On Health Care, a Promise, Not a Threat McConnell warns GOP senators they may end up having to work with the Democrats. They should.

We are coming up on a great American holiday. There will be fireworks and children frolicking in pools; there will be baseball games, cookouts and flags. America will be looking and acting like America. So this is no time for gloom.

This moment in fact may be, perversely, promising. The failure so far of Senate Republicans to agree on a health-care bill provides an opening. Whatever happens the next few days, moderates and centrists on both sides can and should rise, name themselves, and start storming through.

The difficulties the Republicans have faced were inevitable. They are divided; they don’t have the will or the base. The party is undergoing a populist realignment, with party donors, think-tankers and ideologues seeing things more or less one way, and the Trump base, including many Democrats, seeing them another. The long-stable ground under Republican senators has been shifting, and they’re not sure where or how to stand. The president, philosophically unmoored and operating without a firm grasp of the legislation he promotes, is little help. He has impulses and sentiments but is not, as the French used to say, a serious man. He just wants a deal and a win, and there’s something almost refreshing in this, in the lack of tangled and complicated personal and political motives. It makes so much possible.

Senators Joe Manchin and Susan Collins

Senators Joe Manchin and Susan Collins

Many Republican senators see that the American people are not in the mood for tax cuts to the comfortable and coverage limits on the distressed. Democratic senators, on the other hand, are increasingly aware that ObamaCare is not viable, and in some respects is on the verge of collapse.

This gives both parties motives to join together and make things better.

Republicans believe they must repeal ObamaCare because they’ve long promised to do so. Keeping promises, especially in our untrusting political climate, is a good thing. But polling suggests America isn’t eager that promise be wholly kept. The Senate’s repeal-and-replace bill is deeply underwater in most polls, barely above water even with Republicans. If you campaign promising mayonnaise but once you’re in office voters start saying they prefer mustard, Politics 101 says, at least for now, hold the mayo.

Here again is our big wish: that both parties join together and produce a fix. It would no doubt be ungainly and imperfect, but it would be better than the failing thing we have. And Americans, being practical, will settle, for now, for better.

The GOP’s donor class would likely hate the eventual bill, as the Democratic Party’s nihilist left, which wants no compromise, would hate it. But their opposition would suggest to everyone else the bill must be pretty good.

There is the beginning of a movement in the Senate for a bipartisan approach. Republican Susan Collins of Maine has it exactly right: Asked if she thinks it necessary for both parties to work together, she said: “That’s what we should have done from the beginning.” Republican Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said on Fox News Wednesday night: “I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and work with the Democrats.” Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin says it’s a ‘mistake’ to attempt a partisan fix. Democrat Joe Manchin, also of West Virginia, says he’s “ready” for a bipartisan effort. The New York Times reports senators from both parties met privately weeks ago to discuss core issues. Mr. Manchin was there along with Democrats Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Among the Republicans were Sens. Capito and Collins, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

That’s a good start.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, disappointed in the GOP failure earlier in the week to get to yes, told his own members, in front of the press, that if they can’t get it together, they’ll have to work with the Democrats. It sounded like a threat, not an invitation; he seemed to be saying Republican voters wouldn’t like it. Many wouldn’t, but the polling suggests many would.

This column respects history and tradition. I’ve banged away on the fact that any big legislative change that affects how America lives, especially on something so intimate and immediate as health care, has to receive support from both parties or it will never work.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, in creating Social Security in 1935, knew he had to get Republicans behind it and owning it, or America would see it as a Democratic project, not an American institution. In the end he persuaded 81 Republicans to join 284 Democrats in the House. So too with the creation of Medicare in 1965: Lyndon Johnson wrestled and cajoled Republicans and got a majority of their votes.

Every president until Barack Obama knew this. He bullied through ObamaCare with no Republican support, and he did it devilishly, too, in that he created a bill so deal-laden, so intricate, so embedding-of-its-tentacles into the insurance and health systems, that it would be almost impossible to undo. He was maximalist. His party got a maximal black eye, losing the House and eventually the Senate over the bill, which also contributed to its loss of the presidency.

Is it fair that both parties must fix a problem created by one party? No. But it would be wise and would work.

Here is a thing that would help: a little humility from the Democrats, and a little humanity.

It would be powerful if a Democratic senator would go on the Sunday shows this weekend and say something like this: “Republicans have proved they can’t make progress. They’re failing in their efforts, and I’m not sad about it, because their bill is a bad one. But I’m not going to lie to you, ObamaCare has big flaws—always did. It was an imperfect piece of legislation and it’s done some things my party said wouldn’t happen, such as lost coverage and hiked deductibles. The American people know this because they live with it. The answer is to do what we should have done in the past, and that is joining with Republicans to hammer out changes that will make things better, that we all can live with, at least for now. We’ll make it better only by working together. I’m asking to work with them.”

That person would be a hero in the Beltway, which prizes compromise and constructiveness, and admired outside it. “My God, it isn’t all just partisan for her.”

The Democratic Party made this mess. It’s on them to help dig out of it. If they show some humility, Republicans would look pretty poor in not responding with their own olive branch.

Show some class, help the country. When it’s over, use whatever words you want: “We forced Democrats to admit the bill was flawed and dying.” “We forced Republicans to back down.” America won’t mind the propaganda, they’re used to it. Just make a bad thing better.

Don’t give what you produce a grandiose name. Call it the Health Reform Act of 2017. There will be more. Wait till we’re debating single payer in 2020.

But move now. Do the work, break Capitol Hill out of its shirts-and-skins stasis. Solve this thing.

A happy 241st anniversary to America, the great and fabled nation that is still, this day, the hope of the world.

Rage Is All the Rage, and It’s Dangerous A generation of media figures are cratering under the historical pressure of Donald Trump.

What we are living through in America is not only a division but a great estrangement. It is between those who support Donald Trump and those who despise him, between left and right, between the two parties, and even to some degree between the bases of those parties and their leaders in Washington. It is between the religious and those who laugh at Your Make Believe Friend, between cultural progressives and those who wish not to have progressive ways imposed upon them. It is between the coasts and the center, between those in flyover country and those who decide what flyover will watch on television next season. It is between “I accept the court’s decision” and “Bake my cake.” We look down on each other, fear each other, increasingly hate each other.

Oh, to have a unifying figure, program or party.

"March Against Sharia" protest in Chicago

“March Against Sharia” protest in Chicago

But we don’t, nor is there any immediate prospect. So, as Ben Franklin said, we’ll have to hang together or we’ll surely hang separately. To hang together—to continue as a country—at the very least we have to lower the political temperature. It’s on all of us more than ever to assume good faith, put our views forward with respect, even charity, and refuse to incite.

We’ve been failing. Here is a reason the failure is so dangerous.

In the early 1990s Roger Ailes had a talk show on the America’s Talking network and invited me to talk about a concern I’d been writing about, which was old-fashioned even then: violence on TV and in the movies. Grim and graphic images, repeated depictions of murder and beatings, are bad for our kids and our culture, I argued. Depictions of violence unknowingly encourage it.

But look, Roger said, there’s comedy all over TV and I don’t see people running through the streets breaking into laughter. True, I said, but the problem is that, for a confluence of reasons, our country is increasingly populated by the not fully stable. They aren’t excited by wit, they’re excited by violence—especially unstable young men. They don’t have the built-in barriers and prohibitions that those more firmly planted in the world do. That’s what makes violent images dangerous and destructive. Art is art and censorship is an admission of defeat. Good judgment and a sense of responsibility are the answer.

That’s what we’re doing now, exciting the unstable—not only with images but with words, and on every platform. It’s all too hot and revved up. This week we had a tragedy. If we don’t cool things down, we’ll have more.

And was anyone surprised? Tuesday I talked with an old friend, a figure in journalism who’s a pretty cool character, about the political anger all around us. He spoke of “horrible polarization.” He said there’s “too much hate in D.C.” He mentioned “the beheading, the play in the park” and described them as “dog whistles to any nut who wants to take action.”

“Someone is going to get killed,” he said.

That was 20 hours before the shootings in Alexandria, Va.

The gunman did the crime, he is responsible, it’s fatuous to put the blame on anyone or anything else.

But we all operate within a climate and a culture. The media climate now, in both news and entertainment, is too often of a goading, insinuating resentment, a grinding, agitating antipathy. You don’t need another recitation of the events of just the past month or so. A comic posed with a gruesome bloody facsimile of President Trump’s head. New York’s rightly revered Shakespeare in the Park put on a “Julius Caesar” in which the assassinated leader is made to look like the president. A CNN host—amazingly, of a show on religion—sent out a tweet calling the president a “piece of s—” who is “a stain on the presidency.” An MSNBC anchor wondered, on the air, whether the president wishes to “provoke” a terrorist attack for political gain. Earlier Stephen Colbert, well known as a good man, a gentleman, said of the president, in a rant: “The only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c— holster.” Those are but five dots in a larger, darker pointillist painting. You can think of more.

Too many in the mainstream media—not all, but too many—don’t even bother to fake fairness and lack of bias anymore, which is bad: Even faked balance is better than none.

Yes, they have reasons. They find Mr. Trump to be a unique danger to the republic, an incipient fascist; they believe it is their patriotic duty to show opposition. They don’t like his policies. A friend suggested recently that they hate him also because he’s in their business, show business. Who is he to be president? He’s not more talented. And yet as soon as his presidency is over he’ll get another reality show.

And there’s something else. Here I want to note the words spoken by Kathy Griffin, the holder of the severed head. In a tearful news conference she said of the president, “He broke me.” She was roundly mocked for this. Oh, the big bad president’s supporters were mean to you after you held up his bloody effigy. But she was exactly right. He did break her. He robbed her of her sense of restraint and limits, of her judgment. He broke her, but not in the way she thinks, and he is breaking more than her.

We have been seeing a generation of media figures cratering under the historical pressure of Donald Trump. He really is powerful.

They’re losing their heads. Now would be a good time to regain them.

They have been making the whole political scene lower, grubbier. They are showing the young what otherwise estimable adults do under pressure, which is lose their equilibrium, their knowledge of themselves as public figures, as therefore examples—tone setters. They’re paid a lot of money and have famous faces and get the best seat, and the big thing they’re supposed to do in return is not be a slob. Not make it worse.

By indulging their and their audience’s rage, they spread the rage. They celebrate themselves as brave for this. They stood up to the man, they spoke truth to power. But what courage, really, does that take? Their audiences love it. Their base loves it, their demo loves it, their bosses love it. Their numbers go up. They get a better contract. This isn’t brave.

If these were only one-offs, they’d hardly be worth comment, but these things build on each other. Rage and sanctimony always spread like a virus, and become stronger with each iteration.

And it’s no good, no excuse, to say Trump did it first, he lowered the tone, it’s his fault. Your response to his low character is to lower your own character? He talks bad so you do? You let him destabilize you like this? You are making a testimony to his power.

So many of our media figures need at this point to be reminded: You belong to something. It’s called: us.

Do your part, take it down some notches, cool it. We have responsibilities to each other.

America Shouts While Europe Shrugs The U.S. media capitalize on division. Meantime, Parisians hardly notice a terror attack.

Here is a column on two very different topics. If my editor is clever he will find a common theme.

The first has to do with the national media climate at this time of political uncertainty, anxiety and division. I suspect at least half the country (those who support President Trump, have reserved judgment about him, or just want the news straight) feel they can no longer trust, or feel actively excluded by, mainstream entertainment and news.

What we need from media folk is a kind of heroic fairness. What we have instead is endless calculation.

Last week the subject was the divisive nature of so much of our entertainment culture, especially late-night talk shows.

The Champs-Élysées after a terror attack

The Champs-Élysées after a terror attack

We are living in a time of the politicization of everything. You cannot, at the end of a long day, relax with a talk show because it will take a highly political point of view, in a dominant and aggressive manner, as if politics were not part of life but life. It is obnoxious and assaultive. It effectively tells the audience: ‘We only want you here if you agree with us. If you like Donald Trump, get lost.” Some news shows take a similar approach.

Dislike of Mr. Trump within the mainstream media is unalterable. It permeates every network, from intern to executive producer and CEO.

Here is a theory on what they’re thinking: They’re thinking attempts at fairness and balance in this charged atmosphere get them nowhere. They’re attacked by both sides. And anyway they think Mr. Trump is insane.

They live on ratings, which determine advertising rates. Hillary Clinton got 2.9 million more votes than Mr. Trump, so the anti-Trump audience is larger. Moreover, people who oppose Mr. Trump tend to be more affluent, more educated, more urban. They’re more liberal, of course, and they’re younger. They’re a desirable demographic. The pro-Trump audience is more rural, more working- and middle-class, older. A particularly heartless media professional might sum them up this way: “Their next big lifestyle choice will be death.”

So, if you are a person who programs or sets the tone of network fare and you want to take a side—you shouldn’t, but you want to!—you throw your lot with the anti-Trump demo, serving them the kind of journalistic approaches and showbiz attitudes they’re likely to enjoy.

Mr. Trump, you are certain, won’t last: He’ll bring himself down or be brought down. You want to be with the winning side. So play to those who hate him, exclude others, call it integrity and reap the profits.

That is my theory: media bias now is in part a financial decision, instead of what it used to be, a good old-fashioned human and institutional flaw.

This contributes to public division—to the great estrangement we see in America. I talk to media folk a lot, being one, and haven’t found anyone who’s said, “Why yes, that’s exactly what we’re doing, deepening our national divisions for profit!” Although I shared my theory this week with a senior manager of a news organization who quickly mentioned another major news organization and said: “I think that’s what they’re doing.”

But I do think it’s part of what is going on. I add only that it’s not only cynical and destructive, as a business strategy it’s stupid. Bias is boring. It’s predictable, rote, is an audience-limiter. What has value at a time like this is playing it straight and presenting the facts. That’s what they ought to do instead of taking a side.

*   *   *

I was traveling this week for work, in Europe.

When we arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, passport control was closed down. Many hundreds of people milled about confusedly. An airline worker said two unattended bags had been found and security personnel were on the scene. Officials might have to explode the bags where they are. Will there be any warning? Yes, I was told, they’ll tell us before and we’ll hear it. Does this sort of thing happen often? “A few times a day,” an attendant said.

There was no air of alarm, and everyone around us was pleasant. After 35 minutes passport control opened, without an explosion. The attitude was that this was par for the course, just another day at the office.

Two hours after I got to my hotel, word came of a terror attack three blocks away, on the Champs Élysées. I asked the woman at the desk for directions and she said, in low and measured terms, “I’m sorry madame, there has been a terrorist occurrence. You should not go there.” I said “Yes, I’d like to go see it.” She brightened: “In that case, go left, left, then final left!”

Soon I was in a small crowd being held back by a handful of police. They protested: My work is there. I must go there. I walked for a few blocks, to a small park off the Champs. Police had put up police tape, but as soon as they turned away people ducked under it and continued on their way.

No one in the crowd—workers in the shops, mothers with children, tourists—seemed the least put out or concerned, never mind scared, which they were not.

The next morning the story of what had happened on the Champs Élysées was not even the top story on the international news. Which is a wonder, since this is what happened:

A man had crashed his Renault into the front car of a police convoy. The assailant was later killed. Officers searched his car and found weapons and explosives, reportedly including gas canisters, handguns and a Kalashnikov. The assailant was said to be in his early 30s, from a Parisian suburb, and known to police.

A few hours later at an outdoor cafe I watched as people rode by on scooters and motorcycles. The sidewalks were busy, bright, sun-dappled at dusk. Young people were strolling by and staring down at their phones. Strolling and scrolling, all as carefree and relaxed as any other day.

As I lingered over dessert. A colleague emailed an alert from a private security firm: Continue to avoid the vicinity of Champs Élysées and Avenue Montaigne. I replied: “I am literally on Avenue Montaigne and nothing is happening here but bitchy gossip in the cafe.”

“At least you’re having a very French experience then,” my colleague replied.

I was. Forty-eight hours later, en route to England, I saw the front page of the Times of London: A suspected terrorist had been shot and killed by soldiers in a Brussels railway station. He had attempted to detonate an explosive vest or belt. The story was illustrated with a photo of a handsome young passerby who’d been staring at his phone and suddenly turned toward a flash of light behind him: the late terrorist.

Nothing feels different, all looks the same, no one is letting the discomfort get in their way, but in Europe, terrorism is the new normal.

And much is made of what remains of British stoicism, but something should be said for French sang-froid.

My editor discerns this theme: Perhaps there is a happy medium somewhere between bitter division and blasé complacency.

What Comey Told Us About Trump The president has no understanding of the norms, rules and traditions of his job.


James Comey’s written testimony outlining meetings and conversations with President Trump was telling and damning because believable. Whatever Mr. Comey’s reputation, and it is mixed—an intelligent, accomplished professional who is plenty slick; state-of-the-art Beltway operator with an image of integrity, yet trailed by suspicions of slight smarm—he is a careful man. It is not strange for an official to take notes after a meeting or conversation with a president, and it is wholly understandable when the president is unusual, the circumstances heightened, the relationship potentially contentious. It begs credulity that Mr. Comey would have tapped out elaborate fictions in a one-man note-taking plot to bring down a president. And he must have known it possible the calls and meetings were taped, in which case the contents would be used to destroy him if he lied.

Mr. Comey first met with President-elect Trump in January. Afterward he broke with previous personal practice and documented the meeting in a memo. “To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting.”

Former FBI Director, James Comey

Former FBI Director, James Comey

On Jan. 27 he had dinner with the president at the White House. “It turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room.” The president asked if he wanted to stay on as FBI Director. Mr. Comey found this “strange,” because Mr. Trump had already told him twice, earlier, he hoped Mr. Comey would stay. The director felt “the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship.”

Then: “A few moments later, the President said, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.’ I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence.”

Near the end of the dinner Mr. Trump said he was glad Mr. Comey wanted to stay. “He then said, ‘I need loyalty.’ I replied, ‘You will always get honesty from me.’ [Mr. Trump] paused and then said, ‘That’s what I want, honest loyalty.’ I paused and then said, ‘You will get that from me.’ ”

On Feb. 14 Mr. Comey met the president and other top officials for a counterterrorism briefing in the Oval Office. At the end the president said he wanted to speak to Mr. Comey privately. Attorney General Jeff Sessions lingered; the president said he wanted Mr. Comey alone.

“When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, ‘I want to speak about Mike Flynn. ’ ” The president said: “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” Referring to the Russia investigation, Mr. Trump said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go.” Mr. Comey agreed Mr. Flynn was a good guy, but didn’t say he’d let it go.

Mr. Comey thought the meeting “very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.” Later he told his boss, the attorney general, that it was “inappropriate” that Mr. Sessions was asked to leave the meeting and “it should never happen again.” Mr. Sessions did not reply, Mr. Comey reports.

On March 30, the president phoned Mr. Comey at the FBI. He said the Russia investigation was damaging his ability to govern. “He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud.’ ” Mr. Comey answered that they were investigating the matter as quickly as possible. Mr. Trump urged Mr. Comey to get out the word the president himself wasn’t being investigated. “I told him I would see what we could do.” He requested guidance from the Justice Department, which did not provide it.

Mr. Comey’s testimony backs up Mr. Trump’s assertion that the director told him he personally was not under investigation.

The worst part of the testimony is when the president pressed Mr. Comey for his personal loyalty. Presidents don’t lean on FBI chiefs in this way. It is at odds with traditional boundaries, understandings and protocols. It was embarrassing to read. It was the move of a naïf who’s a cynic—I know how the big boys play. Actually it’s not how the big boys play, it’s how someone who learns about government by binge-watching “House of Cards” would play. It was bumptious with the special bumptiousness of those who think themselves savvy.

Still, as a Republican senator said after Mr. Comey’s testimony was released, inappropriate does not mean illegal. Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, wrote in USA Today that the desire for an indictable or impeachable offense by the president “has distorted the legal analysis” of the case “to an alarming degree.” Mr. Turley’s read on the testimony: Mr. Trump’s conduct was “wildly inappropriate.” Asking Mr. Comey to lay off Mr. Flynn was “wrong” and “grossly improper.” But “the legal fact is that Comey’s testimony does not establish a prima facie—or even a strong—case for obstruction [of justice].” This is not the first president “to express dissatisfaction with an investigation by the Justice Department”: Bill Clinton did the same. Nor was it a surprise he wished to see the investigations end: He’d said so publicly.

On Thursday Mr. Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he had authorized leaks about his memos after the president had tweeted a warning: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.” Mr. Comey realized there might be corroboration. Thursday he said, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” (That was rather Comey, to pull out the “Lordy.”) He asked if they exist that they be released.

In the end Mr. Comey appears to have done himself little or no harm, but he harmed the president by documenting, again and persuasively, that Mr. Trump does not understand the norms, rules and traditions of his job. As I watched, I wondered how many other appointees, officials and White House staffers are writing themselves memos.

Will all this damage the president with his supporters?

What consumes Blue America does not consume Red America.

The photojournalist Chris Arnade reported on Twitter what he was seeing in Mountain Grove, Mo., Thursday morning as Mr. Comey testified. The conversation at the local McDonald’s : “1.)Yard work/lawn mowers, 2) Danger of Bees, 3) Cardinals sucking, 4) Friend who died, 5) Church.” He asked a middle aged man in a T-shirt if he planned to watch the hearings. Kirk said no: “I got a lot of yards to mow.”

Then again, a conservative intellectual with small-town roots wrote, during the testimony, that he thought this might be a break point, a moment when Mr. Trump’s supporters would listen close and think he’s not so much like them, and not so different from the swamp he means to drain.

I myself don’t know.

Hillary Lacks Remorse of Conscience Oddly, she seems completely sincere, as if she believes the alternative facts she’s peddling.

I don’t want to beat up on Hillary Clinton. She thought she’d win and she lost, embarrassingly, to a man she considered deeply unworthy. At the same time she won the popular vote by 2.9 million. It would take anyone time to absorb these things emotionally and psychologically.

But wow. Her public statements since defeat have been malignant little masterpieces of victimhood-claiming, blame-shifting and unhelpful accusation. They deserve censure.

Last weekend she was the commencement speaker at her alma mater, Wellesley, where she insulted the man who beat her. This Wednesday she was at the 2017 Code Conference, hosted by the Recode website, where she was interviewed by friendly journalists Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher. She eagerly offered a comprehensive list of the reasons she lost the 2016 presidential election.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

She lost because America is a hopelessly reactionary country in which dark forces fight a constant “rearguard action” to “turn back the clock.” She lost because Republicans are both technologically advanced and underhanded. Democrats, for instance, use data and analytics to target and rouse voters—“better messaging.” Republicans, on the other hand, use “content farms” and make “an enormous investment in falsehoods, fake news, call it what you will.” Democrats “did not engage in false content.” She lost because of the Russians: “Who were they coordinating with, or colluding with?”

She lost because of “voter suppression” and “unaccountable money flowing in against me.” She lost because the Democratic National Committee didn’t help her. “I inherit nothing from the Democratic Party. I mean it was bankrupt. . . . Its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong. I had to inject money into it.”

She lost because FBI Director James Comey told Congress the investigation regarding her email server had been reopened. “So for whatever reason . . . and I can’t look inside the guy’s mind, you know, he dumps that on me on Oct. 28, and I immediately start falling.”

She lost because she was “swimming against a historic tide. It’s very difficult historically to succeed a two-term president of your own party.” She lost because she was “the victim of a very broad assumption that I was going to win.” She lost because the news media ignored her policy positions.

And then there was sexism. “It sort of bleeds into misogyny. And let’s just be honest, you know, people who have . . . a set of expectations about who should be president and what a president looks like, you know, they’re going to be much more skeptical and critical of somebody who doesn’t look like and talk like and sound like everybody else who’s been president. Any you know, President Obama broke that racial barrier, but you know, he’s a very attractive, good-looking man.”

Oh my goodness, how she thinks.

Oddly, she seemed completely sincere, as if she believes her own story. It tells you something about our own power to hypnotize ourselves, to invent reasons that avoid the real reasons. It is a tribute to the power of human denial. And at first you think: I hope it was cathartic. Maybe these are just stories she tells herself to feel better.

But none of this, in truth, is without point. It is purposeful. It is not mere narrative-spinning. It is insisting on alternative facts so that journalists and historians will have to take them into account. It is a monotonous repetition of a certain version of events, which will be amplified, picked up and repeated into the future.

And it’s not true.

The truth is Bernie Sanders destroyed Mrs. Clinton’s chance of winning by almost knocking her off, and in the process revealing her party’s base had changed. Her plodding, charmless, insincere style of campaigning defeated her. Bad decisions in her campaign approach to the battleground states did it; a long history of personal scandals did it; fat Wall Street speeches did it; the Clinton Foundation’s bloat and chicanery did it—and most of all the sense that she ultimately stands for nothing but Hillary did it.

In the campaign book “Shattered,” journalists Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes report they were surprised “when Clintonworld sources started telling us in 2015 that Hillary was still struggling to articulate her motivation for seeking the presidency.” Her campaign was “an unholy mess, fraught with tangled lines of authority . . . distorted priorities, and no sense of greater purpose.” “Hillary didn’t have a vision to articulate. And no one else could give one to her.” “Hillary had been running for president for almost a decade and still didn’t really have a rationale.”

What is true is that throughout her career Mrs. Clinton has shown herself to be largely incapable of honest self-reflection, of pointing the finger, for even a moment, at herself. She is not capable of what in Middle English was called “agenbite of inwit”—remorse of conscience, the self-indictment and implicit growth, that come of taking a serious personal inventory. People are always doing bad things to her, she never does bad things to them. They operate in bad faith, she only in good. They lie and exaggerate, she doesn’t. They are low and partisan, not her. There’s no vast left-wing conspiracy only a right-wing one.

People can see this. It’s part of why she lost.

It is one thing to say, “I take responsibility,” and follow that up with a list of things you believe you got wrong. It’s another thing to say, “I take responsibility,” and then immediately pivot to arguments as to why other people are to blame. “I take responsibility for everything I got wrong, but that’s not why I lost,” is literally what she said Wednesday.

Walt Mossberg asked her about her misjudgments. What about Goldman Sachs ? You were running for president, he said, why did you do those high priced speeches?

“Why do you have Goldman Sachs [at this conference]?” Mrs. Clinton countered.

Mr. Mossberg: “Because they pay us.”

Mrs. Clinton: “They paid me.”

Mr. Mossberg noted they paid her a lot. Hillary replied she speaks to many groups, she had been elected in New York, which includes Wall Street. Then: “Men got paid for the speeches they made. I got paid for the speeches I made.”

The worst part is that she insulted her own country by both stating and implying that America is full of knuckle-dragging, deplorable oafs who are averse to powerful women and would never elect one president. Has she not learned anything? Does she never think Britain had Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and Theresa May now, that Germany has had as its leader Angela Merkel since 2005? Is America really more backward, narrow and hate-filled toward women than those countries? Or was Mrs. Clinton simply the wrong woman, and the wrong candidate?

It would have been helpful if she’d spoken at least of those who’d voted for her and supported her and donated to her campaign precisely because she was a woman.

You should never slander a country that rejected you. Maybe it had its reasons. Maybe her most constructive act now would be to quietly reflect on what they might be.

Why History Will Repay Your Love Knowing the past is ‘a wonderful way to enlarge the experience of being alive,’ says historian David McCullough.

For Memorial Day some thoughts on historical memory.

We are losing it. We are less versed in the facts of history, not only of other countries but of our own. It is a crisis, and much has been written on it over the years. “We are raising a generation of young Americans who are by and large historically illiterate,” observes the historian David McCullough in his latest book. He describes a bright Missouri college student who thanked him for coming to the campus, because, she said, “until now I never understood that the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast.” Another student once asked him: “Aside from Harry Truman and John Adams, how many other presidents have you interviewed?”

John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams speaking in the House of Representatives.

What explains the new dumbness? Some blame boring textbooks put together by committee and scrubbed clean of the politically inconvenient and incorrect. Some argue that so many strange, culturally fashionable things are jammed into public school curricula that essentials have been forced out. Many point to a certain negativity, a focus on our national sins that has crowded out our achievements. This is counterproductive: a sophisticated presentation of our triumphs and tragedies makes our sins all the more poignant and powerful. Historical balance leaves young minds not cynical, which is always an excuse to do nothing, but inspired—we can right wrongs, we’ve done it before. In our colleges they teach pale, eccentric variations on history at the expense of history itself: “Modes of Alienation in Pre-Maoist China” as opposed to “A History of Modern China.” They do odd embroideries while ignoring the main fabric.

But history need not be a drudge, a weary obligation, an irrelevance.

And so Mr. McCullough’s refreshing little book on being in love with history, and why it is one of the most rewarding of all loves, “The American Spirit,” a collection of his speeches, published by Simon & Schuster.

History to him is “a larger way of looking at life.” It is “a wonderful way to enlarge the experience of being alive.” It is as mind-expanding as any drug. The American story is our strength, “our greatest national resource.” To preserve it is to save America.

Once, introducing him to a college class, I called Mr. McCullough the Great Rescuer, a historian whose work has been to save the reputation of individuals who were essential to the American experience and yet have been insufficiently appreciated. Harry Truman’s greatness had been only narrowly acknowledged until McCullough wrote his monumental “Truman,” published a quarter-century ago. Adams was arguably the least-beloved founder until Mr. McCullough, in “John Adams,” demonstrated his personal and political greatness. It was published in 2001, the year we most needed it.

You see the outlines of two other candidates for rescue in “The American Spirit.” One is Philadelphia’s Dr. Benjamin Rush, a founder who was “among the outstanding Americans of all time.” He signed the Declaration, was a physician with Washington’s Army, established America’s first dispensary, heroically battled epidemics, helped the poor, fought slavery, and wrote the nation’s first chemistry textbook. His collected writings fill 45 volumes. He taught thousands of medical students that insanity was an illness, not a curse; that dreams might be a pathway to the deeper workings of the mind. He has been called the father of American psychiatry. On hearing of Rush’s death in 1813, Adams wrote Jefferson: “I know of no character living or dead who has done more real good in America.”

And there is Adams’s son John Quincy Adams, who in 1831 did what no former president had done and returned to Congress, where, Mr. McCullough says, he had “perhaps his finest hours.” He championed scientific inquiry, worked with a congressman named Abe Lincoln to oppose the Mexican War, and for eight years, “almost alone,” battled the Gag Rule imposed by the South to prevent legislative action against slavery. He won.

He collapsed at his congressional desk at age 80 in 1848. They carried him to the office of the speaker, where he died two days later. “At the end Henry Clay in tears was holding his hand.” Lincoln helped with the funeral arrangements.

Here, gleaned from the book, are some of Mr. McCullough’s observations on history.

It is a story. “Tell stories,” said the historian Barbara Tuchman. And what is a story? Mr. McCullough, paraphrasing E.M. Forster, observes: “If I say to you the king died and then the queen died, that’s a sequence of events. If I say the king died and the queen died of grief, that’s a story.”

What’s past to us was the present to them. “Adams, Jefferson, George Washington, they didn’t walk about saying, ‘Isn’t this fascinating, living in the past?’ It was the present, their present.” They were acting in real time and didn’t know how things would turn out.

They were never certain of success. “Had they taken a poll in Philadelphia in 1776, [the founders] would have scrapped the whole idea of independence. A third of the country was for it, a third of the country was against it, and the remaining third, in the old human way, was waiting to see who came out on top.”

Nothing had to happen the way it happened. “History could have gone off in any number of different directions in any number of different ways at almost any point, just as your own life can.” “One thing leads to another. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Actions have consequences.” These things sound obvious, he says, but are not to those who are just starting out and trying to understand life.

We make more of the wicked than the great. The most-written about senator of the 20th century is Joe McCarthy. “Yet there is no biography of the Senator who had the backbone to stand up to him first— Margaret Chase Smith, ” a Maine Republican who served for 24 years.

America came far through trial and error. Mr. McCullough tells the story of iron workers in 19th-century Johnstown, Pa. For months they’d been devising a new machine to produce steel. Finally it was ready. The engineer in charge said, “All right boys, let’s start it up and see why it doesn’t work.” Progress has come to us largely through empirical methods.

History is an antidote to the hubris of the present. We think everything we have, do and think is the ultimate, the best. “We should never look down on those of the past and say they should have known better. What do you think they will be saving about us in the future? They’re going to be saying we should have known better.”

Knowing history will make you a better person. Mr. McCullough endorses Samuel Eliot Morison’s observation that reading history improves behavior by giving examples to emulate. He quotes John Adams: “We can’t guarantee success [in the Revolutionary War], but we can do something better. We can deserve it.” This contrasts, Mr. McCullough says, with current attitudes, in which success is all.

And happy Memorial Day—our 47th since it was designated a federal holiday, under Richard Nixon, in 1971. It was earlier known as Decoration Day, created just after the Civil War to honor the brave and noble who gave their lives while serving in the U.S. military.

God bless their souls.



Democracy Is Not Your Plaything When the circus comes to Washington, it consumes everything, absorbs all energy.

This will be unpleasantly earnest, but having witnessed the atmospherics the past 10 days it’s what I think needs saying:

Everyone, get serious.

Democracy is not your plaything.

This is not a game.

The circus has come to town!The president of the United States has produced a building crisis that is unprecedented in our history. The question, at bottom, is whether Donald Trump has demonstrated, in his first four months, that he is unfit for the presidency—wholly unsuited in terms of judgment, knowledge, mental capacity, personal stability. That epic question is then broken down into discrete and specific questions: Did he improperly attempt to interfere with an FBI criminal investigation, did his presidential campaign collude with a foreign government, etc.

But the epic question underlies all. It couldn’t be more consequential and will take time to resolve. The sheer gravity of the drama will demand the best from all of us. Are we up to it?

Mr. Trump’s longtime foes, especially Democrats and progressives, are in the throes of a kind of obsessive delight. Every new blunder, every suggestion of an illegality, gives them pleasure. “He’ll be gone by autumn.”

But he was duly and legally elected by tens of millions of Americans who had legitimate reasons to support him, who knew they were throwing the long ball, and who, polls suggest, continue to support him. They believe the press is trying to kill him. “He’s new, not a politician, give him a chance.” What would it do to them, what would it say to them, to have him brusquely removed by his enemies after so little time? Would it tell them democracy is a con, the swamp always wins, you nobodies can make your little choices but we’re in control? What will that do to their faith in our institutions, in democracy itself?

These are wrenching questions.

But if Mr. Trump is truly unfit—if he has demonstrated already, so quickly, that he cannot competently perform the role, and that his drama will only get more dangerous and chaotic, how much time should pass to let him prove it? And how dangerous will the proving get?

Again, wrenching questions. So this is no time for blood lust and delight. Because democracy is not your plaything.

The president’s staffers seem to spend most of their time on the phone, leaking and seeking advantage, trying not to be named in the next White House Shake-Up story. A reliable anonymous source who gives good quote will be protected—for a while. The president spends his time tweeting his inane, bizarre messages—he’s the victim of a “witch hunt”—from his bed, with his iPad. And giving speeches, as he did this week at the Coast Guard Academy: “No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.” Actually Lincoln got secession, civil war and a daily pounding from an abolitionist press that thought he didn’t go far enough and moderates who slammed his brutalist pursuit of victory. Then someone shot him in the head. So he had his challenges.

Journalists on fire with the great story of their lives—the most bizarre presidency in U.S. history and the breaking news of its daily missteps—cheer when their scoop that could bring down a president gets more hits then the previous record holder, the scoop that could bring down the candidate.

Stop leaking, tweeting, cheering. Democracy is not your plaything.

There’s a sense nobody’s in charge, that there’s no power center that’s holding, that in Washington they’re all randomly slamming into each other.

Which is not good in a crisis.

For Capitol Hill Democrats the crisis appears to be primarily a chance to showboat. Republicans are evolving, some starting to use the word “unfit” and some, as a congressman told me, “talking like they’re in a shelter for abused women. ‘He didn’t mean to throw me down the stairs.’ ‘He promised not to punch me again.’ ”

We’re chasing so many rabbits, we can’t keep track—Comey, FBI, memoranda; Russia, Flynn, the Trump campaign; Lavrov, indiscretions with intelligence. It’s become a blur.

But there’s an emerging sense of tragedy, isn’t there? Crucially needed reforms in taxing, regulation and infrastructure—changes the country needs!—are thwarted, all momentum killed. Markets are nervous.

The world sees the U.S. political system once again as a circus. Once the circus comes to town, it consumes everything, absorbs all energy.

I asked the ambassador to the U.S. from one of our greatest allies: “What does Europe say now when America leaves the room?” You’re still great, he said, but “we think you’re having a nervous breakdown.”

It is absurd to think the president can solve his problems by firing his staff. They are not the problem. He is the problem. They’re not the A-Team, they’re not the counselors you’d want, experienced and wise. They’re the island of misfit toys. But they could function adequately if he could lead adequately. For months he’s told friends he’s about to make big changes, and doesn’t. Why? Maybe because talented people on the outside don’t want to enter a poisonous staff environment just for the joy of committing career suicide. So he’s stuck, surrounded by people who increasingly resent him, who fear his unpredictability and pique and will surely one day begin to speak on the record.

A mystery: Why is the president never careful? He doesn’t act as if he’s picking his way through a minefield every day, which he is. He acts like he’s gamboling through safe terrain. Thus he indulges himself with strange claims, statements, tweets. He comports himself as if he has a buffer of deep support. He doesn’t. Nationally his approval numbers are in the mid to high 30s.

His position is not secure. And yet he gambols on, both paranoid and oblivious.

History is going to judge us by how we comported ourselves in this murky time. It will see who cared first for the country and who didn’t, who kept his head and did not, who remained true and calm and played it straight.

Now there will be a special prosecutor. In the short term this buys the White House time.

Here’s an idea.

It would be good if top Hill Republicans went en masse to the president and said: “Stop it. Clean up your act. Shut your mouth. Do your job. Stop tweeting. Stop seething. Stop wasting time. You lost the thread and don’t even know what you were elected to do anymore. Get a grip. Grow up and look at the terrain, see it for what it is. We have limited time. Every day you undercut yourself, you undercut us. More important, you keep from happening the good policy things we could have done together. If you don’t grow up fast, you’ll wind up abandoned and alone. Act like a president or leave the presidency.”

Could it help? For a minute. But it would be constructive—not just carping, leaking, posing, cheering and tweeting but actually trying to lead.

The president needs to be told: Democracy is not your plaything.

Trump Has Been Lucky in His Enemies Cursing pols, screeching students and intolerant abortion advocates have become the face of the left.

Donald Trump’s tax-reform plan strikes me as daring. Whether it’s the daring of bright children or the daring of shrewd professionals who’ve gamed it out with the Hill remains to be seen. The simplification part is good and will be received as a balm by the taxpayers. Ronald Reagan once said even Einstein was driven to distraction by his tax forms, which explained his hair. The proposed cuts themselves are certainly big and blunt; economic and social thinkers will weigh in soon on whether they’re wise or just.

Refusing to eliminate the deductions for mortgage interest and charity was a dodging of bullets. I’m not convinced the former is fair: It’s hard to see the higher justice in treating homeowners better than renters. Maybe a real-estate lobbyist will explain. The latter was I suspect the work of the New Yorkers in the White House. Opera, ballet and theater all come out of New York, home too of the greatest museums and libraries. If the charitable deduction goes away, their contributions go down. If the greatest opera goes down in New York, that art form no longer exists in America. And a great nation must have opera. Apart from that, wealthy New Yorkers, such as people at Goldman Sachs, enjoy being on the great arts boards, and cutting the deduction is no way to accomplish that. God bless social ambition as a force for good.

Masked ActivistsThe whole thing looks like something that had to be hurriedly slapped together to put a cap on the president’s first hundred days. I wrote a highly sophisticated acquaintance who’s also a big Trump supporter to ask if she liked the plan. The response: “I am getting tired of biggest wall, biggest bomb, biggest tax cut. How about something that can actually happen.”

Now to a hundred-day summation—three thoughts after observing the past three months.

If this thing works—if the Trump administration is judged by history as having enjoyed some degree of success—it will definitively open up the U.S. political system in a wholly new way. Before Mr. Trump it was generally agreed you had to be a professional politician or a general to win the presidency. Mr. Trump changed that. If he succeeds in office it will stay changed. Candidates for president will be able to be . . . anything. You can be a great historian or a Nobel Prize-winning scientist. You can be a Silicon Valley billionaire. You can be Oprah, The Rock, or Kellyanne. The system will attract a lot of fresh, needed, surprising talent, and also a lot of nuts and poseurs.

But again, only if Mr. Trump succeeds. If he doesn’t, if he’s a spectacular failure, America will probably never go outside the system like this again, or not in our lifetimes.

If the Trump administration ends in failure or disaster, we will realize in retrospect that 2016 handed us a perfect historical irony. Donald Trump was the only Republican who could have won the GOP nomination. He was the shock the base wanted, the strange, magical Wonder Pony who could break through a broken system. He was also the only Republican who could have won the general election.

But he could also prove to be the only Republican who could not succeed in office. The others—John Kasich, Jeb Bush—actually knew how to govern, knew all the systems and traditions, knew what was required by high office and what was not allowed.

So the only one who could win was the only one who couldn’t do the job. If that happens, it will be some kind of irony, if irony’s the word.

I end with a lyric from the old show “Pippin”: “A simple rule that every good man knows by heart / It’s smarter to be lucky than it’s lucky to be smart.”

Mr. Trump has struggled so colorfully the past three months, we’ve barely noticed his great good luck—that in that time the Democratic Party and the progressive left have been having a very public nervous breakdown. The new head of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, performs unhinged diatribes. He told an audience in Las Vegas that “Trump doesn’t give a sh— about health care.” In a Maine speech, “They call it a skinny budget. I call it a sh—y budget.” In Newark, he said Republicans “don’t give a sh— about people.”

This is said to be an attempt to get down with millennials. I know a lot of millennials and they’re not idiots, so that won’t work.

The perennially sunny Rep. Maxine Waters of California called Mr. Trump’s cabinet “a bunch of scumbags.” New York’s junior Democratic senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, has taken to using the F-word in interviews.

I thought Mr. Trump was supposed to be the loudmouth vulgarian who swears in public. They are aping what they profess to hate. They excoriated him for lowering the bar. Now look at them.

And they’re doing it because they have nothing else—not a plan, not a program, not a philosophy that can be uttered.

The closest they got to meaning recently was when Mr. Perez found it helpful to say, of a Democratic mayoral candidate who’d backed some pro-life bills, that that kind of thinking had no place in the party. Bernie Sanders rightly called this out as madness. You can’t do this “if we’re going to become a 50-state party.”

Imagine a great, lost party defining itself by who it’s throwing out. They’re like the Republicans the past 20 years, throwing people out for opposing Iraq or George W. Bush, or for not joining NeverTrump. Where does this get you? It gets you to where we are.

That most entrenched bastion of the progressive left, America’s great universities, has been swept by . . . well, one hardly knows what to call it. “Political correctness” is too old and doesn’t do it justice. It is a hysteria—a screeching, ignorant wave of sometimes violent intolerance for free speech. It is mortifying to see those who lead great universities cower in fear of it, attempt to placate it, instead of stopping it.

When I see tapes of the protests and riots at schools like Berkeley, Middlebury, Claremont McKenna and Yale, it doesn’t have the feel of something that happens in politics. It has the special brew of malice and personal instability seen in the Salem witch trials. It sent me back to rereading Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” Heather Mac Donald danced with the devil! Charles Murray put the needle in the poppet! As in 17th-century Salem, the accusers have no proof of anything because they don’t know, read or comprehend anything.

The cursing pols, the anathematizing abortion advocates, the screeching students—they are now the face of the progressive left.

This is what America sees now as the face of the Democratic Party. It is a party blowing itself up whose only hope is that Donald Trump blows up first.

He may not be lucky in all of his decisions or staffers, or in his own immaturities and dramas. But hand it to him a hundred days in: He’s lucky in his main foes.

Republicans, Learn the Limits of Loyalty Make clear you want to work with Trump on policy but don’t defend his bad behavior.

No sooner do you remember never to join a pile-on than you wonder if you shouldn’t start one. Bill O’Reilly’s departure this week from Fox News is a real blow to piggishness, and I believe that must be said. He has denied all allegations, but the number of them over the years, and the $13 million in reported payouts, suggests a clear and obvious pattern of sexual harassment. This follows the retirement of Roger Ailes, who left under a similar cloud. I don’t know what was in the water over there, but it wasn’t good, it was poisonous, and I’m glad they’re doing environmental cleanup.

A lot of life is murky. Good things can come from mixed motives, bad things from clean ones. You can hold in your head the knowledge that all prominent conservatives are, essentially, a target in a media matrix dominated by ideological views that are not conservative—isn’t that a nice way to say it?—and yet be happy something bad has been thwarted. You can be aware that the exposé that triggered Mr. O’Reilly’s fall came in the form of a deeply reported piece in this newspaper’s chief competitor—it is the second-greatest newspaper in America—and you can suspect its focus on a Fox News star was fueled, at least in part, by both animal spirits and ideological animus. But you can still feel satisfaction that a culture of looking the other way has for the moment been defeated.

And again, this ought to be said. It is not conservative to be a pig. It is piggish to be a pig. You owe pigs nothing. So say the obvious.

Senator Joni Ernst

Senator Joni Ernst

We thus segue to the observation that Republican officeholders should by now have figured out how to speak about our ever-interesting president, and most have not. They think since he is a Republican and they are Republican, they must defend him on all things. They are looking at it wrong. He is Donald Trump. He is not “a Republican.” He is a wholly unusual historical figure who happened to them, and who now heads their party. They owe him an eager and open-minded willingness to work with him, to create helpful legislation, to join in debate and support him on areas of mutual conviction. They do not owe him a thing in terms of covering for his gaffes or oddnesses, mistakes or failures. They should not defend him on his tax returns unless they think he is right not to reveal them. They should not defend him on his refusal to make public the White House visitor’s logs—unless, bizarrely, they think that constitutes good public policy.

Being loyal isn’t being a lickspittle.

The president has a base of support. They’re with him and will give him time before they detach—if they detach. They hope for big, serious changes in policy. But they are not children. They are not unaware of his faults and weaknesses. Treat them with respect by speaking to them like adults.

Make clear you want to work with Mr. Trump but won’t cover for him. If the president doesn’t like it, and lashes out, so what? He’ll tweet that you’re not attractive. Laugh and say: “That’s what my mother said. But I have great hopes we can work together to reform our tax system. Best, Unattractive Tom.”

The first to break the code has been Iowa’s junior senator, Joni Ernst. This week she was back home doing her 99-county tour. In a community center in Wall Lake she was peppered with questions about Mr. Trump. Asked about his showy meetings with foreign leaders at Mar-a-Lago, she gently replied: “I do wish he would spend more time in Washington, D.C. That is what we have the White House for.” She conceded his “character flaws.” She said she supports “a majority of the policies versus the actual person.”

In a telephone interview this week she noted there was no “secret meaning” in her Mar-a-Lago criticism. “He spends too much money coming and going, and if we’re preaching about spending, we need to be following that.” One of the first questions in Wall Lake came from an anti-Trump constituent. He asked Ms. Ernst about “your president.” She responded, “It is our president. Mike Pence is our vice president.” She added, “Just as Barack Obama was my president and my commander in chief.” A man asked how she could support a president who treats women as he does. “I said we would be hard pressed to find a president who doesn’t have flaws, I can’t excuse him.”

She is not, she told me, distancing herself from the president. “I’m just pointing out what I’ve observed in response to honest questions Iowans are asking. He’s my president. I will work with him. But we have to be honest, he is a flawed human being, just like everyone else.”

I close with a connected thought, on the president’s tweets. He hasn’t tweeted anything crazy lately, but he surely will again. He seems to grow anxious when he has an unexpressed thought. The next time he does it, reporters will rush as they always do to administration officials and Republican members of Congress, and demand a response.

Staffers and Hill people have mostly felt personally, professionally and politically obliged to refrain from criticizing the tweets.

They should stop feeling that way. They should not try to explain and defend. It does them no good—and it does him no good.

Staffers, throw yourself on the grenade. When pressed for a response, try: “Those of us who care about the president are often puzzled by his tendency to send out these sometimes strange and obnoxious thoughts. I wish he wouldn’t. You’ll have to ask him about it in the next press conference. I myself don’t do tweet commentary. I leave that to you.” If you are a congressman or senator and the president decides to tweet about Arnold Schwarzenegger, Miss Universe or Kim Jong Un, consider saying this: “You’ll have to take that up with the president. I think he sounds like a fool.”

If you’re a staffer and say that, you’ll get fired. But you’ll have shown some style and helped the country. You’ll for the first time get some respect, and will be able to support your family and go on to a good living while having rescued your reputation. The first paragraph of your obituary, years hence, will say you were fired for speaking the truth, not that you were embarrassing back in the Trump era.

It will help the president. He doesn’t really like to do things he knows will hurt him, but he has a hard time retaining the information that his tweets have that effect. He thinks they helped make him president and help him govern. He’s wrong. After the first firing he’ll realize there’ll be a price to the second and third.

When being loyal involves not stating obvious truths, maybe you’re being loyal to the wrong thing.

Being truthful is moral and good. It comes, for both speaker and listener, as a refreshment. Or in the practical, strategic language political figures respect, candor is the new cleverness. Everyone’s had it with evasions and circumlocutions. Stop. Say it true and keep walking.

Does Steve Bannon Have Something to Offer? In 2014 the beleaguered White House aide raised important moral questions about today’s capitalism.

My late friend Bill Safire, the tough and joyous New York Times columnist, once gave me good advice. I was not then a newspaper columnist, but he’d apparently decided I would be. This is what he said: Never join a pile-on, always hit ’em when they’re up. Don’t criticize the person who’s already being attacked. What’s the fun in that, where’s the valor? Hit them when they’re flying high and it takes some guts.

So, in the matter of Steve Bannon:

I think we can agree he brings a certain amount of disorder. They say he’s rough and tough, and there’s no reason to doubt it. They say he leaks like a sieve and disparages his rivals, and this can be assumed to be correct: They all do that in this White House. He is accused of saying incendiary things and that is true. A week into the administration he told Michael Grynbaum of the Times the media should “keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” “I love a gunfight,” he reportedly said in the middle of his latest difficulties. When he tried to muscle members of the Freedom Caucus to vote for the ObamaCare replacement bill, a congressman blandly replied, “You know, the last time someone ordered me to do something I was 18 years old, and it was my daddy, and I didn’t listen to him, either.” When I said a while back that some of the president’s aides are outlandish, and confuse strength with aggression, he was in mind.

But there’s something low, unseemly and ugly in the efforts to take him out so publicly and humiliatingly, to turn him into a human oil spot on the tarmac—this not only from his putative colleagues but now even the president. “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Mr. Trump purred to the New York Post’s Michael Goodwin.

So let’s take a look at something impressive Mr. Bannon has done. I’ve been meaning to write of it for a while. In 2014 he did a live Skype interview for a conference on poverty at the Vatican. BuzzFeed ran it during the campaign under the headline “This Is How Steve Bannon Sees the Entire World.”

It shows an interesting mind at work.

The West is currently facing a “crisis of capitalism,” he said. The world was able to recover after the world wars in part thanks to “an enlightened form of capitalism” that generated “tremendous wealth” broadly distributed among all classes. This capitalism was shaped by “the underlying spiritual and moral foundations . . . of Judeo-Christian belief.” Successful capitalists were often either “active participants in the Jewish faith” or “active participants in the Christian faith.” They operated on a kind of moral patrimony, part tradition, part religious teaching. But now the West has become more secular. Capitalism as a result has grown “unmoored” and is going “partly off track.”

He speaks of two “disturbing” strands. “One is state-sponsored capitalism,” as in China and Russia. We also, to a degree, see it in America. This is “a brutal form of capitalism” in which wealth and value are distributed to “a very small subset of people.” It is connected to crony capitalism. He criticizes the Republican Party as “really a collection of crony capitalists that feel they have a different set of rules of how they’re going to comport themselves.”

The other disturbing strand is “libertarian capitalism,” which “really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people, and to use them almost.” He saw this strand up close when he was on Wall Street, at Goldman Sachs . There he saw “the securitization of everything” and an attitude in which “people are looked at as commodities.”
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Capitalists, he said, now must ask: “What is the purpose of whatever I’m doing with this wealth? What is the purpose of what I’m doing with the ability that God has given us . . . to actually be a creator of jobs and a creator of wealth?”

With both these strands, he says, the middle class loses ground. This has contributed to the “global revolt” of populism and nationalism. That revolt was fueled, too, by the financial crisis of 2008. None of those responsible on Wall Street were called to account: “No bonuses and none of their equity was taken.” The taxes of the middle class were used to bail them out.

There’s more in the conversation, which lasted 50 minutes and included the problem of racist and anti-Semitic overtones in populist movements. But it’s a thoughtful, serious talk, and its themes would reverberate in the 2016 election.

You can see Mr. Bannon’s basic or developing political and economic philosophy as half-baked, fully baked, or likely to explode in the oven. And it is fair to note his views haven’t seemed to gel or produce very much in the first dozen weeks of the Trump era.

But what Mr. Bannon offered in the interview was a point of view that was publicly declared and could be debated.

What will take its place if he leaves the White House or recedes as a figure? What worldview will prevail, to the extent Mr. Trump does worldviews? Policy changes accompanying Mr. Bannon’s diminishment this week included the president’s speaking approvingly of the Export-Import Bank and NATO, declaring that China isn’t a currency manipulator after all, suggesting the dollar may be too strong, and hitting Syria and Afghanistan.

None of that sounds like Candidate Trump.

It is possible what we are seeing is simply the rise of a more moderate or conciliatory or establishment Trump White House. But it also looks like the rise of the Wall Street Mr. Bannon painted as tending to see people as commodities. Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, is said to be Mr. Bannon’s most effective internal foe. He is the new rising figure. There are many Wall Street folk—some from Messrs. Bannon and Cohn’s old stomping ground, Goldman Sachs—in influential administration posts. They don’t come across as the kind of people who exhaust themselves pondering the meaning of the historical moment or tracing societal stresses and potential responses.

Will all these changes, in policy and perhaps personnel, hurt Mr. Trump? Probably a little. But nothing dramatic right now, because his supporters knew they were making an unusual choice in making him president, and they will give him time.

But if the Trump White House is itself changing dramatically, we’ll look back on this week as the moment the change became apparent.

I end with Safire, who’s been gone eight years. I still miss him, and I thought of him this week when I received good news. He’d received the same news 39 years before. I think he’d be happy, clap me on the back, call me kid. And I’m telling you the first chance he got to take a deserved shot, he’d take it. And if instead I’d endured some personal or professional loss, he’d be first one on the phone.

He had style. Style is good.

Beautiful Easter and Passover to my readers, who wrote in this week and reminded me how beautiful they are. I know that’s corny, but sometimes life is corny.