The Wisdom of Oscar Hammerstein A 60-year-old example of moral modesty and candor—qualities we could use more of today.

Easter, Passover, spring break, holiday weekend. Let us unfurrow the brow and look at something elevated. It’s a small thing, a half-hour television interview from 60 years ago, but it struck me this week as a kind of master class in how to be a public figure and how to talk about what matters. In our polarized moment it functions as both template and example.

In March 1958, the fierce young journalist Mike Wallace —already famous for opening an interview with the restaurateur Toots Shor by asking, “Toots, why do people call you a slob?”—decided to bore in on Oscar Hammerstein II. (For the record, Shor responded that Wallace had him confused with Jackie Gleason. ) Hammerstein was the fabled lyricist and librettist who with composer Richard Rodgers put jewels in the crown of American musical theater—“Oklahoma,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I,” and “Carousel,” whose latest Broadway revival is about to open. He was a hero of American culture and a famous success in a nation that worshiped success.

Oscar Hammerstein II

Oscar Hammerstein II

Wallace was respectful but direct and probing. He asked Hammerstein if critics who’d called his work sentimental didn’t have a point.

Hammerstein said his critics were talented, loved the theater, and there was something to what they’d said. But he spoke of sentiment “in contradistinction to sophistication”: “The sophisticate is a man who thinks he can swim better than he can and sometimes drowns himself. He thinks he can drive better than he really can and sometimes causes great smash-ups. So, in my book there’s nothing wrong with sentiment because the things we’re sentimental about are the fundamental things in life, the birth of a child, the death of a child or of anybody, falling in love. I couldn’t be anything but sentimental about these basic things.”

What, Wallace asked, was Hammerstein’s message in “South Pacific”?

Hammerstein said neither he nor Rodgers had ever gone looking for vehicles by which to deliver messages. They were attracted to great stories and wanted to tell them on stage. But “when a writer writes anything about anything at all, he gives himself away.” He inevitably exposes his beliefs and hopes. The love stories in “South Pacific” were shaped by questions of race. The main characters learned that “all this prejudice that we have is something that fades away in the face of something that’s really important.” That thing is love.

Does this reflect his views on interracial marriage?

Hammerstein, simply: “Yes.”

“The King and I,” he said, is about cultural differences. The Welsh governess and the Siamese children know nothing of each other at the start: “There again, all race and color had faded in their getting to know and love each other.” On the other hand, “Allegro,” about disillusionment and professional achievement, carries a warning: “After you’re successful, whether you be a doctor or a lawyer or a librettist, there is a conspiracy that goes on in which you join—a conspiracy of the world to render you less effective by bestowing honors on you and taking you away from the job of curing people, or of pleading cases, or writing libretti and . . . putting you on committees.” He added he was “a fine one to talk”: he couldn’t stop joining committees.

Is he religious? Here Hammerstein told a story. A year ago he was rushing to work and jaywalked. A policeman called out; Hammerstein braced for a dressing down. But the officer recognized him and poured out his appreciation for his work. Hammerstein thanked him and moved to leave, but the policeman had a question. “He said, ‘Are you religious?’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t belong to any church,’ and then he patted me on the back and he said, ‘Ah, you’re religious all right.’ And I went on feeling as if I’d been caught, and feeling that I was religious. He had discovered from the words of my songs that I had faith—faith in mankind, faith that there was something more powerful than mankind behind it all, and faith that in the long run good triumphs over evil. If that’s religion, I’m religious, and it is my definition of religion.”

Then to politics.

Wallace: “You are an active liberal.”

Hammerstein: “Yes, I guess I am.”

What connection does this have with your work?

“I think it must have a connection, because it expresses my feelings, my tendencies,” Hammerstein said. “As I’ve said before, a writer gives himself away if he’s writing honestly.”

Wallace: “Would you agree that most of our writers and directors on Broadway and television in Hollywood are liberal and that there is a liberal complexion to their work?”

“I think I would, yes,” Hammerstein replied, honestly and with no defensiveness.

Wallace’s office had just spoken to “a militant dissenter” from liberalism, Ayn Rand, author of the recently published novel “Atlas Shrugged.” She said: “The public is being brainwashed by the so-called liberal or leftist philosophies, which have a stranglehold on the dissemination of ideas in America.” How did Hammerstein respond?

He didn’t like her adding the word leftist, “because you can be a liberal without being a leftist, and many and most liberals are.” Beyond that her criticism was an example of what’s working. “I think it’s fine that there is a Miss Rand who comes out stoutly for the conservative. I think it’s fine that we have all kinds of thinkers in the world. . . . I admit that the majority of writers in this country are on the liberal side.”

But he added, of Rand: “We need her to hold us back, and I think she needs us to pull her forward.”

Italics mine. Because liberals and conservatives do need each other, and the right course can sometimes be found in the tug between them.

Wallace: “The public does rarely get anything but a liberal viewpoint from Hollywood or from television, from Broadway,” and the charge can be “safely made that there is a certain intolerance of conservative ideas among liberals.”

Hammerstein, again undefensive: “I think so too.”

What’s to be done about it? Nothing, said Hammerstein: “Just be yourself, that’s all.” If the public likes Miss Rand, “there will be a Miss Rand trend.” Let the problem work its way out in a free country.

Hammerstein said he tries sometimes to vote Republican “just for the sake of switching—just for the sake of telling myself I’m not a party man,” which he doesn’t want to be. “But somehow or other I always wind up voting Democratic.” Balancing the budget bores him. “I have an idea that the more liberal Democratic tendency—to borrow and owe money is healthier for us.” Most big corporations borrow, and they make progress with the money. When the U.S. borrows money, Hammerstein said, he felt “the people in the lower income bracket get the most out of it. But I’m no economist—this is merely a guess.”

We’re all guessing, and working on instinct and experience.

Moral modesty and candor are good to see.

In our public figures, especially our political ones, they are hard to find. I offer Hammerstein’s old words as an example—a prompter—of what they sound like.

A radiant Easter, a beautiful Passover to my radiant and beautiful readers.

Deliverance From Hillary Clinton If Democrats want to solve their Hillary Clinton problem, Conor Lamb has some good ideas.

It takes a long time for candidates to get over losing the American presidency. Some never do. It’s not just personal anger—“I will not be denied my destiny!”—it’s something more poignant. It’s that the greatest prize was there, beautiful and within your grasp and then—dust. You’re holding nothing.

You’re rocked, concussed, and as months pass even your adrenal glands don’t know what to do. Once you had to be up and ready every day to make crucial, far-ranging decisions. Now you’re wondering which channel is Bravo. Once they cheered as you walked in the room; now some avert their eyes. Once you were surrounded by top staff; now it’s the B team. Once you depended on loyalty; now you hope for discretion.

A perpetual low-grade mourning ensues. You were rejected by a nation. In time the ego rebels: Stupid nation!


Ned Beatty in “Deliverance,” 1972

Which is where Hillary Clinton is, still. She can’t get over it and can’t keep it inside. But by articulating the Democrats’ central national weakness this week, she did them a service. She reminded them: It’s real, the weakness, and must be remedied.

In Mumbai, at a conference sponsored by India Today, Mrs. Clinton was interviewed onstage by the newspaper’s founder, the slavishly admiring Aroon Purie —“May I take the liberty of giving you a title: Should Be President!”—who made her way too comfortable.

Why, he asked, did she lose to the outlandish Donald Trump ?

“If you look at the map of the United States,” she said, “there’s all that red in the middle where Trump won. I win the coasts. . . . But what the map doesn’t show you is that I won the places that represent two-thirds of America’s gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward.” Mr. Trump’s campaign “was looking backwards. You know, you didn’t like black people getting rights, you don’t like women getting jobs, you don’t wanna see that Indian-American succeeding more than you are.”

Why did 52% of white women support Mr. Trump? Because the Democratic Party doesn’t do well with white men and married white women. “Part of that is an identification with the Republican Party, and a sort of ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son, whoever, believes you should.” James Comey announced that he had reopened the investigation of her State Department emails, and “white women who were going to vote for me, and frankly standing up to the men in their lives and the men in their workplaces, were being told, ‘She’s going to jail. You don’t want to vote for her.’ ”

So, to recap: Trump supporters were racist, narrow and ignorant, and Trump women are not tough and modern but fearful, cowering and easily led. They live in a big mass of red in the middle (like an ugly wound, or an inflammation!) while we have the coasts—better real estate. And better people.

During the campaign Mrs. Clinton was often urged to speak her heart, show us what’s inside. It turns out it is rather dark in there. This is not precisely news—she had famously labeled half of Trump supporters “the basket of deplorables.” Barack Obama in 2008 betrayed a similarly crude, uninformed class bias and snobbery when he said of working-class voters, “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”

But it was instructive this week to see some Democrats push back. Many did so not for attribution, but some went on the record. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri told the Washington Post: “Those are kind of fighting words for me. . . . I don’t think that’s the way you should talk to any voter.” Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio told Huffington Post: “I don’t really care what she said, I just think that’s not helpful.” Ms. McCaskill and Mr. Brown are both up for re-election in states Mr. Trump carried.

It was as if they realized: People don’t want to be led by a party that looks down on them.

Mrs. Clinton’s comments prompt an essential question: To the extent those in the deindustrialized Midwest need help and support, isn’t that what the Democratic Party is for? Doesn’t it exist to help the little guy, the marginalized, the left-behind? That’s what it always said!

This isn’t help, it’s condescension.

It is “Deliverance” politics. The blockbuster movie version of James Dickey’s novel came out in 1972, when the Clintons and I were young, and made a vivid impression on a rising tide of baby boomers. It satisfied all their biases. A group of cool, modern, rational urban professionals journeyed into the backwoods, only to meet the rest of America—the cross-eyed rapist banjo players. That movie did more to shape the preconceptions of a generation of young Democrats than any other, except “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Also we’re all our first ZIP Codes. Mrs. Clinton’s was upper-middle-class suburbia and on to Wellesley. She wasn’t surrounded by working-class folk and had little reported affinity for the rustics she met as first lady of Arkansas. Her weakness is that of too many in her party: They don’t seem to like a lot of the people of the nation they wish to lead.

And those people can tell.

A path forward? Reckon with your biases and attempt to be more generous, which is the job of all of us, always.

There is probably something to learn from Conor Lamb’s victory this week in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. Tuesday night voters chose a man who won’t cut entitlements, supports tariffs to protect the steel industry, opposes a ban on assault weapons, supports union members, opposes Nancy Pelosi, and allows no criticism of Donald Trump.

Which sounds like they elected Donald Trump.

Mr. Lamb, however, is a 33-year-old former prosecutor and marine—cool, tall, with a watchful, Tom Cotton-like gaze. It isn’t hard to imagine voters saw him pretty much as Trump without the bother of Trump. His victory says several things. The president’s style, approach and nature have given offense. The Democrats came to play. They were businesslike: Keep local races local, run with the district, not away from it, and you can win.

Mr. Lamb has been called pro-life. He is not. He effectively obscured the issue by saying he personally opposed abortion but would do nothing to change the law, including ban late-term abortions.

Saying you are personally opposed but support the law is the longtime, agreed-upon position of Catholic Democrats, who’ve been saying it for 40 years. But from Mr. Lamb it sounded new. The Democratic Party now depends so heavily on pro-abortion groups for money and other support that on-the-ground Democrats increasingly fear even to admit their personal opposition. They just say they’re for “reproductive freedom”—next question.

It will be interesting to see how that plays out nationally. I suspect it will become an impediment: You don’t squelch views in such an extreme way without paying a price.

But the larger point. Democrats can continue to act as if they see America as “Deliverance” writ large, or they can be more generous in their judgments, and more human.

If they go the former route, their future national candidates will likely wind up selling books in Mumbai to audiences who love them in part because they don’t know them.

A Moment for Movement on Guns Donald Trump is making sense—jumbling categories as a ‘right-winger’ who favors tighter restrictions.

It’s two immovable forces that have to share the same country. Both sides are sincere and have reasons for where they stand.

But this is a promising moment. Some give looks possible.

What is needed to prepare the ground for progress? Squelch your own smugness. Stop needling, patronizing, misstating the other side’s position. Lay down your rhetorical arms. Deweaponize your mouth. It’s not enough to argue in good faith; you have to will yourself to see the good faith on the other side.

And don’t be maximalist.

Justin & Cary Gruber with Donald Trump

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Justin Gruber as his father, Cary, looks on.

Something changed with Parkland. In part it is that the young survivors presented themselves not as victims but as warriors. Some flooded the airwaves. They were media-savvy, had no shyness, were full of themselves in the way closely raised children encouraged in a hearty self-esteem can be full of themselves.

But the boy who broke it open was not smooth. In the president’s White House meeting with survivors he spoke with no assumption. He said, “My name is Justin Gruber, and I was at the school at the time of the massacre. I’m only 15 years old. I’m a sophomore. Nineteen years ago, the first school shooting, Columbine—at Columbine High School, happened. And I was born into a world where I never got to experience safety and peace.”

This was a powerfully reorienting statement. We are now in the second generation of public school terror.

And parents throughout the country are saying: We cannot have this anymore.

We can’t have another generation of children who fear going to school, who jump whenever there’s a loud noise in the hall. We can’t have another generation of parents afraid when they drop the kids off in the morning. You can’t ask the parents of a great nation to “get used to this.” You can’t tell them to accept that this is the way it is now. “I have my rights.” Everybody has rights. Children have rights. And they are right to be afraid.

We don’t need to rehearse why Americans have guns. Protection (my urban store, my rural home), hunting, sport. History—from the Pilgrims to the Wild West the gun was a tool of survival. Tradition—my grandfather gave me his Remington and it is, truly, a thing of beauty. Orneriness—when fancy people tell you you’re not allowed to have something, you better get it.

And something else, an aspect in which gun-owning Americans are more imaginative, more alive to history and sensitive to its trends, than affluent city and suburban liberals. They know how precarious everything is, how complex and provisional, how if you lose this piece (the electrical grid), that piece (civilized behavior) will give way. The poet James Dickey captured this in his novel “Deliverance,” published in 1970. The character Lewis: “I think the machines are going to fail, the political systems are going to fail, and a few men are going to take to the hills and start over.” He kept his body fit and his weapons oiled.

Or, more recently, a masterpiece, Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2006 novel, “The Road.” A man and his young son are alone at the end of the world. There was a terrible event—“a long shear of light and then a series of low concussions.” They trek south through a ruined landscape—“everything dead to the root”—in hopes of seeing the sun. The man has a revolver with two bullets. He is surrounded by marauders, and worse than marauders, with guns.

“The frailty of everything revealed at last.”

Those who own big guns often hope to survive—and help you survive—dark possibilities. Keep that in mind when you put them down. They may be grim, but only the grim saw 9/11 coming. The giddy censors who run around my beloved city were shocked.

Older gun owners fear the government, it’s true. But those who are not old don’t primarily fear it’s too powerful. They fear it is incapable of protecting them.

I want to go to the promise of this moment. It is that our president is making sense. Donald Trump is jumbling categories as a “right-winger” for tighter gun laws. In meetings with the nation’s governors and with congressional leaders, he said he isn’t afraid of the National Rifle Association and they shouldn’t be either. He would harden the schools, raise to 21 the age limit to buy assault weapons. He would enhance and broaden background checks so “sickos” can’t get guns. He is convincingly alive to the mental-health crisis and its part in the story. He wants cops to have the authority to confiscate temporarily the guns of the dangerous, such as those who go around threatening to shoot up schools.

Importantly, he treated the mass shootings like a crisis, not a tragedy. This country is tired of tragedy, of the weeping president and the high-toned speech. Mr. Trump doesn’t do that because he can’t, and doesn’t know how to mourn. Just as well: We’re all tired of moist and empty vows. Do something. President Obama had a sense of tragedy about the NRA and congressional blocs and those poor, sad Americans who cling to guns. In effect he gave his own party a pass when it stepped away from gun control after Sandy Hook.

Mr. Trump, God bless him, doesn’t know enough about the facts to be fatalistic about them. But he got the big picture right—at least the larger context of voters frozen along battle lines.

His presentations were stream-of-consciousness—undisciplined, scatty. And as always the question is whether he meant any of it. His opinions rest on impulses. He likes to say words. You never know which you can believe, which makes deal-making hard.

But of all recent presidents he is the one who can give cover to congressional conservatives, work with Democrats, and get something done.

As for me, I am where Ralph Peters is. The retired military man wrote a stinging, striking piece in the New York Post last week. He fired his first gun as a child when he was handed an illegal sawed-off shotgun “kept handy for woodchucks and rattlesnakes.” He served in the U.S. Army infantry, has fired automatic weapons, and owns guns: “As I write these lines, there’s an 1858 Tower musket behind me and a Colt on my desk,” he wrote.

“But I believe, on moral, practical and constitutional grounds, that no private citizen should own an automatic weapon or a semi-automatic weapon that can easily be modified for automatic effects. These are military weapons. Their purpose is to kill human beings. They’re not used for hunting (unless you want to destroy the animal’s meat). They’re lousy for target shooting. But they’re excellent tools for mass murder.”

No one has the right to “a personal arsenal of weapons designed for mass murder.”

We have an estimated 300 million guns in America. An estimated 50 million of our households keep them.

For now that is enough, even for whatever terrible day comes.

Stop selling military-style weapons now. Just stop. See what happens in America. Revisit the issue in five years. Don’t be maximalist.

The parents are right. We can’t have this anymore.

And we can’t have the world, which is watching, saying, “They kill their own children in the schoolrooms. They have lost their souls.”

Over Trump, We’re as Divided as Ever One thinks: He’s crazy . . . and it’s kind of working. But everything we know tells us crazy doesn’t last.

In just a few months, in June, it will be three years since Donald Trump announced for the presidency. It feels shorter ago and longer. I will never forget that day. I watched it live, at home, wondering where this circus act was going. But as soon as the speech was over the phone rang and it was my uncle—husky Brooklyn accent, U.S. Marine of the Korean era—who said, “So how do you like my guy?” There was silence. “He’s—your guy?” “Yeah! Maybe he can do something.” We no sooner hung up than my sister—working-class, Obama voter—called, and she too began without preamble: “I looooove him.”

And so I was alerted early on to an epochal change in our national political life. My uncle and sister are not ideological, are skeptical of both parties, and tend to back the guy who seems most promising. They love America and wear it on their sleeves. They’re patriots.

A great deal of embarrassed attention has been paid by the press as to why half the country in 2016 refused to do what it was supposed to do and reject Mr. Trump.

Fake NewsGranted: Mr. Trump didn’t start the fire. A great deal had to go wrong before America put a man like him, a TV star/brander with no political experience and a sketchy history, in the presidency. The political class right and left, Dem and Rep, had to fail, and did, spectacularly, with the 2008 crash and two unwon wars. Their biggest sin the past few decades: The wealthiest and most powerful Americans, those who had most benefited from its system, peeled off from the less fortunate and made clear they were not especially concerned about their problems. Stupidly, and they are stupid, they didn’t even fake a prudent interest. The disaffected noticed this lack of loyalty and decided to respond with a living insult named Donald Trump, whom they sent to Washington to contend with a corrupt establishment.

All granted and, in these pages, previously stated at great length.

But this is about those who do not back him, many of whom are centrists and moderates. I’m not sure enough attention is given to their thoughts. It’s also about a fairly widespread cognitive dissonance that is causing fairly widespread disquiet.

Suppose you are an able and accomplished person in business—a midlevel person, or a small-business owner, or the head of a company. You’ve navigated your way through life with judgment and effort. You’ve learned lessons.

If you are that person, when you look at the policy impact of President Trump’s first year, you see some good and heartening things.

He has established in his government a deregulatory spirit that is fair and helpful. Regulation, you know, is good—we’re all human; business leaders will make decisions that are good for the company or shareholders or themselves, but not necessarily good for the town, state, country. So regulation has an important role: It helps you be a good citizen and gives cover to you when you are one. But excessive regulation, especially when it springs from ideological animus or practical ignorance, kills progress, growth, jobs, good ideas and products.

Mr. Trump has put a sober conservative on the Supreme Court, and many conservative judges on the lower courts. This provides greater balance in the judiciary. In a split country, split courts—balance—is probably the best we can do.

The economy is improving. And Mr. Trump helped pass a tax bill that was better—maybe a little, maybe a lot, but certainly better—than what it replaced.

Not bad for a first year in office!

So you, moderate, centrist professional, should feel high enthusiasm for Donald Trump. And yet you don’t, not really. What you feel is disquiet, and you know what it’s about: the worrying nature of Mr. Trump himself. You look at his White House and see what appears to be epic instability, mismanagement and confusion. You see his resentments and unpredictability. You used to think he’s surrounded by solid sophisticates, but they’re leaving. He’s unserious— Vladimir Putin says his missiles can get around any U.S. defense, and Mr. Trump is tweeting about Alec Baldwin. He careens around—he has big congressional meetings that are like talk shows where he’s the host, and he says things that are both soft and tough and you think Hmmm, maybe that’s a way through, but the next day it turns out it was only talk. This has been done on the Dreamers, on guns and we’ll see about tariffs. He loves chaos—he brags about this—but it isn’t strategic chaos in pursuit of ends, it’s purposeless disorder for the fun of it. We are not talking about being colorfully, craftily unpredictable, as political masters like FDR and Reagan sometimes were, but something more unfortunate, an unhinged or not-fully-hinged quality that feels like screwball tragedy.

He’s on the phone with his friends: He doesn’t like the chief of staff; he may be out. He doesn’t like his national security adviser; he doesn’t like his attorney general; they may be out too. His confidante Hope Hicks is gone; so is Dina Powell ; now Gary Cohn is gone. His staff never knows what’s he’s going to do on any given day. And each day the Mueller leaks offer more evidence that whatever questionable or illegal activity took place during the campaign, Mr. Trump surrounded himself with a true Team of Screwballs.

Here is what you try to wrap your head around if you are a centrist or moderate who’s trying to be fair. You think: On some level this is working. And on some level he is crazy.

He’s crazy . . . and it’s kind of working. You struggle to reconcile these thoughts. You try to balance them.

Then you realize everything you’ve learned from life as a leader in whatever sphere—business, local public service—tells you this: Crazy doesn’t last. Crazy doesn’t go the distance. Crazy is an unstable element that, when let loose in an unstable environment, explodes.

And so your disquiet. Sooner or later something bad will happen—an international crisis, or damaging findings from the special counsel. If the president is the way he is on a good day, what will he be like on a bad day?

It all feels so dangerous.

A president who has relative prosperity and relative peace should be at 60% approval. This is why he is about 20 points lower.

Observations and criticisms like this make Mr. Trump’s supporters angry and defensive. So he’s not smooth, they say—“We never thought he was!” So he doesn’t have the right tone, he doesn’t always use the right words—“You’re like old-time snobs looking down on him because he uses the wrong fork.”

But it’s a little more essential than that.

Centrists and moderates are seeing what Trump supporters cannot, will not see.

Expecting more from the president of the United States springs from respect for the country, its institutions, and the White House itself. It springs from standards, the falling of which concerns natural conservatives.

It isn’t snobbery. The people trying to wrap their heads around this presidency are patriots too. That’s one of the hellish things about this era.

The Parkland Massacre and the Air We Breathe What’s gone wrong with our culture that produces such atrocities? It’s a very long list.

We discuss motives, but isn’t it always the same motive? “I have murder in my heart.” Why do so many Americans have murder in their hearts?

GriefThat is my question after the St. Valentine’s Day shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. We all know it is part of a continuing cultural catastrophe. A terrible aspect of the catastrophe is that so many central thoughts about it, and questions, have been flattened by time into clichés. People stop hearing when you mention them. “We talked about that during Columbine, didn’t we? That couldn’t be it.”

So we immediately revert to discussions of gun law, and only gun law. There is much to be improved in that area—I offer a suggestion at the end—but it is not the only part of the story. The story is also who we are now and what shape we’re in.

A way to look at the question is: What has happened the past 40 years or so to produce a society so ill at ease with itself, so prone to violence?

We know. We all say it privately, but it’s so obvious it’s hardly worth saying. We have been swept by social, technological and cultural revolution. The family blew up—divorce, unwed childbearing. Fatherless sons. Fatherless daughters, too. Poor children with no one to love them. The internet flourished. Porn proliferated. Drugs, legal and illegal. Violent videogames, in which nameless people are eliminated and spattered all over the screen. (The Columbine shooters loved and might have been addicted to “Doom.”) The abortion regime settled in, with its fierce, endless yet somehow casual talk about the right to end a life. An increasingly violent entertainment culture—low, hypersexualized, full of anomie and weirdness, allergic to meaning and depth. The old longing for integration gave way to a culture of accusation—you are a supremacist, a misogynist, you are guilty of privilege and defined by your color and class, we don’t let your sort speak here.

At this moment we are in the middle of a reckoning about how disturbed our sexual landscape has become. This past week we turned to violence within marriages. We recently looked at the international sex trade, a phrase that sounds so 18th-century but refers to a real and profitable business.

All this change, compressed into 40 years, has produced some good things, even miraculous ones. But it does not feel accidental that America is experiencing what appears to be a mental-health crisis, especially among the young. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported as many as 20% of children 3 to 17 have, in any given year, a mental or emotional illness. There is research indicating depression among teenagers is worsening. National Public Radio recently quoted a 2005 report asserting the percentage of prison inmates with serious mental illness rose from less than 1% in 1880 to 21% in 2005. Deinstitutionalization swept health care and the psychiatric profession starting in the 1960s, and has continued since. The sick now go to the emergency room or stay among us untreated. In the society we have created the past 40 years, you know we are not making fewer emotionally ill young people, but more.

And here, to me, is the problem. A nation has an atmosphere. It has air it breathes in each day. China has a famous pollution problem: You can see the dirt in the air. America’s air looks clean but there are toxins in it, and they’re making the least defended and protected of us sick.

Here is one breath of the air:

Two weeks ago the U.S. Senate blocked a bill that would have banned most abortions after 20 weeks. Exceptions were made—the life of the mother, incest and rape. Twenty weeks—right up to the start of the sixth month—seemed reasonable. But Democrats said it was an assault on women’s rights. So as far as the Senate is concerned, you can end the life of a 6- to 9-month-old baby that can live outside the womb, that is not only human but recognizably and obviously human.

And even if you are 100% for full-term abortion—even if you think this right must be protected lest we go on a slippery slope and next thing you know they’ll outlaw contraceptives—your own language might have alerted you along the way to your radicalism.

Imagine you are pregnant, in the last trimester, and suddenly feel movement in your belly, a shift from here to there. You say, “Oh my God, feel,” and you take the hand of the father, or of another intimate, and you place it on your stomach. You don’t say, “The fetus lurched,” or “A conglomeration of cells is making itself manifest.” You say, “The baby moved. The baby’s moving.” You say this because it is a baby, and you know it. You say it because in your wonder at it, and at life, you tell the truth.

I should add who used that example with me. A great liberal journalist who sees right through his party’s dishonesty on this issue.

The failure to ban late-term abortion is one of those central things we rarely talk about.

And I’ll tell you what I think a teenager absorbs about it, unconsciously, in America. He sees a headline online, he passes a television in an airport, he hears the quick story and he thinks: “If the baby we don’t let live is unimportant, then I guess I am unimportant. And you’re unimportant too.” They don’t even know they’re breathing that in. But it’s there, in the atmosphere, and they’re breathing it in. And it doesn’t make you healthier.

The National Rifle Association too fears their slippery slope, and their fear means nothing common-sensical can be done regarding gun law. Concede anything and it will mean they’re coming for your hunting rifle.

Congress has been talking, at least recently and to some extent, of a trade on immigration. New protections for Dreamers on one hand versus increased border security on the other. This would be a good deal. Dreamers are integrated into American life, and a good many work in education and health care. And America is a great sovereign nation with not only a right but a responsibility to control its own borders.

Compromise is often good.

On gun law, Republicans oppose banning assault weapons such as the AR-15, the one the Parkland shooter used, because of the numbers, power and contributions of gun owners and the NRA. Democrats oppose banning late-term abortion because of the numbers, power and contributions of the rising left, feminists and Planned Parenthood.

The idea: Trade banning assault weapons for banning late-term abortion. Make illegal a killing machine and a killing procedure.

In both cases the lives of children would be saved.

Wouldn’t this clean some of the air? Wouldn’t we all breathe a little easier?

Billy Graham, the Ecumenical Evangelist He had an ability to reach across denominational lines and ‘speak to the common believing heart.’

You know the miraculous life of Louis Zamperini, whose story was told in Laura Hillenbrand’s epic, lovely book, “Unbroken.” Louis was the delinquent, knockabout son of Italian immigrants in Torrance, Calif., who went on to run for America in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, then joined the Army Air Corps before Pearl Harbor. He crashed in the Pacific, drifted in a raft on open sea for 47 days, came near death—shark attacks, storms, strafing by Japanese bombers—and survived, only to be captured by enemy troops. He spent two years in Japanese prison camps—beaten, tortured, brutalized as much as a person can be and still live.

Billy Graham by Yousuf Karsh

Yousuf Karsh’s 1972 portrait of Billy Graham, which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

He came back a hero, shocked to be alive. But his life went from rise to descent—rage, alcoholism, destruction. He couldn’t focus enough to make a living, couldn’t stop the downhill slide. His wife, Cynthia, announced she was leaving. One day a neighbor told them of something going on in town, in L.A. An evangelist named Billy Graham had set up a tent and invited the public. Cynthia grabbed at the straw, but Louie refused. He wasn’t going to watch some con man screaming. Cynthia argued for days and finally fibbed. Billy Graham, she said, talks a lot about science. Louie liked science. So he went, grudgingly, and they sat in the back. The following quotes are from “Unbroken.”

This is what Billy Graham looked like: “His remarkably tall blond hair fluttered on the summit of a remarkably tall head, which in turn topped a remarkably tall body. He had a direct gaze” and “a southern sway in his voice.” Studio chiefs saw a leading man and offered him a movie contract. Graham laughed and said he wouldn’t do it for a million a month. He was 31 and had been traveling the world for years.

It cost him to be Billy Graham. He wanted to end his crusades, but their success convinced him “Providence had other wishes.”

This is what he hid: He was wearing out. “For many hours a day, seven days a week, he preached to vast throngs, and each sermon was a workout, delivered in a booming voice, punctuated with broad gestures of the hands, arms, body. He got up as early as five, and he stayed in the tent late into the night, counseling troubled souls.” His weight dropped and there were circles under his eyes. “At times he felt that if he stopped moving his legs would buckle, so he took to pacing his pulpit to keep himself from keeling over.”

This is what Billy Graham was not like: Elmer Gantry. Louie expected “the sort of frothy, holy-rolling charlatan that he’d seen preaching near Torrance when he was a boy. What he saw instead was a brisk, neatly groomed man two years younger than himself.” This man was . . . serious. “He asked his listeners to open their Bibles to the eighth chapter of John. ”

This is what Billy Graham said: “Here tonight, there’s a drowning man, a drowning woman . . . a drowning boy, a drowning girl that is lost in the sea of life.”

He spoke of the Pharisees surrounding Jesus that day in the temple and presenting the woman taken in adultery. Moses in the law commanded us, they said, that she should be stoned. What say you? Jesus stooped down and wrote with his finger on the ground, as if he hadn’t heard. They pressed; he wrote. He lifted himself and said: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” They were convicted by their own conscience and left. Jesus, alone with the woman, asked: “Has no one condemned thee?” No man, she said. He said, “Neither do I condemn thee. Go now and sin no more.”

But what was Jesus writing on the ground? Graham suggested Christ was enacting the writing of the facts of our individual lives: “God takes down your life from the time you were born to the time you die.” He will see the truth. “You’re going to say, ‘Lord, I wasn’t such a bad fellow.’ ”

Louie felt something tighten. He felt “a lurking, nameless uneasiness,” like “the shudder of sharks rasping their backs along the bottom of the raft.”

And so began his conversion. He went on to a life of greatness, helping boys as lost as he’d once been.

That is the importance of Billy Graham. We talk about the “friend of presidents” who “moved among the powerful,” but he was a man who wanted to help you save your soul whoever you were, in whatever circumstance. And there would have been millions.

“Louis wasn’t the only one in the tent,” Laura Hillenbrand said this week, by phone: “Without Rev. Graham, Louie would not have lived.”

“What reached into Louis’s soul,” she added, “was Graham’s ability to reach into the individual, the person in front of him—of God being interested in him personally.” Louis had to come to terms with two huge things, the mystery of his suffering (why did this injustice happen?) and the mystery of his survival (so many others are gone). But you didn’t have to float on a raft and be tortured to suffer: “Everyone suffers. Louis was no different from anyone else in the tent that night.”

He’s still no different from anyone else in the tent.

Here I want to say: I think there was something different and special going on between Catholics and Billy Graham. They saw, as Louis Zamperini, raised Catholic, saw, his earnestness, his confidence in his message. They saw him swimming against the modern tide, as they often felt they were. And maybe they looked and imagined the cost.

I asked the archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, if he saw this also. He emailed back: “When I was growing up, back in the 1950s, relations between Catholics and Protestants were still wary.” But Catholic families “felt that Billy Graham was the Protestant preacher they could feel a real kinship with. He had the ability to reach across all the fractures in Christianity and speak to the common believing heart.” Archbishop Chaput compared him to C.S. Lewis. “In a sense, he spoke the same kind of ‘mere’ Christianity that Lewis did so well, but with an American accent.”

As the big thing to be desired now is that we hold together as a nation and not split apart, Graham’s ecumenical force should be noted among his achievements.

Throughout his life Billy Graham had an air of “I’m not important, God is important.” It didn’t seem like a line but a conviction. He said once: “I am not going to Heaven because I have preached to great crowds. . . . I am going to Heaven just like the thief on the cross who said in that last moment, ‘Lord, remember me.’ ”

And Christ said: “This day you will be with me in Paradise.”

Graham’s son asked what he wanted on his gravestone. He thought and said, “Preacher.”

Since Wednesday morning one of his quotes was all over social media: “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

Rest in peace, American preacher man.

On to paradise. “Flights of Angels take thee to thy rest.”

I Love a Parade, but Not This One Trump’s supporters and opponents alike are decent and patriotic. If only he lived up to their standard.

Traveling this week in California and Texas, I was struck again by how every political discussion is about Donald Trump. People who used to bring up state races—“We’ve got a hot election for governor going on here”—rarely mention them, and immediately revert to the national. Like no other president in my lifetime, he obsesses the nation.

I heard two things that stuck with me and reminded me of what a lot of us know is the special tragedy of this moment—that most people on both sides of the pro- and anti- Trump divide are trying to be constructive, to think seriously and help the country. That is what makes our division so poignant.

Soviet Military ParadeA rock-solid Republican, a veteran of the Reagan wars who knows what it is to have all forces arrayed against you, spoke of opposing Mr. Trump. It isn’t a matter of style or snobbery, isn’t knee-jerk. The veteran said: People who are for Trump always say “Look, he’s got an unfortunate character and temperament, but he’s good on regulation, good on the courts.” The problem, the veteran said, is the but. Once you get to the but, you are normalizing him—you are making him normal, which means you are guaranteeing a future of President Trumps. That means you have lowered the presidency forever, changed it forever, just when the world’s problems are more dangerous, and thoughtfulness and wisdom more needed.

The veteran is trying to be protective, and a patriot.

Trump supporters, on the other hand, chose him and back him because he isn’t normal. They’d tried normal! It didn’t work! Of course he’s a brute, but his brutishness was the only thing that could surprise Washington, scare it, make it reform. Both parties are corrupt and look out only for themselves; he’s the one who wouldn’t be in hock to them and their donors. Is he weird? Yes. But it’s a weird country now. He’s the only one big enough to push back against what’s pushing us.

They were trying to be patriotic, too.

It is a central belief of Trump supporters that of course he’ll make mistakes—he’s not a politician, he’s new, he’ll learn. An underestimated aspect of Trump support is sheer human sympathy. They see him taking a pounding each day in the press and feel for him as a human being. The press misses this, but Mr. Trump doesn’t. He uses it.

The second thing I heard was from an executive in a large American company. He was frustrated. It was clear to me he wants Mr. Trump to succeed, and wants to support him, because in setting in place a deregulatory spirit in the government the president is helping his industry. And his industry employs a lot of people, pays well, and makes possible the building, expansion and peace of a lot of families.

His criticism went right at the Trump supporters’ faith that he will learn in the job. The executive said: He doesn’t learn! He’s not able to. He doesn’t have that mechanism inside that allows people to analyze problems and see their part in them. And without that you can’t improve.

I left thinking again it’s such a great country, filled with such thoughtful people. And pro- and anti-Trump not only is a division between two big groups but an inevitable collision between two good groups. And somebody’s going to win.

On three of the week’s events:

The Rob Porter story reminds us in part that life is mysterious, we are mysterious. He is by all accounts an impeccable public servant—correct in his bearing, helpful, modest, sound in judgment. A professional and a patriot. In his private sphere he was apparently a shambles—violent, unstable, an abuser of women. If his two former wives are speaking truthfully, he betrayed the classic pattern of the abuser: He roughs you up, is contrite, vows to change, roughs you up. But I keep thinking of something not directly related. “It’s hard to know another person’s motives,” a friend once said. “But then it’s almost impossible to know your own.” We are often mysteries to ourselves. The area between your true self and the mystery—that’s where trouble happens.

Trump foes find the story exciting. It is tragic. Wasted gifts are a terrible thing to see.

Scrutiny of the White House’s FBI clearance operation is legitimate. Those who work for presidents are subject to a full field investigation, and it’s a scary thing. They try to interview everyone you ever knew—and it’s the FBI, so you better play it straight. If Mr. Porter was working for a president after the FBI reported this, it is concerning.

You can’t really blackmail Donald Trump on personal conduct because nothing said about him would surprise or shock. Mr. Porter, however, was blackmailable. Why did they let him stay on? Maybe because they were desperate: He was a respected establishment pro who could do the job. The administration struggled to attract such people. Without them it was all Omarosa.

The stock market wobbled in a way that seemed dramatic. The president has perhaps learned he should not constantly brag about the Dow Jones Industrial Average as proof of his good economic stewardship. I am sure there is truth in what market analysts say: It was an inevitable correction after a strong rise, and driven by inflation fears and algorithms. I would add the big secret everyone knows both here and abroad and that occasionally springs to the forefront of the mind: A fundamental is unsound. Compared with other countries we look good, but compared with ourselves we do not. Our ratio of total debt to gross domestic product has grown to more than 100% and can’t keep growing forever. Because of it, no matter how high the market goes it will never feel sound. There is no congressional appetite for spending control because there is no public appetite for it.

No one in Washington is forging a plausible solution to the problem. So the markets may continue on an upward trajectory, but mood, fear and data will keep the economy unsteady.

The Journal’s Julie Bykowicz reported this week that the Pentagon is beginning to plan the big military parade ordered up by the president. He saw one in France during his state visit in July and liked it a lot. So we should have one too, perhaps on July 4, to honor the military.

It is a ridiculous and embarrassing idea. If you want to show respect for the military make the Veterans Affairs Department work. A big, pointless, militarist display with gleaming weapons and shining tanks is so . . . Soviet. What do you gain from showing off your weaponry? What are we celebrating—that we have nukes? That we have to have them is a tragedy.

“The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power.”

I see a line of thinking among those normally critical of the president that the idea’s a ten-strike: The people will love it, what’s wrong with it, who doesn’t like a parade?

But I think people will see right through it.

If there’s a parade that purports to honor our military men and women, they will go. But they’re not stupid, they’ll know what it is. It is Trump being Trump, and obsessing the nation. It’s bread and circuses.

And it is not like us, at least the old and honored us.

The Left’s Rage and Trump’s Peril The Democratic base is even worse-tempered than the president. But Mueller could still harpoon him.

The State of the Union speech was good—spirited, pointed, with a credible warmth for the heroes in the balcony, who were well chosen. They were beautiful human beings, and their stories were rousing—the cop and his wife who adopted the baby, the hardy North Korean defector who triumphantly waved his crutches, the mourning, dignified parents of the girls killed by MS-13. My beloved Cajun Navy.

The thing about the heroes in the balcony is it reminds you not of who the president is but of who we are. “With people like that we can’t miss.” I had that thought when Ronald Reagan gave tribute in 1985 to a young woman who as a child desperately fled Saigon as it fell. She and her family were among the boat people, spotted and saved by a U.S. ship. Reagan called her to stand, and Jean Nguyen stood—proudly, in the gleaming uniform of a West Point cadet. She would graduate within the year.

State of the UnionThe recognition of heroes in the balcony is called a cliché. It certainly is. An inspiring and truthful one, and long may it live.

The Democrats in the chamber were slumped, glowery. They had chosen to act out unbroken disdain so as to please the rising left of their party, which was watching and would review their faces. Some of them were poorly lit and seemed not resolute but Draculaic. The women of the party mostly dressed in black, because nothing says moral seriousness like coordinating your outfits.

Here it should be said of the rising left of the Democratic Party that they are numerous, committed, and have all the energy—it’s true. But they operate at a disadvantage they cannot see, and it is that they are loveless. The social justice warriors, the advancers of identity politics and gender politics, the young who’ve just discovered socialism—they run on rage.

But rage is a poor fuel in politics. It produces a heavy, sulfurous exhaust and pollutes the air. It’s also gets few miles per gallon. It has many powers but not the power to persuade, and if anything does them in it will be that. Their temperament is no better than Mr. Trump’s . It’s worse. But yes, they are intimidating the Democratic establishment, which robs itself of its dignity trying to please them. It won’t succeed.

As for the president’s base, I am coming to a somewhat different way of thinking about it. It’s true they are a minority, true that his approval ratings are not good, are in fact historically low for a president with a good economy at the end of a first year. But Mr. Trump has just more than a solid third of the nation. They are a spirited, confident core. What other political figure in this fractured, splintered country has a reliable third of the electorate? And it’s probably somewhat more than a third, because Trump supporters know they are not and will never be respected, and just as in 2016 you have to factor in the idea of shy Trump voters.

What they are not sufficiently concerned about is that Mr. Trump has not expanded his popularity. He has kept his core but failed to reach out consistently and successfully to others. He has not created coalitions.

His position is more precarious than his people see.

He has too much relished the role of divider. When you’re running for office you are every day dividing those who support you from those who don’t, and hoping your group is bigger. But when you win you reach out to your enemies with humility, with patience—with love!—and try to drag ’em in to sup in your tent. You don’t do this because you’re a hypocrite but because you’re an adult looking to win. Or a constructive idealist. That happens sometimes.

His supporters don’t know what he doesn’t know: He must grow or die.

They are happily watching The Trump Show as he sticks it to people they hate. They don’t know Shark Week is coming.

In November he may lose the House. That’s what the generic ballot says is coming, that’s what was suggested by last year’s GOP defeats in Virginia and Alabama.

I know what Republicans are thinking. They are going to run on an economy that is expanding thanks to tax reform and deregulation. They are going to run on bigger paychecks and unexpected bonuses. They’ll run on the appointment of conservative judges to balance out Barack Obama’s liberal judges at a time when the courts have taken a more powerful role in American culture. They’ll run on We Will Stop Illegal Immigration and Give a Break to the Children of Illegal Immigrants.

The Democrats, on the other hand, are running on Trump is unpopular and so is his party, he is a fascist, and any limit on immigration is like any limit on abortion, tyrannical on its face.

Republicans are thinking nobody’s noticing but they’re in a pretty good place. I suspect they are right.


Special counsel Robert Mueller will likely, before November, report his findings to the Justice Department, and you have to assume he is going to find something because special prosecutors exist to find something. When Mr. Mueller staffed up he hired Ahabs, and Ahabs exist to get the whale. You have to assume Mr. Trump will be harpooned, and the question is whether it’s a flesh wound or goes deeper. If it goes deep the Democrats may well win the House, in which case he will be impeached.

Trump supporters don’t view this with appropriate alarm. They comfort themselves with the idea that he is playing three-dimensional chess and his opponents are too stupid to see it. That’s not true—he is more ad hoc and chaotic than they think. They should help him by trying to improve his standing, which means telling him what doesn’t work.

He thinks he rouses and amuses his supporters with feuds and wars, tweets and grievances. In reality, as Trump supporters know, it’s something they put up with. For everyone else it’s alienating, evidence of instability.

He calls out fake news and wars with the press while at the same time betraying a complete and befuddled yearning for their approval. Mr. Trump is a little like Nixon in this—embittered and vengeful at not getting the admiration of those he says he doesn’t respect.

These things don’t speak of tactical or strategic brilliance.

His supporters argue the media is against him, and this is true and should be acknowledged. But they were totally opposed to Reagan, too. They more or less admit his greatness now, or at least concede his towering adequacy, in part because Trump-shock has left them reconsidering the bogeymen of the past, in part because they like all dead Republicans.

But Reagan didn’t need the press to feel like a big man or be a success, and Mr. Trump looks unmanned to be so destabilized by their antipathy.

The president’s supporters should be frank with him about his flaws. They’re so used to defending him, they forget to help him. They should give him the compliment of candor.

Who’s Afraid of Jordan Peterson? When a British interviewer tried to shut him up, I knew he had something interesting to say.

When I speak with young people beginning their careers I often tell them that in spite of the apparent formidableness of the adults around them—their mastery of office systems, their professional accomplishments, their sheer ability to last—almost everyone begins every day just trying to keep up their morale. Everyone’s trying to be hopeful about themselves and the world. People are more confused, even defeated by life, than they let on; many people—most—have times when they feel they’ve lost the plot, the thread. So go forward with appropriate compassion.

Clinical psychologist and social philosopher Jordan Peterson

Clinical psychologist and social philosopher Jordan Peterson

This flashed through my mind when I saw the interview this week between British television journalist Cathy Newman and clinical psychologist and social philosopher Jordan Peterson. It burned through the internet, in part because she was remarkably hostile and badgering: “What gives you the right to say that?” “You’re making vast generalizations.” He seemed mildly taken aback, then rallied and wouldn’t be pushed around. It was also interesting because she, the fiery, flame-haired aggressor, was so boring—her thinking reflected all the predictable, force-fed assumptions—while he, saying nothing revolutionary or even particularly fiery, was so interesting. When it was over, you wanted to hear more from him and less from her.

I wondered when I first read the headlines: What could a grown-up, seemingly stable professor (former associate professor of psychology at Harvard, full professor for 20 years at the University of Toronto) stand for that would make a journalist want to annihilate him on live TV—or, failing that, to diminish him or make him into a figure of fun?

He must have defied some orthodoxy. He must think the wrong things. He must be a heretic. Heretics must be burned.

I had not known of his work. The interview was to promote his second book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.” Mr. Peterson is called “controversial” because he has been critical, as an academic, of various forms of the rising authoritarianism of the moment—from identity politics to cultural appropriation to white privilege and postmodern feminism. He has refused to address or refer to transgendered people by the pronouns “zhe” and “zher.” He has opposed governmental edicts in his native Canada that aim, perhaps honestly, at inclusion, but in practice limit views, thoughts and speech.

This is unusual in a professor but not yet illegal, so I bought his book to encourage him.

In it he offers advice, much but not all of it based on decades of seeing patients as a psychologist, on the big eternal question: How to Live.

He is of the tough school: Know life’s limits, see and analyze your own, build on what you’ve got and can create.

And be brave. Everything else is boring and won’t work.

Deeper in, you understand the reasons he might be targeted for annihilation. First, he is an intellectual who shows a warm, scholarly respect for the stories and insights into human behavior—into the meaning of things—in the Old and New Testaments. (He’d like more attention paid to the Old.) Their stories exist for a reason, he says, and have lasted for a reason: They are powerful indicators of reality, and their great figures point to pathways. He respects the great thinkers of the West and the Christian tradition.

More undermining of the modernist project, Mr. Peterson states clearly more than once that grasping at political ideology is not the answer when your life goes wrong. There’s no refuge there, it’s a way of avoiding the real problem: “Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?”

That is a dangerous thing to say in an ideological age.

What should we do instead? Admit life ain’t for sissies. You will die and on the way to death you will suffer; throughout you will be harassed by evil, both in the world and in your heart: “Earthquakes, floods, poverty, cancer—we’re tough enough to take on all of that. But human evil adds a whole new dimension of misery to the world.”

The only appropriate stance: “Stand up straight with your shoulders back” and “accept the terrible responsibility of life with eyes wide open.” Literally: “Quit drooping and hunching around. Speak your mind.” Competitors and predators will start to assume you’re competent and able. Moreover, it will “encourage the serotonin to flow plentifully through the neural pathways desperate for its calming influence.”

“Aim up. Pay attention. Fix what you can fix.” Respect yourself, take part, keep “the machinery of the world running.”

Don’t be arrogant. “Become aware of your own insufficiency. . . . Consider the murderousness of your own spirit before you dare accuse others, and before you attempt to repair the fabric of the world. And above all, don’t lie. Don’t lie about anything, ever. Lying leads to Hell. It was the great and the small lies of the Nazi and Communist states that produced the death of millions of people.”

He’s suggesting here the personal is political, but not in the way that phrase is usually meant.

If I were of the radical established left, bent on squelching contending thought, I’d hate him too.

Success is a mystery, but failure is not: “To fail, you merely have to cultivate a few bad habits.” Drugs, drinking, not showing up, hanging around with friends who are looking to lose, who have no hopes for themselves or you. “Once someone has spent enough time cultivating bad habits and biding their time, they are much diminished. Much of what they could have been has dissipated,” he writes. “Surround yourself with people who support your upward aim.”

The past is fixed but the future is not. You can learn good by experiencing evil. “A bullied boy can mimic his tormentors. But he can also learn from his own abuse that it is wrong to push people around.” Your future is not preordained by experience; don’t be cowed by the stats. “It is true that many adults who abuse children were themselves abused. It is also true the majority of people who were abused as children do not abuse their own children.”

“Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.”

It is a good book, blunt and inspiring.

We live in a time when so many young (and not so young) people feel lost, unsure of how they should approach their lives, or life in general. Mr. Peterson talks about the attitudes that will help find the path. It is not a politically correct or officially approved path, but it is an intensely practical and yet heightened one: This life you’re living has meaning.

Back to the hostile interview, and the labeling of Mr. Peterson as “controversial,” which is a way of putting a warning label on his work. When people, especially those in a position of authority, like broadcasters, try so hard to shut a writer up, that writer must have something to say.

When cultural arbiters try to silence a thinker, you have to assume he is saying something valuable.

So I bought and read the book. A small thing, but it improved my morale.

America Needs More Gentlemen The age of social media has worked against the ideas of decorum, dignity and self-control.

I used to think America needed a parent to help it behave. Now I think it needs a grandparent. Our culture has been so confused for so long on so many essentials, and has gotten so crosswise on the issue of men and women, that we need more than ever the wisdom of the aged.

That was my thought as I read this week’s sexual-harassment story, about the 30-something TV star, the girl in her 20s and their terrible date.

The woman in the story, recounted on the website, went unnamed, and it doesn’t feel right to add to the man’s social-media misery. Nor is it necessary to assign blame since they were both such hapless representatives of their sex.

They had one thing in common: They were impressed by his celebrity. He deploys it to get what he wants, she wanted to be close to it. They met at an industry party, flirted by text; he asked her to his apartment and took her to a restaurant where he rushed her through dinner. They returned to his home, where he immediately made overt sexual advances, which she accepted but did not want. She seems to have had no sense that any outward show of respect was due her. Taken aback by how quickly he was moving, she tried to slow things via “nonverbal cues.” Among them was allowing him to perform oral sex on her, and performing it on him, which in fairness he might have interpreted as an indication of enthusiasm. She is an articulate person but was for some reason unable to say, “Stop, this is not what I want. I have to leave.” At no point does she allege he threatened her, either physically or professionally, or tried to bar the door.

He was boorish, a slob, what used to be called a wolf. He wished to use her sexually and didn’t understand her reservations. Isn’t that what first dates are for?

Is he a creep? Of course. She has been accused of trying to jump onto the #MeToo movement, painting herself as a victim, and exhibiting no sense of “agency.” (Though she is at least competent at revenge.) She expects us to understand why she didn’t walk out. Why did she stay, and expect such a gross figure suddenly to show sensitivity? In his interactions as she reports them, he never pretended not to be a pig.

Here is why we’re discussing this. All the stories we’ve read the past few months about predators—not those accused of rape and sexual assault, which are crimes, but of general piggishness, grabbiness, manipulation and power games—have a common thread. The men involved were not gentlemen. They acted as if they’d never heard of the concept.

We have lost track of it. In the past 40 years, in the movement for full equality, we threw it over the side. But we should rescue that old and helpful way of being. The whole culture, especially women, needs The Gentleman back.

A person of the cultural left would say that is a hopelessly patriarchal thing to say. But one thing the #MeToo movement illustrates is that women are often at particular risk in the world, and need friends and allies to stand with them. That would be men. And the most reliable of them are gentlemen.

There are a million definitions of what a gentleman is, and some begin with references to being born to a particular standing. But in America any man could be one who had the guts to withstand the demands.

The dictionary says a gentleman is a chivalrous, courteous, honorable man. That’s a good, plain definition. The Urban Dictionary says: “The true gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will . . . whose self control is equal to all emergencies, who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity.” That’s good, too.

Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn

Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn in ‘The Philadelphia Story’ (1940).

A website called Gentleman’s Journal offers a list of 20 traits that make a man a gentleman. I liked “A gentleman always walks a woman home.” He doesn’t pack her off alone to an Uber downstairs, in the back of which she weeps as she sends her friends horrified texts, which is what happened with the Hollywood star and the girl. I liked, “A gentleman ruins his lover’s lipstick, not her mascara.” And “If a woman comes with baggage, a gentleman helps her unpack it.”

A gentleman is good to women because he has his own dignity and sees theirs. He takes opportunities to show them respect. He is not pushy, manipulative, belittling. He stands with them not because they are weak but because they deserve friendship. Once at a gathering of women in media, I spoke of a columnist who years before had given me helpful critiques of my work and urged me on. “A gentleman is an encourager of women.”

It goes deeper than memorizing and repeating certain behaviors, such as standing when a woman or an older person enters the room. That is a physical expression of inner regard. Being a gentleman involves not only manners but morals. The 19th-century theologian John Henry Newman —an Anglican priest who became a Catholic cardinal—said a gentleman tries not to inflict pain. He tries to remove the obstacles “which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him.” He is “tender toward the bashful, gentle toward the distant, and merciful toward the absurd. . . . He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantage.”

David Gandy, a fashion model, wrote a few years ago in London’s Telegraph that his work had taught him “being a gentleman isn’t about what you do or what you wear, it’s about how you behave and who you are.” A gentleman “holds chivalry and politeness in great regard. He holds the door for people; he gives up his seat; he takes off his coat to a lady on a cold evening.” These are old-fashioned actions, but a gentleman still holds to them “even though the world has changed.”

Yes, a gentleman does.

A man once told me it’s hard to be a gentleman when fewer of the women around you seem interested in being ladies. But that’s when you should step up your gentleman game. We are all here to teach and inspire.

By the way, I notice there are definitions of what a gentleman is and how you can be one all over the internet.

Someone must be looking for this information. That’s good.

The age of social media has worked against the ideas of decorum, dignity and self-control—the idea of being a gentleman. You can, anonymously, be your lowest, most brutish self, and the lowering spreads like a virus.

But you can’t judge a nation by its comment threads, or let’s hope so. You can judge it by its struggle to maintain standards. For inspiration we end with Hollywood, with Jimmy Stewart in “The Philadelphia Story.” The character played by Katharine Hepburn makes a pass at him, and he notes he could have taken advantage of the moment but she’d been drinking and “there are rules about that.”

Here’s to the rules, and the gentlemen who help keep them alive.