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

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

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

Senator Bob Corker

Senator Bob Corker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wouldn’t it help if we thought about that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Trump speaking at the United Nations General Assembly

President Trump speaking at the United Nations General Assembly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why don’t you not do that?”

“It’s kinda my brand.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is what I saw this week.

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

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

And so, the pivot.

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

He didn’t follow through.

Congressional leaders meet with President Trump

Congressional leaders meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so, to selfless and frankly rambunctious Texas:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They held the line.

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For a Day, Our Political Troubles Were Eclipsed It was beautiful: Up and down Madison Avenue, people stood together and looked upward.

In Manhattan on eclipse day I had planned to go by Central Park to witness how people would react to the big celestial event. But I didn’t get there because of what I saw on Madison Avenue.

It was so beautiful.

Watching the eclipse

Watching the eclipse over the Empire State Building

Up and down the street, all through the eclipse, people spontaneously came together—shop workers and neighborhood mothers, kids and bank employees, shoppers and tourists. They’d gather in groups and look up together. Usually one or two people would have the special glasses, and they’d be passed around. Everyone would put them on and look up and say “Wow!” or “Incredible!” and then laugh and hand the glasses on.

Walking south I saw the clusters form and re-form. On Madison and 77th there were 10 people, including a neighborhood woman who’d brought a red plastic colander, which she held so that the shadow it cast on the sidewalk showed the changing shape of the sun. That was a hit with the kids. There were grade schoolers who’d made their own viewing devices from cardboard and cereal boxes. A young woman accepted a pair of glasses, looked up, and said: “Oh my freakin’ God.” Another said: “It’s remarkable.” “Beautiful,” a woman added. “It is, isn’t it?” asked a man walking by.

In front of E.A.T. by Eli Zabar, more than two dozen people filled the sidewalk and street. Four had the special glasses that were being passed back and forth. A woman named Beatrice who works at a local real-estate office saw me taking notes and smiled. “Do you wanna see?” I did. She gave me the glasses, and I saw the sun half covered. I told her she would be in The Wall Street Journal on Saturday. Hi, Beatrice.

In front of St. James church small groups formed. A UPS man stood for a long time in the back of his truck on the loading step, looking up, rapt. On 67th Street there were more than two dozen people, everyone looking up, pointing. “Do you see it?”

There was a tattooed man in a heavy metal band T-shirt, with his teenage son. “You want?” the man said. He was lending his glasses to everyone who came by. “Are you doing this just to be nice?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said. “We got them free.” Something nice had happened to him so he was spreading it around.

So that’s what I saw, uptown to midtown—sharing and wonder and friendliness, along with a continual refrain: Here, take my glasses. Do you see?

There was something about it that left me by the end quite moved. Witnessing spontaneous human graciousness and joy is stirring. And we were seeing something majestic, an assertion of nature and nature’s God, together. It was tenderly communal.

And it was this: Everyone was normal. These were regular Americans being nice to one another and to whoever walked by. They were all ages, conditions, races, sizes. They were generous and kindly. No one kept their pleasure to themselves.

They were not fighting in the streets with scarfs covering their faces. They were not marching and chanting anti-Semitic or racist slogans. They were not shutting down speakers on campus. They were not ranting at a rally.

They were not even deciding that a man named Robert Lee shouldn’t call a game down South on ESPN because Americans are so stupid they’ll think he’s Robert E. Lee and cover him with tarp and knock him down.

They were normal, regular people. They were who we are.

That’s what so moved me.

When the news is bad, as it has been lately, you can lose a sense of perspective. But we are a nation of 325 million. How many of us are neo-Nazi, KKK, Antifa or any other dreadful group? Maybe, in all, a million at most? It’s not much. They’re way outnumbered! You can lose this knowledge watching the news.

We are a great people in a nation founded on great beliefs, and though things are troubled at the very top, in Washington, on the levels below and beyond we tend to hash things out and make it all work.

*   *   *

And now, here, the dread political part.

Maintaining perspective is going to be useful in the future, because our national politics, the news of which pulses nonstop through our many platforms, is probably not going to get better anytime soon.

We are in a place we’ve never been. No matter how politically sophisticated you are, you’ve never been to this particular rodeo.

We have a president half the country thinks is crazy, insufficient, not up to the job, unsuited for it by temperament, personality or character. But there’s about a third of the country, among whom are some I love, that passionately supports Donald Trump, has faith in him, sees all the forces arrayed against him and pulls for him in the way an American roots for the little guy. If they see him removed and believe it was done unjustly—the swamp strikes back—they will be left embittered and will lose faith in the entire system.

This on its own is quite a division. It speaks of basic human perception.

Congress will soon be back and is unlikely to get anything major done—not tax reform or infrastructure. The president deliberately insults and offends members of his own party. He thinks his core supporters will agree with his criticisms and blame congressional Republicans for what’s not working. And he’s right, they will. They don’t like the Republican establishment. But this is not a winning strategy.

Mr. Trump has simply replaced the old dysfunction (the one that got him elected) with a new dysfunction of his own making. If Republicans on Capitol Hill get nothing done and continue to be attacked by their party’s president, their reelection will be endangered. Mr. Trump may be ensuring that Democrats retake Congress in 2018.

Does he understand that the first thing they’ll do when they assume power is launch investigations and move to impeach him?

They’ll do it for at least two reasons. One is that hating Mr. Trump is one of the few things that unites their party. The other is that busying themselves with impeachment will allow Democratic leaders to avoid hard fights over what their own party stands for. For it too is warring and riven. But Democrats don’t have to face that while they’re busy with the Trump Removal.

Quieting himself now would be wise. But he likely won’t or can’t. If Mr. Trump continues to be unable to get major legislation passed with a Republican Congress, he will become angrier. He’ll hold more rallies to vent. These rallies and what he says at them may well contribute to disruptions, including in the streets.

So we’re all stuck.

What will resolve this? I think a lot of a quote often attributed to Harold MacMillan about what dictates political fortunes: “Events, dear boy, events.”

Maybe the special prosecutor will find impeachable offenses. Maybe not. Maybe Mr. Trump will get tired of it all. Maybe not. Maybe he will magically learn how to be president. Maybe not.

More likely, the grinding, scalding Trump wars will continue daily. Which will be hard on all of us.

What to do when the mess gets you low? One thing is to have perspective on who we are. We have gotten through much. We’ll get through this. We are a great people and a good one who show this to one another every day. Here, take my glasses. Do you see?

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Trump’s Tangle of Rhetorical Inadequacy A gifted leader might make the case for building more statues rather than tearing down the ones we have.

The political aspect of the president’s failures this week is to reveal him as increasingly isolated. He is not without supporters, but it’s down to roughly a third of the country and one senses soft around the edges. That is not a base, it’s a core. A core can have an impact, but a president cannot govern if that’s all he has. You need something bigger behind you to scare your foes and stiffen your friends. The nation’s CEOs, feeling personal dismay and external pressure, ran for the exits. The president has further embarrassed and frustrated his party on Capitol Hill. That puts in further doubt needed legislation on such popular issues as tax reform and infrastructure, which might fare better if he were not associated with them.

Twitter StormOther fallout the past week is as consequential. Donald Trump is binding himself down with thick cords of rhetorical inadequacy. People felt let down, angry and in some cases frightened by his inability to make clear moral distinctions when he addressed the events in Charlottesville, Va. There were neo-Nazis, anti-Semitic chants, white supremacists; a woman was killed and many people injured. It’s not hard to figure out who and what needed to be castigated—clearly, unambiguously, immediately.

Here is a cliché but only because it is true: In times of stress and fracture, people want a president who’s calm in the storm, who speaks to the nation’s moral conscience, recalls first principles, evokes what unites us, honestly defines the contours of an event, and softly instructs. Mr. Trump did not do any of that. If a leader is particularly gifted he could, in a moment of historical stress, succeed in speaking to the nation’s soul and moving its heart by addressing its brain. This kind of thing comes from love—of the country, our people, what we’ve been. It struck me this week as he spoke that his speeches and statements are peculiarly loveless. The public Mr. Trump is not without sentiment and occasional sentimentality, but the deeper wells of a broader love seem not there to draw from. Seven months in, people know they can look to him for a reaction, a statement, an announcement, but not for comfort, inspiration, higher meaning.

For leadership we turn, as we always do anyway, to each other—to thinkers and respected colleagues, religious figures and neighbors. After the church shootings in Charleston, S.C., two years ago, the great and immediate moral leaders were the victims’ families, whose words at the shooter’s bond hearing spread throughout the country within 24 hours. “I forgive you.” “We are praying for you.” It was the authentic voice of American Christianity, of Wednesday night Bible study, of mercy and self-sacrifice. It quieted the soul of a nation: We’ll be OK. This is who we really are.

Those bereaved relatives never quite got the recognition and thanks they deserved. Their love saved the day.

Which gets me, belatedly and now hurriedly, to what was meant to be the subject of this column.

In June in London, with time on my hands, I walked by Parliament to stare at it. I like the color of its stones. There I noticed for the first time a fierce-looking statue on a towering pedestal. It is a heroic rendering of Oliver Cromwell. He helped lead a revolution that toppled the government. He rose in the military ranks through a brutal civil war and signed the death warrant of an English king, who was beheaded. He brutalized Catholic Ireland and went on to function, arguably, as a military dictator.

He also helped implant the idea that monarchs had best not ride roughshod over Parliament, created England’s first national (and more democratic) army, and widened religious tolerance, at least among Protestants. He died of natural causes, and when the royalists returned, they dug him up and, in a piquant touch, beheaded his corpse.

Some fella. And yet there he is, put forth as one of the towering figures of his nation. He is not there because the British mean to endorse regicide or genocide. He is there because he is England. He is part of the warp and woof of that great nation’s story. He is there because the English still appear to love and respect their own history, which they know is one of struggle, not sinlessness. So he’s on a pedestal below which members of Parliament and tourists pass. This is what that statue says: I am Oliver Cromwell and I am here.

There is a movement now to take down our nation’s statues, at the moment primarily those of Confederate soldiers and generals. The reason is that they fought on behalf of a region that sought to maintain a cruel and immoral system, chattel slavery, which they did. But slavery was not only a Southern sin, it was an American one.

The Tear It Down movement is driven by the left and is acceded to by some on the right. This is the sophisticated stance. I do not share it. We should not tear down but build.

When a nation tears down its statues, it’s toppling more than brass and marble. It is in a way toppling itself—tearing down all the things, good, bad and inadequate, that made it. Or, rather, everyone. Not all of what made America is good—does anyone even think this?—but why try to hide from that?

When you tear down statues, you tear down avenues of communication between generations. Statues teach. You walk by a statue of Robert E. Lee with your 7-year-old, and he asks who that is. You say he was a great general. When he’s 8, on the same walk, you explain the Civil War. When he’s 10 you explain what was at issue, and how Lee was not only on the losing side but the wrong side. This is part of how history is communicated. We’re not doing it so well in our schools. It will be sad to lose another venue.

Condi Rice said it well, before the current controversy. She did not agree with the impulse to tear down. “Keep your history before you,” she said. Keep it in your line of sight.

And once the tearing down starts, there’s no knowing where it will end. On this the president is right. Once the local statues are purged the Tear-Downers will look to Statuary Hall, and the names of military bases, and then on to the Founders, to the slave-holding Washington and Jefferson. Then, perhaps, to their words and ideas. In what way will that help us?

Edmund Burke famously said we have a duty to the past, the present and the future. In the minds of the Tear-Downers only the present is important, and only their higher morality. But they are not the first ever to recognize the truth about slavery. Hundreds of thousands of dead Union soldiers did it before them. There are statues of them, too.

Here is a better way. Leave what is, alone. Be a noble people who inspire—and build—more statues. I’d like one that honors the families of the victims in the Charleston shooting.

More statues, not fewer; more honor, not more debris. More debris is the last thing we need.

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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.