Trump Tries to Build a ‘Different Party’ The Democrats have no playbook for dealing with a Republican who’s a populist.

To see Week One of the Trump administration clearly, you have to do two things.

First, put to one side the incendiary comments, which now feel like small and daily data points within a greater cloud of crazy. Put aside the president’s preoccupations with crowd size, popularity, illegal voters—all the things he says that hurt him and not his foes. For the first time we have a president of whom people ask, with equanimity, each night at dinner tables: “What nutty thing did he say today?” No one has to explain who “he” is. Amazingly, we’re getting used to this. So is the world. Everything has more give than we think.

Meeting with the International Brotherhood of Carpenters

Meeting with the International Brotherhood of Carpenters

Second, with all the fighting over what’s happening politically, and the bitter tensions that are not abating, there is a personal imperative for most of us: Maintain your composure—your political and personal composure, your journalistic composure. Do not let this time rob you of your peace. You’ll be no good for anything if it does, and you won’t see anything clearly.

Substantively, what we’ve seen the past week was daring and bold. The administration is taking shape before our eyes, with unusual speed. Normally it takes time for the ideological disposition of an administration to emerge. Normally presidents ease into the job, rejecting the dramatic: “Don’t frighten the horses.”

What happened from day one was a dramatic, almost daily barrage of executive orders. Among them: reinstating the 1984 ban on U.S. taxpayer funding of groups that provide abortions overseas; declaring the intention to create a physical barrier to secure the border with Mexico; moving forward on construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines; relieving the burdens of ObamaCare; and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

All this marked more than the keeping of political promises, though that’s startling enough. It was a programmatic expression of the central assertion of President Trump’s inaugural address: I am a populist independent, allied not with the two major parties but with the working men and women of America. That it came like a barrage—Boom, pipeline! Boom, trade! Boom, abortion!—made it more unmistakable. But in case you missed his point, he told Maggie Haberman of the New York Times that yes, he’s chosen a presidential portrait to put in the Oval Office. It is fiery Andrew Jackson, tormentor of elites, champion of the 19th century’s deplorables.

The significance and velocity of the orders unnerved and upset Mr. Trump’s critics and took aback some of his friends. But those orders—even though their use makes the presidency more imperial, even though it’s no way to govern, even though Mr. Obama did it, too—will likely not be unpopular in the country. It actually looked as if someone was doing something.

More important than the orders were the White House meetings. One was a breakfast with a dozen major CEOs. They looked happy as frolicking puppies in the photo-op, and afterward talked about jobs. Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin said she was “encouraged by the president’s commitment to reduce barriers to job creation.” In a statement after the meeting, the glassmaker Corning, whose CEO attended, announced plans to expand its U.S. manufacturing base significantly over the next few years. Because I live in New York and work at the Journal, I see and talk to American CEOs. I’ve never heard them bang on about a need to boost American jobs and manufacturing, ever. They usually talk about targeted microloans in India, and robots.

More important still—the most important moment of the first week—was the meeting with union leaders. Mr. Trump gave them almost an hour and a half. “The president treated us with respect, not only our organization but our members,” said Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, by telephone. Liuna had not endorsed Trump in the campaign, but Mr. O’Sullivan saw the meeting’s timing as an expression of respect: “He’s inaugurated on Friday and we’re invited in Monday to have a substantial conversation.” The entire Trump top staff was there, including the vice president: “His whole team—we were very impressed.” They talked infrastructure, trade and energy. “The whole meeting was about middle class jobs, how do we create more?” Mr. O’Sullivan believes the Keystone pipeline will eventually generate more than 40,000 jobs. Mr. O’Sullivan said he hopes fixing “our crumbling transportation infrastructure” will be “the largest jobs program in the country.”

The new president gave them a tour of the Oval Office. Presidents tend to develop a line of patter about the rug, the color of the drapes. Did Mr. Trump direct things in that way? No. “He gave us free rein, to tell you the truth.”

The lengthy, public and early meeting with the union leaders was, among other things, first-class, primo political pocket-picking. The Trump White House was showing the Democratic Party that one of its traditional constituent groups is up for grabs and happy to do business with a new friend. It was also telling those Republicans too stupid to twig onto it yet that the GOP is going to be something it’s actually been within living memory: the party of working men and women, a friend of those who feel besieged.

It’s a mistake for observers in Washington and New York to fixate on Mr. Trump’s daily faux pas at the expense of the political meaning of what he’s doing. He’s changing the face of the GOP. It is a mistake, too, to see Mr. Trump’s tweet on how Chicago had better solve its problem with violent crime or he’ll “send in the Feds,” as merely stupid—just a tweet that raises the question “What does ‘send in the Feds’ mean?” If you’re a parent in a tough Chicago neighborhood, you’d be heartened to think the feds might help. You’d be happy the president noticed. You’d say, “Go, Trump!”

All week I thought of one of the best pieces on the meaning of Trumpism, from last May, by Joshua Green in Bloomberg Businessweek. Mr. Trump suggested to Mr. Green his stands were not as ad hoc and ideologically jumbled as they seemed, that they were in fact intentional. He was creating “a worker’s party,” a “party of people that haven’t had a real wage increase in 18 years.” “Five, 10 years from now—different party,” he said of the GOP.

He’s trying to make it look different right now. Many Americans, and not only Trump supporters, will like this.

And here is the important political point: Democrats don’t have a playbook for this. They have a playbook to use against normal Republicans: You’re cold, greedy, racist, sexist elitists who hate the little guy.

They don’t have a playbook to use against a political figure like Mr. Trump yet, because he jumbles all the categories. Democrats will wobble around, see what works. For now they’ll stick with saying he’s scary, unstable, right-wing.

It’s going to take them a while to develop a playbook against an independent populist, some of whose advisers hate Republicans more than they do.

Trump’s Herky-Jerky First Week It takes a while for any administration to settle down. But this one is off to an unusually awkward start.

Last week’s column was on the inauguration. This week’s, up tomorrow night, will be a look at President Trump’s first days in office. Here I mention smaller things I saw or thought in Washington last week, as the Trump administration geared up to begin.

Every new administration begins awkwardly. New White Houses are always herky-jerky, always on some level a months-long calamity, and each administration tries to hide its particular level of chaos from the press. (The Obama administration pretty much succeeded here; the Clinton administration did not.) But the Trump Hundred Days looks to be more awkward than usual.

Congressional leaders at the White House

Congressional leaders at the White House

There are many reasons. A lot of Trump aides and staffers in the White House are new to government. Because they’re not veterans they have to learn the basics—what WHO is, what OPL is, how the staffing system works. Not all jobs are filled. Not all lines of authority are clear. Not everyone understands that old ways and systems exist for a reason. Getting your information together for the FBI field investigation, getting your temporary pass—everyone’s drinking from a fire hose.

It takes a while for any administration to settle down.

Then there are the facts specific and unique to this administration. The talk in Washington all last week among experienced and mostly skeptical observers, some of whom had helped in the transition, was that there are too many individual power centers around Donald Trump with too many significant players who have their own small armies of loyalists.

It was said that Reince Priebus, the new chief of staff, will never be able to herd these cats. It was said the cats will use him as a scratching post.

Among Republicans who remember these things, there was talk of the spokes-of-the-wheel White House management style, with the president as the hub, and the old Jim Baker model, which was occasionally awkward and guaranteed a certain amount of jockeying and mischief—but worked. That was the Reagan White House troika, in which Mike Deaver was in charge of public presentation, Ed Meese in charge of domestic policy development and Mr. Baker, the chief of staff, in charge of coordinating everything and essentially running the joint. He took final problems to the president; he executed decisions; he spoke for the administration in friendly, off the record meetings with the press.

Those who observed the transition say Mr. Trump will, inevitably and due to nature and habit, be a spokes-of-the-wheel chief executive, when he’d be better off with a strong chief of staff and clear lines.

We’ll see. So will he. White House management styles evolve, usually as early trouble develops.

And there is the unusual nature of Mr. Trump himself. There is a dynamic that is continuing with Mr. Trump as president that has been true of him since he announced for the presidency 19 months ago. It is that he makes it hard for potential allies to come to his side. There are men and women on the Hill who’d back him more colorfully and forcefully but they know the minute they do he’ll do something that embarrasses them—launch a tirade, send a tweet, say something awful—and that they’ll have to defend. They don’t understand why he harms himself, and they don’t wish the harm to wash over them. They keep a discreet distance in case they’ll some day have to run for their lives.

He could make it so much easier for them, but he can’t.

His relationship with Republicans on the Hill remains tentative and provisional. There are many reasons for this, not only his personality. What will nudge them more firmly into his corner will be his ability to develop broad popularity within the country. If Mr. Trump can, over the next few weeks and months, get his approval ratings going up, and then up substantially, that will make a big difference. His personality isn’t going to be what wins over Americans. He doesn’t have to go on “Between Two Ferns” or “Ellen.” Right now for him it will all come down to policy decisions. If those decisions garner support it will show up in the polls. (More on that tomorrow.) A good number of senators and congressmen on the GOP side, maybe most, can’t tell what’s popular anymore, but they can read a poll. If they start to hear, when they’re home, “Be good to my guy Donald,” that will make a difference, too.

A note on how tentative is President Trump’s support among Washington Republicans, especially senators, congressmen and members of the political and journalistic class. I witnessed again and again last week what I now think of as the Trump do-si-do.

Two men who are acquainted bump into each other at a social gathering. “So!” says the first man. “Yup!” says the second. They stand looking for clues in the eyes, the face. A shrug means one thing, a grin means something else.

“We feeling good?”

“I am!” If they’re both happy they mind-meld on hopes, if they’re unhappy they mind-meld on fears. If one is happy and the other not, they pat each other’s arms and part with a pleasantry as they slide by. I saw this over and over.

President Trump Declares Independence His message to America: Remember those things I said in the campaign? I meant them. I meant it all.


I was more moved than I expected. Then more startled.

The old forms and traditions, the bands and bunting, endured. I thought, as I watched the inauguration: It continues. There were pomp and splendor, happy, cheering crowds; and for all the confounding nature of the past 18 months, and all the trauma, it came as a reassurance to see us do what we do the way we do it. A friend in the Southwest, a longtime Trump supporter, emailed just before the swearing in: “I have been crying all morning.” From joy.

Delivering his inaugural address Friday outside the U.S. Capitol.

Delivering his inaugural address Friday outside the U.S. Capitol.

I found myself unexpectedly moved during the White House meeting of the Trumps and the Obamas, at the moment Melania Trump emerged from her car. She was beautiful, seemed so shy and game. There are many ways to show your respect for people and events, and one is to present yourself with elegance and dignity.

The inaugural address was utterly and uncompromisingly Trumpian. The man who ran is the man who’ll reign. It was plain, unfancy and blunt to the point of blistering. A little humility would have gone a long way, but that’s not the path he took. Nor did he attempt to reassure. It was pow, right in the face. Most important, he did not in any way align himself with the proud Democrats and Republicans arrayed around him. He looked out at the crowd and said he was allied with them.

He presented himself not as a Republican or a conservative but as a populist independent. The essential message: Remember those things I said in the campaign? I meant them. I meant it all.

The address was bold in its assertion of the distance in America between the leaders and the led: “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished—but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered—but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country.”

It was an unmistakable indictment of almost everyone seated with him on the platform.

Then a stark vow: “That all changes—starting right here and right now.” Jan. 20 “will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”

And these words were most remarkable, not because they were new, but because he didn’t back away from them, he repeated them in an improvisation: “From this day forward it’s going to be only America first—America first.” To American workers and families: “You will never be ignored again.”

The speech will electrify President Trump’s followers. They will feel satisfaction that they understood him and knew what they were backing. And it will deepen the Washington establishment’s unease. Republican leaders had been hoping the address would ameliorate their anxieties about the continued primacy of their traditional policy preferences. Forget that. This was a declaration that the president is going his own way and they’d best follow.

Throughout the speech, and much of the day, Mr. Trump looked stern. At first I thought it was the face he puts on when he’s nervous. I don’t think so now.

Anyway, it was a remarkable speech, like none before it, and it marked, I think, yet another break point in the two-party reality that has dominated our politics for many decades.

And so, now, it begins. And it simply has to be repeated: We have never had a political moment like this in our lives. We have never had a president like this, such a norm-breaker, in all the ways we know. We are in uncharted seas.

His supporters, who flooded Washington this week, were friendly, courteous—but watchful. Two Midwestern women told me separately that they used to be but no longer are Republican. They’re something new, waiting for a name.

They like Mr. Trump the way you learn to like someone you hired and will depend on. They judged him as exactly what’s needed to cut through the merde machine of modern Washington. He is a destabilizer; he shifts the tectonic plates; in the chaos that results, breakthroughs are possible.

And yet all admit that yes, we’re in uncharted waters.

The mood among Republicans in Washington is hopeful apprehension. Even Trump supporters, even his staff and advisers, feel it. No one knows what he’ll be like as president, how this will go. Including, probably, him. A GOP senator characterized his mood as “tentatively positive.” Another said, with a big grin: “I feel somewhat optimistic!”

We’ll find out a lot the next few months. How will Mr. Trump work with Congress, and what are his specific legislative priorities? How important will the cabinet be? Will the Trumps really live in the White House or just stay and do events a few days a week? Will they come to own the physical space, the psychic space, of the executive mansion and the presidency? Will they give Camp David—those rustic cabins that are a glass, brass and marble-free zone—a chance?

The big embassies this week gave receptions to celebrate the inauguration, and invited official Washington. Ambassadors made friendly speeches about their countries’ long, deep and unchanging ties to America. They approached the big change with sangfroid, even jolliness. But Washington still doesn’t know what to make of this thing America did.

At the Kuwaiti Embassy I looked out at hundreds of Washingtonians of both parties—diplomats, lobbyists, military brass, journalists—all networking, meeting, greeting, all handsomely dressed. As I surveyed the scene I turned to a social figure of 40 years’ standing. “Do they have any sense they’re living through big history?” I asked. “Noooooo!” she said. The look on her face—if it had been the late 19th century she would have said, “Pshaw!” History is not what they’re about, she was suggesting; satisfying their personal and immediate hungers is what they’re about.

The Trump Wars of the past 18 months do not now go away. Now it becomes the Trump Civil War, every day, with Democrats trying to get rid of him and half the country pushing back. To reduce it to the essentials: As long as Mr. Trump’s party holds the House, it will be a standoff. If the Democrats take the House, they will move to oust him.

Because we are divided. We are two nations, maybe more.

Normally a new president has someone backing him up, someone publicly behind him. Mr. Obama had the mainstream media—the big broadcast networks, big newspapers, activists and intellectuals, pundits and columnists of the left—the whole shebang. He had a unified, passionate party. Mr. Trump in comparison has almost nothing. The mainstream legacy media oppose him, even hate him, and will not let up. The columnists, thinkers and magazines of the right were mostly NeverTrump; some came reluctantly to support him. His party is split or splitting. The new president has gradations of sympathy, respect or support from exactly one cable news channel, and some websites.

He really has no one but those who voted for him.

Do they understand what a lift daily governance is going to be, and how long the odds are, with so much arrayed against him, and them?


The Trump Cabinet’s Good Opening Week And a reminder of Barack Obama as an inspirer of young Americans.

This week was hail and farewell. Thursday morning William Cohen, the former Republican senator who became Bill Clinton’s secretary of defense, introduced and endorsed Gen. James N. Mattis,Donald Trump’s nominee as defense chief, to the Senate Armed Services Committee. “He has the nickname of ‘Mad Dog’—it’s a misnomer,” Mr. Cohen said. “It should be Braveheart.” Sam Nunn, a Democratic former senator, also praised the nominee’s character and credentials. Gen. Mattis is that vanishingly rare thing in Washington, a figure of almost universal respect. His confirmation is expected.

Secretary of State-nominee Rex Tillerson

Secretary of State-nominee Rex Tillerson

The day before, in his confirmation hearings at the Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson came across as distinguished, calm, informed. In intense questioning, Sen. Marco Rubio was strangely, yippily hostile. “Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?” Mr. Rubio pressed. “I would not use that term,” Mr. Tillerson replied, blandly, but with an expression that allowed you to imagine a thought bubble: You can mess with me, son, but it won’t end well for you. In the end, Mr. Rubio did Mr. Tillerson no harm and himself no good. A few hours in, with his accent and cool demeanor, I realized who Mr. Tillerson was reminding me of: former Secretary of State James Baker.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, the nominee for attorney general, was cuffed about in his sessions but emerged relatively unscathed. Rep. Mike Pompeo, Mr. Trump’s pick to head the CIA, was up Thursday. He was creditable, composed, informed. Also that day Gen. John Kelly, nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security, drew bipartisan support. He was introduced by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said: “I would trust him with my life.”

It was interesting that all of Mr. Trump’s nominees made clear they would have no problem disagreeing with the incoming president on issues such as immigration, torture and Russia. Gen. Mattis said, bluntly, that he’s “all for engagement,” but we must recognize “there’s a decreasing number of areas where we can engage cooperatively, and an increasing number of areas where we’re going to have to confront Russia.” The nominees’ independence may reassure some of the president-elect’s foes without putting off most of his supporters: They’d expect a degree of dissent among professionals and will want him surrounded by respectful, independent operators.

Make Inaugurals Dignified Again

Advice for the new president on his first day—and for the media covering it.

Click to Read Story

Shining a Light on ‘Back Row’ America

Chris Arnade, a photographer whose travels and pictures reveal an America that is battered but standing, a society that is atomized but holding on.

Click to Read Story

The Smartest Thing I Heard in 2016

In July, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott told me this was an ‘unpollable’ election. He was spot on.

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What Trump Got That Romney Didn’t

Trump, unlike Romney, understands that ideology isn’t enough to provide the unity America needs.

Click to Read Story

More By Peggy Noonan

Such hearings are televised in part so interested citizens can form their own opinions. They likely received a generally positive impression.

President Obama meanwhile delivered his farewell address, at a semi-raucous and sentimental rally in Chicago. There was nothing terrible in it and little strikingly good. In the tradition of presidential warnings, he spoke of the need to work harder for economic opportunity and racial harmony. We are too divided, sort ourselves out and away from each other, and “keep talking past each other.” We are increasingly stuck in cultural and intellectual enclaves, and choose whatever news we’re inclined to believe. All true.

Mr. Obama’s has not been a successful presidency. In foreign affairs his two terms, added to George W. Bush’s two terms, produced 16 years of unsuccess—an entire generation. Richard Haass, head of the Council on Foreign Relations, put it gently in conversation this week: Mr. Bush tried to do too much, which was unrealistic; Mr. Obama attempted too little, its own, perhaps more consequential unrealism.

In domestic matters he put all his chips on health care and bullied it through without a single Republican vote, leaving his party fully owning it and the other with no investment in saving it. His relationship with Congress started out at impasse, proceeded to fraught and ended in estrangement. He saw this all as the other side’s fault. In his dealings with the Hill he was often imperious, sometimes a snot. He allowed executive agencies such as the IRS to ruin their public reputations and stonewall scandal after scandal. His most famous words as president came not in formal addresses but extemporaneous misjudgments—“red line,” ISIS as the “jayvee team”—plus an attempt to mislead: “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.”

He left his party weaker, in terms of public offices held, than at any point since the 1920s.

He spent an unprecedented amount of time campaigning against, and assailing in the bitterest terms, his successor. Donald Trump was “uniquely unqualified,” “temperamentally unfit.” America chose him anyway. They were choosing Mr. Obama’s exact opposite, just as in choosing Sen. Obama in 2008 they went with the opposite of Mr. Bush. When they want the opposite of what you are, they are not registering approval.

Yet Mr. Obama’s approval ratings are at a respectable 55%. I think I know some of why.

I was speaking at a college down South this past fall. The students were impressive, kindly, racially mixed, almost all working-class. An administrator said proudly that most were the first in their families to attend college. In my talk I compared the past five presidents, noting one thing each could have learned, to his benefit, from his predecessor. But the evening ran late, and wanting to sum up quickly I gave Mr. Obama short shrift, not affording him the same degree of regard and respect I’d given his predecessors. The students had been listening and laughing, but here the room turned cool. I knew I’d been unjust but couldn’t turn it around; it was too late to amend. I knew I had disappointed these students, especially, but not only, young black men. They were too polite to say anything, but I felt it.

Afterward I thought about it a lot. I had seen that night something I’d missed—what Obama was to the young, especially those who came from families of stress and need. If you were 12 when Obama was elected, and grew up with a mother or grandmother and that’s it, and that mother or grandmother maybe didn’t always treat you so well, and you had no one around to teach you, on a daily basis, how to be a man, show you what a man does, and you saw him acting with careful, conscious dignity, with his intact family and his personal poise—maybe that just meant a lot. Maybe it gave you hints. And maybe when you saw him celebrating those who in whatever way are different, or feel different, that meant something too.

Barack Obama had dignity in his personal sphere. He carried himself with confidence, like someone with self-respect. You gathered, as you watched over eight years, that he did what a man does, taking care of his family, his wife and children. He didn’t talk about it but he modeled it, represented it in his actions. This, in an increasingly less parented country, was valuable. I didn’t give enough weight to it until after that night at the college.

I put it here to remind everyone, mostly myself, that you can strongly oppose someone politically, really think you’re seeing bad things there, but have a responsibility to see and note what good there is.

We’re losing that ability, in our enclaves.

He has said that he’s touched a rising generation. To some significant degree I have a feeling that will probably prove true.

Make Inaugurals Dignified Again Advice for the new president on his first day—and for the media covering it.

At just after noon on Friday, Jan. 20, Donald Trump will be sworn in as 45th president of the United States. He will stand on the west steps of the Capitol with Chief Justice John Roberts, who will hold a Bible, possibly two. (If the Bible is open it will likely be turned to a verse chosen by the new president. What might be inferred from its selection?) By tradition the incoming president will place his left hand on the Bible, raise his right, and repeat the oath as set forth in the eighth clause of Article II, Section 1, of the U.S. Constitution: “I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear . . .”

Crying at an anti-Trump demonstration

Crying at an anti-Trump demonstration

At that moment roughly half the country will feel deep pleasure and gratitude. Among the other half will likely commence a new—and perhaps last, for a while—wave of grief and horror.

Network executives and producers are wrestling with exactly how to cover the inauguration, how to find the right tone and approach in a country so divided. They are aware of their own antipathy and are not ashamed of it because they see it as connected to love of country: They don’t want to celebrate a man they find deplorable and a victory they believe destructive.

For what it’s worth my advice has been: Look, just tell the story. Put focus on the people who’ve come to the inaugural ask how they feel, what they hope for, what this means to them. It’s history—gather it, hear it, show it. Talk to the people at the balls.

What was true at the Cleveland convention will likely be true here: Trump supporters will not, most of them, be the eminently spoofable wealthy Republicans of the past. They’re not as fancy, they’re people with normal lives and resources. Cover the speech—point out what’s striking; try to locate, fairly, message and meaning. Cover the parade, capture the day. Reporters and correspondents don’t have to show personal happiness—that’s not their job. But they do have to show happiness when it’s present in others. The next day, in the so-called million-woman march, they’ll show the continuing fraught nature of our politics, and the views of that side.

Don’t make your coverage another scandal, another wedge dividing the people from their national media. If you can work up a decent passion for the traditions of the world’s greatest democracy, and show respect for the fact that America is always an astounding, confounding place, good. History isn’t boring, only bores are boring.

I keep telling young journalists to keep in mind a line they love from “Hamilton”: “How lucky we are to be alive right now.” If you’re a political reporter you’re witnessing one of the great stories ever, the Republican Party recomposing itself and the Democratic Party reinventing itself. What a gift to be here with a pen! As for me, I walk in thinking: Hope it works, pray it works, and play it straight. If something is good, say so, if it’s bad, say so. Have a heart but don’t let it overwhelm your brain.

As for Mr. Trump, he should treat the refusal of big entertainers to play at his inaugural events as an opportunity. He should wear their snub like a medal. Every four years presidential inaugurations become bigger and glitzier—movie stars, hip-hop artists, $3,000 rooms—and make normal people feel left out. They raise up the presidency too high. The fireworks and extravaganzas and galas have gone from cult-of-personality-ish to vaguely fascistic. It is unrepublican! The Trump people would be doing a public service to make it simpler, plainer, more modest, less grand and conceited and dumb. (That would play against type for Mr. Trump, too.) They wouldn’t be banishing joy—some people will have private parties and provide their own hoopla; some will have a good time with friends watching the balls on TV in the bar at the Hilton.

You don’t need the whole imperial feel.

*   *   *

People are wondering what Mr. Trump will say in his inaugural address. I don’t know. Advice? Sure.

He should follow all protocols: “Vice President Pence, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, fellow citizens.” People crave a sense of respectful continuity. By people I mean me. Observing legitimate traditional forms suggests it.

He should read from a text. Popping off from notes is disrespectful. This one goes into the history books. Presidents bother to prepare inaugural addresses and then bother to read them aloud.

The speech should not attempt to be fancy. It should aim neither for the faux-eloquence of the present or the old and elegant formulations of the past. Don’t do, “Ask not” or “Let every nation know” or “Let us go forth.” As I once said because I’m so amusing, “Hold the let us.” The speech should be authentic to Donald Trump—the best, simplest, most coherent Trump anybody has heard. It should be direct and avoid the airy pronouncements of sentiment we now hear, where you can listen to whole paragraphs and not be able to grab onto a thought. They’re awful. They leave people looking at each other with eyes that say “Was that eloquent?” Because it sounds fancy and impenetrable they think maybe it is. But fancy and impenetrable is the opposite of eloquence.

It should not be too long. Fifteen, 20 minutes is fine, less even better. When you don’t know what you’re saying you take a long time to say it. When you know what you’re saying you get pithy. Audiences know this and associate brevity in formal address with confidence.

More substantively, the speech should define the moment we’re in, explaining what is happening now, what mood prevails. With the Trump era, something new has happened and is being tried. We are somewhere uncharted: What’s the course? Also big battles with Congress are coming, not only with Democrats but, more consequentially, with Mr. Trump’s own party members on the Hill. Republicans in Congress tend to think like Speaker Paul Ryan on entitlement spending, trade, immigration, foreign affairs. Mr. Trump stands not with them but opposite them. His relationship with Congress will start with sweetness and optimism, but surely a clash is coming. And someone is going to win.

This might form the meat of the speech: Is the new administration economic nationalist? Is it populist? Then stake out your territory—now. Define your thinking, assert your views. Don’t wait for Mr. Ryan to define you when the battles begin. If you’re serious, you’ll define yourselves.

Finally, don’t be anxious, it weighs down the work. There hasn’t been a great inaugural address since John F. Kennedy, who set the tone and template 56 years ago. Every inaugural since can be understood as an attempt to steal his sound and reach his heights.

But he had his issues, too. He’d invited Robert Frost, the great genius of American poetry, to speak. In the glare of that too-bright day Frost couldn’t read his new poem, and recited an old one instead. JFK was relieved. Earlier he had confided to his friend Rep. Stewart Udall, “He’s a master of words. I have to be sure he doesn’t upstage me.”

Even JFK was nervous.


Shining a Light on ‘Back Row’ America Chris Arnade’s photos reveal an America that is battered but standing, atomized but holding on.

I want to end this dramatic year writing of a man whose great and constructive work I discovered in 2016. He is the photojournalist Chris Arnade. I follow him on Twitter, where he issues great tweet-storms containing pictures and commentary about America. (His work has also appeared in the Guardian and the Atlantic.) He has spent the past year traveling through much of the country taking pictures of regular people in challenging circumstances and writing of their lives. He is politically progressive and a week before the election angered his side, and some media folk, by foretelling the victory of Donald Trump. The people he met were voting for him. Many saw the America they’d grown up in slipping away. They wanted a country that was great again. They experienced elite disdain for Trump as evidence he might be the one to turn it around.

Mr. Arnade received a Ph.D. in physics from Johns Hopkins in 1993 and worked 20 years as a bond trader at Salomon Brothers, through its end as Citigroup. He left Wall Street in 2012 and started taking long treks through New York City, 10 miles and 20. “I was a numbers guy,” he said, a professional who lived on data. Now he wanted to see things. “Eventually I started taking pictures and talking to people about their lives,” he said by phone from his home in upstate New York, where he lives now with his family. “Looking back, for me it was an evolution of trying to . . . stop being that arrogant Ph.D. kid who knew it all.” What he saw was “injustice.” He wanted to see “if what I found in the Bronx was true in other parts of the U.S.”

Photo: Chris Arnade

David Sanders studying the Bible at a McDonald’s in Johnson City, Tenn. Photo: Chris Arnade

And so his 2016 trek. By this weekend he will have traveled 58,000 miles throughout America in his 2006 Honda Odyssey. He went to small towns and cities through the northeast and down South, through the Midwest and the Rust Belt, through forgotten places with boarded up town centers. He met retired welders and drug addicts and valorous families getting by with nothing. He saw modest and embittered people who’d seen the places they grew up in disappear. He met Minnie McDonald and her granddaughter, Madison Walton, visiting the graves of Minnie’s daughters in Montezuma, Ga. He met five little kids in Selma, Ala. “Do you like Selma?” he asked. All were quiet. The littlest said, “Noooo.” Why? “Too many shootings, too many deaths,” said another. Penny Springfield, a middle-aged white woman, met Mr. Arnade in the empty church where she’d buried her son Johny, who died from an overdose.

Outside an apartment door in Bristol, Tenn., Mr. Arnade spies “the great Triumvirate,” a pair of brown work boots and, neatly tucked inside, a Bud Light and Marlboro Reds. David Sanders studies the Bible every day in the McDonald’s in Johnson City, Tenn., underlining and annotating. Priscilla in El Paso, Texas, walks twice a week over the bridge from Juarez to clean houses. “It is good work—any work is good work.” He met a black couple with a van full of relatives and friends in Saluda, S.C., who were grabbing a bite at McDonald’s between services on Sunday morning. “I asked, ‘Between services?’ ” They said, “Yes, we attend 3 churches on Sundays. We do all we can for the Lord.”

Sometimes Mr. Arnade would sleep in his car. Sometimes he’d stay “at hotels that either charge by the hour or the month.” He’d arrive in a place and ask “What’s the place you shouldn’t go, and that’s where I’d go.”

In his work you see an America that is battered but standing, a society that is atomized—there are lonely people in his pictures—but holding on. Two great and underappreciated institutions play a deep role in holding it together.

The first is small churches, often Pentecostal and Evangelical. They’re in a dead strip mall or on a spur off a highway and they give everyone an embrace. “Any church that has a sign that says We Welcome Everybody, that’s where I go.” He looks for the ones “that are often literally on the edge of town.” One in Alabama was a former Kentucky Fried Chicken. “It’s clear they don’t have a lot of money. They tend to be more welcoming because they’re used to people walking in off the street.” Though a stranger he is often hugged. He has been invited to speak from the pulpit. “I am a bit of an outcast being a progressive who finds a lot of value in faith beyond just my faith, but faith in others. We progressives, we only seem to celebrate faith among poor blacks, not poor whites.”

The other institution that helps hold people together is McDonald’s. Mr. Arnade didn’t intend to discover virtue in a mighty corporation, but McDonald’s “has great value to community.” He sees an ethos of patience and respect. “McDonald’s is nonjudgmental.” If you have nowhere to go all day they’ll let you stay, nurse your coffee, read your paper. “The bulk of the franchises leave people alone. There’s a friendship that develops between the people who work there and the people who go.” “In Natchitoches, La., there’s a twice-weekly Bible study group,” that meets at McDonald’s. “They also have bingo games.” There’s the Old Man table, or the Romeo Club, for Retired Old Men Eating Out.

I’ve written of the great divide in America as between the protected and the unprotected—those who more or less govern versus the governed, the facts of whose lives the protected are almost wholly unaware. Mr. Arnade sees the divide as between the front-row kids at school waving their hands to be called on, and the back-row kids, quiet and less advantaged. The front row, he says, needs to learn two things. “One is how much the rest of the country is hurting. It’s not just economic pain, it’s a deep feeling of meaninglessness, of humiliation, of not being wanted.” Their fears and anxieties are justified. “They have been excluded from participating in the great wealth of this country economically, socially and culturally.” Second, “The front-row kids need humility. They need to look in the mirror, ‘We messed this up, we’ve been in charge 30 years and haven’t delivered much.’ ” “They need to take stock of what has happened.”

Of those falling behind: “They’re not lazy and weak, they’re dealing with bad stuff. Both conservative and progressive intellectuals say Trump voters are racist, dumb. When a conservative looks at a minority community and says, ‘They’re lazy,’ the left answers, ‘Wait a minute, let’s look at the larger context, the availability of jobs, structural injustice.’ But the left looks at white working-class poverty and feels free to judge and dismiss.”

I asked Mr. Arnade if he’d been influenced by Walker Evans, the photographer of the Great Depression. No, he said. “I try to take conventional pictures of unconventional people. I try not to get too artsy because it’s unfair to people.”

I asked how he describes his work. I see it as an effort to help America better understand itself. He said he was trying to show that “Everybody is kind of working in the same direction, trying to get by, get a life that provides them with dignity.” In this, he suggests, we are more united than we know.

Happy New Year, everyone. May we do work worthy of the moment.

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

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

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

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

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

*   *   *

Senator Tim Scott

Senator Tim Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In fact, it can be unifying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*   *   *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soon Bethlehem Steel raised its prices. Other companies followed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But whoever does must be aware of this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s pretty great comfort.

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