, her self-discipline and desire to show the world respect by presenting herself with dignity.

Poor me!Half the president’s tweets show utter weakness. They are plaintive, shrill little cries, usually just after dawn. “It’s very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their president.” The brutes. Actually they’ve been laboring to be loyal to him since Inauguration Day. “The Republicans never discuss how good their health care bill is.” True, but neither does Mr. Trump, who seems unsure of its content. In just the past two weeks, of the press, he complained: “Every story/opinion, even if should be positive, is bad!” Journalists produce “highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting.” They are “DISTORTING DEMOCRACY.” They “fabricate the facts.”

It’s all whimpering accusation and finger-pointing: Nobody’s nice to me. Why don’t they appreciate me?

His public brutalizing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn’t strong, cool and deadly; it’s limp, lame and blubbery. “Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes,” he tweeted this week. Talk about projection.

He told the Journal’s Michael C. Bender he is disappointed in Mr. Sessions and doesn’t feel any particular loyalty toward him. “He was a senator, he looks at 40,000 people and he probably says, ‘What do I have to lose?’ And he endorsed me. So it’s not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement.” Actually, Mr. Sessions supported him early and put his personal credibility on the line. In Politico, John J. Pitney Jr. of Claremont McKenna College writes: “Loyalty is about strength. It is about sticking with a person, a cause, an idea or a country even when it is costly, difficult or unpopular.” A strong man does that. A weak one would unleash his resentments and derive sadistic pleasure from their unleashing.

The way American men used to like seeing themselves, the template they most admired, was the strong silent type celebrated in classic mid-20th century films—Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Henry Fonda. In time the style shifted, and we wound up with the nervous and chattery. More than a decade ago the producer and writer David Chase had his Tony Soprano mourn the disappearance of the old style: “What they didn’t know is once they got Gary Cooper in touch with his feelings they wouldn’t be able to shut him up!” The new style was more like that of Woody Allen. His characters couldn’t stop talking about their emotions, their resentments and needs. They were self-justifying as they acted out their cowardice and anger.

But he was a comic. It was funny. He wasn’t putting it out as a new template for maleness. Donald Trump now is like an unfunny Woody Allen.

Who needs a template for how to be a man? A lot of boys and young men, who’ve grown up in a culture confused about what men are and do. Who teaches them the real dignity and meaning of being a man? Mostly good fathers and teachers. Luckily Mr. Trump this week addressed the Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, where he represented to them masculinity and the moral life.

“Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts, right?” But he overcame his natural reticence. We should change how we refer to Washington, he said: “We ought to change it from the word ‘swamp’ to perhaps ‘cesspool’ or perhaps to the word ‘sewer.’ ” Washington is not nice to him and is full of bad people. “As the Scout Law says, ‘A Scout is trustworthy, loyal—we could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that.” He then told them the apparently tragic story of a man who was once successful. “And in the end he failed, and he failed badly.”

Why should he inspire them, show personal height, weight and dignity, support our frail institutions? He has needs and wants—he is angry!—which supersede pesky, long-term objectives. Why put the amorphous hopes of the audience ahead of his own, more urgent needs?

His inability—not his refusal, but his inability—to embrace the public and rhetorical role of the presidency consistently and constructively is weak.

“It’s so easy to act presidential but that’s not gonna get it done,” Mr. Trump said the other night at a rally in Youngstown, Ohio. That is the opposite of the truth. The truth, six months in, is that he is not presidential and is not getting it done. His mad, blubbery petulance isn’t working for him but against him. If he were presidential he’d be getting it done—building momentum, gaining support. He’d be over 50%, not under 40%. He’d have health care, and more.

We close with the observation that it’s all nonstop drama and queen-for-a-day inside this hothouse of a White House. Staffers speak in their common yet somehow colorful language of their wants, their complaints. The new communications chief, Anthony Scaramucci, who in his debut came across as affable and in control of himself, went on CNN Thursday to show he’ll fit right in. He’s surrounded by “nefarious, backstabbing” leakers. “The fish stinks from the head down. But I can tell you two fish that don’t stink, and that’s me and the president.” He’s strong and well connected: “I’ve got buddies of mine in the FBI”; “ Sean Hannity is one of my closest friends.” He is constantly with the president, at dinner, on the phone, in the sauna snapping towels. I made that up. “The president and I would like to tell everybody we have a very, very good idea of who the leakers are.” Chief of Staff Reince Priebus better watch it. There are people in the White House who “think it is their job to save America from this president, okay?” So they leak. But we know who they are.

He seemed to think this diarrheic diatribe was professional, the kind of thing the big boys do with their media bros. But he came across as just another drama queen for this warring, riven, incontinent White House. As Scaramucci spoke, the historian Joshua Zeitz observed wonderingly, on Twitter: “It’s Team of Rivals but for morons.”

It is. And it stinks from the top.

Meanwhile the whole world is watching, a world that contains predators. How could they not be seeing this weakness, confusion and chaos and thinking it’s a good time to cause some trouble?

A Pope and a President in Poland In a good Warsaw speech, Trump invokes one of Pope John Paul II’s great 1979 orations.

The greatest speeches given in Poland in the modern era were delivered in June 1979 by a pope. Ten months into his papacy, John Paul II sweetly asked the government of Poland for permission to journey home from Rome to visit his people. Europe was divided between the politically free and the unfree, on one side the democracies of Western Europe, on the other the communist bloc. Poland had been under the Soviet yoke since the end of World War II.

John Paul knew his people: They did not want dictatorship, and a primary means of resistance was through their faith. Every time you took communion it was a rebellion, a way of reminding yourself and others that you answered to a higher authority. The Catholic Church of Poland survived precariously, within limits, under constant pressure, as John Paul well knew, having been a cardinal in Krakow for 11 years.

What would happen when the first Polish pope went home? If Warsaw refused his request it would be an admission of weakness: They feared his power to rouse and awaken the people. But if they invited him they risked rebellion, which would bring on a Soviet crackdown and could bring in Soviet troops. They chose to invite him, calculating that as a sophisticated man he would, knowing the stakes, play it cool. He happily accepted their terms: It would be a religious pilgrimage, not a political event.

Pope John Paul

Pope John Paul

The Polish government did everything it could to keep crowds down. Parade routes were kept secret or changed. State media would censor word of what was said and done. Grade-school teachers told pupils he was a wicked man in gold robes, an enemy of the state.

And so it began. On June 2, in Victory Square in the Old City of Warsaw, John Paul celebrated Mass. Halfway through, the crowd began to chant: “We want God! We want God!” He asked: What was the greatest work of God? Man. Who redeemed man? Christ. Therefore, he declared, “Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude. . . . The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man.” Even those who oppose Christ, he said, still inescapably live within the Christian context of history. And Christ is not only the past for Poland, He is also the future, “our Polish future.”

The chant turned to thunder: “We want God!”

John Paul was speaking not only to the faithful but to the rulers and apparatchiks of an atheist state. He did not explicitly challenge them. He spoke only of spiritual matters. And yet he was telling the government that Poland is the faith and the faith is Poland, and there is nothing communism can ever do to change that.

More, he was saying: God is real. And God sees one unity of Europe. He does not see “East” and “West,” divided by a wall or a gash in the soil. In this way, as I once wrote, he divided the dividers from God’s view of history.

The next day he spoke outside the cathedral in the small city of Gniezno. Again, he struck only spiritual themes—nothing about governments, unions, fights for political freedom. “Does not Christ want, does not the Holy Spirit demand, that the pope, himself a Pole, the pope, himself a Slav, here and now should bring out into the open the spiritual unity of Christian Europe . . .?”

Oh yes, he said, Christ wants that.

At both events he was telling Poles that they should see their position differently. Don’t see Europe divided between free and unfree, see the wholeness that even communism can’t take away. The map makers think they’re in charge. We know who’s really in charge.

At the end of the trip, at Krakow’s Blonie Field, a muddy expanse just beyond the city, there was again a public mass. The government refused to publicize it but word spread. Two million people came, the biggest gathering in the history of Poland.

It is possible, John Paul said, to dismiss Christ and all he’s brought into the history of man. Human beings are free and can say no. But should they say no to the one “with whom we have all lived for 1,000 years? He who formed the basis of our identity and has himself remained its basis ever since?” He was telling the communist usurpers: You’ll never win.

He extended his hands in an apostolic gesture. “I speak for Christ himself: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’ ” he said. “I speak again for St Paul: ‘Do not grieve the spirit of God.’ ” He urged Poles: “Be strong, my brothers and sisters! You must be strong with the strength that faith gives.”

It sounded like he was telling them to be strong in their resistance to communism.

“Today more than in any other age you need this strength.” Love, he said, is stronger than death. Seek spiritual power where “countless generations of our fathers and mothers have found it.”

This was a reassertion of the Polish spirit, and those who were there went home seeing themselves differently—not as victims of history but as fighters within a new and promising reality. At home they turned on state-run TV, which did not show the crowds and the chants but only a few words by the pope, and a few pictures. They were offended by the lie of it. It was another blow to the government’s claims of legitimacy.

Years later I asked Lech Walesa about the impact of the pope’s trip. Poland, he said, always knew that communism could not be reformed but could be defeated. “We knew the minute he touched the foundations of communism, it would collapse.”

*   *   *

And so to President Trump’s speech in Warsaw.

Near the top he deftly evoked John Paul’s 1979 visit and the sermon that brought on the chants. “A million Polish people did not ask for wealth. They did not ask for privilege. Instead, one million Poles sang three simple words: ‘We want God!’ ” He called the Polish people “the soul of Europe.”

It was a grown-up speech that said serious things. Article 5, the NATO mutual defense commitment, is still operative. Missile defense is necessary. He called out Russia for its “destabilizing activities.” He spoke as American presidents once did, in the traditional language of American leadership, with respect for alliances.

But he did it with a twist: The West is not just a political but a cultural entity worth fighting for. It is a real thing, has real and radical enemies, and must be preserved.

A lovely passage: “We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes . . . and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers. We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence. . . . We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression. We empower women as pillars of our society and our success. . . . And we debate everything. We challenge everything. We seek to know everything so that we can better know ourselves.”

If he talked like this at home, more of us would be happy to have him here. If he gives serious, thoughtful, prepared remarks only when traveling, he should travel more.

Victory, Sacrifice and Questions of ‘Collusion’ Mosul is liberated, a fallen policewoman is mourned, and Donald Trump Jr. is exposed.

Three important things happened this week. Two were insufficiently noted.

Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, fallen three years ago to Islamic State, was liberated by forces of the Iraqi government. Not long ago ISIS, the first and true sustained scum of the 21st century, was seen as militarily formidable and ideologically perhaps indomitable. Now they’ve disappeared into the hills. The fall of Mosul is a blow to their mystique, and that of radical Islam. As for the Iraqi military, not long ago it was derided as unprofessional and barely loyal to its own country. Now it has succeeded, with the help and encouragement of the U.S., including its special forces.

Whatever your convictions about America’s presence and policy in the Mideast, whether you trend nationalist or neoconservative, America First or Lead From Behind; whatever your personal disposition, be it bitterness over the blunders of the past or half-mad with schemes for the future; and whether you judge the ultimate beneficiary of Mosul’s liberation to be the current Iraqi government, the idea of a stable democracy, or the schemers of Iran, we should pause to recognize what just occurred and say:

Good. Bravo.

This is a victory. For what? Civilization.

*   *   *

Mourning Officer Miosotis Familia

Peter Vega, Genesis Villella and Delilah Vega mourn their mother, Officer Miosotis Familia

The second story too involves admirable people in uniform.

 

This week the New York City Police Department buried one of its own, also one of our own. We should put aside a moment to mourn.

The murdered officer was Miosotis Familia, 48, reportedly the youngest of 10 children of Dominican immigrants and the first in her family to attend college. She had three children and cared for her own ailing mother. She’d been a cop for 12 years. She was one of the people who keep my city of 8.5 million up and operating each day, in both its personal and public spheres.

She was on the midnight shift in the Bronx on Wednesday, July 5. Her killer, 34-year-old Alexander Bonds, was a lowlife and prison parolee with untreated mental illness. He posted threatening anticop rants on Facebook. The night of the murder he walked up to her police vehicle and fired once through the window, shooting Officer Familia in the head. Police shot him dead soon after.

Here is NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill at her funeral this week at the World Changers Church: “Let me tell you something. Regular people sign up to be cops. They sign up for this job of protecting strangers knowing the inherent risks. . . . But not one of us ever agreed to be murdered in an act of indefensible hate. Not one of us signed up to never return to our family or loved ones. So where are the demonstrations for this single mom who cared for her elderly mother and her own three children?”

The 4,000 mourners stood and burst into sustained applause. Mr. O’Neill continued: “There is anger and sorrow, but why is there no outrage? Because Miosotis was wearing a uniform? Because it was her job? I simply do not accept that. Miosotis was targeted, ambushed and assassinated. She wasn’t given a chance to defend herself. That should matter to every single person who can hear my voice in New York City and beyond.”

It should.

Unnamed but a clear focus of Mr. O’Neill’s remarks was the radicalism and rage of the Black Lives Matter movement, coupled with a national media too often willing to paint the police, in any given incident, as guilty until proven innocent. This sets a mood that both excites and inspires the unsteady and unstable.

Mr. O’Neill: “When we demonize a whole group of people, whether that group is defined by race, by religion or by occupation, this is the result. I don’t know how else to say it. This was an act of hate, in this case against police officers—the very people who stepped forward and made a promise to protect you day and night.”

We are not paying enough attention to what is happening to the police throughout the country. As this was being written, Newsweek reported the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund claims that the number of officers killed in the line of duty was up 30% for the 12 months ending June 30, compared with the preceding year. That number doesn’t include Miosotis Familia. The head of the Memorial Fund said: “Officers have been targeted for the job they do, shot and killed, or hit with vehicles.”

It should be a major, sustained national story when cops are killed for being cops. Yet each incident never gels into a theme. The media caravan moves on.

Orwell spoke of forcing inconvenient stories down the memory hole. It is a feature of our age that we now force them down the hole before they’ve had a chance to become a memory.

*   *   *

Now to the story that did get attention. Can you hear your columnist sigh?

Donald Trump Jr. ’s adventure with sketchy characters claiming to represent Russia made me think of a quote from a deadly old 19th-century European diplomat. It’s no trick to fool a man who thinks himself clever, he said, but a plain, honest man—that can be a challenge.

One of the things campaigns always have to watch out for is bumptious oafs who think themselves sophisticated.

The White House defense of the Trump Jr. meeting is essentially a question: Who wouldn’t take a meeting with someone who has negative information on your political opponent?

But that’s not the question. This someone was purportedly representing a foreign government. And that government was an adversary of the U.S.

Who wouldn’t take that meeting? Anyone with a brain and a gut. Anyone who didn’t think “House of Cards” is a moral template for modern political behavior.

Former opposition researchers are angry. I asked one, who worked in George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign: Suppose a representative of a foreign state, or a person claiming ties to that state, contacted you and said: “We have some dirt on your opponent.” What would your reaction have been?

“Immediately we would have walked away,” he said.

What if the foreign government was an adversary of the U.S.? “Hell no. You don’t go there.”

He recalled there was chatter in 1988 that the Stasi, East Germany’s domestic spy agency, had dirt on the Democratic presidential nominee. The Bush campaign rejected any possible contact out of hand. “There’s such a thing as self-discipline,” he said.

It is wrong to let another nation take an active role in a campaign for the U.S. presidency. It is imprudent, and also rather unpatriotic. It’s not their government, it’s ours. It can be assumed that we will attempt to look out for America’s interests, and they will not.

What should Donald Trump Jr. have done when the music promoter urged him to meet with the representative of the Russian government who had secret, big-league, deep, dark info on Hillary Clinton ?

As Sen. Lindsey Graham told President Trump’s FBI nominee: “If you get a call from somebody suggesting that a foreign government wants to help you by disparaging your opponent, tell us all to call the FBI.”

I add: And send word of the contact to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, with the information that you have not and will not respond. Because that would have helped our political civilization.

Was it collusion? It was worse, it was classless.

On Health Care, a Promise, Not a Threat McConnell warns GOP senators they may end up having to work with the Democrats. They should.

We are coming up on a great American holiday. There will be fireworks and children frolicking in pools; there will be baseball games, cookouts and flags. America will be looking and acting like America. So this is no time for gloom.

This moment in fact may be, perversely, promising. The failure so far of Senate Republicans to agree on a health-care bill provides an opening. Whatever happens the next few days, moderates and centrists on both sides can and should rise, name themselves, and start storming through.

The difficulties the Republicans have faced were inevitable. They are divided; they don’t have the will or the base. The party is undergoing a populist realignment, with party donors, think-tankers and ideologues seeing things more or less one way, and the Trump base, including many Democrats, seeing them another. The long-stable ground under Republican senators has been shifting, and they’re not sure where or how to stand. The president, philosophically unmoored and operating without a firm grasp of the legislation he promotes, is little help. He has impulses and sentiments but is not, as the French used to say, a serious man. He just wants a deal and a win, and there’s something almost refreshing in this, in the lack of tangled and complicated personal and political motives. It makes so much possible.

Senators Joe Manchin and Susan Collins

Senators Joe Manchin and Susan Collins

Many Republican senators see that the American people are not in the mood for tax cuts to the comfortable and coverage limits on the distressed. Democratic senators, on the other hand, are increasingly aware that ObamaCare is not viable, and in some respects is on the verge of collapse.

This gives both parties motives to join together and make things better.

Republicans believe they must repeal ObamaCare because they’ve long promised to do so. Keeping promises, especially in our untrusting political climate, is a good thing. But polling suggests America isn’t eager that promise be wholly kept. The Senate’s repeal-and-replace bill is deeply underwater in most polls, barely above water even with Republicans. If you campaign promising mayonnaise but once you’re in office voters start saying they prefer mustard, Politics 101 says, at least for now, hold the mayo.

Here again is our big wish: that both parties join together and produce a fix. It would no doubt be ungainly and imperfect, but it would be better than the failing thing we have. And Americans, being practical, will settle, for now, for better.

The GOP’s donor class would likely hate the eventual bill, as the Democratic Party’s nihilist left, which wants no compromise, would hate it. But their opposition would suggest to everyone else the bill must be pretty good.

There is the beginning of a movement in the Senate for a bipartisan approach. Republican Susan Collins of Maine has it exactly right: Asked if she thinks it necessary for both parties to work together, she said: “That’s what we should have done from the beginning.” Republican Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said on Fox News Wednesday night: “I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and work with the Democrats.” Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin says it’s a ‘mistake’ to attempt a partisan fix. Democrat Joe Manchin, also of West Virginia, says he’s “ready” for a bipartisan effort. The New York Times reports senators from both parties met privately weeks ago to discuss core issues. Mr. Manchin was there along with Democrats Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Among the Republicans were Sens. Capito and Collins, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

That’s a good start.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, disappointed in the GOP failure earlier in the week to get to yes, told his own members, in front of the press, that if they can’t get it together, they’ll have to work with the Democrats. It sounded like a threat, not an invitation; he seemed to be saying Republican voters wouldn’t like it. Many wouldn’t, but the polling suggests many would.

This column respects history and tradition. I’ve banged away on the fact that any big legislative change that affects how America lives, especially on something so intimate and immediate as health care, has to receive support from both parties or it will never work.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, in creating Social Security in 1935, knew he had to get Republicans behind it and owning it, or America would see it as a Democratic project, not an American institution. In the end he persuaded 81 Republicans to join 284 Democrats in the House. So too with the creation of Medicare in 1965: Lyndon Johnson wrestled and cajoled Republicans and got a majority of their votes.

Every president until Barack Obama knew this. He bullied through ObamaCare with no Republican support, and he did it devilishly, too, in that he created a bill so deal-laden, so intricate, so embedding-of-its-tentacles into the insurance and health systems, that it would be almost impossible to undo. He was maximalist. His party got a maximal black eye, losing the House and eventually the Senate over the bill, which also contributed to its loss of the presidency.

Is it fair that both parties must fix a problem created by one party? No. But it would be wise and would work.

Here is a thing that would help: a little humility from the Democrats, and a little humanity.

It would be powerful if a Democratic senator would go on the Sunday shows this weekend and say something like this: “Republicans have proved they can’t make progress. They’re failing in their efforts, and I’m not sad about it, because their bill is a bad one. But I’m not going to lie to you, ObamaCare has big flaws—always did. It was an imperfect piece of legislation and it’s done some things my party said wouldn’t happen, such as lost coverage and hiked deductibles. The American people know this because they live with it. The answer is to do what we should have done in the past, and that is joining with Republicans to hammer out changes that will make things better, that we all can live with, at least for now. We’ll make it better only by working together. I’m asking to work with them.”

That person would be a hero in the Beltway, which prizes compromise and constructiveness, and admired outside it. “My God, it isn’t all just partisan for her.”

The Democratic Party made this mess. It’s on them to help dig out of it. If they show some humility, Republicans would look pretty poor in not responding with their own olive branch.

Show some class, help the country. When it’s over, use whatever words you want: “We forced Democrats to admit the bill was flawed and dying.” “We forced Republicans to back down.” America won’t mind the propaganda, they’re used to it. Just make a bad thing better.

Don’t give what you produce a grandiose name. Call it the Health Reform Act of 2017. There will be more. Wait till we’re debating single payer in 2020.

But move now. Do the work, break Capitol Hill out of its shirts-and-skins stasis. Solve this thing.

A happy 241st anniversary to America, the great and fabled nation that is still, this day, the hope of the world.

Rage Is All the Rage, and It’s Dangerous A generation of media figures are cratering under the historical pressure of Donald Trump.

What we are living through in America is not only a division but a great estrangement. It is between those who support Donald Trump and those who despise him, between left and right, between the two parties, and even to some degree between the bases of those parties and their leaders in Washington. It is between the religious and those who laugh at Your Make Believe Friend, between cultural progressives and those who wish not to have progressive ways imposed upon them. It is between the coasts and the center, between those in flyover country and those who decide what flyover will watch on television next season. It is between “I accept the court’s decision” and “Bake my cake.” We look down on each other, fear each other, increasingly hate each other.

Oh, to have a unifying figure, program or party.

"March Against Sharia" protest in Chicago

“March Against Sharia” protest in Chicago

But we don’t, nor is there any immediate prospect. So, as Ben Franklin said, we’ll have to hang together or we’ll surely hang separately. To hang together—to continue as a country—at the very least we have to lower the political temperature. It’s on all of us more than ever to assume good faith, put our views forward with respect, even charity, and refuse to incite.

We’ve been failing. Here is a reason the failure is so dangerous.

In the early 1990s Roger Ailes had a talk show on the America’s Talking network and invited me to talk about a concern I’d been writing about, which was old-fashioned even then: violence on TV and in the movies. Grim and graphic images, repeated depictions of murder and beatings, are bad for our kids and our culture, I argued. Depictions of violence unknowingly encourage it.

But look, Roger said, there’s comedy all over TV and I don’t see people running through the streets breaking into laughter. True, I said, but the problem is that, for a confluence of reasons, our country is increasingly populated by the not fully stable. They aren’t excited by wit, they’re excited by violence—especially unstable young men. They don’t have the built-in barriers and prohibitions that those more firmly planted in the world do. That’s what makes violent images dangerous and destructive. Art is art and censorship is an admission of defeat. Good judgment and a sense of responsibility are the answer.

That’s what we’re doing now, exciting the unstable—not only with images but with words, and on every platform. It’s all too hot and revved up. This week we had a tragedy. If we don’t cool things down, we’ll have more.

And was anyone surprised? Tuesday I talked with an old friend, a figure in journalism who’s a pretty cool character, about the political anger all around us. He spoke of “horrible polarization.” He said there’s “too much hate in D.C.” He mentioned “the beheading, the play in the park” and described them as “dog whistles to any nut who wants to take action.”

“Someone is going to get killed,” he said.

That was 20 hours before the shootings in Alexandria, Va.

The gunman did the crime, he is responsible, it’s fatuous to put the blame on anyone or anything else.

But we all operate within a climate and a culture. The media climate now, in both news and entertainment, is too often of a goading, insinuating resentment, a grinding, agitating antipathy. You don’t need another recitation of the events of just the past month or so. A comic posed with a gruesome bloody facsimile of President Trump’s head. New York’s rightly revered Shakespeare in the Park put on a “Julius Caesar” in which the assassinated leader is made to look like the president. A CNN host—amazingly, of a show on religion—sent out a tweet calling the president a “piece of s—” who is “a stain on the presidency.” An MSNBC anchor wondered, on the air, whether the president wishes to “provoke” a terrorist attack for political gain. Earlier Stephen Colbert, well known as a good man, a gentleman, said of the president, in a rant: “The only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c— holster.” Those are but five dots in a larger, darker pointillist painting. You can think of more.

Too many in the mainstream media—not all, but too many—don’t even bother to fake fairness and lack of bias anymore, which is bad: Even faked balance is better than none.

Yes, they have reasons. They find Mr. Trump to be a unique danger to the republic, an incipient fascist; they believe it is their patriotic duty to show opposition. They don’t like his policies. A friend suggested recently that they hate him also because he’s in their business, show business. Who is he to be president? He’s not more talented. And yet as soon as his presidency is over he’ll get another reality show.

And there’s something else. Here I want to note the words spoken by Kathy Griffin, the holder of the severed head. In a tearful news conference she said of the president, “He broke me.” She was roundly mocked for this. Oh, the big bad president’s supporters were mean to you after you held up his bloody effigy. But she was exactly right. He did break her. He robbed her of her sense of restraint and limits, of her judgment. He broke her, but not in the way she thinks, and he is breaking more than her.

We have been seeing a generation of media figures cratering under the historical pressure of Donald Trump. He really is powerful.

They’re losing their heads. Now would be a good time to regain them.

They have been making the whole political scene lower, grubbier. They are showing the young what otherwise estimable adults do under pressure, which is lose their equilibrium, their knowledge of themselves as public figures, as therefore examples—tone setters. They’re paid a lot of money and have famous faces and get the best seat, and the big thing they’re supposed to do in return is not be a slob. Not make it worse.

By indulging their and their audience’s rage, they spread the rage. They celebrate themselves as brave for this. They stood up to the man, they spoke truth to power. But what courage, really, does that take? Their audiences love it. Their base loves it, their demo loves it, their bosses love it. Their numbers go up. They get a better contract. This isn’t brave.

If these were only one-offs, they’d hardly be worth comment, but these things build on each other. Rage and sanctimony always spread like a virus, and become stronger with each iteration.

And it’s no good, no excuse, to say Trump did it first, he lowered the tone, it’s his fault. Your response to his low character is to lower your own character? He talks bad so you do? You let him destabilize you like this? You are making a testimony to his power.

So many of our media figures need at this point to be reminded: You belong to something. It’s called: us.

Do your part, take it down some notches, cool it. We have responsibilities to each other.

America Shouts While Europe Shrugs The U.S. media capitalize on division. Meantime, Parisians hardly notice a terror attack.

Here is a column on two very different topics. If my editor is clever he will find a common theme.

The first has to do with the national media climate at this time of political uncertainty, anxiety and division. I suspect at least half the country (those who support President Trump, have reserved judgment about him, or just want the news straight) feel they can no longer trust, or feel actively excluded by, mainstream entertainment and news.

What we need from media folk is a kind of heroic fairness. What we have instead is endless calculation.

Last week the subject was the divisive nature of so much of our entertainment culture, especially late-night talk shows.

The Champs-Élysées after a terror attack

The Champs-Élysées after a terror attack

We are living in a time of the politicization of everything. You cannot, at the end of a long day, relax with a talk show because it will take a highly political point of view, in a dominant and aggressive manner, as if politics were not part of life but life. It is obnoxious and assaultive. It effectively tells the audience: ‘We only want you here if you agree with us. If you like Donald Trump, get lost.” Some news shows take a similar approach.

Dislike of Mr. Trump within the mainstream media is unalterable. It permeates every network, from intern to executive producer and CEO.

Here is a theory on what they’re thinking: They’re thinking attempts at fairness and balance in this charged atmosphere get them nowhere. They’re attacked by both sides. And anyway they think Mr. Trump is insane.

They live on ratings, which determine advertising rates. Hillary Clinton got 2.9 million more votes than Mr. Trump, so the anti-Trump audience is larger. Moreover, people who oppose Mr. Trump tend to be more affluent, more educated, more urban. They’re more liberal, of course, and they’re younger. They’re a desirable demographic. The pro-Trump audience is more rural, more working- and middle-class, older. A particularly heartless media professional might sum them up this way: “Their next big lifestyle choice will be death.”

So, if you are a person who programs or sets the tone of network fare and you want to take a side—you shouldn’t, but you want to!—you throw your lot with the anti-Trump demo, serving them the kind of journalistic approaches and showbiz attitudes they’re likely to enjoy.

Mr. Trump, you are certain, won’t last: He’ll bring himself down or be brought down. You want to be with the winning side. So play to those who hate him, exclude others, call it integrity and reap the profits.

That is my theory: media bias now is in part a financial decision, instead of what it used to be, a good old-fashioned human and institutional flaw.

This contributes to public division—to the great estrangement we see in America. I talk to media folk a lot, being one, and haven’t found anyone who’s said, “Why yes, that’s exactly what we’re doing, deepening our national divisions for profit!” Although I shared my theory this week with a senior manager of a news organization who quickly mentioned another major news organization and said: “I think that’s what they’re doing.”

But I do think it’s part of what is going on. I add only that it’s not only cynical and destructive, as a business strategy it’s stupid. Bias is boring. It’s predictable, rote, is an audience-limiter. What has value at a time like this is playing it straight and presenting the facts. That’s what they ought to do instead of taking a side.

*   *   *

I was traveling this week for work, in Europe.

When we arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, passport control was closed down. Many hundreds of people milled about confusedly. An airline worker said two unattended bags had been found and security personnel were on the scene. Officials might have to explode the bags where they are. Will there be any warning? Yes, I was told, they’ll tell us before and we’ll hear it. Does this sort of thing happen often? “A few times a day,” an attendant said.

There was no air of alarm, and everyone around us was pleasant. After 35 minutes passport control opened, without an explosion. The attitude was that this was par for the course, just another day at the office.

Two hours after I got to my hotel, word came of a terror attack three blocks away, on the Champs Élysées. I asked the woman at the desk for directions and she said, in low and measured terms, “I’m sorry madame, there has been a terrorist occurrence. You should not go there.” I said “Yes, I’d like to go see it.” She brightened: “In that case, go left, left, then final left!”

Soon I was in a small crowd being held back by a handful of police. They protested: My work is there. I must go there. I walked for a few blocks, to a small park off the Champs. Police had put up police tape, but as soon as they turned away people ducked under it and continued on their way.

No one in the crowd—workers in the shops, mothers with children, tourists—seemed the least put out or concerned, never mind scared, which they were not.

The next morning the story of what had happened on the Champs Élysées was not even the top story on the international news. Which is a wonder, since this is what happened:

A man had crashed his Renault into the front car of a police convoy. The assailant was later killed. Officers searched his car and found weapons and explosives, reportedly including gas canisters, handguns and a Kalashnikov. The assailant was said to be in his early 30s, from a Parisian suburb, and known to police.

A few hours later at an outdoor cafe I watched as people rode by on scooters and motorcycles. The sidewalks were busy, bright, sun-dappled at dusk. Young people were strolling by and staring down at their phones. Strolling and scrolling, all as carefree and relaxed as any other day.

As I lingered over dessert. A colleague emailed an alert from a private security firm: Continue to avoid the vicinity of Champs Élysées and Avenue Montaigne. I replied: “I am literally on Avenue Montaigne and nothing is happening here but bitchy gossip in the cafe.”

“At least you’re having a very French experience then,” my colleague replied.

I was. Forty-eight hours later, en route to England, I saw the front page of the Times of London: A suspected terrorist had been shot and killed by soldiers in a Brussels railway station. He had attempted to detonate an explosive vest or belt. The story was illustrated with a photo of a handsome young passerby who’d been staring at his phone and suddenly turned toward a flash of light behind him: the late terrorist.

Nothing feels different, all looks the same, no one is letting the discomfort get in their way, but in Europe, terrorism is the new normal.

And much is made of what remains of British stoicism, but something should be said for French sang-froid.

My editor discerns this theme: Perhaps there is a happy medium somewhere between bitter division and blasé complacency.

What Comey Told Us About Trump The president has no understanding of the norms, rules and traditions of his job.

Washington

James Comey’s written testimony outlining meetings and conversations with President Trump was telling and damning because believable. Whatever Mr. Comey’s reputation, and it is mixed—an intelligent, accomplished professional who is plenty slick; state-of-the-art Beltway operator with an image of integrity, yet trailed by suspicions of slight smarm—he is a careful man. It is not strange for an official to take notes after a meeting or conversation with a president, and it is wholly understandable when the president is unusual, the circumstances heightened, the relationship potentially contentious. It begs credulity that Mr. Comey would have tapped out elaborate fictions in a one-man note-taking plot to bring down a president. And he must have known it possible the calls and meetings were taped, in which case the contents would be used to destroy him if he lied.

Mr. Comey first met with President-elect Trump in January. Afterward he broke with previous personal practice and documented the meeting in a memo. “To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting.”

Former FBI Director, James Comey

Former FBI Director, James Comey

On Jan. 27 he had dinner with the president at the White House. “It turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room.” The president asked if he wanted to stay on as FBI Director. Mr. Comey found this “strange,” because Mr. Trump had already told him twice, earlier, he hoped Mr. Comey would stay. The director felt “the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship.”

Then: “A few moments later, the President said, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.’ I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence.”

Near the end of the dinner Mr. Trump said he was glad Mr. Comey wanted to stay. “He then said, ‘I need loyalty.’ I replied, ‘You will always get honesty from me.’ [Mr. Trump] paused and then said, ‘That’s what I want, honest loyalty.’ I paused and then said, ‘You will get that from me.’ ”

On Feb. 14 Mr. Comey met the president and other top officials for a counterterrorism briefing in the Oval Office. At the end the president said he wanted to speak to Mr. Comey privately. Attorney General Jeff Sessions lingered; the president said he wanted Mr. Comey alone.

“When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, ‘I want to speak about Mike Flynn. ’ ” The president said: “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” Referring to the Russia investigation, Mr. Trump said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go.” Mr. Comey agreed Mr. Flynn was a good guy, but didn’t say he’d let it go.

Mr. Comey thought the meeting “very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.” Later he told his boss, the attorney general, that it was “inappropriate” that Mr. Sessions was asked to leave the meeting and “it should never happen again.” Mr. Sessions did not reply, Mr. Comey reports.

On March 30, the president phoned Mr. Comey at the FBI. He said the Russia investigation was damaging his ability to govern. “He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud.’ ” Mr. Comey answered that they were investigating the matter as quickly as possible. Mr. Trump urged Mr. Comey to get out the word the president himself wasn’t being investigated. “I told him I would see what we could do.” He requested guidance from the Justice Department, which did not provide it.

Mr. Comey’s testimony backs up Mr. Trump’s assertion that the director told him he personally was not under investigation.

The worst part of the testimony is when the president pressed Mr. Comey for his personal loyalty. Presidents don’t lean on FBI chiefs in this way. It is at odds with traditional boundaries, understandings and protocols. It was embarrassing to read. It was the move of a naïf who’s a cynic—I know how the big boys play. Actually it’s not how the big boys play, it’s how someone who learns about government by binge-watching “House of Cards” would play. It was bumptious with the special bumptiousness of those who think themselves savvy.

Still, as a Republican senator said after Mr. Comey’s testimony was released, inappropriate does not mean illegal. Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, wrote in USA Today that the desire for an indictable or impeachable offense by the president “has distorted the legal analysis” of the case “to an alarming degree.” Mr. Turley’s read on the testimony: Mr. Trump’s conduct was “wildly inappropriate.” Asking Mr. Comey to lay off Mr. Flynn was “wrong” and “grossly improper.” But “the legal fact is that Comey’s testimony does not establish a prima facie—or even a strong—case for obstruction [of justice].” This is not the first president “to express dissatisfaction with an investigation by the Justice Department”: Bill Clinton did the same. Nor was it a surprise he wished to see the investigations end: He’d said so publicly.

On Thursday Mr. Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he had authorized leaks about his memos after the president had tweeted a warning: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.” Mr. Comey realized there might be corroboration. Thursday he said, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” (That was rather Comey, to pull out the “Lordy.”) He asked if they exist that they be released.

In the end Mr. Comey appears to have done himself little or no harm, but he harmed the president by documenting, again and persuasively, that Mr. Trump does not understand the norms, rules and traditions of his job. As I watched, I wondered how many other appointees, officials and White House staffers are writing themselves memos.

Will all this damage the president with his supporters?

What consumes Blue America does not consume Red America.

The photojournalist Chris Arnade reported on Twitter what he was seeing in Mountain Grove, Mo., Thursday morning as Mr. Comey testified. The conversation at the local McDonald’s : “1.)Yard work/lawn mowers, 2) Danger of Bees, 3) Cardinals sucking, 4) Friend who died, 5) Church.” He asked a middle aged man in a T-shirt if he planned to watch the hearings. Kirk said no: “I got a lot of yards to mow.”

Then again, a conservative intellectual with small-town roots wrote, during the testimony, that he thought this might be a break point, a moment when Mr. Trump’s supporters would listen close and think he’s not so much like them, and not so different from the swamp he means to drain.

I myself don’t know.