Voices of Reason—and Unreason Susan Collins put on a clinic in thoroughness and justice. Democrats need to stand up to the screamers.

What did the Kavanaugh controversy tell us about our historical moment? It underscored what we already know, that America is politically and culturally divided and that activists and the two parties don’t just disagree with but dislike and distrust each other. We know also the Supreme Court has come to be seen not only as a constitutional (and inevitably political) body but as a cultural body. It follows cultural currents, moods, assumptions. It has frequently brushed past the concept of democratic modesty to make decisions that would most peacefully be left to the people, at the ballot box, after national debate. So citizens will experience the court as having great power over their lives, and nominations to the court will inevitably draw passion. And this was a fifth conservative seat on a nine-person court.

Sen. Susan Collins

Sen. Susan Collins

But the Kavanaugh hearings had some new elements. There were no boundaries on inquiry, no bowing to the idea of a private self. Accusations were made about the wording of captions under yearbook photos. The Senate showed a decline in public standards of decorum. A significant number of senators no longer even pretend to have class or imitate fairness. The screaming from the first seconds of the first hearings, the coordinated interruptions, the insistent rudeness and accusatory tones—none of it looked like the workings of the ordered democracy that has been the envy of the world.

Two Republican senators this week wrote to me with a sound of mourning. One found it “amazing” and “terrifying” that “seemingly, and without very much thought, nearly half the United States Senate has abandoned the presumption of innocence in this country, all to achieve a political goal.” The other cited “a truly disturbing result: One of the great political parties abandoning the Constitutionally-based traditions of due process and presumption of innocence.”

At the very least, Senate Democrats overplayed their hand.

My bias in cases of sexual abuse and assault, and it is a bias, is in favor of the woman. I give her words greater weight because I have not in my personal experience seen women lie about such allegations, and I know the reasons they have, in the past, kept silent. If you know your biases and are serious, you will try to be fair—not to overcorrect but to maintain standards. On Sept. 16, the day the charges made by Christine Blasey Ford appeared in the Washington Post, I was certain that more witnesses and information would come forward. We would see where justice lay. The great virtue of the #MeToo movement is that the whole phenomenon was broken open by numbers and patterns—numbers of victims, patterns of behavior, and the deep reporting that uncovered both. In this case great reporters tried to nail down Ms. Ford’s story. But they did not succeed. The New Yorker story that followed was dramatic but unpersuasive, a hand grenade whose pin could not be pulled. The final allegation, about rape-train parties and spiked punch, was not in the least credible.

It was Ms. Ford’s story that was compelling, but in need of support or corroboration. It did not come.

It was a woman who redeemed the situation, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. In her remarks announcing her vote, she showed a wholly unusual respect for the American people, and for the Senate itself, by actually explaining her thinking. Under intense pressure, her remarks were not about her emotions. She weighed the evidence, in contrast, say, to Sen. Cory Booker, who attempted to derail the hearings from the start and along the way compared himself to Spartacus. Though Spartacus was a hero, not a malignant buffoon.

Ms. Collins noted that she had voted in favor of justices nominated by George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. She considers qualifications, not party. She reviewed Brett Kavanaugh’s 12-year judicial record, including more than 300 opinions, speeches and law-review articles; she met with Judge Kavanaugh for more than two hours, and spoke with him again for an hour by phone with more questions.

She judged him centrist in his views and well within the mainstream of judicial thought. He believes, he told her, the idea of precedent is not only a practice or tradition but a tenet rooted in the Constitution.

As to Ms. Ford’s charges, since the confirmation process is not a trial, the rules are more elastic. “But certain fundamentally legal principles about due process, the presumption of innocence, and fairness do bear on my thinking, and I cannot abandon them.”

“We must always remember that it is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy.” She called the gang-rape charge an “outlandish allegation” with no credible evidence.

At this point it was understood the Democrats had gone too far.

It is believable, said Ms. Collins, that Ms. Ford is a survivor of sexual assault and that the trauma “has upended her life.” But the four witnesses she named could not corroborate her account. None had any recollection of the party; her lifelong friend said under penalty of felony that she neither remembers such an event nor even knows Brett Kavanaugh.

Ms. Collins said she has been “alarmed and disturbed” by those who suggest that unless Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination was rejected, the Senate would somehow be condoning sexual assault: “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The atmosphere surrounding the nomination has been “politically charged” and reached “fever pitch” even before the Ford and other charges. It has been challenging to separate fact from fiction. But a decision must be made. Judge Kavanaugh’s record has been called one of “an exemplary public servant, judge, teacher, coach, husband, and father.” Her hope is he “will work to lessen the divisions in the Supreme Court so that we have far fewer 5-4 decisions and so that public confidence in our judiciary and our highest court is restored.”

And so, she said, she would vote to confirm.

It was a master class in what a friend called “old-style thoroughness combined with a feeling for justice.”

A word on the destructive theatrics we now see gripping parts of the Democratic Party. The howling and screeching that interrupted the hearings and the voting, the people who clawed on the door of the court, the ones who chased senators through the halls and screamed at them in elevators, who surrounded and harassed one at dinner with his wife, who disrupted and brought an air of chaos, who attempted to thwart democratic processes so that the people could not listen and make their judgments:

Do you know how that sounded to normal people, Republican and Democratic and unaffiliated? It sounded demonic. It didn’t sound like “the resistance” or #MeToo. It sounded like the shrieking in the background of an old audiotape of an exorcism.

Democratic leaders should stand up to the screamers. They haven’t, because they’re afraid of them. But things like this spread and deepen.

Stand up to your base. It’s leading you nowhere good. And you know it.

We Must Improve Our Trust American institutions—and therefore democracy itself—are frailer than we often realize.

I have been thinking about trust. All the polls show and have for some time what you already know: America’s trust in its leaders and institutions has been falling for four decades. Trust in the federal government has never been lower. In 1958 Pew Research found 73% trusted the government to do what is right “always” or “most of the time.” That sounds healthy. As of 2017 that number was 18%. That’s not.

Other institutions have suffered, too—the church, the press, the professions. That’s disturbing because those institutions often bolster our national life in highly personal ways. When government or law turns bad, they provide a place, a platform from which to stand, to make a case, to correct.

A problem that has so many parts and so much history—from Vietnam to Twitter bots—will not easily be solved. But there are things we can do individually to help America be more at peace with itself.

DemocracyFirst, realize this isn’t merely a problem but a crisis. When you say you believe in and trust democratic institutions, you are saying you believe in and trust democracy itself. When you don’t, you don’t. When a nation tells pollsters it’s unable to trust its constituent parts it’s telling pollsters it doesn’t trust itself.

It’s time to see our mighty institutions with their noble facades—the grand marble court houses, the soaring cathedral—for what they are: secretly frail and in constant need of saving.

When you’re young and starting out you imagine institutions are monoliths—big, impervious to your presence. Later, having spent time within, you know how human and flawed it all is, and how it’s saved each day by the wisdom and patience—the quiet heroism—of a few. Be one of the few.

If you’re young it would be good at this point to enter your profession with a premature sense of the frailty of everything.

Six years ago I was invited to speak to a small West Point class. Polls had come out showing that the U.S. military still retained the trust of the people, and this was much on my mind. I wondered if the cadets knew how much was riding on them.

I told them the institution they’re about to enter was among the last standing, and one of their great jobs will be to keep it trustworthy.

Naturally maintaining their institution’s moral stature was not the main focus of their minds. So I told them a story of a great army of the West, admired by all, that did something wrong, and then a series of things, and by the end, when it came out, as such things do, it broke that army’s reputation in a way from which it never quite recovered. I was speaking of France and the Dreyfus affair. They had not heard of it.

There should be a course in it.

I urged them to conduct themselves so that such a thing could never happen in the U.S. Army. I don’t think I left them rushing to download Émile Zola on their iPads. I do think they were hearing for the first time how much America depends on them not only for military expertise but to keep up the national morale.

In many ways we’re too national in our thinking. Don’t always be thinking up there. Be thinking here, where life takes place. In building trust think close to home. If your teenager judges an institution called Business in America by the billionaire hedge funder spouting inane thoughts on cable TV with a look on his face that says “See how original I am!” then capitalism is doomed. You can’t make your teenager admire slippery, rapacious tech gods in Silicon Valley. But if your children understand business in America as modeled by you—as honorable men and women engaged in an honorable pursuit—then they will have respect for the institution of business. If for no other reason be honest in your dealings, be compassionate, and provide excellence.

Realize there’s a difference between skepticism and cynicism, that one is constructive and the other childish.

Skepticism involves an intellectual exercise: You look at the grand surface knowing it may not reflect the inner reality. It implies action: If it doesn’t, try to make it better. Cynicism is a dodge: Everything’s crud, you’d be a fool to try and make it better, it’s all irredeemable and unchangeable.

Be skeptical of our institutions, not cynical toward them.

For those who operate on any level of our public life, hear this: Some of our problems can be resolved or made less dramatic and assaultive by an old-fashioned concept that used to exist in American public life. It is called tact. We are in an epidemic of tactlessness, which is an absence of respect for the other side, for whoever is on that side. It is an utter lack of generosity and sensitivity.

“Bake my cake” is, among other things, a stunning example of lack of tact. You’re supposed to win graciously, not rub the loser’s face in it.

If you are, say, in the U.S. Congress, where both parties failed for a quarter-century to regulate our borders effectively, and those forced to live with the results of that derogation rise up and demand action, the correct response is not to imply they are nativist racist bigots.

You listen to people, you don’t label them insultingly.

A tactful response? “We take your point—we haven’t succeeded and we’ll try to get it right. In the meantime, since we’re all imperfect human beings, please don’t let your anger turn into something small, biased and narrow. While you investigate your heart, we will get to work.”

You lose nothing when you hear and respect criticism. You gain trust.

Finally, we ask so much of government, which is not, we know, the most competent of institutions. When we ask too much and multiply its tasks, it’s likely to fail, and when it does we become angry—and trust goes down again.

Our founders were skeptical of concentrated power. The power of government, arrayed against the individual, could crush him. They devised checks, balances, enumerated rights. Those who believe in their wisdom should speak of it more persuasively.

To this day many Republicans speak of what they call “limited government.” This is an unfortunate and unpersuasive phrase. Usage changes. To most people “limited” means insufficient, not up to the task. “He had the heart of a quarterback but was limited by his small stature.” Americans know they have limited government. They’ve been to the DMV. What they’d like is a government that acknowledges its limits and understands itself as one of many players in the democratic drama—not the central player but a present and competent one. A realistic government, a humble government, at the very least a more collegial one.

President Trump cannot help. Increasing public trust is not his declared mission, and what it would take is not in his toolbox. He tends in his statements to undermine trust: His own government is embarked on a deep-state witch-hunt conspiracy, his agencies are incompetent, the press is fake-news liars.

What can be handled by us, should be. We can’t go forward this way.

These Generals Were the Closest of Enemies When U.S. Army buddies Lo Armistead and Win Hancock faced off, only one survived the battle.

On Memorial Day we think of those who served. Here let’s look at an old story about a military man’s affections. It’s the story of Lo Armistead and Win Hancock—close friends, career officers who’d served side by side in the U.S. Army. Then history took one of its turns and they wound up on opposite sides at Gettysburg, where one was killed by the other’s troops. It is one of the most moving tales of the Civil War, and is warmly told in Michael Shaara’s classic novel, “The Killer Angels.”

It’s a good story to have in our minds as coming years unfold.

In June 1863, 155 years ago, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s 70,000-man Army of Northern Virginia slipped across the Potomac River and invaded the North.

Brig. Gen. Lewis “Lo” Armistead, 46, was with him. Lo was an abbreviation of his nickname, Lothario, wryly bestowed because that’s what he wasn’t. He was quiet, considered shy, twice widowed, and from a family of fighters. Armisteads had served in all of America’s wars. Now and then something broke through his composure: Everyone in the Army knew he’d left West Point after breaking a plate over fellow cadet Jubal Early’s head. Shaara: “He was an honest man, open as the sunrise.” And he was brave.

Gen. Armistead

Brigadier General Lewis Armistead at Pickett’s Charge, Gettysburg, 1863.

He was eventually based in Southern California, where his quartermaster, Winfield Scott Hancock, became his close friend.

Armistead was seven years older and from Virginia, while Hancock was from Pennsylvania, but they had much in common. Hancock had also attended West Point, though he graduated. Both had served in the Mexican War, both been lauded for gallantry and promoted to higher rank. Hancock was humorous and liked to paint. Years later, in his memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant would remember Hancock as “a man of very conspicuous personal appearance. . . . His genial disposition made him friends, and his personal courage and his presence with his command in the thickest of the fight won him the confidence of troops serving under him.”

By the end of the Civil War he too had a nickname: “Hancock the Superb.”

When the war came the officers of the U.S. Army had to decide where they stood. Hancock stood firm with the Union; Armistead went with the Confederacy. We don’t know all Armistead’s thinking but Shaara suggests some of it in his portrayal of the thoughts of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, also Armistead’s friend and under whom he served. Longstreet did not think much of “the Cause.” To Longstreet, “the war had come as a nightmare in which you chose your nightmare side.”

Shaara suggests Armistead saw it pretty much the same. But unlike many on his side, Longstreet wasn’t in denial as to the war’s cause. “The war was about slavery, all right,” he said, in Shaara’s telling. That wasn’t why he fought, “but that was what the war was about.”

When the war came, Armistead, Hancock and others had a gathering to say goodbye. Shaara imagines a soldier’s farewell: “Goodbye, good luck, and see you in Hell.” But to Armistead it was more than that: “They had been closer than brothers.” Tears were shed. In Shaara’s story, Armistead tells Hancock: “Win, so help me, if I ever lift a hand against you may God strike me dead.” In other sources, Armistead says: “Goodbye. You can never know what this has cost me.”

It was the last time they would see each other.

Some time afterward Armistead sent Almira, Hancock’s wife, a package to be opened on the event of his death.

Two years into the war, Gettysburg. Armistead heard Hancock was there and asked Longstreet if he might see him. Sure, said Longstreet, if you can find his position, get a flag of truce and go on over. (This was not completely unheard of in that war: Opposing officers would find each other in field glasses and wave hello or tip their hats.)

But everything was too chaotic, nobody knew where they were, and it didn’t happen.

July 3 was Pickett’s Charge. Armistead was one of Maj. Gen. George Pickett’s brigade commanders.

Lee judged the Union army to be reinforced on the wings but soft in the center. That center was a long sloping field leading to a clump of trees at a ridge. He would send in 15,000 men and split the Union lines. It would be hard—a mile uphill, over open ground, with Union artillery trained on them behind a low stone wall. But the Confederate artillery would smash the Union artillery before the charge commenced. And then they’d break the Union line, and the Union.

It was of course one of the epic miscalculations in modern military history.

At some point Armistead heard who was up there waiting at the stone wall. It was the Second Corps. It was led by Win Hancock. Armistead knew: He wouldn’t break.

The charge began, Armistead led his brigade out of the woods and onto the field. Quickly the Union artillery opened up. Shells came raining down; canisters of metal balls whirled through the air. Explosions, musketry. Union men were out in the open, kneeling and firing. Men fell all around. The smoke thickened and the troops could barely see, so Armistead put his black felt hat on the tip of his sword, held it up and called, “Follow me.”

Troops fell, gaps closed. About 30 yards from the wall, “unable to advance, unwilling to run,” the charge stalled and stopped. Armistead knew it was over. He was hit in the leg but kept going. He reached the wall and made it to the other side. He was hit again and doubled over, then hit yet again. He sat down.

A Union officer came over. Armistead asked for Gen. Hancock. The officer apologized: Hancock had been hit.

Armistead asked the officer to give him a message: “Tell General Hancock that General Armistead sends his regrets.”

Armistead died in a Union hospital tent.

Pickett, amazingly, survived, but was bitter about Lee to the end. His division sustained 60% casualties. Of 13 colonels, seven died and six were wounded. The Confederate army would never recover.

Longstreet was with Lee at Appomattox. Soon after the war he became a Republican—and supported his friend Grant in his efforts to rebuild the South. Naturally they never forgave him.

Hancock survived his wounds and the war. In 1880 he ran for president as a Democrat. He lost to Republican James A. Garfield of Ohio, who’d fought at Shiloh. It was close—he lost the popular vote by only 9,000. But Hancock the Superb, hero of the Union Army, swept the South.

In time it became known what was in the package Lo Armistead sent Almira Hancock. It was his personal Bible.

All these stories are part of our history and should never be lost. If we lose them we lose ourselves, and we lose, too, part of the gift we give our immigrants, which is stories that explain the thing they have joined.

The stories should be told plain but with heart, too.

We’ve overcome a great deal. We see this best when we don’t deny our history but tell the whole messy, complicated, embarrassing, ennobling tale.

Happy Memorial Day. Show generosity to a foe this weekend. Or better, be brave and show love.

Hats Off to Tom Wolfe He was a friend, a wit and a literary inspiration. And what a figure he cut—like a crazed, antique peacock.

‘You can take off your hats now, gentlemen, and I think perhaps you had better.” That was Stephen Vincent Benet in 1941, in the Saturday Review of Literature, on the work of Scott Fitzgerald, who had recently died.

I thought of it on the death of Tom Wolfe. Not that he was ignored or forgotten, but we are coming to terms with his greatness in a purer, less guarded way than in the past.

He picked up American journalism and shook it hard, then he picked up the novel and shook that too. He saw what was happening all around us, and he said that’s not “what’s happening,” that’s history—the social and cultural story of the great Hog-stomping Baroque America of the second half of the 20th century, which was begging to be captured and finally was, by him, in a way no one else would or could.

Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe

He invented characters that presented us to ourselves. He had two masterpieces, “The Right Stuff” in nonfiction and “The Bonfire of the Vanities” in fiction. He issued one of the great literary manifestos: Stop your navel gazing, get out your notebook, there’s a world exploding out there.

His words entered the language. He fearlessly, brazenly faced up to America’s blood wars, its ethnic and racial rivalries, its merry bitterness. “Yo, Gober!” “He’s another Donkey, same as me.”

On top of that he strutted through the world like some crazed, antique peacock—the faded vanilla suits, the high-collar shirts, polka-dot ties, the socks and handkerchief, the spats.

What a figure! When I heard the news I thought of last November, at the New York Public Library’s annual gala. When I walked in he and Sheila, his warm, elegant wife, were seated alone as the party raged around them. I kissed them hello, they asked me to sit, and 20 minutes later, after talk of Donald Trump, toward whom he was equal parts fair-minded, amused and amazed, I left to join friends. Halfway through the room I turned back. Tom was gazing, bemused, at the crowd. “That’s Dickens,” I said to a friend. “That’s Zola.” There should have been a line waiting to meet him, to say, “I shook Tom Wolfe’s hand.”

I saw him over many years and thought of him as Paul McHugh, a professor and psychiatrist who was his close friend, did. “He was warmhearted,” he said. Tom Wolfe had killer eyes but was not cold. There was sweetness there, and sympathy. He wrote of social status, and as Dr. McHugh said, “he was especially great at deflating those whose position led them to the bullying of others.”

He worked himself hard. Dr. McHugh would call him and say, “I know I’m interrupting you.” Tom would reply, “Thank God!”

He suffered and was gallant. He’d had scoliosis when young, and an injury the past decade had left him with a spinal misalignment. He was bent sharply at the waist; his trunk tilted right. He was often in pain. His famous walking stick with the wolf’s head wasn’t only for fun and show, he needed it to walk.

Imagine caring so much about how you presented yourself to the world and facing that challenge. Imagine doing it anyway, in part because it gives the world delight.

We met more than 20 years ago when we were thrown together as seatmates at a Manhattan think-tank dinner. The auspices were not good. I’d recently tangled with a close friend of his, and to make it worse I’d been in the wrong and knew it. Beyond that I was awed. I never told him, but my first book was half an homage to him: “Bonfire” and his manifesto, “Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast,” filled my soul. His prose had an anarchic, liberating impact. In one chapter I realized my puny self was in the thick of history. I set myself to describing the audio experience of Air Force Two, its curious, soft pulsating sound. GARRRUUUMMMM. “The engines weaving in and out; the air conditioned hum; the soft murmurings of power: I’m flying.” My editor was alarmed. Cut that: “People will think you’re imitating Tom Wolfe!” “I am imitating Tom Wolfe! It’s my tribute!” He laughed. We kept it.

At the dinner, uncomfortable and awed, I turned earnest. Nothing’s more boring than that! Still, we were together, and did our best. At one point he started talking about what was happening in neuroscience. He was amused by the new pill that affects sexual mood—I think he said sexual readiness—it’s flying off the shelves! I said yes, but the pill that will be more popular, and which they’ll eventually make, will be the one that makes you fall back in love, because that will solve everyone’s problems. “He’s responsible and sweet but it’s just not enough!” “I don’t love my wife anymore!” That’s the pill that will really sell!

We giggled. He gave me a scrutinizing look and said: “You’re quite a woman.” I answered solemnly, as if considering the proposition obvious and the burden heavy: “Yes, I am.” He threw back his head, and we were off to the races.

The last time I saw him was almost three months ago, at the wedding of a brilliant young woman and a handsome man. The wedding party was in a fashionable restaurant in downtown New York. We were seated at a red leather banquette, where we had a Writer Moment. I looked out at the boisterous crowd—laughing, gesturing, talking over the din, big decibels. I said, “Tom, this sound of the voices hitting the ceiling, the laughter—this reminds me of the description in ‘Bonfire’ of a grand Park Avenue party or reception: ‘Their swimming teeth.’”

Tom got a look of immediate interest, a flush of approval. “Did I say that?”

“You did.”

He laughed like Oh, that was good.

I said I remember reading it and thinking “Oh, I am in a presence.” He pressed my hand and held it for a moment.

Once the aged Tolstoy was in his sitting room, a fire in the fireplace. His daughter came in and said “Papa, listen.” She read a page of a description of a great battle. He listened and said, “Oh, that’s good. Who is that?” She said, “Papa, it’s you. ‘War and Peace.’ ”

All writers forget. And the greatest and most prolific forget most.

This was a great man. And I see him now as I did a dozen years ago, again at a New York Public Library dinner. We met as we were leaving, walked through the lobby, parted at the door.

It was something to see that man going down the broad imposing steps, tricked out in the white suit, a flowing black cape, a big, broad brimmed black hat worn at a tilt, the stick, walking carefully but with a certain flair, a certain élan, because he knew he was being watched because he was, let’s face it, Tom Wolfe. And I was watching, as he disappeared into the night, into the teeming city, going northward toward home.

Goodbye Tom Wolfe. May you be awed, thrilled and over the moon this day by what you find now, a new and unreported world. “Flights of angels—”

Oh, it was good to have him here, wasn’t it?

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

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

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

White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

Broadcast of the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It is,” you say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wisdom of a Non-Idiot Billionaire ‘I saw Bernie Sanders and the kids around him,’ says Ken Langone. ‘I thought: This is the antichrist!’

An occasional preoccupation in this space is that young people have no particular loyalty to or affection for free-market capitalism, the economic system that made America a great thing in history and a magnet for the world. There are two reasons. One is that in their short lives they’ve witnessed and experienced only capitalism’s scandals—the 2008 crash, inequality. The other is that they’ve never heard capitalism defended—not in K through college, not in our entertainment culture. When you don’t especially admire something you feel no inclination to protect it, which will have serious political implications down the road.

We should all make the case for capitalism, especially our idiot billionaires and especially those in Silicon Valley. Some, by which I mean Mark Zuckerberg in particular, act as if America is special mostly because it provided a stage for their fabulousness, otherwise not much. During a hearing last month Sen. Dan Sullivan referred to Mr. Zuckerberg’s dorm-room invention and said: “Only in America, would you agree with that?” Mr. Zuckerberg seemed taken aback and mumbled around. “You’re supposed to answer ‘yes’ to this question,” Mr. Sullivan explained.

Ken Langone, founder of Home Depot

Ken Langone, founder of Home Depot

But let’s get to a non-idiot billionaire. Ken Langone, 82, investor, philanthropist and founder of Home Depot, has written an autobiography that actually conveys the excitement of business—of starting an enterprise that creates a job that creates a family, of the joy of the deal and the place of imagination in the making of a career. Its hokey and ebullient name is “I Love Capitalism” which I think makes his stand clear.

Why did he write it? I asked him by phone. He wanted to show gratitude, to inspire the young—“If I can make it, everyone can!”—and he wanted young voters to understand socialism is not the way. “In 2016 I saw Bernie Sanders and the kids around him. I thought: This is the antichrist! We have the greatest engine in the world.” The wealthy have an absolute obligation to help others: “Where would we be if people didn’t share their wealth? I got 38 kids on Bucknell scholarships. They’re all colors of the rainbow; some are poor kids, rough around the edges. It’s capitalism!” He famously funds NYU/Langone Medical Center.

He worries about the future of economic freedom and sees the selfishness of some of the successful as an impediment. “Are there people who are greedy, who do nothing for anyone? Yes.” They should feel shame. If the system goes down they’ll be part of the reason. “But don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”

Can capitalism win the future? “Yes, but we have to be more emphatic and forthright about what it is and its benefits. A rising tide does lift boats.”

Home Depot has changed lives. “We have 400,000 people who work there, and we’ve never once paid anybody minimum wage.” Three thousand employees “came to work for us fresh out of high school, didn’t go to college, pushing carts in the parking lot. All 3,000 are multimillionaires. Salary, stock, a stock savings plan.”

Mr. Langone came up in the middle of the 20th century—the golden age of American capitalism. Does his example still pertain to the 21st? Yes, he says emphatically: “The future is rich in opportunity.” To see it, look for it. For instance: “Look, people are living longer. They’re living more vibrant lives, more productive. This is an opportunity to accommodate the needs of older people. Better products, cheaper prices—help them get what they need!”

Mr. Langone grew up in blue-collar Long Island, N.Y. Neither parent finished high school. His father was a plumber who was poor at business; his mother worked in the school cafeteria. They lived paycheck to paycheck. He was a lousy student but he had one big thing going for him: “I loved making money.” He got his first job at 11 and often worked two at a time—paperboy, butcher-shop boy, caddie, lawn work, Bohack grocery clerk. He didn’t mind: “I wanted to be rich.”

He got into Bucknell University when the registrar saw something in him despite his grades. He scraped through, enjoyed economics class. His mother prayed every day to St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things, that he’d find good sense and self-discipline. He met a beautiful Long Island girl named Elaine, they married; he looked for work on Wall Street, found some after struggling, and went to New York University at night for a business degree from what’s now called the Langone Program.

By the spring of 1965 he was not yet 30 and earning $100,000 a year in commissions alone. He loved mergers and acquisitions. For his first initial public offering, he nailed down Ross Perot and EDS. By his mid-30s he was Mr. Perot’s banker and quite full of himself. Naturally his business soon wobbled, almost cratered, and righting the ship took years.

Then came Home Depot. You’ll have to read the book to hear the story. Ross Perot decided not to invest.

Mr. Langone’s book is not only helpful, it’s fun. He doesn’t offer rules for living but you can discern some between the lines.

1. Take your religious faith seriously. His Catholicism gave him safe harbor in storms and left him “sensitive to the plight and needs of others.”

2. Marry for the long run. He and Elaine have been wed 63 years. When things were good she cheered him on; when they weren’t she let him know “she would always be there for me—win, lose or draw.”

3. You teach values by living them. Don’t say—do. People absorb eloquent action.

4. “Pray at the feet of hard work.” Be ravenous in reading about your field, whichever you wind up in and for however long.

5. Money solves the problems money can solve. Don’t ask more of it, and don’t be ashamed of wanting it. “A kid once said to me, ‘Money doesn’t buy everything.’ I said, ‘Well, kid, I was poor, and I can tell you right now poverty doesn’t do a very good job either.’ ”

6. Stay excited. Don’t be sated.

7. Admit the reality around you, then change it. When Mr. Langone couldn’t get an entry level job at Goldman Sachs, Kidder Peabody or White Weld, an executive took him aside: “Let me tell you the lay of the land. We have Jewish firms for Jewish kids and we have WASP firms for WASP kids. The Irish we make clerks, and put them on the floor of the stock exchange, and Italian kids like you we put in the back office.” When Mr. Langone began to succeed, he started to hire—and brought in the sons of cops who went to St. John’s. This contributed to “the democratization of Wall Street.”

8. When you’re successful you’ll put noses out of joint, even among colleagues who benefit from your work. Be careful about jealousy but in the end roll with it, it’s human nature. When you “piss off the old guard,” become the old guard—and help the clever rise.

9. “There’s no defeat except in giving up.” You’re going to fail. So what? Keep going, something will work.

Billionaire tech gods should read it, emulate it, and start celebrating the system that made them mighty.

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

Let’s ease in softly on a pretty day.

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

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

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many of our political figures are not enjoying their spring.

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

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

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

What is required of Republican politicians who wish to survive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barbara Bush

Barbara Bush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The GOP needs artists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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