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When Things Fall Apart

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What with writers and speakers everywhere quoting William Butler Yeats' poetic appraisal of modern times, as I read recently, maybe we can better appreciate House Speaker Paul Ryan's present dilemma and resolve to leave the guy alone. He is a good man doing the best he can in bad -- no, awful -- times, despite the revilement falling upon him for his Monday announcement about campaigning no more with Donald Trump. Ryan fears the Democrats could win everything worth winning in November -- the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives. He understands the Trump candidacy opens the door to that prospect, and he hopes to forfend it.

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold," wrote Yeats presciently in "The Second Coming" in 1919.

You can't win for losing, even when you're one of the best-grounded, most honorable men in contemporary politics -- when you're Paul Ryan, I mean, and everything's out of kilter. Nor have you or anyone else the power to make everything right. Whatever you do, critics pounce, because the intertwined problems of morality and good government have come in our time to defy political solution. We brawl because brawling is all we know. We lay about one another with bullwhips and bung starters. Take that! And that!

It's unconstitutional, I gather, on the basis of ongoing attacks on Ryan by Trump supporters -- including, conspicuously, Trump -- to regret that Trump, as taped, spoke like a frat boy or an NFL wide receiver concerning Ladies He Hoped to Grope. The point, I guess, was which is worse: frat-boy patter or the prospect of three or four more Ruth Bader Ginsburgs ascending to the Supreme Court via presidential appointment?

The latter point, surely, is worse by far, thus the confusion that envelops the country. Trump or Clinton? It shows what we may have come to by lowering social and cultural standards while raising hosannas to the beauty of government power. Trying to undo the mess isn't pretty, assuming that's what we're actually up to -- restoring portions of such delicate balance, as America enjoyed before the center got out of kilter and things, a la Yeats, began falling apart.

What Ryan deserves, at this unholy pass, isn't criticism -- least of all from his party's presidential candidate. What he deserves is profound sympathy for his efforts to avoid surrender to either side -- the side of big, obtrusive government and the side of tell-the-other-side-to-stuff-it-because-we're-taking-over.

He's a man caught in the uncomfortable territory between extremes, the place most Americans regard as the best ground for doing things that need doing. The center, woe and alas, cannot hold -- not when we're all purists, each demanding our way.

Of the two candidates on the ballot (the only two who count), Trump is likelier to go along with those things Ryan sees as necessary to national health and prosperity, meaning rationalization of the tax code, the overhaul -- if not general destruction -- of Obamacare, the tightening of immigration controls and so on. Trump's unwillingness to acknowledge the overall benefits of free, or free-ish, trade puts him at odds with Ryan. But the two can work that stuff out, and other stuff as well, such as Ryan's attitudes toward October campaigning.

Does anyone think Clinton, who's so imperiously bent on spanking Trump for bad manners, squashing the Supreme Court's conservatives and strengthening the Elizabeth Warren-Bernie Sanders wing of her party, would make Ryan's conservative critics happier than they are at present? I invite these same hard-liners, Trump included, to explain how bad-mouthing the most sensible House speaker in decades would make life easier or more free or achieve any end besides a handover to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- she whose landmark achievement was enacting that little piece of legislation you had to read to find out "what was in it." It was Obamacare, of course.

Come on, people. And you, too, Donald. Enough with the divisiveness and back-biting. Quit knocking people who fail to see ideas and strategy in precisely the same way you do.

The question of the Trump ascendancy isn't worth re-fighting. It's settled. We are where we are. Paul Ryan knows it. Let him fight his own way.

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