The Smartest Thing I Heard in 2016 In July, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott told me this was an ‘unpollable’ election. He was spot on.

Donald Trump is our national obsession. Almost six weeks after the election and on the eve of Christmas and Hanukkah he is topic A at every gathering. People have Post Traumatic Trump Disorder and feel compelled to share their thoughts and feelings, their joy—“I can’t stop feeling happy!” said a normally contained editor and intellectual, to his own surprise—and despair. My world is full of Hillary Clinton supporters and intimates. At a Manhattan Christmas party last week a despairing Democrat told me that she had not only wept on election night she had vomited. She was still beside herself.

Soon after Nov. 8 I started asking people where they were on election night, and they’d tell interesting stories of how they heard and when they knew. I noted that people always reported they were with others. On a normal presidential election night some people will be alone at home watching TV, but this year everyone seemed to be with friends and family. My mind went to Carl Jung: Maybe there was something in the collective unconscious of the American people that told them an epochal event was about to occur and they must seek community. I mentioned my theory at a symposium in Washington and an academic called out, “I was alone.” He was traveling for work and was by himself in a hotel room. He was furiously emailing and texting with family and friends, however, so to preserve my theory I told him that no longer counts as alone.

But my point is something big has happened, we’re all still absorbing it and it’s going to take time, for many reasons including this: Everyone in politics and journalism knew that if Hillary Clinton were elected things would get boring again. And boring isn’t all bad. The constant electric drama of the election would be over, things would settle down, people would return to their normal state.

Now history will never be boring again. It will be a daily drama, for good or ill. By the end we’ll have nerves that jingle-jangle-jingle.

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Senator Tim Scott

Senator Tim Scott

I keep going back to the smartest thing a political professional said to me in all of 2016. The most amusing was the spirited remark of a Manhattan social figure who, when I asked in September if he knew who he would vote for, said he would be one of the 40 million people who would deny the day after the election that they voted for Mr. Trump, but had. But the smartest thing came from an elected official, a Republican who, when I asked what he thought would happen in November, got a faraway look. “This is the unpollable election,” he said, last July. People don’t necessarily want to tell you who they’re for. They may not be certain, but they don’t want to be pressed to declare.

I had seen the same thing around the country, a new reticence about who people were supporting. I quoted the official in a September column without attribution and called around to political pollsters: Is 2016, because of the nature of the candidates and the stigma of supporting Trump, unpollable? Two said no but one, Kellyanne Conway, who had recently joined Trump as his campaign manager, had a different view. “This thing is fluid in a way we don’t understand,” she said. She spoke not of hidden but of “undercover” Trump voters. “They’re undercover because they’ve gotten to the point they’re tired of arguing. . . . Some have been voting Democratic all their life, they voted for Obama, they’re tired of defending and explaining themselves.”

She turned out to be right. A famous fact of 2016 is that of almost 700 counties throughout the country that voted for Barack Obama twice, a solid third went this year for Trump. Many were Democrats. Very few saw it coming.

Near the end of the campaign, Hillary Clinton was leading in most major polls in the swing states. In Wisconsin the week before the election the aggregate of polls at Real Clear Politics showed Mrs. Clinton up more than six points. Mr. Trump carried Wisconsin, by less than a point. In Michigan a week before the election the aggregate had Mrs. Clinton winning by more than three points. Mr. Trump pulled it out by less than a point, close again. On Election Day in Pennsylvania the aggregate had Mrs. Clinton winning by 2%. Mr. Trump won by one.

The official who called 2016 the unpollable election was Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the first black man to be elected to the Senate from that state. I asked him this week why he knew the polls wouldn’t get it right.

He’d become aware, he said, when he “went to the gym or talked to the UPS guy” that there was “a sentiment,” a sense of “disenfranchisement.” The pollsters didn’t or couldn’t pick it up. “The country boy from Moncks Corner in rural South Carolina, no one’s calling him, and he’s not gonna answer the phone, and if he did he wouldn’t tell them who he’s voting for.”

“In the gym they were talking about America socially, and economically.” Those he talked to felt things had been pushed too far to the left. “They know it’s politically incorrect to say it but it ticked them off, and they’re not gonna be speaking to some foreign person on the phone about what they’re gonna do.” He saw this throughout the country.

With an air of amazement he told this story. At 2 p.m. on Election Day a political reporter for a major national newspaper called and asked him to share his thoughts on the piece he was writing on the reasons Mr. Trump lost. “I said ‘Listen, you’re being fairly presumptuous, this thing isn’t over.’ I told him, ‘I’m not convinced he’s gonna lose!’ ”

“What I could feel coming was surprise, not necessarily a Trump win but surprise. And I knew a Trump win was a realistic possible outcome.”

Election night he stayed up until it was called. “You could tell from midnight on something was happening. I started texting friends throughout the country ‘OMG, OMG!’ ”

What reaction did he see from the men in the gym the following days? “Elation.” “ ‘Someone finally speaks for me.’ ”

“The ‘deplorables,’ they got called rednecks and racists and not real people—well they were real people, and they were real mad. Trump in his own unique, almost mystical way is able to speak a common language that is abrasive and sometimes unattractive but always digestible.”

What do you see from the transition? “He likes the military and has an affinity for people like himself—scrappy, successful, a touch of hubris. A lot of them are billionaires. No one should be surprised by his selections. He’s made more good picks than bad.”

“The disenfranchised are no longer—they have a champion and they’re giving him more of a margin to make mistakes than they would others.”

Now Trump must “produce an agenda consistent with their best interests.”

“He’s not gonna be a classic conservative Republican—throw that idea out the window!” Trump will be “more radical in his approach on spending, on job creation. I think he’ll also be more forgiving and thoughtful than people expect.” The party should understand that the Republican base and conservatives on the ground “are more in line with Trump” than with past dogma.

Republicans on the Hill will have to “pick and choose your battles.”

What Trump Got That Romney Didn’t Ideology isn’t enough to provide the unity America needs.

The other night I came across an internet exchange I’d had last June with a talented writer and editor, a journalist who is also conservative. The journalist mentioned how some of those writing on Donald Trump this year seemed to have replaced logic with emotion, even becoming “unhinged.” I agreed. It was a hot year, full of pressure, anger and stress.

I observed that at least some pro-Trump writers were trying “to try to break through and take on the brain-dead conservatism of the past generation.” I added by way of explanation: “I should say our country is, I feel, in the middle of a moral, social, and cultural catastrophe, and this has rearranged my policy priorities the past few years. It is not 1980, that was another America. I find myself in broad sympathy with Trump’s stands as he professes them, and of course of Trump supporters. But Trump? Oh I fear he will not be worthy of them, or worthy of his own issues.”

Which is more or less where I wound up in November.

President Elect Donald J. TrumpI’d forgotten the exchange. But it was seeing the reference to our catastrophes, which I’ll quickly define as “The unhelpful and even ugly ways our country has changed the past 30 or so years, the chafing divisions and antagonisms, the myriad injustices and declines”—made me think, again, of a fear I’ve had for more than a decade. It’s the fear that a nut or group of nuts gets lucky, breaks through our defenses, and hurts us, badly. Lines go down. Anxiety is high and sustained. National unity—our ability to remain together as a people—will at that point be everything. All will depend on Americans helping each other and sticking together—that’s how we’ll get through it—and not turning on each other. And so I think what helps in this area should be encouraged—what ties we have strengthened in all spheres, neighborhood and government, personal and public.

When I write on politics these things are usually in the back of my mind. When you think like this, it is by its nature prioritizing. It makes you see secondary crises as secondary. It leaves you worrying less about things that won’t immediately kill us.

These thoughts came very much to the fore of my mind in the 2012 presidential election. I had since the 2000s seen a considerable amount of cultural chaos on the ground in America, and both witnessed and known of struggles made sharper by the crash of 2008, an event still not fully appreciated for its seismic impact on the American psyche. Mitt Romney was running for president and made his famous, secretly taped “47%” remark, in which he suggested he’d get no support from voters who depend on government and don’t pay income taxes.

This was divisive and belittling. I lost patience with his campaign. “You have to have more respect than that, and more affection, you don’t write anyone off you invite everyone in,” I wrote in these pages. Many factors go into our political affiliations and decisions. It’s not all economic determinism. In another column, in August 2012, I observed that the election would be decided by people who embody a mix of attitudes. They sincerely worry about high spending but are also on disability or Medicare. They’re working-class or middle-class, and even if they don’t have the shiniest of lives, they can tell you at great and eloquent length how the culture has gone to hell. They look at Republicans and think, “Do these guys really understand my life? Do they know what it is for us?” They’re concerned about their neighbors and friends, “because people are not just protective of themselves, they’re loyal to others.” Republicans, I observe, have to demonstrate that when it comes to entitlements “they’re the lifeguard, not the shark.”

“Americans are not ideologues,” I wrote. “They think ideology is something squished down on their heads from on high, something imposed on them by big thinkers who create systems we’re all supposed to conform to. Americans are more interested in philosophy, which bubbles up from human beings, from tradition and learned experience, and isn’t imposed.”

More pertinent than ideology, I thought, was the work of a political philosopher, Edmund Burke. “Burke respected reality, acknowledged human nature, and appreciated political context. In ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France,’ he wrote, ‘Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing color and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.’ ”

I came to think that year, in 2012, that Republicans were no longer considering the circumstances.

They should now. Life has been famously cruel to some good people the past few decades. The past few years it seemed the progressive left and the Democratic Party, confident in what they called the coalition of the ascendant, were looking at the old American working class, especially the white working class, and saying: “Here’s your disability check, now go take your opioids and get lost while we transform our country. By the way, we have friends on Wall Street.” From the right and Republicans it was: “Take your piece of the dole, we are importing an entire new people from other countries to take your place, could you please sort of pass away? We’re replacing you! Why can’t you get the message? By the way, we have friends on Wall Street.”

People don’t want to be shunted aside or told they’re expendable, that they’re yesterday and no longer count. Especially people whose country this is too, who’ve been here a long time and paid its taxes, whose sons died in its wars.

I think Donald Trump and many around him have it right, that the Republican Party should shift its emphasis to become a center-right party. One of the most interesting comments at the recent Kennedy School postelection conference came from Mr. Trump’s pollster Tony Fabrizio. People don’t get Trump, he said, because “we really live in a world where everybody thinks that ideology is linear, and that ‘If you answer these 10 questions correctly, that makes you a conservative.’ ” He added, “many people tried to look at the Donald Trump phenomenon through the ideological lenses which had defined previous Republican presidential nominating contests.” But “Donald Trump is postideological.” Which, he said, is why so many Bernie Sanders people liked him.

I see conservatives debating the Carrier decision—the implications of an incoming president persuading, inducing, perhaps to a degree pressuring a company not to leave Indiana. A factory will stay, and perhaps a thousand jobs. It’s not something that can work every day or be done every day, but it’s the right sympathetic symbolism. It’s not bad if people see a shift in decision making from abstract dogma to literal, concrete reality. It’s not bad if someone thinks the federal government is on their side for a change.

In fact, it can be unifying.

Trump’s Carrier Coup and a Lesson From JFK Kennedy took on U.S. Steel and won. But economic nationalism can lead to abuse of power.

What happened with the Carrier air conditioner company and its decision to keep its Indiana factory open is a very good thing. A thousand Americans who would have lost jobs will keep them. The New York Post captured reaction when it quoted the Facebook post of an employee named Paul Roell: “Thank you, Donald Trump, for saving my job.”

The exact contours of the deal are not entirely clear, but Carrier, in its announcement, said the decision was possible “because the incoming Trump-Pence administration has emphasized to us its commitment to support the business community and create an improved, more competitive U.S. business climate.”

President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence at a Carrier factory in Indianapolis, Dec. 1.

President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence at a Carrier factory in Indianapolis, Dec. 1.

The New York Times semi-complimented Mr. Trump by calling him, in a news report, “a different kind of Republican, willing to take on big business, at least in individual cases.”

Also encouraging is what Mr. Trump himself told the Times last week about his recent phone conversation with Tim Cook, CEO of Apple: “I said ‘Tim, you know one of the things that will be a real achievement for me is when I get Apple to build a big plant in the United States.’ ”

This is called economic nationalism but whatever its name it suggests a Republicanism in new accord with the needs of the moment, and a conservatism that sees a shrinking manufacturing landscape and, rather than quoting Adam Smith and wringing invisible hands says, “Hey, I know—let’s start conserving something!”

It’s had me all week thinking of another moment involving government and its interplay with business. It was also a collision, one with some unexpected consequences. It’s the story of JFK and the steel companies.

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It was 1961 and the new president, John F. Kennedy, had been trying to signal to big business that they could trust him, that, in the words of Arthur Schlesinger in “A Thousand Days,” “the ideological fights of the thirties” were over. His impulses were those of a moderate of his era: show budgetary constraint, keep costs and prices down, prevent inflation. On the latter, the role of the steel industry was key: in an industrial economy, increases in steel prices reverberated.

That September Kennedy asked the industry to forgo a price increase. He asked the steelworkers union for wage demands “within the limit of advances in productivity.” Early in 1962 his labor secretary, Arthur Goldberg, put together a deal. In the spring the union and the steel companies accepted it. Everyone understood the industry would not raise prices.

A few days later Roger Blough, chairman of the board of mighty U.S. Steel, asked to see the president. He handed him a four-page mimeographed statement announcing his company would raise steel prices $6 a ton. At that moment U.S. Steel was issuing its press release.

Blough later claimed to be surprised by the president’s reaction, which was angry and involved the word “double-cross.”

Here, a short detour on how Kennedy felt about businessmen. He’d never worked in the private sector and had no experience with business. His wealthy father had been a banker, then a bit of a swashbuckling investor in Hollywood studios, real estate, stocks. He made the money and when his children needed it they called “the office.” But Joe Kennedy was not a maker of things, not an industrialist producing tractors or steel, but a brilliant spotter of profit opportunities. He respected the art of the deal.

JFK, raised to be a Brahmin, not a businessman, had only the most detached knowledge of how most people lived. “He was forever asking workmen or drivers how much they were paid or how much rent they paid, how much refrigerators cost.” That’s from Richard Reeves’s book, “President Kennedy.” The only paychecks he’d ever received were from the U.S. government and turned over, untouched, to charity.

Schlesinger again: Still, Kennedy felt that the “experience [of businessmen] gave them clues to the operations of the American economy which his intellectuals, for all their facile theories, did not possess.” Well, yes!

JFK spoke to Schlesinger of a “paradox” he’d observed in his dealings with business and labor. Labor leaders individually were often mediocre and selfish, and yet they and their unions tended to take responsible positions on the great issues. Businessmen as individuals were often bright and enlightened, but collectively clueless on public policy.

Back to the meeting with Blough. It was after that meeting that Kennedy made, to his aides, one of his most famous off-the-cuff remarks: “My father always told me that all businessmen were sons-of-bitches, but I never believed it till now.” It spread throughout Washington. Asked about it in a news conference he said actually his father just meant steel men.

Soon Bethlehem Steel raised its prices. Other companies followed.

Now Kennedy was enraged. Accepting Blough’s decision would undo all his wage-price guideposts. It would also constitute a blow to the prestige of the presidency. And labor would never trust him again.

So he went to war. At a news conference the next day he called the steel companies’ actions “a wholly unjustifiable and irresponsible defiance of the public interest” by “a tiny handful of steel executives whose pursuit of private power and profit exceeds their sense of public responsibility.” He implied they were unpatriotic in a time of national peril. Reeves quotes the poet Robert Frost on hearing the news conference: “Oh didn’t he do a good one! Didn’t he show the Irish, all right?”

Kennedy ordered the Defense Department to shift its steel purchases from U.S. Steel to companies that hadn’t raised prices. The Justice Department under Attorney General Robert Kennedy launched an antitrust investigation, summoned a federal grand jury, and sent FBI agents to the homes and offices of steel executives. There were rumors of threats of IRS investigations of expense accounts and hotel bills.

Bethlehem Steel was the first to back down. A week after informing the president of the price increase, Roger Blough returned to the White House to surrender.

That night, Schlesinger writes, he asked the president how the conversation had gone. “I told him that his men could keep their horses for the spring plowing,” Kennedy replied.

It was a big win for Kennedy but it was a bloody affair, and on some level he knew it. His relations with business never quite recovered. The administration’s brutality left a stain. Robert Kennedy’s ruthlessness inspired the anti-nepotism law that is said, these days, to bedevil the Trump family. A nascent, national conservative movement was embittered and emboldened: Barry Goldwater said JFK was trying to “socialize the business of the country,” and decided soon after to run against him.

The lesson, to Schlesinger? Kennedy triumphed against the odds, even though he “had . . . no direct authority available against the steel companies. Instead, he mobilized every fragment of quasi-authority he could find and, by a bravura public performance, converted weakness into strength.”

Well, no, not quite. JFK’s performance was bravura, but presidents shouldn’t abuse their power—and he did. They especially can’t do it to shore up their own political position, and he did that, too. But it’s also true he thought he was right on the policy and that the policy would benefit the American people.

And the American people could tell. His approval ratings, high then, stayed high. People appreciate energy in the executive when they suspect it’s being harnessed for the national good. The key is to wield it wisely and with restraint. But yes, a little muscle judiciously applied can be a unifying thing.

No More Business as Usual, Mr. Trump He has to abandon his company in order to deal on the country’s behalf.

The other day I experienced a flash of alarm. There was a claim from an Argentine journalist that when the president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, phoned Donald Trump to congratulate him on his election victory, the talk turned to permits for the building of a Trump skyscraper in Buenos Aires. Mr. Macri’s press officer quickly and sharply denied the report: “They didn’t talk about the tower at all. It’s absolutely untrue.” So did the Trump transition office. The journalist apparently offered no proof. The story more or less ended there.

But what alarmed me was this question: Does Donald Trump know he can’t ever have a conversation like this? Does he fully understand that a president can never use the office, its power and influence, for his own financial enrichment? That he can’t, however offhandedly, both do business and be president? That future and credible reports that he had engaged in such a conflict of interest would doom his presidency? And that solving the question of his businesses and their relation to his presidency is urgent?

Donald J. TrumpThis week, in an interview with the New York Times, Mr. Trump was not reassuring. When pressed on how, exactly, he means to distance himself from his business interests, he couldn’t stop himself from promoting a few of them: “We just opened a beautiful hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue,” he said. “The brand is certainly a hotter brand.”

“In theory, I can be president of the United States and run my business 100%,” he said, adding that he is “phasing that out now.” “In theory I don’t have to do anything. But I would like to do something. I would like to try and formalize something, because I don’t care about my business.”

He said, “I’ve greatly reduced meetings with contractors, meetings with different people.” Thank goodness for that. He’s the president-elect.

He noted that presidents are exempt from conflict-of-interest laws, but “I understand why the president can’t have a conflict of interest now because everything a president does in some ways is like a conflict of interest, but I have—I’ve built a very great company and it’s a big company and it’s all over the world. People are starting to see, when they look at all these different jobs, like in India and other things, No. 1, a job like that builds great relationships with the people of India, so it’s all good.” Business partners come in, they want a picture, “I think it’s wonderful to take a picture.”

Might he sell his businesses? “That’s a very hard thing to do, you know what, because I have real estate.” Selling real estate isn’t like selling a stock. “I don’t care about my company. I mean, if a partner comes in from India or if a partner comes in from Canada, where we did a beautiful big building that just opened, and they want to take a picture and come into my office, and my kids come in and I originally made the deal with these people, I mean what am I going to say? ‘I’m not going to talk to you,’ ‘I’m not going to take pictures’?”

Yes, that’s exactly what you say! I’m not going to pose with you because I will soon be president of the United States and the prestige of that office precludes taking the picture you’ll soon use in your brochure.

In the interview Mr. Trump was not defensive—he was garrulous, forthcoming as to his thought processes, and yet he seemed curiously unaware as to the urgency of the subject.

If he is not aware it is crucial, the reason may come down to five words: the habits of a lifetime.

For half a century Donald Trump has devoted all his professional energies to money, profit, the deal. That is how he thinks: It’s his deepest neural pathway. He’s a free-market capitalist who started with a lot and turned it into more. He created jobs, employs many. Good! But that’s his mind: money, profit, the deal. He has brought up his children to enter his business. Whatever else they do, they have surely absorbed the family ethos.

And now, for the first time in his life, money, profit, the deal is not his job.

He will be president of the United States. He can’t help the family business as president. He can’t help his children make a living as president.

He has to be losing money as president and putting personal profit motives behind him. Which means putting the ways and habits of a lifetime behind him.

Because he’s entered something much bigger: the presidency. History. The welfare of the republic.

That’s his job now, and it requires sacrifice.

I don’t know if there’s anyone around him who can convince him that the attitude with which he’s operated for 50 years must end, and something wholly new and different begin.

But whoever does must be aware of this:

The press, which wants to kill him, is going to zero in on his biggest weak spot: money, profit, the deal. Democrats too will watch like hawks. And this is understandable! Presidents shouldn’t ever give the impression things aren’t on the up and up. And Mr. Trump campaigned saying he’d dismantle the rigged system, drain the swamp, fight the racket.

The press does not believe, not for a second, and Democrats do not believe, not for a second, that Mr. Trump will be able to change the habits of a lifetime. They are relying on it.

Mr. Trump shocked them by winning. He should shock them now with rectitude.

Financial sophisticates know and explain how complicated all this is. Mr. Trump can’t establish a blind trust because blind trusts normally consist of stocks, bonds—liquid assets. Mr. Trump’s wealth is in famous entities, in his brand. He knows where his buildings are, his past and current deals are.

He said when campaigning that if elected he’d turn the business over to his children. But that would require never talking to them about matters touching on the central family ethos: money, profit, the deal.

The editorial page of this newspaper offered a sound though difficult route: Mr. Trump should liquidate his stake in his company and put the proceeds in a true blind trust, in which the Trump children keep the assets in their name. He can “transfer more to them as long as he pays a hefty gift tax.” A fire sale on real estate would no doubt be seized upon by buyers like Donald Trump—people looking for the greatest asset at the lowest price. But it’s hard to see how any other plan would help Mr. Trump avoid endless accusations that he is enriching himself as president, that he is, in fact, a dopey kleptocrat who can’t help doing what he does.

It would be a painful act, selling the business he loves and around which he has ordered his life. But there would be comfort in this: In doing the right thing, in denying his opponents a sword, in enhancing his stature and demonstrating that yes, he will sacrifice for his country.

That’s pretty great comfort.

You’ve made your money. Now go be a patriot.

What to Tell Your Children About Trump We are the world’s oldest democracy, we are good people, and we’ve been through shocks before.

Eight points and two anecdotes as we continue to digest this astounding election.

You don’t know a tree is hollow until you push hard against it and it falls. The establishments of both parties did not know, a year ago, that they were hollow trees. They thought themselves strong because they always had been, and people think what has been true will continue. Then suddenly the tree is pushed and falls. To me that is the symbol, the image of 2016: the hollowed trees and how easily they fell.

Election night 2016 was not like 1980. That year produced an outcome fully within the political norms: a former two-term governor won the presidency. This year’s outcome went beyond all previous norms. Twenty-sixteen was like nothing in our lifetimes. In the future people will say, “Where were you that election night?” the way they do for other epochal moments.

In the classroomMuch of the mainstream, legacy media continues its self-disgrace. Having failed to kill Donald Trump’s candidacy they will now aim at his transition. Soon they will try to kill his presidency. Any journalists who are judicious toward Trump, who treat him fairly or even as a human being, are now accused of “normalizing” him. This is a manipulation: It is a way of warning your colleagues to approach the president-elect with the proper hostility or be scorned. None of this will do our country any good.

The left is in enraged mourning. A better way forward would be: reflect, absorb, gather your strength as the opposition, constructively oppose. Lose the hissing rancor. Use that energy to rebuild your party.

Right now 60 million people are very happy, and hopeful. They haven’t taken to the streets in elation, so we can’t see them. They haven’t broken car windows in their joy. Respect their happiness.

This is my fear: The question we ask after every national election is, “Can we come together?” The question this year is more, “Do we even want to come together?” Have the two nations within our nation reached a point of permanent estrangement? If the cultural left eases up and the economic right loosens up, maybe things can be soothed.

I think many people intuitively sense this: The Trump era either really will work or really won’t. It’s going to be something good or a disaster, but it won’t be a middling thing.

This big, burly country can take it either way. The proper attitude now? Give him a chance, watch close, wish well. Cheer what’s sound, criticize what isn’t.

And this: trust America.

Five days after the election I met an Ethiopian immigrant on a street in Washington. We got to talking. He spoke of how bad it was in his old country, all the killing. He’d been here 15 years. “I love America,” he said. “It gave everything to me.” But he was deeply concerned by the election. He has two sons, 8 and 6. The younger got up Wednesday morning, saw the TV and burst into tears. Trump won! The boy calls Trump “the mouth man.” How could a bully be president? “He wept,” said the Ethiopian. “How do I explain it to him?”

I thought. Finally I said, “Tell him to trust America.” Tell him that we are the world’s oldest democracy, that we are a good people, that we’ve been through shocks and surprises, and that we have checks and balances. “If it turns out good,” I said, “we’ll be happy. If it turns out really bad, America has a way of making your stay in the White House not too long. But tell him to trust America as you did, and it gave you everything.”

He said he’d tell his son that. We warmly shook hands.

This isn’t the first story of frightened children I’ve heard since the election. It’s the third. When I told it to a friend, also foreign-born, and so America-loving that he chokes up when he quotes past presidents, he told me that his 5-year-old woke up after the election and sobbed at the news.

Trump supporters feel that the left did this, demonizing Mr. Trump and making him monstrous. There’s some truth in that. But even truer is that Mr. Trump himself scared the children of America for a solid year with his loud ways and rough manner—“the mouth man.”

What a great thing it would be if Donald Trump would take a day off from the presidential transition, go to a series of schools, bring the press, and speak to children, telling them that he has nothing in his heart but the desire to do good and help people. “I have children and even grandchildren,” he might say. “I love them. I will do my best, and I love you.”

Mr. Trump’s people seem to me right now proud, exhausted and painfully aware that they emerged victorious despite the daily pummeling from the establishment and elite media. No one gave them a break.

And they’re right. It was that way.

But it’s not sissy-ish to respect peoples’ anxieties. It doesn’t legitimize your foes’ criticisms to show sensitivity. All presidents since Washington, “the father of our country,” have been seen as a national father figure. It grates on conservatives to think like that. It grates on me. But that’s inevitable for kids who see the president on TV all the time in an un-parented country.

They need to see a little gentleness and good intent. Their parents would appreciate it. And it’s needed before the inauguration. Impressions will have hardened by then.

I end with a related personal note. I never interviewed Donald Trump throughout this year’s campaign. From the beginning he reminded me of men I grew up with, Trumps with no money—loud, unsmooth, rough opinions. Where you came from and who you were surrounded by has a bearing on your loyalties and can bend your thinking. I judged that I’d see Mr. Trump most clearly from a middle distance. So I didn’t go, talk, interview. Six weeks ago I called a Trump staffer I’d interviewed to check a quote. She returned my call from Trump Force One. We spoke, and then suddenly the phone seemed to drop and I heard, “Who’s that?” Then I heard, “Peggy, this is Donald.”

I won’t quote exactly what was said. No one put it off the record, but it felt off the record, and some of the conversation was personal. But I can describe it. He was dignified, hilarious and modest. He told me that I’d sometimes been unfair to him, sometimes mean, sometimes really, really mean, but that when I was he usually deserved it, always appreciated it, and keep it up. He spoke of other things; he characterized for me my career.

I’d heard of his charm offensive, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say how charming, funny and frank he was—and, as I say, how modest. How actually humble.

It moved me. And it hurt to a degree a few weeks later when I wrote in this space that “Sane Donald Trump” would win in a landslide but that the one we had long seen, the crazed, shallow one, wouldn’t, and didn’t deserve to.

Is it possible there are deeper reserves of humility, modesty and good intent lurking around in there than we know? And maybe a toolbox, too, that can screw those things together and produce something good?

Where there’s life, there’s hope. He’s lively. Let’s hope.

But whatever happens, trust America. She has a way of weathering through.

What Comes After the Uprising President-elect Trump needs to reassure the country, including those who opposed him.

Sometimes there comes a crack in Time itself.
Sometimes the earth is torn by something blind. . . .
Call it the mores, call it God or Fate . . .
That force exists and moves.
And when it moves
It will employ a hard and actual stone
To batter into bits an actual wall
And change the actual scheme of things.
—Stephen Vincent Benét, “John Brown’s Body”

President Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump for transition planning in the Oval Office, Nov. 10.

President Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump for transition planning in the Oval Office, Nov. 10.

Hand it to him, the hard and actual stone who changed the actual scheme.

There were actually many stones, some 60 million, but Donald Trump did it, battering not just the famous blue wall but a wall of elites and establishments and their expectations.

The moment for me that will never be forgotten:

I was in a busy network green room late on election night. We were scrolling down, noting margins in various battlegrounds, looking for something definitive. Then someone read aloud from his phone: “AP calls it—Donald Trump elected president of the United States.” There was quiet for just a moment. I wrote in my notes “2:32 a.m., 11/9/16.” Soon we went into the newsroom for a panel, and I said what I thought, again from my notes: “We have witnessed something epochal and grave. It is the beginning of a new era whose shape and form are not clear, whose personnel and exact direction are unknown. But something huge and incalculable has occurred. God bless our beloved country.”

I am not one of those who knew how the evening would end. I saw Hillary Clinton winning for all the usual reasons. Now the usual reasons are pretty much out the window.

But some things should be said:

First, our democratic republic is vibrant and alive. It is not resigned. It is still capable of delivering a result so confounding it knocks you into the next room.

Nobody rigged this. Nobody hacked it. There weren’t brawls at polling places, there was kindness and civility. At the 92nd Street Y I got to embrace three neighbors. All this in a highly charged, highly dramatic and divisive election. We did our democratic work and then went home. It all worked.

Second, Donald Trump said he had a movement and he did. This is how you know. His presidential campaign was bad—disorganized, unprofessional, chaotic, ad hoc. There was no state-of-the-art get-out-the-vote effort—his voters got themselves out. There was no high-class, high-tech identifying of supporters—they identified themselves. They weren’t swayed by the barrage of brilliantly produced ads—those ads hardly materialized. This was not a triumph of modern campaign modes and ways. The people did this. As individuals within a movement.

It was a natural, self-driven eruption. Which makes it all the more impressive and moving. And it somehow makes it more beautiful that few saw it coming.

On the way home Wednesday morning I thought of my friend who runs the neighborhood shoe-repair shop. He is elderly, Italian-American, an immigrant. I had asked him last winter who would win the Republican nomination and he looked at me as if I were teasing. “Troomp!” he instructed. I realized at that moment: In America now only normal people can see the obvious. Everyone else is lost in a data-filled fog.

That was true right up to the end.

Those who come to this space know why I think what happened, happened. The unprotected people of America, who have to live with Washington’s policies, rebelled against the protected, who make and defend those policies and who care little if at all about the unprotected. That broke bonds of loyalty and allegiance. Tuesday was in effect an uprising of the unprotected. It was part of the push-back against detached elites that is sweeping the West and was seen most recently in the Brexit vote.

But so much depends upon the immediate moment. Mr. Trump must move surely now. When you add up the votes of Mrs. Clinton, Jill Stein,Gary Johnson and others, you get roughly 52%. Between 47% and 48% voted for Mr. Trump. It was an enormous achievement but a close-run thing, and precarious.

The previous 16 months were, for the Trump campaign, the victory project. What has to begin now is the reassurance project. The Democratic Party is in shock but will soon recover. Mainstream media, tired and taken aback, will reorient soon. Having targeted Mr. Trump in the campaign, they won’t be letting up now. Firing will quickly commence.

There is something I have seen very personally the past few days. The impolite way to put it is the left believed its own propaganda. The polite way is that having listened to Mr. Trump on the subjects of women and minorities, etc., they sincerely understand Mr. Trump and Trumpism to be an actual threat to their personal freedom. Trump supporters are overwhelmingly citizens of good will and patriotic intent who never deserved to be deplored as racist, sexist, thuggish. But some were not so benign or healthy.

The past few days I’ve heard from a young man who fears Jews will be targeted and told me of Muslim friends now nervous on the street. There was the beautiful lady with the blue-collar job who, when asked how she felt about the election, told me she is a lesbian bringing up two foreign-born adopted children and fears she will be targeted and her children somehow removed from her.

Many fear they will no longer be respected. They need to know things they rely on are still there. They don’t understand what has happened, and are afraid. They need—and deserve—reassurance. Trump apparatus: Find a way.

The president-elect should make a handful of appointments quickly, briskly, with an initial emphasis on old hands and known quantities. Ideological foes need not be included but accomplished Washington figures, especially those from previous administrations, should be invited in. It is silly to worry that Mr. Trump’s supporters will start to fear he’s gone establishment. They believe in him, are beside themselves with joy, and will understand he’s shoring up his position and communicating stability.

Third, there are former officials and true experts with esteemed backgrounds who need to be told: Help him.

They wouldn’t advise him during the campaign because of the stigma he carried as a barbarian and likely loser. It might damage their stature. Better to watch him go down to defeat and continue their career as big brains in exile.

But that’s over.

A Trump administration will be populated by three kinds of people: loyalists, opportunists and patriots.

The loyalists earned their way. “To the victor belong the spoils.” Back a long shot for president, and you’ll get a midlevel office in the Executive Office Building. The opportunists have a place in every administration—they spy an opening, have a friend who has a friend, wind up as undersecretary to the assistant secretary. That’s life among the humans, especially the political humans.

It is the patriots who matter, many of whom kept away from Mr. Trump in the past. They are needed now. They have heft, wisdom, experience and insight.

Donald Trump doesn’t know how to be president. He isn’t a reader of the presidency. He’s never held office. There’s little reason to believe he knows how to do this.

The next president needs you. This is our country. Help him.

Democracy’s Majesty and 2016’s Indignity After Tuesday, life will go on, and things are so bad they almost have to get better.

VotingThinking about Election Day I realized how much I miss the majesty of the old voting procedures. You used to go into a tall booth and stand alone and no one could see you vote. The booth was enclosed by dark curtains. You entered and pulled a big metal lever and it closed the curtain behind you. You faced long rows of candidate names with a metal toggle switch next to each. You could put your finger on the toggle and hesitate, or you could smack it down like it was a nail and you were a hammer. There was a satisfying little click. I used to take my little boy and explain what we were doing and why it was important. When you were all done you’d pull the big metal lever again, and that would lock in your vote (you hoped—America has always been full of mischief) and the curtain would open with a whoosh and you’d emerge, a citizen who’d done a citizen’s noble work. Pretty much everyone voted on Election Day itself so it was a communal experience. You saw your neighbors.

Now it is some of the neighbors and little majesty, cheap desks in a busy room with anyone walking by and you standing there like a mook, marking a paper. No click, no whoosh, and the desks have sides but it doesn’t feel so much like a secret ballot now, and it doesn’t have the old dignity.

I can hear you saying, “What does?”

*   *   *

Someone is going to win Tuesday and then, if trendlines that have proved reliable in the past continue, the sun will come up on Wednesday. (We claim this with a 3% margin of error.) We’ll go forward. We’re in a hard time and we’ll get through it. The country isn’t just split but unhappy with its choices and pessimistic as to its political future. Twenty sixteen was both the result of and a reckoning with what hasn’t worked the past 15 years. We’ll have to spend the next few years trying to get things in order and figure out how to create a better political reality.

A memory that stays with me is a college student down South who in September asked me if the young, experiencing national politics for the first time this year, should feel despair. No, I said, you should be inspired. You’re not even out of school yet and you can do better than this. All of you will have to set yourselves to saving us. It got a laugh but I meant it, and the audience knew.

How did we get here? How did we get two candidates so widely disliked and disrespected? In broad strokes:

Donald Trump didn’t break one of our two great and ancestral political parties. He won the nomination because the Republican Party was already broken, and those responsible for the party, the elected officials and thinkers, didn’t know. Now they do. Soon they will begin that stage of political mourning known as the symposia process. They’ll discuss how to repair, renew, keep the party together. Or the party will, over the next few cycles, split apart.

Donald Trump doesn’t happen in a more or less united party, he happens in a broken one. As he rose there were essays saying what was happening with the Republicans was the result of a too-great reliance on the thinking and ways of the party’s old, victorious past. There is some truth to that. You can’t be the Democratic Party of 1980 operating from the playbook of 1940. Republicans of 2016 can’t live off the modes and approaches of 1980.

But the split in the party happened in the past 15 years. When you give a party two unwon wars, one a true foreign-policy catastrophe, and a great recession, it will begin to break because its members lose confidence in its leaders. When the top of the party believes in things that the bottom of the party doesn’t want (on immigration, entitlements and trade), things will break further. The bottom will begin to feel the top no longer cares about it. That will end their loyalty. Mr. Trump’s Republican foes are wrong in thinking his followers are just sticking with the party. They’re not, they’ve broken from the party.

In such circumstances the base of a party will do surprising things, such as turn, in hopeful desperation, to a strange outsider in hopes maybe he can break through the mess.

Hillary Clinton’s candidacy results from webs and arrangements—the big name, the big money, the old relationships, the air of inevitability. She is the nominee because the Democratic Party, which used to fight about great issues of war and peace, of the deeper meaning of foreign and domestic policy—it was a vital thing—is now kept together by one central organizing principle: the brute acquisition of power, and holding on to that power no matter what. The worst members of the party appear to care almost nothing about what that power is used for, how it will be wielded to achieve higher purposes. They’re just making a living. They’re just on a team. It is Madison’s fear of the destructive effects of “faction” taken to the nth degree. You see this in the hacked emails of John Podesta. The spirit of the emails I’ve seen is of back-scratching, networking, favor pleading.

The Democratic Party and its lobbyist/think-tank/journalistic establishment in Washington have long looked to me to be dominated by people devoted mostly to getting themselves in the best professional position and their kids into Sidwell Friends School. They want to be part of the web, the arrangement. They want to have connections, associates, a tong. They want to be wired in. They don’t want to be I.F. Stone, alone, reading the fine print of obscure government documents. And Clintonism—for years the biggest web, the securest source of money, a real tong with enforcers and reward-dispensers—has long been a sound route to all of this. You may have to bend rules to be part of it, accept unsavory deals and characters, but it is warm and cozy in there.

One thing I saw this year was that sincere conservatives wholly opposed to socialism had real respect for Bernie Sanders because they saw his sincerity. He wasn’t part of the web and they honored him for it.

Both parties have their webs. Maybe this year begins the process by which they will be burned away.

A closing thought: God is in charge of history. He asks us to work, to try, to pour ourselves out to make things better. But he is an actor in history also. He chastises and rescues, he intervenes in ways seen and unseen. Or chooses not to.

Twenty sixteen looks to me like a chastisement. He’s trying to get our attention. We have candidates we can’t be proud of. We must choose among the embarrassments. What might we be doing as a nation and a people that would have earned this moment?

The Great Disappointment of 2016 ‘Raise your hand if this describes you: . . . I don’t like either candidate.’ All 12 hands went up.

I didn’t include last week what I thought was the most vexing question of 2016. I cut it for space, thinking it was a little off point, or at least not pressing, and could be explored down the road. I had asserted that Donald Trump was a nut but that a sane Trump could have won in a landslide. The vexing question: Could a non-nutty Trump have broken through, captured the imagination and indignation of Republicans and many Democrats, won the nomination?

What struck me after the column was the number of angry Trump supporters who told me that I didn’t get it—he may act like a nut but he had to be crazy to break through. He had to be a flame-haired rebuke to the establishment. He in fact had to be a living insult—no political experience, rude, crude ways—to those who’ve failed us. He had to leave you nervous, on the edge of your seat. Only that man could have broken through. Crazy was a feature, not a bug. (The assumption seemed to be he could turn crazy on and off. I believe he has demonstrated he can’t.)

Failed!Clearly, a lot of people have been thinking about the vexing question. My question now is: What does its answer tell us about our political future? A hopeful answer is that Mr. Trump was a reaction to the careful, empty, consultant-crafted insincerity of the past, and next cycle’s candidate will be a reaction to the mad, hypercharged, undirected electricity of this one.

What is the non-hopeful answer?
More Declarations

Imagine a Sane Donald Trump Oct. 20, 2016
America’s Decadent Leadership Class Oct. 13, 2016
The Kaine Impunity Oct. 6, 2016
The Politics of ‘The Shallows’ Sept. 29, 2016

What I’m thinking about this week is a focus group led by Peter Hart, the veteran Democratic pollster, Tuesday night, in Charlotte, N.C., still a toss-up state. Present were a dozen late-decider voters, three Democrats, six Republicans and three independents.

What struck me about the group wasn’t its new insights, which were few. What was powerful was its averageness, its confirmation of what you’ve already observed. The members weren’t sad, precisely, but they were unillusioned. They were seeing things with clean eyes and they were disappointed. They wanted a candidate they could trust and believe in.

Which when you think about it shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Raise your hand, said Mr. Hart, if you like both candidates. No one did. Raise your hand if you like one candidate. No one did. Raise if you don’t like either. All 12 did.

When asked to describe the America they want, they wrote things like “a solid education system,” “no longer at war,” “people have joy in their work,” “leading the world in everything, including morals,” “equal opportunity and reward based on work,” “people haven’t lost their homes” and “a culture that improves us as a people.”

Many of their hopes were communal, societal, not individual. A great instructive lesson for conservatives this year is that Margaret Thatcher’s individualist vision, expressed with the words “There’s no such thing as society,” has given way, or rather shifted weight. The individual is key and crucial, but everyone is worried about our society and culture now; they see the nation as a shared entity with shared problems. It reminds me of something I meant to write in 2012 and never did. When Mitt Romney would walk around talking about “competitiveness” and “opportunity,” he came across to me like a doctor walking into an old-fashioned hospital ward with bed after bed of people in heavy casts and head bandages. Dr. Romney walks in with “competition!” and “47%,” and they’re roused all right—they rise and throw their crutches at his head and chase him from the ward.

Mr. Hart asked: Will the next generation be better off? No one raised a hand. This is not news; it’s been a cliché since the crash of 2008. You get used to the data: Americans no longer assume their children will have it better than they did. But it was striking to see these dozen thoughtful people keep their hands down.

Asked what has been lost in America, one respondent said security for kids: “They can’t just go out and play.” “Innocence for kids,” said another. Parents no longer feel the world, even the immediate one, is a safe place.

What is missing in America? “A freshness,” said a middle aged man. He went on to speak of the 1950s, “Ozzie and Harriet,” when things seemed newer somehow and assumptive of progress.

Is America off track? They all nodded. A woman said you can’t pray in schools anymore. By this she seemed to mean that religious practice, which among other things offers guidelines and guardrails, is no longer officially sanctioned or encouraged. A man ruminated that things seemed to go off track after 9/11 and “never quite recovered.”

Mr. Hart asked about how they see the 2016 campaign in historical terms. A man who appeared to be in his 30s said it was “like a soldier going to Vietnam,” by which he meant “no good outcome” and “no choice.” Twenty sixteen reminded another of the Monica Lewinsky scandal—low, embarrassing and leaving you “hurt for our country.” Another respondent remembered a talk from those days with a precocious 2½-year-old relative. She looked up at him one day and asked, “Uncle John, what’s a blow job?” He wanted to punch Bill Clinton in the face. Later a respondent, being asked what has happened to America, said: “Moral failure from the top starts to trickle down.”

Another said the 2016 race reminded him of Vietnam in terms of “the divisiveness in the country” and “the whole country being torn apart.”

Is a good outcome to this presidential year possible? Five said yes, giving versions of the idea that it will end and we’ll survive. “We’re a hardy bunch,” said a woman. Another: “It’ll stick in our minds. We’ll learn from it.”

Donald Trump’s behavior in 2016 reminds you of what? asked Mr. Hart. The answers: “schoolboy,” “brat,” “child tantrum,” “rich kid” and “bully middle-schooler.” Hillary Clinton’s? “Robotic,” “liar,” “privileged,” “cool operator” and, if I heard right, “satellite dish.”

You are late-deciding voters, said Mr. Hart. Some of you have switched around, some are still undecided. Where are you now?

One was leaning toward Mr. Trump. Another was too, “because of Supreme Court decisions.” A woman said she thought she’d go Trump. “Discard the candidate, look at the platform.”

Another was pretty close to decided for Hillary: “I so much wanted Trump,” but “he doesn’t know when to shut up.” “I don’t love Clinton—I don’t trust her.

Another, leaning toward Mr. Trump, said “It’s hard.”

Another was still undecided: “I wanted to like Trump. . . . It’s embarrassing how he acts.”

One had come down for Hillary as the “lesser of two evils.”

Another said “I’ve always been Democratic,” and allowed that Mrs. Clinton has “leadership skills.” But there’s the email story: “She lies—makes you wonder.”

Another had broken for Hillary: “Trump’s ego is what kills me.” Of Mrs. Clinton, in contrast: “She knows what she’s doing.”

Watching the next day, online, I couldn’t stop thinking of what we all know. Oh, how the two big parties have let these good people down.

America’s Decadent Leadership Class Putin doesn’t respect them, and they don’t like half the American people.

It is quite dreadful and a showing of the gravest disrespect that, if U.S. intelligence agencies are correct, Russia’s Vladimir Putin has inserted himself into America’s presidential election. And it could not have deeper implications.

If Russia is indeed behind the leaks of the emails of Democratic Party operatives Mr. Putin may have many reasons, as he often does, but the most frightening would be that he views the current American political leadership class as utterly decadent and unworthy of traditional diplomatic norms and boundaries. And, thinks, therefore, it deserves what it gets.

Why would he find them decadent—morally hollowed out, unserious? That is the terrible part: because he knows them.

President Vladimir Putin

President Vladimir Putin

Think of how he’s experienced them the past few years. Readers of these pages know of the Uranium One deal in which a Canadian businessman got Bill Clinton to help him get control of uranium mining fields in Kazakhstan. The businessman soon gave $31 million to the Clinton Foundation, with a pledge of $100 million more. Uranium One acquired significant holdings in the U.S. A Russian company moved to buy it. The deal needed U.S. approval, including from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

While it was under consideration the Clinton Foundation received more money from Uranium One. Bill Clinton got a $500,000 speech fee. Mrs. Clinton approved the deal. The Russian company is now one of the world’s largest uranium producers. Significant amounts of U.S. uranium are, in effect, owned by Russia. This summer a WikiLeaks dump showed the State Department warning that Russia was moving to control the global supply of nuclear fuel. The deal went through anyway, and the foundation flourished.

Peter Schweizer, who broke the Uranium One story, reported in these pages how Mrs. Clinton also pushed for a U.S.-Russian technology initiative whose goals included “the development of ties between the Russian and American people.” Mrs Clinton looked for U.S. investors and found them. Of the 28 announced “key partners,” 60% had made financial commitments to the Clinton Foundation. Even Russian investors ponied up.

But the research coming out of the initiative raised alarms: U.S. military experts warned of satellite, space and nuclear technology transfers. The FBI thought the Russian partners’ motive was to “gain access to classified, sensitive, and emerging technology.” WikiLeaks later unearthed a State Department cable expressing concern about the project. Somehow, said Mr. Schweizer, the Clinton State Department “missed or ignored obvious red flags.”

What would Mr. Putin, knowing all this and inferring Mrs. Clinton’s real priorities, conclude about the American political system and its major practitioners? Would he feel contempt? Might he toy with them?

As for Donald Trump, we don’t know, because he has not released his tax returns, what ties if any he has with Russia. There are charges that Trump businesses are entangled with powerful Russian financiers. We know some of his top advisers had business ties to Russia or affiliated nations and leaders.

Again, what might Mr. Putin think of this? Might he amuse himself with mischief, even to the point of attempting to hack the election returns? We’ll see.

But nothing is more dangerous than this: that Mr. Putin and perhaps other world leaders have come to have diminished respect for the morality, patriotism and large-mindedness of our leaders. Nikita Khrushchev had a rough respect for JFK and his men and that respect, in the Cuban Missile Crisis, helped avert nuclear war. Mikhail Gorbachev was in the end half-awed by Ronald Reagan’s goodness and idealism; the world knew George H.W. Bush and respected his integrity, and so he was able to build coalitions that were real coalitions, not just names. Now, whoever wins, we are in a different place, a lesser and more dangerous one.

*   *   *

On the latest groping charges: We cannot know for certain what is true, but my experience in such matters is that when a woman makes such a charge she is telling the truth. In a lifetime of fairly wide acquaintance, I’ve not known a woman to lie about sexual misbehavior or assault. I believe Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey, and I believe the women making the charges against Mr. Trump in the New York Times. The mainstream media of the United States is in the tank for the Democratic nominee, to its great and destructive shame: They add further ruin to the half-ruined reputation of a great American institution. That will make the country’s future harder and more torn up. But this story, at least as to the testimony of its central figures, does not appear to be an example of that.

*   *   *

Here I would like to say a word for the spectacular illusions under which American voters once were able to operate. You used to be able to like your guy—to admire your candidate and imagine unknown virtues he no doubt possessed that would be revealed in time, in books. Those illusions were beautiful. They gave clean energy to the engine of our politics. You can’t have illusions anymore. That souring, which is based on knowledge and observation as opposed to mere cynicism, is painful to witness and bear. The other day a conservative intellectual declared to her fellow writers and thinkers: “I’m for the venal idiot who won’t mechanize government against all I hold dear.” That’s some bumper sticker, isn’t it? And who has illusions about Mrs. Clinton? No one.

*   *   *

The big fact of the week, however, has to do with these words: They don’t like us. The Democrats, progressives and left-liberals who have been embarrassed by the latest WikiLeaks dump really hate conservatives, or nonleftists. They don’t like half the people of the country they seek to control! They look at that half with disdain and disrespect. Their disdain is not new—“bitter clingers,” “basket of deplorables.” But here it’s so unashamed and eager to express itself.

A stupid man from a leftist think tank claimed the most “powerful elements” in the conservative movement are Catholic. “They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations,” he wrote. Mrs. Clinton’s press aide Jennifer Palmieri responded: “I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they become evangelicals.”

When I read that I imagined a conversation with my grandmother, an immigrant who was a bathroom attendant at the Abraham & Straus department store in Brooklyn. Me: “Grandma, being Catholic is now a step up. It means you’re an aristocrat! A stupid one, but still.” Grandma, blinking: “America truly is a country of miracles.”

Here’s what you see in the emails: the writers are the worst kind of snobs, snobs with nothing to recommend them. In their expression and thoughts they are common, banal, dumb, uninformed, parochial.

I don’t know about you but when people look down on me I want them to be distinguished or outstanding in some way—towering minds, people of exquisite sensibility or learning. Not these grubbly poseurs, these people who’ve never had a thought but only a sensation: Christians are backward, I saw it in a movie!

It’s the big fact of American life now, isn’t it? That we are patronized by our inferiors.

Imagine a Sane Donald Trump You know he’s a nut. What if he weren’t?

Look, he’s a nut and you know he’s a nut. I go to battleground states and talk to anyone, everyone. They all know Donald Trump’s a nut. Some will vote for him anyway. Many are in madman-versus-criminal mode, living with (or making) their final decision. They got the blues. Everyone does. They’re worried about the whole edifice: If this is where we are, where are we going?

I get the Reagan fantasy—big guy with a nonstandard résumé comes in from the outside, cleans out the stables, saves the day. But it’s a fantasy and does not apply to this moment. I get the Jacksonian fantasy—crude, rude populist comes in from the hinterlands and upends a decadent establishment to the huzzahs of normal people with mud on their boots. But it’s a fantasy, and doesn’t apply.

If Donald Trump were saneBecause he’s not a grizzled general who bears on his face the scars of a British sword, and not a shining citizen-patriot. He’s a screwball. Do you need examples? You do not, because you’re already thinking of them. For a year you’ve been observing the TV funhouse that is his brain.

I offer an observation from Newt Gingrich, Trump friend and supporter, on David Drucker’s Washington Examiner podcast. Mr. Gingrich lauded Mr. Trump because he “thinks big” and is a transformational character. But he spoke too of Trump’s essential nature. The GOP nominee “reacts very intensely, almost uncontrollably” to “anything which attacks his own sense of integrity or his own sense of respectability.” “There’s . . . a part of his personality that sometimes gets involved in petty things that make no sense.” He found it “frankly pathetic” that Mr. Trump got mad because Paul Ryan didn’t call to congratulate him after the second debate.

Mr. Gingrich said he hopes this will change. But people don’t change the fundamentals of their nature at age 70.

Mr. Trump’s great historical role was to reveal to the Republican Party what half of its own base really thinks about the big issues. The party’s leaders didn’t know! They were shocked, so much that they indulged in sheer denial and made believe it wasn’t happening.

The party’s leaders accept more or less open borders and like big trade deals. Half the base does not! It is longtime GOP doctrine to cut entitlement spending. Half the base doesn’t want to, not right now! Republican leaders have what might be called assertive foreign-policy impulses. When Mr. Trump insulted George W. Bush and nation-building and said he’d opposed the Iraq invasion, the crowds, taking him at his word, cheered. He was, as they say, declaring that he didn’t want to invade the world and invite the world. Not only did half the base cheer him, at least half the remaining half joined in when the primaries ended.

The Republican Party will now begin the long process of redefining itself or continue its long national collapse. This is an epochal event. It happened because Donald Trump intuited where things were and are going.

Since I am more in accord with Mr. Trump’s stands than not, I am particularly sorry that as an individual human being he’s a nut.

Which gives rise to a question, for me a poignant one.

What if there had been a Sane Donald Trump?

Oh my God, Sane Trump would have won in a landslide.

Sane Donald Trump, just to start, would look normal and happy, not grim and glowering. He would be able to hear and act on good advice. He would explain his positions with clarity and depth, not with the impatient half-grasping of a notion that marks real Donald Trump’s public persona.

Sane Donald Trump would have looked at a dubious, anxious and therefore standoffish Republican establishment and not insulted them, diminished them, done tweetstorms against them. Instead he would have said, “Come into my tent. It’s a new one, I admit, but it’s yuge and has gold faucets and there’s a place just for you. What do you need? That I be less excitable and dramatic? Done. That I not act, toward women, like a pig? Done, and I accept your critique. That I explain the moral and practical underpinnings of my stand on refugees from terror nations? I’d be happy to. My well-hidden secret is that I love everyone and hear the common rhythm of their beating hearts.”

Sane Donald Trump would have given an anxious country more ease, not more anxiety. He would have demonstrated that he can govern himself. He would have suggested through his actions, while still being entertaining, funny and outsize, that yes, he understands the stakes and yes, since America is always claiming to be the leader of the world—We are No. 1!—a certain attendant gravity is required of one who’d be its leader.

Sane Donald Trump would have explained his immigration proposals with a kind of loving logic—we must secure our borders for a host of serious reasons, and here they are. But we are grateful for our legal immigrants, and by the way, if you want to hear real love for America then go talk to them, for they experience more freshly than we what a wonderful place this is. In time, after we’ve fully secured our borders and the air of emergency is gone, we will turn to regularizing the situation of everyone here, because Americans are not only kindly, they’re practical, and want everyone paying taxes.

Sane Donald Trump would have spoken at great and compelling length of how the huge, complicated trade agreements created the past quarter-century can be improved upon with an eye to helping the American worker. Ideology, he might say, is the pleasant diversion of the unworried, but a nation that no longer knows how to make steel cannot be a great nation. And we are a great nation.

Sane Donald Trump would have argued that controlling entitlement spending is a necessary thing but not, in fact, this moment’s priority. People have been battered since the crash, in many ways, and nothing feels stable now. Beyond that no one right now trusts Washington to be fair and wise in these matters. Confidence-building measures are necessary. Let’s take on the smaller task of turning around Veterans Affairs and see if we can’t make that work.

Sane Donald Trump would have known of America’s hidden fractures, and would have insisted that a healthy moderate-populist movement cannot begin as or devolve into a nationalist, identity-politics movement. Those who look down on other groups, races or religions can start their own party. He, the famous brander, would even offer them a name: the Idiot Party.

Sane Donald Trump would not treat the political process of the world’s greatest democracy as if it were, as somebody said, the next-to-last episode of a reality-TV series. That’s the episode that leaves you wondering how the season will end—who will scream, who will leave the drunken party in a huff, who will accuse whom of being a whore. I guess that’s what “I’ll keep you in suspense” as to whether he’ll accept the election result was about. We’re being teed up. The explosive season finale is Nov. 8. Maybe he’ll leave in a huff. Maybe he’ll call everyone whores.

Does he know he’s playing with fire? No. Because he’s a nut.

Sane Donald Trump for president. Too bad he doesn’t exist.