‘Button’ It, Mr. President JFK and Reagan had the good sense not to speak flippantly about nuclear weapons.

From the Oval Office address by President John F. Kennedy informing Americans of the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, Oct. 22, 1962: “Our policy has been one of patience and restraint, as befits a peaceful and powerful nation which leads a world-wide alliance. We have been determined not to be diverted from our central concerns by mere irritants and fanatics. But now further action is required, and it is under way; and these actions may only be the beginning. We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of world-wide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth; but neither will we shrink from that risk at any time it must be faced.”

Cuban Missile Crisis

President Kennedy meets with U.S. Army officials during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

From his commencement address at American University, June 10, 1963: “What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children. Not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women; not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.

“I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age when great powers can maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost 10 times the explosive force delivered by all of the allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations yet unborn.”

From the address by President Ronald Reagan after the summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Oct. 13, 1986: “I told him I had pledged to the American people that I would not trade away SDI”—the Strategic Defense Initiative. “There was no way I could tell our people that their government would not protect them against nuclear destruction. I went to Reykjavik determined that everything was negotiable except two things: our freedom and our future. I am still optimistic that a way will be found. The door is open, and the opportunity to begin eliminating the nuclear threat is within reach.”

From Reagan’s remarks at the signing, with Mr. Gorbachev, of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, at the White House, Dec. 8, 1987: “The numbers alone demonstrate the value of this agreement. On the Soviet side, over 1,500 deployed warheads will be removed, and all ground-launched intermediate-range missiles, including the SS-20s, will be destroyed. On our side, our entire complement of Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles, with some 400 deployed warheads, will all be destroyed. Additional backup missiles on both sides will also be destroyed. But the importance of this treaty transcends numbers. We have listened to the wisdom in an old Russian maxim. And I’m sure you’re familiar with it, Mr. General Secretary, though my pronunciation may give you difficulty. The maxim is: Dovorey no provorey—trust, but verify.”

Mr. Gorbachev: “You repeat that at every meeting. [Laughter]”

Reagan: “I like it. [Laughter]”

This is how American presidents have always talked about nuclear weapons and the nuclear age—blunt, direct, factual and clear: We never want these weapons used again.

Until now. President Donald Trump’s tweet, 7:49 p.m., Jan. 2, 2018: “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times,’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

We’re not going in the right direction, are we?

Here are the reasons Mr. Trump’s tweet is destructive and dangerous.

Because it is cavalier about a subject that could not be graver. Because the language and venue reflect an immature mind, the grammar and usage a cluttered and undisciplined one. By raising the possibility of nuclear exchange on social media, the president diminishes the taboo against nuclear use. Anything you can joke about on Twitter has lost its negative mystique. Destigmatizing the idea of nuclear use makes it more acceptable, more possible—more likely. Bragging about your arsenal makes it sound as if nuclear weapons are like other weapons, when they’re not.

Using a taunting public tone toward an adversary such as Mr. Kim, who may be mad, heightens the chance of nuclear miscalculation. The president’s tweet is an attempt to get under the skin of a sociopath. Is it a good idea to get under the skin of a sociopath who enjoys shooting missiles?

Blithe carelessness on an issue with such high stakes lowers world respect for American leadership. It undermines our standing as a serious and moral player, which is the only kind of player you would trust, and follow, in a crisis.

The sober and respected Sam Nunn represented Georgia as a Democrat in the U.S. Senate from 1972 to 1997, and is co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit trying to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction. “The danger of nuclear use is greater now than during the Cold War,” he said. The impact of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric? “It increases the risk of blunder.”

There are more nuclear nations, more independent actors, including terrorist groups. “Nuclear material is not fully secured, scientific knowledge of how to make a bomb is increased.” And there is the cyber threat—hacking into weapons systems, supplying false data. “Want a war between India and Pakistan?” Mr. Nunn says. “Simulate a missile attack.” Make it appear missiles are incoming when they’re not.

The risky world becomes riskier. “Add to that the heated rhetoric and name calling, and that increases risk and lays the foundation for a catastrophic blunder.”

You always fear miscalculation and misinterpretations, he says. But the chance of a blundering into disaster is probably greater than the chance of deliberate use.

Mr. Nunn notes we have been lucky that 73 years into the nuclear age there have been no accidental launches, no catastrophic decisions. The nuclear nations have been careful, professional, restrained. But yes, we’ve been lucky.

And should do nothing to press that luck.

Bragging about nuclear arms increases the likelihood of proliferation. “If we’re trying to get countries around the world not to go nuke, then we shouldn’t talk in a way that enhances their importance,” Mr. Nunn says. “There’s a lot of countries out there looking to take their small button and make it into a big button.”

By the way, Reagan’s INF Treaty, that turning point in the history of arms control, remains in force but could unravel due to charges of violations and bad faith. Keeping it up and operating will require work but be heartening for the world.

Focus there. And don’t tweet about it.

The Lies of ‘The Crown’ and ‘The Post’ When people get history from entertainment, Hollywood’s obligation to the truth is heightened.

We often write of the urgent need for more truth in politics. A hope for 2018 is more truth in art and entertainment, too.

The past week I watched the Netflix series “The Crown” and Steven Spielberg’s movie “The Post.” Each is enjoyable, yet fails in the same significant way.

Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in ‘The Crown.’

Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in ‘The Crown.’

There’s dramatic license, which is necessary or nothing’s fun, and historical truth, which is necessary or nothing’s understood. Ideally in any work they more or less coexist, however imperfectly. But in “The Crown” and “The Post” the balance is far off. A cheap historical mindlessness marks much of the first, and there’s a lie at the heart of the second.

I couldn’t help like “The Crown”: it was so beautiful to me. The acting, the stillness, all the money and thought that went into making the rooms look right, the period clothing, right down to the cuff links—in these matters the creators are deeply faithful to reality. In its treatment of history, however, there’s a deep, clueless carelessness.

Example: The treatment of future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan is churlish and unknowing. He was not a sallow, furtive weasel of a man, which is how he is portrayed; he was a politician whose humanity, courage and wit even his adversaries acknowledged. He did not deviously scheme, during the Suez crisis, to unseat Prime Minister Anthony Eden, who did not throw a pen at him and call him a liar in a cabinet meeting.

 

As prime minister his weekly meetings with the queen were not testy, marked by condescension on his side and strained patience on hers. He respected and admired her; she became his confidante. In his diaries he called her “a great support because she is the one person you can talk to.” He would not have taunted her with the glamour and intelligence of her supposed rival, Jackie Kennedy. He would not have taunted her at all.

As for what is said of his private life, he realized early in his marriage that his wife, Dorothy, had fallen “irrevocably in love” (in the words of biographer Alistair Horne), with Robert Boothby, a brilliant member of Parliament who was a bit unstable in the way of bright English politicians. Their relationship continued almost 40 years.

Everyone knew of it. It was the great wound of Macmillan’s life. He considered divorce, but stayed. “I had everything from her, owed everything to her,” he explained in a late-in-life interview. “I told her I’d never let her go.”

He was not a man who, as “The Crown” has it, would drive her to her assignations like a pimp.

More absurd is the series’ treatment of President and Mrs. Kennedy. JFK was not, as “The Crown” asserts, enraged with his wife for dazzling Paris on their first state trip to Europe. He was thrilled at her success; it elevated him on the world stage. Suddenly he saw her as what she was, a political asset to be deployed. She transfixed Charles de Gaulle, that stern and starchy old man who was always mad at America, often with good reason. Biographer Richard Reeves quotes JFK to his wife: “ ‘Well,’ he told her, ‘I’m dazzled.’ ”

There is nothing—literally nothing—to support the assertion in “The Crown” that after the trip JFK, in a rage at being upstaged by his wife, drank, threw things and lunged at her. There is no historical evidence that he ever got rapey with his wife.

Also he didn’t smoke cigarettes.

All of this, and more, is so vulgar, dumb and careless. It is disrespectful not only of real human beings but of history itself.

A bonus anecdote, only because it’s real and I like it: When JFK met with Prime Minister Macmillan after Paris, he complained of some press coverage of Jackie. JFK was indignant. “How,” he asked, “would you respond if the newspapers called Lady Dorothy a drunk?” MacMillan replied: “I’d respond, ‘You should have seen her mother!’ ” Kennedy roared.

Now to “The Post.” When you can say you spent two enjoyable hours watching a movie, it’s a good movie. But it’s not an honest one.

Others have noted flaws. The movie is a celebration of the Washington Post for printing the top-secret Pentagon Papers, which revealed U.S. government lies about the Vietnam War. But it was the New York Times that showed the greater enterprise—it got the story first—and the greater valor, because its editors could not fully guess the legal repercussions and would presumably have to handle them on their own.

But what the heck: It’s still a good story, and the Post did show style.

What is bad is the lie at the movie’s heart. President Nixon is portrayed as the villain of the story. And that is the opposite of the truth.

Nixon did not start the Vietnam War, he ended it. His administration was not even mentioned in the Pentagon Papers, which were finished before he took office.

When that dark, sad man tried to halt publication of the document, he was protecting not his own reputation but in effect those of others. Those others were his political adversaries—Lyndon Johnson and Ben Bradlee’s friend JFK—who the papers revealed had misled the public. If Nixon had been merely self-interested, he would have faked umbrage and done nothing to stop their publication. Even cleverer, he could have decried the leaking of government secrets while declaring and bowing to the public’s right to know.

Instead, he did what he thought was the right thing—went to court to prevent the publication of secrets that might harm America’s diplomatic standing while it attempted to extricate itself from a war.

Being Nixon, of course, he had to crow, in a way that became public, that he was sticking it to those liberals in the press. His attempt to stop publication was wrong—the public did have a right to know. But he did what he thought was the responsible thing, and of course pays for it to this day.

Were the makers of “The Post” ignorant of all this? You might think so if it weren’t for the little coda they tag on to the end. Suddenly a movie about the Pentagon Papers is depicting the Watergate break-in, which would take place a year later. As if to say: OK, Nixon isn’t really the villain of our story, but he became a villain soon enough. It struck me not as a failed attempt at resolving a drama but an admission of a perpetrated injustice.

Why does all this matter? Because we are losing history. It is not the fault of Hollywood, as they used to call it, but Hollywood is a contributor to it.

When people care enough about history to study and read it, it’s a small sin to lie and mislead in dramas. But when people get their history through entertainment, when they absorb the story of their times only through screens, then the tendency to fabricate is more damaging.

Those who make movies and television dramas should start caring about this.

It is wrong in an age of lies to add to their sum total. It’s not right. It will do harm.

This Tax Bill May Do Some Good But a dignified celebration would have been better than the embarrassing White House rally.

On the tax bill we begin grouchy and wind up, as befits the season, hopeful.

Grouchy: Wednesday afternoon’s big White House rally celebrating its passage was embarrassing. All these grown men and women slathering personal, obsequious, over-the-top praise—“exquisite presidential leadership,” “a man of action,” “the president of the United States, whom I love and appreciate so much”—as Donald Trump emceed and called new praisers to the stage. They do this to keep the president happy, feed his needy ego and insist on his competency. It looked less like praise than self-abasement.

President Donald J. Trump and Republican lawmakers

President Donald J. Trump and Republican lawmakers

Actually, and I’m sorry to say this, the mood reminded me of the tale of Stalin telling some lame joke in a dinner speech. His ministers all laughed as if it were the wittiest thing they ever heard. Then they kept laughing, louder, and wouldn’t stop, because they knew the first one to stop would be noticed by Stalin and would soon be gone. So boy did they laugh.

The president thinks this kind of thing makes him look good. It doesn’t, it diminishes him: Keep the buffoon happy. Here is what would make him look good, and elevate him: normal human modesty. If he modestly waved off the praise, shut it down, said, “Please, let’s talk about the bill and how it will help our country . . .”

He would look bigger, as modest people always do, and his praisers would not look smaller.

On to hope: The fair way to judge the tax bill was never through the mindless, whacked-out rhetoric on both sides—the worst bill in the history of the world, the best thing since Coolidge was a pup—but through the answer to one question: Will this bill make things a little better or a little worse? There is much reason to believe it will make things better. It is imperfect, to say the least. But it is good to cut the corporate rate from an absurd and uncompetitive 35% to a more constructive 21%; it is compassionate to double the child tax credit; it is fair to cut taxes for small businesses, many of which are struggling.

America is waiting and hoping for a boom. By all means encourage the circumstances in which it can take place.

And the bill is going to prove popular. The Democrats bet wrong on this. Almost immediately on passage, Wells Fargo and Fifth Third Bancorp announced a raise in their lowest wage to $15 an hour. AT&T said it would give about 200,000 unionized workers a $1,000 bonus and increase capital spending $1 billion. Comcast said it would give 100,000 employees bonuses and spend more than $50 billion in infrastructure improvement.

You can sit back in your sophisticated way and say, “Hmm, that looks like a curiously orchestrated public relations push.” You can say, “How nice, the malefactors of great wealth are giving their workers a little tip.” You can wonder if they’re spreading cheap good cheer to grease their mergers. But if you are working the line in Smalltown, U.S.A., and just got bumped up to $15, or you’ve been surprised by an unexpected thousand dollars at Christmastime, you will see this not as a tip but as a real and concrete break, thanks to that most unexpected of benefactors, the U.S. government.

Who cares about CEOs’ motives if they’re doing something good?

It is true the tax bill is not popular in the polls. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC survey put support at 24% with 41% opposing it. But here’s something I’ve been meaning to mention for a while: During the Reagan era, I noticed a funny thing about public opinion and tax policy. When you run for office and promise you’ll cut taxes, the crowd cheers lustily. Then once in office you put together a tax bill and the polls show public support is lukewarm. Then you pass it and its popularity bubbles around in the polls. Then an election comes and you win and the voters tell pollsters they backed you because you cut taxes. There are a lot of reasons this might be—a campaign vow is intentional and abstract, a final bill is real and messy—but I suspect there’s something in this: Voters don’t like to tell pollsters they’re for tax cuts. They have the feeling it’s the wrong position, that it’s small-minded and if they were nicer, they’d be less self-interested.

Anyway, polling doesn’t matter right now. Down the road it matters.

As for me, I am interested in my own lack of sustained dismay. I share this information because I’m wondering if there isn’t something of a broader public mood in my reaction. As a salaried worker in a high-tax state, I am about to get clobbered with the loss of the state and local tax deduction. And yet I find myself not minding so much. America is in so much and so many kinds of trouble that if this thing makes it a little better, then OK. Please, 2018 tax bill, make it better.

I end with this. This bill gives American big business more than a boatload of money, it offers a historic opportunity—a timely and perhaps final one.

Big corporations can take the gift of the tax cut (and the continuance of the carried interest loophole, that scandal) and do superficial, pleasing public relations sort of things, while really focusing on buying back stock and upping shareholder profits.

And they’ll do this if they’re stupid, and craven.

Or they could set themselves to saving the system that made them, and helping the country that made their lives possible.

They can in some new way see themselves as citizens—as members of America, as people with a stake in this nation, a responsibility for it. They can broaden, invest, hire, expand and start the kinds of projects that take the breath away. They can literally get young men and women out of the house, into the workplace, learning something. They can change and save lives. This would be costly. Spend.

One of our two political parties is being swept by a young and rising new left that is fiercely progressive and on fire for socialism. It may well in coming decades sweep the CEOs and their corporations away if they cannot rouse themselves to present economic freedom as an ultimate and democratic good.

This may be the last opportunity for business leaders to do what hasn’t been done in a generation, and that is defend the reputation of capitalism.

Wall Street once had statesmen; it wasn’t dominated by dumb quarterly-report jockeys. Shareholders were assumed to be patriots, and grateful ones, because they had so profited from the luck of being born here, into a system where the quick and sturdy could go from nothing to everything.

That system is troubled. If they cannot see private interest as utterly aligned right now with public interest, then they are truly as stupid and venal as their enemies take them to be.

Are they? I hope not. But I also hope they see this moment for what it is.

And now on to Christmas. God bless us every one.

Alabama Teaches America a Lesson All of us need to sober up, think about the long term, and be aware of the impression we’re making.

In 2018, we have to do better, all of us. We need to improve. In the area of politics this means, in part: sober up, think about the long term, be aware of the impression you’re making, of what people will infer from your statements and actions. So much hinges on the coming year—who is in Congress and what they think they were sent there to do, the results of the Mueller investigation. If the latter finds crimes and the former goes Democratic there will be moves for impeachment in 2019. There will be international crises as always, but 2018 may produce one of unprecedented historical gravity in nuked-up North Korea.

This is a dead-serious time, and we keep forgetting it because the times have been serious so long.

Senator-elect Doug Jones

Senator-elect Doug Jones

It might help if all public actors, from leaders and investigators to journalists and voters, made a simple vow to make it a little better, not a little worse. The other night a dinner partner marveled at the expensive new fitness monitor he wears on his wrist. I wish there were an Ethical Fitbit that could report at the end of each day that you’d taken 12,304 constructive steps, some uphill, or 3,297 destructive ones, and appropriate action is warranted.

There is inspiration in the Alabama outcome. To see it in terms of the parties or Steve Bannon is to see it small. The headline to me: American political standards made a comeback. Roy Moore’s loss was not a setback for the GOP; it was a setback for freakishness. It was an assertion of prudential judgment by the electorate, and came as a relief. A friend landed at JFK on an international flight on election night. As the plane taxied to the gate, the pilot came on the PA and announced that Doug Jones was in the lead. The entire plane, back to front, burst into applause. “A big broad nerve was hit in this thing,” said the friend, an American and political conservative. He meant not only here but around the world.

Thirty-three states have U.S. Senate races next year. Primary voters should absorb what happened to Alabama Republicans after they picked Mr. Moore. They took it right in the face. They misjudged their neighbors. They were full of themselves. They rejected the sure victories offered by other contestants and chose a man whom others easily detected as not well-meaning. They weren’t practical or constructive and they didn’t think about the long term. They didn’t, for instance, take into account that there were independents in the state whose support could be gained with the fielding of a more serious Republican.

And now they’ve lost it all. Voters in coming primaries should observe and absorb. There is something we have been saying in this space for almost a decade, since the Sarah Palin experience. Something happened when she ran. Suddenly to seem real and authentic some Republican candidates thought they had to be polar and extreme. They had to show umbrage, signal resentment, wave guns. But these are not indications of authenticity. They are a sign voters are being played, probably by a grifter. When a candidate is equable and experienced it is not a sign of cynicism and not evidence that he is “establishment.” It’s a sign he can maybe do a good job—and win. Conservatives who are real conservatives don’t ape the social-justice left and make politics a daily freak show. They keep their cool, argue their case, build broad appeal and become, in this way, politically deadly.

Which gets us as always to President Trump. The Alabama number that should scare him was in the exit polls. In 2016 Mr. Trump won the state with 62% of the vote, to Hillary Clinton’s 34%. Tuesday night the exits had him at 48% approve, 48% disapprove. And this within a national context of good economic news.

Mr. Trump’s political malpractice has been to fail, since his election, to increase his popularity and thus his power. He has a core but it remains a core. He could have broadened his position with a personal air of stability and moderation, and with policies that were soft-populist. He has failed to do so, primarily due to his self-indulgence—his tendency to heat things up when he should cool them down; his tendency always to make the situation a little worse, not a little better. His tweets, his immaturity, his screwball resentments and self-pity alienate and offend.

Trumpism led by a competent or talented Trump would have been powerful and pertinent to the moment. It would have reoriented the Republican Party in terms of understanding that its own base was increasingly populist, yet also ideologically moderate. That new understanding hasn’t developed.

The great and fateful question now, the one to which we may well get an answer in 2018, is: Can this man lead through a crisis? That is the question that has to be on your mind when you think about North Korea. Can he be credible, persuasive; will Americans feel they can follow him? Will the West? No one looks forward to finding the answers to these questions.

As to his foes in the other party, the biggest silence in American political life is not from the Republicans, who can’t stop arguing. It is from the Democrats when they are asked what they stand for. What economic policy do they want? What is the plan, the arrangement they hope to institute? What philosophy are they trying to put in place? What in terms of foreign policy do they want?

Domestically the only thing they’re clear on is identity politics. Who’s going to unite or find the place of common ground between the rising left and the older middle? What program can accomplish that?

Donald Trump has been a great gift to the Democrats. Opposition to him is the one thing that keeps them united. But he won’t be there forever—they’ll try to see to that!—and when he’s gone, the squirrels will really begin to fly.

Finally the FBI, the Justice Department and the special counsel look dinged right now. Those who support serious probes to answer big questions and thus support the Russia investigations, as I do, hope whatever findings come from the special counsel are and can be treated with respect. To earn it the investigators must appear every day to be clean as a hound’s tooth. Is that how it’s looking? Or are critics getting ammunition?

Snotty, partisan text messages between FBI investigators, including one in which an agent said he could “smell” the Trump supporters at Walmart, expressed anti-Trump biases. Government employees have a right to political opinions, but the FBI, Justice Department and special counsel should be running a tighter ship. During the Clinton-Lewinsky wars, the left went after Independent Counsel Ken Starr, sliming him as surrounded by Republican operatives. It did him, and America, no good.

We are a divided country. The special counsel’s findings could prove momentous. Everyone involved should sober up, think about the long term, and be aware of the impression they’re making.

Al Franken Departs Without Grace And a reminder for Alabama voters and social conservatives that character is crucial.

Al Franken has promised under pressure to step down from the U.S. Senate “in the coming weeks.” He was not accused of such grave crimes as rape or preying on underage children. He was accused instead of grabbing, fondling, lunging at and humiliating seven women. If true, and I think we see a pattern here, this would make him a pig, a bully and a hypocrite. His departure, while personally sad, is no loss to American democracy.

It was not mad Puritanism that chased him from office; it was his colleagues’ finally, belatedly announcing and establishing standards of behavior. This is not an unreasonable or unhelpful thing to do.

Senator Al Franken

Senator Al Franken

Journalists and political figures of my generation have been wryly remembering what we had to put up with in the old days—how a woman couldn’t get on an elevator with Sen. Strom Thurmond without being pinched or patted. All true. But even Thurmond would not have survived a photo of him leering over a sleeping woman and posing—deliberately, perhaps sadistically, so the moment could be memorialized—as he grabbed or simulated grabbing her breasts, which is what Mr. Franken did. The Franken case represents not a collapse of tolerance for flawed human behavior but a rise of judgment about what is acceptable.

People speak of mixed motives and say it’s all brute politics. The Democrats are positioning themselves for the high ground should Republican Roy Moore be elected. They’re aligning themselves with the passions of their base, while clearing the way for a probe into sexual-harassment accusations against the president. New York’s Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who led the charge that forced Mr. Franken’s departure, hopes to run for president in 2020 as a champion of women, so the move was happily on-brand. I don’t doubt all of this is true. Little in politics comes from wholly clean hands.

The speech in which Mr. Franken announced he would leave was too clever. Rather than a quick, dignified statement in which he put the scandal on his back and bore it away, he spoke on the Senate floor for 11 minutes. He milked it. Modesty was called for, but he wasn’t modest. He spoke of hard work and sacrifice, said it often wasn’t fun, asserted he “improved people’s lives.” Of the charges: “Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others, I remember very differently.” He seemed to want the female Senators who’d asked him to step down to feel guilty. As a senator, “I have used my power to be a champion of women, and . . . I’ve earned a reputation as someone who respects the women I work alongside every day.”

He named as a key issue fighting for “kids facing bullying.”

He took a hard shot at President Trump and Mr. Moore, finding “irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assaults sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.” The latter is not true, and a professional like Mr. Franken would know it. If Mr. Moore had the full support of his party, the polls would not be close, and Mr. Moore’s supporters would not be daily denouncing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican establishment.

The bitter tone was odd in a speech summing up a political life, but perhaps he means to extend it. We’ll see. He spent a lot of time lauding the people of Minnesota.

Mr. Franken’s weakness as a political figure was having no sympathy for those who disagree with him, not bothering to understand how the other side thinks, while always claiming for himself the high moral ground. This now common attitude frays political bonds; once it was considered poor political comportment.

Mr. Franken is a media master who has spent his entire adult life in front of a camera. He will no doubt go on to write books, teach, go on television. “I’ll be fine,” he said. Who would doubt it? In coming years he may slyly position himself as the victim, long ago, of a mindless moral backlash. He is talented and this may come to be believed.

As for the Alabama Senate election, in a strikingly good New York Times essay this week, Commentary’s Sohrab Ahmari told Christian conservatives, especially those who’ll vote next week, some things they needed to hear. Mr. Ahmari stated forthrightly what many, including in this space, have been casting about for and not quite achieved.

Calling himself “a staunch social conservative,” Mr. Ahmari addressed evangelicals and social conservatives—“people I consider allies”—about their embrace of Mr. Moore, the subject of credible charges of sexual predation.

The question of how social conservatives “should practice politics in the age of Trump” has again presented itself, Mr. Ahmari observes. The president offers them “an appealing menu of policies and judicial nominations,” and it is understandable that they’d find them attractive “after a decade during which the left embraced a new, aggressive mode of secular progressivism and continued its war against tradition long after it had won most courtroom and ballot-box battles.”

But “vulgar populists” exact too high a price, Mr. Ahmari adds—namely, “complicity in the degradation, conspiracism, thinly veiled bigotry and leader-worship that is their stock in trade.” A public culture “informed by the Bible and traditional morality is essential to America’s constitutional order,” but the answer is not to accept “a terrible bargain” by backing men such as Moore.

Putting conservative judges on the federal bench “is not the only path to political success in America.” Mr. Trump picked Neil Gorsuch, to his credit. But any of the 2016 GOP contenders would have picked someone similar. We look to our leaders not only to enact policies but “to represent our nation on the global stage with the dignity that their offices demand.” American exceptionalism takes a hit every time the president demeans someone on Twitter; the Senate will be harmed if Mr. Moore is seated.

“Idolatry of class, nation, race and leader is a constant temptation for people of faith, and too many are succumbing to it today,” Mr. Ahmari writes. Supporters of Messrs. Trump and Moore are deeply and understandably pessimistic: “Many fear that under secularism’s relentless onslaught, Judeo-Christianity will be banished,” in time, from the public square. “I feel similar angst.”

But in our time “the Christian idea bested Soviet Communism, an ideology that was far more hostile to religious faith than America’s Enlightenment liberalism has ever been.” In America, Christians have “the First Amendment and freedom of conscience.” And there are other reasons for optimism. The sexual abuse scandals themselves suggest liberals may be rethinking “some aspects of the sexual revolution.”

Noting that “Christians are called to live in faith, hope and charity,” Mr. Ahmari urges them not let fear drive them to tie their fate to insufficient and inadequate leaders.

It is sound if hard advice: Don’t let your fears—even wholly legitimate ones—drive you. Hold on, have faith, retain standards.

In the short term this can be difficult. In the long run it’s the only way to win.

John Paul II’s Prescient 1995 Letter to Women He wrote of ‘the long and degrading history . . . of violence against women in the area of sexuality.’

Sometimes you have to take a step back, remove yourself from the moment, and try to ground yourself in what is true, elevated, even eternal. Let’s do that.

The week has lent itself to a feeling of instability. The president has deliberately added to the rancor and tension of his nation’s daily life, lurching in his tweets from mischief to malice to a kind of psychopathology—personal attacks, insinuations, videos from a group labeled racist by the British government. You always want to say he has reached peak crazy, but you know there’s a higher peak on the horizon. What will Everest look like? He has no idea how to be president.

More men of the media have fallen in the reckoning over sexual abuse, most famously a bright, humorous, ratings-busting veteran anchorman, who reportedly had a switch on his desk that locked his office door so he could molest the women he’d trapped inside. He had no idea how to be a man.

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II during a meeting with young people in Turin, Italy.

Here is something to ground us in the good: Pope John Paul II’s 1995 Letter to Women, sent to the Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing. As a document it has more or less fallen through history’s cracks. But it’s deeply pertinent to this moment and was written with pronounced warmth by a man who before he became a priest hoped to be a playwright. Here is what he said:

You would never be so low as to abuse women if you knew what they are and have been in the history of humanity: “Women have contributed to that history as much as men and, more often than not, they did so in much more difficult conditions. I think particularly of those women who loved culture and art, and devoted their lives to them in spite of the fact that they were frequently at a disadvantage” in education and opportunity. Women have been “underestimated, ignored and not given credit for their intellectual contributions.” Only a small part of their achievements have been documented, and yet humanity knows that it “owes a debt” to the “great, immense, feminine ‘tradition.’ ” But, John Paul exclaimed, “how many women have been and continue to be valued more for their physical appearance than for their skill, their professionalism, their intellectual abilities, their deep sensitivity; in a word, the very dignity of their being!”

In a highly personal tone—the italics are his—he offers his appreciation: “Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life—social, economic, cultural, artistic and political.” You “unite reason and feeling” and establish “economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.”

He thanked women who are mothers, daughters and wives: “Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman.”

Women, he observed, have “in every time and place” suffered abuse, in part because of “cultural conditioning,” which has been “an obstacle” to their progress. “Women’s dignity has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude. This has prevented women from truly being themselves, and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity.” Poor thinking and cold hearts have contributed to the conditioning; some blame “has belonged to not just a few members of the Church.”

Members of the Christian faith must look both back and forward. To free women “from every kind of exploitation and domination,” we must learn from “the attitude of Jesus Christ himself,” who transcended “the established norms of his own culture” and “treated women with openness, respect, acceptance and tenderness.”

There is “an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area; equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regard to family rights.”

And listen to this alarm—again, from 22 years ago: John Paul hit hard on “the long and degrading history . . . of violence against women in the area of sexuality”: “The time has come to condemn . . . the types of sexual violence which frequently have women for their object, and to pass laws which effectively defend them from such violence.”

There is more, and I urge you to read it, but it is a very modern document, a feminist statement in the best sense. When a friend sent it this week and I reread it, what I thought was: If all the now-famous sexual abusers had ever pondered such thoughts (as opposed to parroting them on the air before flipping the switch and locking the door) and considered questions of true equality, they never would have done what they did. They wouldn’t have been able to think of women as things, as mere commodities to be used for imperial pleasure. They would have had to consider their dignity.

At the heart of the current scandals is a simple disrespect and disregard for women, and an inability to love them.

A few things on my mind as the scandals progress: Friends, especially of my generation, fear that things will get carried away—innocent men will be railroaded, the workplace will be swept with some crazy new Puritanism. A female journalist wryly reflected: “This is America—what’s worth doing is worth overdoing.”

This would be bad. America takes place in the office, and anywhere America takes place there will be the drama of men and women. It is not wrong to fear it will become a dry, repressed, politically correct zone, no longer human.

But the way I see it, what’s happening is a housecleaning that’s long overdue. A big broom is sweeping away bad behaviors and bad ways of being. It’s not pleasant. If you’re taking joy in it, there’s something wrong with you.

The trick is to leave the place cleaner, not colder.

Common sense will help. Offices aren’t for 10-year-olds but for adults. Deep down you know what abuse is: You can tell when someone’s taking or demanding what isn’t his. By adulthood you should also know what friendliness, appreciation and attraction are. But it comes down to whether someone is taking or demanding what isn’t his.

As for unjust accusations, it is true—they will come. Just accusations used to be ignored; in the future unjust ones will be heard.

Here the press will be more important than ever. They have just broken a scandal through numbers and patterns—numbers of accusers and patterns of behavior. If journalists stick to this while also retaining their deep skepticism and knowledge of human agendas, things will stay pretty straight. So far, American journalists have been sober and sophisticated, and pursued justice without looking for scalps. Human-resources departments will have to operate in the same way—with seriousness and knowledge of human nature.

My concern is something else. It is that young women, girls in high school, young women in college and just starting out, are going to have too heightened a sense of danger in the workplace, too great a sense of threat.

But there are more good men and women out there than bad.

There are more good ones than bad.

Know balance. Have faith.

The Sexual-Harassment Racket Is Over For a quarter century we had been stuck in He Said/She Said. Now predators are on notice.

This Thanksgiving I find myself thankful for something that is roiling our country. I am glad at what has happened with the recent, much-discussed and continuing sexual-harassment revelations and responses. To repeat the obvious, it is a watershed event, which is something you can lose sight of when you’re in the middle of it. To repeat the obvious again, journalists broke the back of the scandal when they broke the code on how to report it. For a quarter century we had been stuck in the He Said/She Said. Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas gave their testimonies, each offered witnesses, and the fair minded did their best with the evidence at hand while sorting through all the swirling political agendas. In the end I believed Mr. Thomas. But nobody knows, or rather only two people do.

New BroomWhat happened during the past two years, and very much in the past few months, is that reporters and news organizations committed serious resources to unearthing numbers and patterns. Deep reporting found not one or two victims of an abuser but, in one case, that of Bill Cosby, at least 35. So that was the numbers. The testimony of the women who went on the record, named and unnamed, revealed patterns: the open bathrobe, the running shower, the “Let’s change our meeting from the restaurant to my room/your apartment/my guesthouse.” Once you, as a fair-minded reader, saw the numbers and patterns, and once you saw them in a lengthy, judicious, careful narrative, you knew who was telling the truth. You knew what was true. Knowing was appalling and sometimes shocking, but it also came as a kind of relief.

Once predators, who are almost always repeat offenders, understood the new way of reporting such stories, they understood something else: They weren’t going to get away with it anymore. They’d never known that. And they were going to pay a price, probably in their careers. They’d never known that, either.

Why did this happen now? It was going to happen at some point: Sexual harassment is fairly endemic. Quinnipiac University released a poll this week showing 60% of American women voters say they’ve experienced it. Maybe the difference now is that the Clintons are gone—more on that in a moment. And maybe there’s something in this: Sexual harassment, at least judging by the testimony of recent accusers, has gotten weirder, stranger, more brutish. The political director of a network news organization invites you to his office, trains his eyes on you and masturbates as you tell him about your ambitions? The Hollywood producer hires an army of foreign goons to spy on you and shut you up? It has gotten weird out there. These stories were going to blow up at some point.

Sexual harassment is not over because sin is not over. “The devil has been busy!” a journalist friend said this week as another story broke. But as a racket it will never be the same.

*   *   *

Some great journalism, some great writing and thinking, has come of this moment. Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker pieces have been credible and gutsy on all levels. Masha Gessen’s piece in the same magazine last week warned of moral panic, of a blurring of the lines between different behaviors and a confusion as to the boundaries between normal, messy human actions and heinous ones. Rebecca Traister of New York magazine has argued that it is a mistake to focus now on the question of punishments, that maybe the helpful thing is to focus on what’s going on in our society that predators think they can get away with this.

Caitlin Flanagan in the Atlantic wrote the most important political piece in “ Bill Clinton : A Reckoning.” What is striking about this moment, she argued, is not the number of women who’ve come forward with serious allegations. “What’s remarkable is that these women are being believed.” Most didn’t have police reports or witnesses, and many were speaking of things that had happened years ago. “We have finally come to some kind of national consensus about the workplace; it naturally fosters a level of romance and flirtation, but the line between those impulses and the sexual predation of a boss is clear.”

What had impeded the ability of victims to be believed in the past? The Bill Clinton experience. He was “very credibly” accused, as Ms. Flanagan wrote, of sex crimes at different points throughout the 1990s— Juanita Broaddrick said he violently raped her; Paula Jones said he exposed himself to her; Kathleen Willey said she went to him for advice and that he groped and assaulted her. These women “had far more credible evidence” than many recent accusers. “But Clinton was not left to the swift and pitiless justice that today’s accused men have experienced.” He was rescued instead by “a surprising force: machine feminism.”

That movement had by the ’90s devolved into a “partisan operation.” Gloria Steinem in March 1998 wrote a famous New York Times op-ed that, in Ms. Flanagan’s words, “slut-shamed, victim-blamed, and age-shamed” the victims and “urged compassion for and gratitude to the man the women accused.” This revealed contemporary feminism as “a weaponized auxiliary of the Democratic Party.” Ms. Steinem characterized the assaults as “passes,” writing: “Even if the allegations are true, the President is not guilty of sexual harassment.”

Ms. Steinem operated with the same logic as the skeeviest apologist for Roy Moore : Don’t credit any charges. Gotta stick with our team.

Ms. Flanagan: “The widespread liberal response to the sex-crime accusations against Bill Clinton found their natural consequence 20 years later in the behavior of Harvey Weinstein : Stay loudly and publicly and extravagantly on the side of signal leftist causes and you can do what you want in the privacy of your offices and hotel rooms.”

The article called for a Democratic Party “reckoning” on the way it protected Bill Clinton.

It was a great piece.

I close with three thoughts.

The first springs from an observation Tucker Carlson made on his show about 10 days ago. He marveled, briefly, at this oddity: Most of the accused were famous media personalities, influential journalists, entertainers. He noted that all these people one way or another make their living in front of a camera.

It stayed with me. What is it about men and modern fame that makes them think they can take whatever they want when they want it, and they’ll always get away with it, even as word, each year, spreads. Watch out for that guy.

Second, if the harassment is, as it seems to me, weirder and more over the top now than, say, 40 years ago, why might that be?

Third, a hard and deep question put quickly: An aging Catholic priest suggested to a friend that all this was inevitable. “Contraception degenerates men,” he said, as does abortion. Once you separate sex from its seriousness, once you separate it from its life-changing, life-giving potential, men will come to see it as just another want, a desire like any other. Once they think that, then they’ll see sexual violations as less serious, less charged, less full of weight. They’ll be more able to rationalize. It’s only petty theft, a pack of chewing gum on the counter, and I took it.

In time this will seem true not only to men, but to women.

This is part of the reason I’m thankful for what I’m seeing. I experience it, even if most women don’t, or don’t consciously, as a form of saying no, this is important. It is serious.

Alabama Women, Say No to Roy Moore This tribune of the common folk and their earnest ways allegedly preyed on the unprotected.

Alabama has its back up, or at least its Republicans and conservatives do, and it’s understandable. They don’t like when Northerners and liberals and people in Washington tell them who their senator should be. They don’t like when reporters from outside come down and ask questions and turn over rocks looking for what’s crawling on the underside. There’s always an underside. Man is made from crooked timber.

People from the Deep South feel culturally patronized. This is because they are. Reporters from outside don’t admire or relate to them; when a Washington Post journalist presented as fact, in a 1993 news report, that evangelical Christians are “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command,” you know he was thinking of Southern evangelicals. Hollywood has long cast Southerners as witless and brutish in films from “Inherit the Wind” to “Deliverance” and “Mississippi Burning.”

Politically, Southern conservatives have long decried a double standard. Ted Kennedy spent much of his life as a somewhat inebriated roué whose actions caused the death of a young woman, but now we’re instructed to call him the Lion of the Senate. Bill Clinton was worse than Roy Moore. Mr. Clinton was accused of rape, harassment and exposing himself, but his party backed him and he kept the presidency. Democratic Sen. Al Franken was credibly accused Thursday, by an anchor at KABC radio in Los Angeles, of groping and harassing her on a USO tour in 2006. When she resisted him, Leeann Tweeden wrote, “Franken repaid me with petty insults,” and took an obscene photo of her on the way home, as she slept. Will the liberal media dig into Mr. Franken as they have dug into Mr. Moore? Or is he too good a source and friend?

Alabama Republicans are accused of mere tribalism in sticking with Mr. Moore, who has been accused of repeated sexual predation on teenage girls. But serious policy issues are at play in the December election, including ones that have to do with our character as a nation. Here is one. Alabama is one of the most pro-life states in the nation. Alabamans take abortion seriously and are profoundly opposed to partial-birth abortion, the aborting of a child so late in gestation that it could survive outside the womb, with or without medical assistance.

Most of Europe outlaws late-term abortion. They see the very idea of it as barbaric. As it is.

Roy Moore is against partial-birth abortion. His Democratic challenger, Doug Jones, was asked his position by Chuck Todd, in an interview in September on MSNBC.

Mr. Todd: “What are the limitations that you believe should be in the law when it comes to abortion?”

Mr. Jones replied: “I am a firm believer that a woman should have the freedom to choose what happens to her own body.”

Mr. Todd: “You wouldn’t be in favor of legislation that said ban abortion after 20 weeks or something like that?”

Mr. Jones: “I’m not in favor of anything that is going to infringe on a woman’s right and her freedom to choose.”

If you care about late-term abortion, that is enough reason to oppose Mr. Jones. It is not surprising that Mr. Moore’s supporters would stick with him when seen through that light.

But still: It won’t do. All the above having been said, Alabamans who continue to back Mr. Moore are making a terrible mistake.

Just because something is understandable doesn’t mean it’s right. The charges against Mr. Moore are not only serious; they are completely credible.

If you read the original Washington Post story, you know it was rigorously reported, with great care and professionalism. Four women who did not seek out the press, who did not know each other, and who surely guessed going public would bring them nothing but grief, came forward and provided first-person details that established a pattern. Thirty people corroborated details. This is not attack journalism. It is great journalism.

If Roy Moore had a long and demonstrated history of randomly attacking children with a baseball bat, or if the FBI announced it had found in his possession a stash of child porn, Moore supporters would never back him. But that, in a way, figuratively, is what he stands accused of doing. His “porn,” his addiction, was cruising malls for young women, often teenagers. His “attacking children” was moving sexually on those young women and leaving them damaged.

Women around the world are moving against predators, harassers, bullies, rapists. It is inspiring. The legalities of the Alabama race may be at an impasse, but it would be good to see Republican women in the state lead a charge and insist on someone else. Find another conservative. There are plenty in Alabama.

I put it on the women because Republican men there right now are lost. They are busy playing to every stereotype every bigot ever held about them. They are busy comparing Roy Moore and his victims to St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary. They are busy leaving phone messages falsely claiming to be Washington Post reporter “Bernie Bernstein,” offering big cash for dirt on Mr. Moore. They are busy saying they’d vote for any Republican over a Democrat. Gotta be loyal to your own.

They have been busy making themselves look like fools.

There is another reason Republican and conservative women should rise up. It has to do with the victims Moore chose.

Who were the girls he targeted? Interestingly, this tribune of the common folk and their earnest, believing ways allegedly preyed mostly on the unprotected. He chose young women he could push around. Some came to him at his law office, bringing with them all the problems of broken America—child-custody fights, violent divorces, bounced checks. They worked at Red Lobster, at a mill, on the night shift at Sears.

A thing about predators, from the men of the Catholic Church sex scandals to the man cruising the mall, is that they never prey on the protected. They don’t prey on the daughter of the biggest family in town, the child of the man who owns the factory or the local newspaper. They tend to prey on kids with no father in the home.

Tina Johnson “was 28 years old, in a difficult marriage headed toward divorce, and unemployed,” AL.com reported of the latest accuser, Wednesday. “She was at the office to sign over custody of her 12-year-old son to her mother.”

As they left the office, she said, Mr. Moore molested her. She told no one, not even her mother.

That is a tell, that she didn’t tell her mother. They almost never tell the mother. She’s got enough going on. Maybe she can’t handle more. Maybe she’s not interested in handling more.

Often the victims had had brushes with the law. Predators can smell that: It means no one will believe them if they talk.

Roy Moore targeted the deplorables. They were people with no sway, no pull. Some of them, in the presidential election, voted for Donald Trump.

There are better conservatives in Alabama than Roy Moore. Republican women, rise up and raise hell. That would be real loyalty, and to those who are really your own.

Will Virginia Teach Trump Fans a Lesson? A plurality of college-educated whites supported him in 2016. This week a majority went Democratic.

Look, it wasn’t just Virginia. It was Westchester and Nassau counties in New York. And in Virginia it wasn’t only the governorship the Republicans lost. When all the votes are counted, their 66-34 majority in the House of Delegates may turn into a minority.

The Democrats had a big night Tuesday, and the president of the United States took it right in the kisser. And it was all about him.

I spent Wednesday and Thursday talking to Virginia Republicans, from centrists to hard rightists. Not one expressed surprise at the outcome. All acknowledged the cause was Donald Trump.

Polling StationAbout future prospects, the state Republican Party was blunt. Yes, out-of-state money and groups had an impact, as did Republican congressional inaction. But 68% of voters under 45 voted Democratic, and Republicans lost nonwhite voters 80% to 20%. “If we do not find a way to appeal to these two groups,” the party chairman said in a statement, “the results will be grim.”

A smart, experienced Republican elected official: “It was a total repudiation of Trump—no other way around it. Voters, more women than men, were literally walking in and saying ‘I’m here to vote against Trump.’ The name of the victim on the ballot didn’t matter.” Accomplished mainstream legislators lost along with bomb throwers.

Mr. Trump lost Virginia last year by 5%, worse than Mitt Romney’s 3% defeat, and distributed differently. “Trump in 2016 lost in the growing areas—suburban, diverse—and won big in the shrinking areas—rural, white,” the official observed. “The suburban educated women problem will grow in states that are getting bigger and more diverse. We have hitched our wagon to the shrinking team.”

And although “it was a suburban bloodbath,” it went “well beyond the suburbs. Losing so many seats in our House of Delegates was historic—half of the losses in Northern Virginia, but losses too in Virginia Beach, where we have military population, and the Richmond suburbs.” Gov.-elect Ralph Northam is from the Virginia Beach area.

The official explains: “The female backlash about Trump is in part a response to the resurgence of male chest-thumping following Hillary’s demise and Trump’s victory. Trump has unleashed men to be more oblivious to real sexism at a time when women are feeling liberated by the demise of Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, etc. They can’t vote against Harvey or Bill, but they can vote against Trump and anyone remotely near him.”

A GOP political operative who worked on one of the Virginia races said “there is a Catch-22: We can’t win with Trump, and we can’t win without him.” Republican Ed Gillespie worked hard, but “authenticity matters.” He made a fortune as a lobbyist and political strategist—a swamp creature. Trump supporters didn’t embrace him as a friend.

Mr. Trump’s first year has left almost everyone embittered: “Democrats are furious at Trump, and rational Republicans are deeply depressed. Regular Republicans feel nothing is getting done—I heard this everywhere I went.”

The bottom line is that the election was about Mr. Trump: “How do you win when your leader has an approval rating of 35%?”

From a 45-year Virginia resident, a conservative with libertarian impulses: “A lot of Virginians are more or less moderate-to-liberal.” Mr. Northam was “nonthreatening—a doctor, former military,” and “as long as Democrats sound moderate, they’ll do OK.” This Virginian thought the weather significant: “It rained all Election Day. People had to be highly motivated to come out. The people who are anti-Trump are highly motivated!”

From a 30-year Northern Virginia resident and conservative intellectual: “Midterm elections almost always go against the party in the White House, and Trump hasn’t changed that. But look, Trump is very unpopular—I won’t dispute ‘friggin’ hated’ for much of the country, maybe most. and Republican attempts to repeal ObamaCare are particularly unpopular.” Health care was the top issue to Virginia voters; exit polls showed those for whom it was most important went Democratic 77% to 23%.

Finally, from a New York-based political veteran: “It was a referendum on Trump, and he lost. Fifty-seven percent of Virginia voters disapproved of him, half of them strongly. It was the higher end of Blue America unloading on him. Whites with college degrees gave 51% of their vote to the Democrat. Last year Trump won that demographic [in Virginia] 49% to 45%. They turned up at the polls as 41% of electorate. Last year it was 38%. They went out of their way to unload on him, and succeeded.”

He thought Tuesday was also a verdict on Trump’s equivocations after Charlottesville: “Trump and Steve Bannon treated Charlottesville as a nonevent. Virginia voters thought otherwise.” The administration’s “marriage to the alt-right comes with a cost.”

The larger picture? We’re in the early scenes of big change. We’re seeing the gradual cratering of both parties. Tuesday night obscured this for the Democrats and highlighted it for the Republicans. Democrats are split between moderates and a rising progressive left, which has all the energy, enthusiasm and intellectual action. Mr. Trump united the Democrats in Virginia. That won’t last forever.

The Republican Party is divided by serious questions about its essential purpose, and by Mr. Trump. As the Virginia officeholder observed: “Trump’s divisiveness makes it more challenging to have a center-right Reaganesque approach, because it’s all about Trump—you’re either not praising him enough or not attacking him enough. . . . All the oxygen is Trump or anti-Trump.”

The threat for Democrats is that they’ll overplay their hand—that heady with their first big win since Barack Obama’s re-election, they’ll go crazy-left.

If they are clever they will see their strong space as anti-Trump, socially moderate and economically liberal. Will they be clever? Hunger encourages discipline, and they are hungry. But emboldened progressives will want to seize the day.

Tuesday night’s losses could have a helpful effect on Trump enthusiasts. They imagine the number and strength of his supporters as bigger than it is. They imagine his opponents as unappreciative sellouts: Trump has won and will continue to win, you just don’t get it. After Virginia, they must surely see trouble. Donald Trump has not built support in the middle, he’s alienated it. The press’s antipathy to Mr. Trump is real and unchangeable, but you cannot blame all his problems on it. Pros get around the press, use it as a foil and straight man, and speak every day to independents, centrists and the softly aligned.

Mr. Trump has not been able to do this. It is the big story of the year since his election—that he has not a growing base but a smaller, so-far indissoluble core.

The parties are each in an existential crisis. The Democrats, split between the Sanders/Warren progressive vision and the old Clinton vision, will fight more passionately among themselves as 2020 approaches. The Republicans are left knowing that day by day, Mr. Trump is crashing. The wiser of them suspect that when he’s gone, what replaces him is nothing. Because the Republican Party is riven and no one knows what it stands for anymore.

In both parties there is too much distance between the top and the bottom. In both, ambivalent leaders are chasing after voters they no longer understand. That is the second big fact since Trump’s election.

Finding Relief on the Streets and at the Office Terrorists are much weaker than we feared in 2001. And sexual harassers are suddenly more vulnerable.

New York

In 2001 I thought it would be a suitcase bomb, a homemade nuclear device, not airplanes going into buildings. I’d felt something coming, had written of it, but that day, amid all the grief and carnage, I felt a lurking relief. I’d feared worse—tens of thousands gone, parts of the city rendered uninhabitable.

I feel a version of that relief now, after Tuesday’s truck attack downtown, within the shadow of the Freedom Tower. Barely three hours later, on Lexington Avenue from the 90s through the 70s, the streets were crowded with kids and parents out for Halloween. The mood was not a sag-shouldered “This is the new normal,” but a collected sense of “We can handle this.” There was an air of gallant enjoyment. It made the emotionalism of the mayor’s remarks—“We will not be cowed”; “This action was intended to break our spirit”—seem both hyped up and rote, and appropriate to another time.

Halloween

Near the scene of the terror attack in New York City, Oct. 31.

Yes, ISIS is here; yes, this will happen again, and security is appropriately high for this weekend’s marathon. But it’s obvious, and has been for some time, that we’re in a different moment, a different part of the battle. For months and then years after 9/11, we feared al Qaeda would hit us again, harder. Sixteen years later what we see is a series of single, random-seeming acts by weak, stupid, highly emotional men who read propaganda sites and become excited in the way of the weak, stupid and highly emotional. Their attacks are low-tech, limited.

Graeme Wood had a smart piece for the Atlantic hours after the attack. “The details strongly suggest that the man was a complete idiot,” Mr. Wood wrote of the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov. “I harp on Saipov’s apparent stupidity for one reason: As long as Islamic State’s attackers are idiots like Saipov, our societies can probably handle them. . . . The Idiots’ Crusade is a manageable problem. Much less tolerable would be a campaign of competent terror—the kind of mayhem enabled by training, like the 2015 Bataclan killers in Paris had, or by patient planning, as Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas did.”

Continued vigilance is in order: “As Islamic State loses territory, the greatest danger remains the prospect that some of the battle-hardened fighters will return home, raising the average IQ of attackers, and making possible attacks that would be many times more deadly than this one.”

The bad guys now seem incompetent. But the bad guys will never go away, and it is to the deep and everlasting credit of U.S. law enforcement, especially the New York City Police Department, that they have been so contained. Some day they’ll hit us hard again, so no relaxation of efforts is possible. But right now it feels more like Britain’s long struggle with the Irish Republican Army than an existential threat, and we must be thankful when feelings improve. This was my small epiphany Tuesday night as I moved among people dressed as bumblebees, Pharaohs, Godzilla and an angel with black wings. I liked the gallant enjoyment. I shared it.

*   *   *

Here we shift to another thing that has changed, this one permanently. Before it goes away as a regular front-page story—and it will, because as Thoreau said, once you’re familiar with a principle you become less interested in hearing of its numerous applications—it must be noted that what has happened the past month regarding sexual harassment in the workplace is epochal, a true watershed and long overdue.

The revelations will have a huge impact, not because men now understand that sexual abuse and bullying are wrong—they always knew, and for many the wrongness would have been part of the enjoyment—but because they now know, really for the first time, that they will pay a terrible price if their misbehavior is revealed. And from here on in, there’s a greater chance it will be revealed, and believed.

The price to be paid was the real lesson of the past few weeks of resignations and firings. Celebrity abusers understand the first paragraph of their obit will now include something like, “. . . but fell from his position of power in the sexual-abuse scandals of the 2010s.”

That there is a price to be paid will have a deterrent effect. Human sin won’t stop; harassment will continue—but something important happened here.

In July 2015 New York magazine put 35 women on the cover who alleged that Bill Cosby had sexually violated them. Until then it had been a cloudy, amorphous story. Suddenly it was no longer he-said/she-said: You saw the faces, read the testimony, and knew what Mr. Cosby really was. A year later Gretchen Carlson, and later others, went up against Fox News’s Roger Ailes ; her lawsuit was settled for $20 million. Then came the revelation of the Bill O’Reilly settlements.

But Black October for sexual harassers began with the New York Times stories by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey on Harvey Weinstein’s history of abuses and payoffs, followed by Ronan Farrow’s lengthy investigation in the New Yorker, and then on to other men in show business and the news media.

Something happened. Media outfits made a commitment—expensive in terms of resources, personnel and legal costs—to get the story. What they found was numbers—the sheer number of abusers and the number of accusers who’d testify. They discovered details that established patterns.

This is all good. And one of the things that fell is the phrase “everybody knew.” That is now a self-indicting phrase.

I close with a point that may grate on those who, like me, are glad at what has happened and wish to see just revelations continue.

The challenge is to pursue justice while keeping a sense of humanity. Human-resources departments terrified of costly lawsuits will impose more and stranger rules that won’t necessarily thwart bad guys but will harass good men. This is the way of things. Two recent anecdotes: At a yearly checkup, a male doctor went through his short list of how to stay healthy in New York. It included: don’t stray onto the curb, stay on the sidewalk, keep back from careening trucks that take a corner too tight and knock people down. I got it, I said—I take the arms of cellphone zombies and guide them a step back to keep them safe. I’d done it recently with a young woman. He got a poignant look. “I can’t do that now,” he said. If he put his hand on a strange woman’s arm, it might be misunderstood.

I was told the other day of a news executive who complimented his co-worker on her boots. He was later taken aside by a colleague: You can’t talk like that now! He hurriedly called the woman and apologized: He meant no offense, didn’t mean to sound leering. She said: Are you kidding? I knew it was a compliment, no offense at all.

That was human. Common sense is better than antihuman edicts.

It’s good the pendulum has swung. You want it to hit the bad guys hard, and leave the good ones untouched.