When Donald J. Trump won the presidency in November, I feared we were putting the Joker into the White House. Instead, we got Batman.

With Trump just days away from marking his first six months in office, count this onetime Never Trumper as a mostly solid supporter of our 45th president.

For me, the 18 months preceding the election were a tough slog through the miasma of Republican politics. As 2015 drew to a close, Trump wasn’t in my top 10 picks to be the GOP presidential candidate. Although I knew illegal immigration, his main issue, was a huge concern in many states, it wasn’t a big thing for me; Michigan has a bigger problem with losing population. And while John McCain is a horrible senator, I admire his heroism as a POW. I’ve rarely been angrier over politics than when Trump mocked McCain’s service.

To be honest, I’d never thought much about Trump. I don’t golf, gamble, visit expensive resorts or watch reality TV. On the other hand, I do follow the media so I was aware of his business successes, his marital shenanigans and his bankruptcies. When I did hear his political views, they usually parroted the liberal drivel of the day.

When he came out as a rightist a few years ago by resurrecting the Obama birther controversy, I considered his efforts counterproductive. Obama’s policies and administration were destructive to the fabric of America; diverting attention to a disproven rumor only reinforced public support for Obama.

As the presidential primary season got underway in 2015, I was dismayed when Trump floated atop the field and my favorites — Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina and others (never, ever did I include Jeb!) — fell by the wayside. By the time it was clear that Trump was about to clinch the nomination, I was boning up on third-party candidates that I could support in November.

But then a funny thing happened: Trump announced a list of judges he would consider for the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. Every single one sounded like an excellent choice. Knowing what kind of person Hillary would nominate to the court, I suddenly felt my opposition to Trump melt a bit.

During the course of the general campaign, Trump said some things that excited me and some that embarrassed me. But neither Hillary nor any of the third-party hopefuls were an option. I may not have trusted Trump to be a true conservative, but, thanks to his list, I thought he was more likely than anyone else to handle court appointments and other key issues.

At the start of November, polls showed Hillary ahead of Trump by about 4 points in Michigan. Realizing that Trump had a slim chance to carry the state, I called more than a dozen family members and friends and begged them to vote for him. I believe my efforts played a tiny role in Trump becoming the first GOP presidential nominee to win Michigan since 1988.

Since he entered the White House, I have been happy with Trump’s performance far more often than I’ve been disappointed. Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the high court is his chief accomplishment, but the quality of his Cabinet selections is unparalleled. I haven’t seen such a collection of top-notch talent in Washington since the Reagan years.

I also love Trump’s relentless and wide-ranging war against costly regulations.

To me, “draining the swamp” means getting rid of the nameless leftists who have burrowed into the federal bureaucracy and wield unconstitutional power over almost all aspects of American life. As a president who thought himself above the political fray, George H.W. Bush paid little attention to bureaucrats — unlike Bill Clinton, who packed the agencies with hordes of allies. George W. Bush was so apolitical he tried to cover up the antics of the Clintonista vandals who pried the “W” from government keyboards in anger after Al Gore lost in 2000.

If Trump can get some conservatives into the civil service bureaucracy, I’ll be happy. It would be nearly as important as making an imprint on the federal judiciary.

But count me among the many who think Trump should think twice or thrice before tweeting. While I hate the media as much as he does (and applaud when he scores direct hits),  his Twitter feed too often takes attention away from achievements he makes on other fronts. Trump’s tweets also have fanned the spurious and scurrilous tales about Russian intervention in the 2016 election.

When Trump took office, my two main fears were that he would ignite a global trade war and cozy up to Vladimir. Neither seems likely now. Wiser heads have persuaded him that tussles over trade would cause a worldwide disaster, and Trump has dealt with Putin far more sternly than Barack Obama ever did.

We’re certainly not out of the woods yet, and nobody can foresee what will happen in the next 42 months. The media’s obsession with Russia hopefully will backfire eventually, and the Democrats’ love affair with the hard left could possibly push more moderates to the right political side.

Trump might not have come close to perfection in his first six months, but he’s done far better than I had any right to expect. If Congress gives him some victories and the economy picks up, I’ll be chanting “Four more years!” with plenty of comrades in 2020.

Both sides do it, say television’s talking heads.

In this era of radioactive polarization, it’s become a mantra among pundits that Republicans and Democrats are equally responsible for the atmosphere of political violence that hovers over America.

Never has a sausage factory produced a finer grade of baloney.

While many violent incidents have broken out since Donald J. Trump was elected in November, both parties aren’t instigators. Conservatives didn’t smash the windows, torch the police cars, terrorize campus speaker or beat demonstrators. Democrats — especially those from Bernie Sanders’ socialist branch of the party — can lay claim to those feats.

Conservatives were berated for highly publicized hate crimes against Muslims and other “protected classes” after the election, but most of the incidents turned out to be hoaxes. Naturally, reports that the hate crimes were fake got only a fraction of the attention the original accounts received.

Fortunately, conservative websites and talk radio hosts aren’t afraid to spread the truth about the leftists’ role in the political violence. Unfortunately, most Americans still get their news from the mainstream media, which point fingers at both sides when violence occurs (if they mention it at all). Even some Fox News commentators evoke the false equivalency.

Of course, this is not to say all Republicans and conservatives are angels. The party has its share of thieves, thugs, philanderers and con artists — but it generally punishes them when their crimes become known. Democrats, however, usually unite to protect offenders unless their sins are so awful the public can’t stomach them, as in Anthony Weiner’s case.

In a fascinating interview published in the July 1 edition of the Wall Street Journal, historian Allen Guelzo told James Taranto — the former force behind the WSJ’s Best of the Web online feature — the two parties have basic principles that they have mostly followed since the 1850s. (www.wsj.com/articles/divided-america-standsthen-and-now-1498851654)

Guelzo, director of the Civil War Era Studies program at Gettysburg College, said one longstanding difference between the parties is “Democrats love passion, Republicans love reason.” In other words, one party appeals to voters’ hearts, the other to their heads.

Another distinction he notes is the Democrats’ “political center” is “local,” while the Republicans’ is “national.”

Taranto writes, “(Guelzo’s) argument is that Republicans think of themselves as Americans first, whereas today Democratic localism takes the form of subnational identity politics.”

Ah, yes, identity politics — a hotpoint so ablaze in today’s society that it makes the sun seem frigid. So many people — women, racial minorities, gays, the transgendered, Muslims — simultaneously demand public acclaim and special status as victims of American bigotry. It’s gotten to the point where members of some special groups are getting scorched for implied disrespect to other groups.

There are plenty of cases that underline the difference between how Democrats and Republicans approach wrongdoing, but my favorite is the 1983 congressional page sex scandal involving Reps. Dan Crane and Gerry Studds.

Both were middle-aged men who had sex with 17-year-old congressional pages, and both were censured by the House of Representatives for misconduct. Their cases weren’t exactly the same, though: Crane’s affair was with a girl, while Studds’ was with a boy at a time when homosexual relations were a crime in many jurisdictions.

But what happened later was enlightening. Crane was defeated in his 1984 GOP primary and left politics, while Studds was not only returned to office but also went on to win re-election to five more terms. There could hardly be a bigger contrast between the Republican and Democrat voter base.

Sure, lots of people gripe that there’s no difference between the two parties and say America is ruled by Republicrats or Democans. And they’re partially right — compromise is usually the key for a democratic republic to function, so they often work against their constituents’ wishes.

Still, core differences remain, and they matter deeply. Which is why partisan battles are so bitter and why electoral outcomes — as Trump is proving — are so important.

***

May you enjoy a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Things are nutty in the Nutmeg State.

One of the bluest of blue states, Connecticut has more than its share of problems. According to Carol Platt Liebau, president of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, the state is mired in an economic swamp and has the highest bonded debt per capita in America.

Mark J. Warshawsky of RealClear Policy notes Connecticut owns “one of the worst-funded state employee pension plans in the country,” whose assets cover less than a third of its liability — leaving a shortfall of nearly $22 billion.

And let’s not forget the capital city of Hartford, which could face bankruptcy now that insurance giant Aetna — a corporate denizen for more than 150 years — announced plans last month to move its headquarters out of Connecticut for a more tax-friendly home.

With all these problems on its plate, the state legislature had no choice but to recently approve the nation’s toughest hate crime law. The silly bill, which supersedes an earlier law,  passed the House and Senate unanimously, so Republicans share the blame with their Democrat comrades.

Now the very idea of hate crime laws is stupid. Laws are laws, and people who break them should pay the price. Imposing extra penalties on the perpetrators based on their biases conjures up images of Orwellian thought police. There’s little doubt the rise of hate crime legislation has promoted the fracturing of society, as alienated individuals join together to form “protected groups” so they can claim victim status.

Among the reasons lawmakers gave for beefing up the state hate crime law was the supposed wave of such offenses that washed across the country late last year and in early 2017. Left unsaid was that the increase coincided with the candidacy and subsequent election of President Donald Trump.

If you follow only the mainstream media, you might believe that thuggish bigots emboldened by Trump’s campaign ran amuck and terrorized racial minorities, Muslims and gays for the past year. But folks who pay attention to real news know that almost all of the headline-grabbing hate crimes were hoaxes designed to smear Trump supporters.

So common and widespread are the fake hate crimes that it’s impossible to list them here. (Fortunately, there’s a website, www.hatecrimehoaxes.com, that has a fairly complete rundown of falsely reported incidents.)

What’s especially egregious in Connecticut is that legislators cited threatening phone calls to Jewish community centers as one of the main reasons for stiffening the law. As news accounts revealed nearly three months ago, two men — neither of them conservative — were responsible for the vast bulk of the hate calls.

Juan Thompson, a former reporter and dedicated Trump foe, pleaded guilty June 13 to making more than a dozen phoned bomb threats that he tried to blame on an ex-girlfriend. The other suspect is a 19-year-old Israeli computer whiz accused of making more than 100 calls, whose motives are still unknown.

The new Connecticut law toughens the penalties for hate crimes. Offenses that once were misdemeanors become felonies, and what already were felonies carry enhanced fines and prison terms.

But one key point seems to be left out of the law: There doesn’t appear to be any penalty for miscreants who report fake hate crimes.

Legislators can cling to their fantasies that hate crime laws will bring peace and joy to the populace. But until hoaxers are punished as severely as haters, the laws themselves will be perpetrating injustice.

 

One of today’s great ironies is that the 24-hour news channels are usually at their worst when real news is breaking.

At best, the term “cable news” is a misnomer. Actual news coverage rarely exceeds 10% of a channel’s day. The rest of the time is devoted to opinions and arguments over current events. It takes a weak mind and strong stomach to view CNN or MSNBC for any length of time. Fox, of course, also has its limits.

But the inherent weakness of cable news was brought home — yet again — with Saturday’s coverage of the London terrorist attacks that left seven civilians dead and 48 wounded. The anchors knew something serious had happened, but they had no clue of its extent, let alone the motives behind the mayhem.

As a result, for hour after hour, TV screens were filled with stupefyingly boring video of parking emergency vehicles with lights flashing and of crowds milling aimlessly on the streets.

Meanwhile, the anchors, their voices dripping with concern, kept spewing the same meager set of facts over and over. Guest commentators, either on screen or on the phone, provided some backup, but they didn’t have any information to impart, either.

In short, the news crews were in an impossible situation. It’s like taking members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, throwing them onto the Second City stage and demanding they perform first-rate improv.

One way cable channels can avoid such embarrassments is by showing some discretion. Someone should have the guts to make the call when apparent terrorist attacks don’t deserve wall-to-wall coverage.

For openers, Saturday’s attacks didn’t happen in Boston, Detroit or Houston. There’s an ocean between America and London, so an atrocity there is no sign of terror activity here. Also to be considered  — at the risk of sounding callous — is the small number of casualties. Seven dead and 48 injured are a serious matter, but bus accidents in the U.S. that have had bigger tolls barely get mentioned on the national news.

For instance, the July 16, 2016, truck attack in Nice, France, was worthy of every moment of attention. Not only was the toll staggeringly high with 86 dead and 434 wounded, but it also was the debut of a new terrorist tactic. The truck smashing into crowds has been copied many times since.

It’s understandable why the channels stuck with their no-news coverage of London. Their audiences are not constant, so new viewers were always turning in to learn about ongoing developments.

But there should have been some breaks for real news while the crews waited for authorities to provide important information about the attacks.

Until that information was forthcoming, the channels would have served their audiences just as well if they had offered a screen saver with a news crawler at the bottom giving all the known facts. It would have saved everyone a lot of grief.

There’s no hole on Earth deep enough for me to hide from the shame my former profession has brought me.

Other than a short stint in public relations, I spent 34 years as a newspaper reporter and editor. For the last 25 years of my career, I worked at a mid-size daily, where we did an admirable job covering the stories of the day: the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, the fall of Communism, the start of the Gulf War, Bill Clinton’s Balkan conflicts and the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

On Sept. 11, 2001, we published our first edition, as usual, at 9 a.m. By 3:30 p.m. — hours after our shift normally ended — we put out our 11th and last edition of the day. Knowing that our readers depended on us for deeper coverage than TV or the young Internet could supply, we updated the paper constantly as developments occurred. I was as gut-punched as any other American after the towers fell, but it was the proudest day in my career.

That’s why I got into journalism. Not to “educate” readers. Not to push an angle. Not to weave a narrative. My goal was to tell people what was happening in their community, their state, the country and the world.

Unfortunately, I soon found out not all of my peers shared my intentions.

As far back as high school, my dream was to work for a newspaper. Well, I actually dreamed of becoming a bestselling author, but I realized early that I’d never be a productive writer unless I faced a hard deadline. And no deadlines are more rigid than at a newspaper, where the consequences are drastic if the presses don’t start on time.

I was already a journalism major when the Watergate break-in occurred in 1972 and was working at my hometown weekly when the burglary grew into the scandal that destroyed Richard Nixon’s presidency. Like most of my friends, I despised Nixon, but my loathing was based on reasons very different than theirs.

The Left had been after Nixon since the late 1940s, when he led the charge to take down Alger Hiss, the Democrats’ favorite Soviet spy. (Read your history, kids.) Meanwhile I was disgusted by Nixon’s first term, when he expanded Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program instead of dismantling it, and dismayed that the uproar over the stupid break-in was tarring the conservative cause.

In any case, Watergate was a turning point in American journalism. Reporters traditionally have been left of center, but now the media was credited with tossing a president out of the White House. Such power! It’s no wonder lefties of all stripes descended on journalism schools like flies on a pile of manure.

Ever since, j-schools have been churning out a stream of Ahabs hoping to harpoon every Great White Republican Male Whale that crosses their paths. In collaboration with their Democrat allies, the mainstream media have devoted a good portion of their attention to undermining GOP leaders.

While it seemed like the media went off the rails when reporters, editors and TV news personalities became afflicted with Bush Derangement Syndrome in W’s second term, we hadn’t seen or heard anything yet.

Now comes Donald Trump. On a scale of 1 to 10, the media have been operating at 15 since the start of the presidential campaign when it comes to Trump. Since his surprise victory, reporters have trashed the principles they claim to hold dear in order in order to smear and pound a man they consider unfit for office.

All the so-called “news” stories based on unnamed sources, speculation and innuendo embarrass me to no end. Instead of destroying Trump, the media are acting like suicide bombers. Their credibility in the minds of half the nation’s people has been in shreds for years; now it’s on its way to the compost heap.

I know you hate the media, but this is bad for everyone. Without fair and honest reporting, the public will wallow in ignorance and rely on rumors and half-truths for information. Even worse is the political polarization that will only increase when conservatives and progressive depend on entirely separate news sources.

It’s hard to believe — and I have my own doubts — but the media crisis could be corrected. I operated in the belly of the beast for most of my career and emerged unscathed. As an editor, I made sure unbalanced and unfair stories were fixed before they appeared in print.

And I wasn’t alone. Believe it or not, other conservatives were in the newsroom, and even liberal editors would throw up their hands over articles that tilted too far to the left. Then again, we weren’t the New York Times or Washington Post; we were just a bunch of simple Midwesterners serving a working-class readership. Maybe the elite operations are beyond redemption.

In any case, if you still have a hometown paper, give it as much support as you can. If it’s on the wrong track editorially, gather some friends, meet with the boss and share your concerns. If you get a cold reception, the paper might be a lost cause and deserve your wrath. But you might be pleasantly surprised.

“Crime by Migrants in Germany Increase.” The headline on the story, buried deep within the Wall Street Journal, was so innocuous it might as well have said, “Nothing to See Here, Folks — Please Move Along.”

Despite the mild headline, however, the article by Ruth Brenner was filled with statistics that spun a tale of terror.

From 2015 to 2016, crimes committed by refugees and other migrants to Germany soared by 52.7%, a figure sure to attract attention. Except it didn’t. I saw a few references to the stats on conservative websites, but not even the crickets chirped in the mainstream media.

The pure numbers are just as startling: Migrants were charged with 114,238 crimes in 2015 and 174,438 last year. Meanwhile, crimes committed by German citizens plummeted by 3.4% in the same period. Despite the drop in misconduct by natives, the country’s overall crime rate was up by 0.7 percent.

To put it into perspective, Germany’s tiny immigrant population was responsible for more than 12% of the country’s crimes. Germany has long welcomed refugees, but the inflow turned into a flood when more than a million migrants from the Middle East and Africa arrived in 2015-16.

The article didn’t break out the severity of the crimes committed in the two years, but it noted that violent crimes by citizens rose by 1% and those by migrants nearly doubled.

The story said Christian Pfeiffer, a criminologist and former justice minister, blamed the increase in migrants’ offenses on “the high number of young males traveling alone, a group that generally is responsible for the majority of crimes regardless of nationality.”

Missing from this account was a key word: Muslim, even though the overwhelming majority of migrants were followers of Islam. I’m sure Germany’s crime stats would’ve gotten a lot more publicity if the misbehaving migrants had been Pentecostals, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists or Zoroastrians.

For years, the primary commandment of the MSM has been “Thou shalt not speak ill of Islam,” which is in keeping with its unending claims that Islam is the religion of peace. While most Muslims are good and peaceful people, Islam itself was born in war. Of all the world’s faiths, only the “religion of peace” established itself through military conquests in Asia, Africa and Europe.

Germany’s miscreant Muslims may not derail Angela Merkel’s bid for another term as chancellor, but they should be a concern for every other Western government that’s supposed to protect its citizens and culture.

It’s no wonder the media ignored the German crime report and accounts of similar lawbreaking and militant activity elsewhere. The story would not only break the MSM’s primary commandment but also — more urgently — undermine efforts to thwart President Trump’s limited ban on Muslim immigrants.

Terrorism is a justifiable reason to scrutinize potential newcomers to America, but let’s not forget outright thuggery is a threat, too.

UPDATE: Merlin — the Maine coon cat who was the bliss and the bane of me and Mrs. Mick for the past 14 years — passed away peacefully on Friday, four weeks to the day after he was diagnosed with lymphoma. We met his every wish in his final weeks, and he never showed any sign of discomfort, let alone pain. He will be missed.

We’ve just passed the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, which certainly is no cause for celebration.

Although the U.S. formally declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917 — unlike the speedy action after Pearl Harbor, it took Congress four days to concur with Woodrow Wilson’s request for action — American troops didn’t actually engage in combat until a year later.

By the time the guns fell silent on Nov. 11, 1918, nearly 117,000 members of the American Expeditionary Forces had died. While that figure pales in comparison to U.S. casualties in the Civil War and World War II, it’s a horrendous total for just over six months of fighting.

The man responsible for the war’s worldwide death toll of 38 million is someone you’ve probably never heard of : Gavrilo Princip, a young Bosnian Serb fanatically dedicated to ending Austria-Hungary’s rule of his homeland.

On June 28, 1914, Princip and five co-conspirators set out to assassinate Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand on his visit to Bosnia. A planned attack on the archduke’s motorcade in Sarajevo failed. One conspirator chickened out and didn’t throw his bomb when he had the chance. Another tossed a grenade, but it exploded under another car, seriously injuring two members of Franz Ferdinand’s entourage.

The opportunity for assassination seemed lost, but Princip was lucky — unluckily for the rest of the world. Franz Ferdinand wanted to visit his friends wounded in the grenade attack, but his driver made a wrong turn en route to the hospital.  When the driver put the car in reverse to get back on course, it stalled — right in front of Princip, who had stopped at a cafe for a meal.

Princip seized his chance, stepping forward and firing two shots into the car. One bullet fatally wounded the archduke, and the other killed his wife, Countess Sophie. Thanks to monumental stupidity by Europe’s monarchs, the murders ignited the fuse for the carnival of carnage that came to be known as the Great War.

The assassination led Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia, which was thought to be behind the murder plot. When Serbian ally Russia mobilized for an attack on the Habsburg empire, Germany demanded Russia to stand down. On Aug. 1, Germany declared war on Russia, then promptly invaded neutral Belgium as the launching pad for an invasion of France. Within days, what had been a dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia grew into a continental conflagration.

By the time the United States entered the fray, millions had died on the battlefields and in the trenches. Although Russia essentially gave up the fight after the Bolshevik revolution, freeing up German armies from the Eastern Front, the infusion of American doughboys played a key role in forcing the Central Powers to accept an armistice.

To understand how the civilized Western world collapsed into murderous madness, you have to know Europe at the start of the 20th century. For almost 100 years after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Europe had enjoyed unprecedented peace, progress and prosperity (outside of the Balkans, a string of unsuccessful revolutions in 1848 and two conflicts involving Prussia).

But nationalism still percolated in the fat and happy countries. Africa sated much of the ambitions, as Britain, France, Germany and lesser powers grabbed colonies, but the continent was pretty much divvied up by 1900. Meanwhile, the Industrial Revolution had brought bright, shiny weapons to large armies that had nothing to do. All it took was Princip to fire his pistol to bring down empires and forever change the world.

Perhaps war still would have come without the assassin, but it probably wouldn’t have been the same war on the same fronts with the same results. But think about what Princip did set in motion.

Without Princip, there would have been no World War II because Germany would not have been seething over unsettled grievances. There would have been no Hitler, no Holocaust.

Without Princip, there would have been no Russian Revolution, no Lenin, no Stalin, no gulag. As a result, you can erase, Mao, Fidel and other Red revolutionaries from the history books.

Without Princip, the German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires might still exist, leaving many ethnic groups under imperial control. The dissolution of the Turkish empire is at the heart of today’s troubles in the Middle East, as the British and French made a total mess overseeing Palestine, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Without Princip, the lives of at least 150 million people would not have been snuffed out on the battlefield or by their own totalitarian governments.

As the year 2000 approached, a number of groups hailed Albert Einstein as the Man of the 20th Century. Without doubt, the physicist was a remarkable genius whose revelations changed the course of science and will reverberate for generations to come.

But if the Man of the Century is the one who had the biggest effect on the world, for better or worse, the title has to go a 19-year-old killer from Bosnia, Gavrilo Princip.

Even with bright spring sunshine streaming through the windows, it’s been a gloomy weekend in our house. It’s never fun when you’re on a death watch … even if it’s only for a cat.

For the past 14 years, Merlin has been the scourge of birds, chipmunks and unfamiliar visitors to our home. And, often, me. But now his reign of terror is coming to an end.

Merlin’s story begins about 12:30 a.m. on a warm spring night in 2003. As a newspaper editor, I’d just put Sunday’s edition to bed and headed out the employees’ entrance at the loading dock. As usual, more than 100 vans, pickups and cars jammed the parking lot, their drivers eager to pick up bundles of papers for delivery to carriers in a three-county area.

Jan, a security guard and occasional smoking buddy, was in the designated smoking area outside the door, playing with a tiny kitten. I crouched down and scratched him behind his ears. “Cute kitten,” I told Jan. “Is he yours?”

“No,” she replied. “He just showed up a few minutes ago.”

I figured he’d escaped from a driver’s car, so I picked him up and brought him around the parking lot for the next 15 minutes. Nobody knew anything about a missing cat, so I came back to Jan. Eyeing the idling vehicles, I knew the kitten was sure to be squished if he was roaming freely as the drivers made a mad rush for the loading dock when the papers became available.

We already had two pets — Sydney, an Australian terrier, and Loki, the Best Cat in the World — so I sure didn’t want to bring the little critter home. But when I asked Jan to keep the stray, she said her apartment didn’t allow pets.

I had no choice. He went into the car with me, and wound up spending most of the trip home on my shoulder. All the while, I wondered how my wife, Shirley, would react to our guest.

I shouldn’t have worried — Shirley was immediately enthralled by him. But her enthusiasm seemed dim next to daughter Sandy’s response. We were still up when Sandy’s alarm went off at 4 a.m. She fussed over him so much she was nearly late for her 6 o’clock work shift.

In the next day or so, he got a name, Merlin, based on his mysterious and magical appearance at my workplace. Shirley and especially Sandy spoiled him terribly. Sandy carried Merlin everywhere; at one point, Shirley chided her: “If you don’t put that cat down, he’ll forget how to walk.”

But while Merlin was bonding with the ladies, he began shunning me. Maybe it was because Sydney was my dog, who usually occupied the space next to me on the couch and sometimes my lap. Merlin got along very well with Syd and Loki — once they put him in his place — but he barely tolerated me.

Merlin’s kittenhood passed all too quickly, and he grew. And grew. He finally topped out at about 16 pounds of bone and muscle. Our research showed he was probably at least part Maine Coon Cat, and he proved to be a skillful hunter.

Without a doubt, he was the handsomest cat I’ve ever had, with his sleek, thick coat and huge, bright eyes. But he also was the stupidest cat in creation. Outside of hunting, he never showed any sign of typical feline cleverness. I came to refer to him as “a cinder block with fur.”

Merlin and I endured an uneasy truce. For the longest time, I tempted fate by trying to pick him up or pet him. Too often, my reward was teeth and claws jammed into my hands and arms.

But something funny happened after several years. He discovered that I actually knew how to hit a cat’s sweet spots with scratches and massages. When I was sitting on the couch or  a chair, he would approach and nudge his head against my hand, demanding a scratch.

When I gave in, I got a real reward: the deepest, loudest purr I’ve ever heard. It was like sitting next to a furry mini-Harley. It was so loud that it would wake up Shirley when he came to me in bed and I’d scratch under his chin.

Still, he’s always been Shirley’s boy, and I appreciated him mainly because he brought her so much joy.

Except for a urinary tract blockage in 2012, Merlin has always been in fine health. A couple weeks ago, however, I realized he had lost a lot of weight. He wasn’t eating so much of his dry cat food, so we broke protocol and bought him some cans.

Despite gobbling down the canned food, he was becoming so lethargic that I decided to take him to the vet, who had given him a clean bill of health at his checkup in October. Shirley and I were stunned to learn he had lost three pounds in five months and weighed less than 10 pounds for the first time since 2004. An X-ray showed no problem, but the vet drew blood for testing.

The news was not good Friday morning. The vet called and said the tests showed Merlin apparently has lymphoma. Shirley and I had discussed such a diagnosis in advance and decided we would turn our home into a hospice. As long as Merlin shows no sign or pain or even discomfort, we’ll keep him here and cater to his whims. If things turn, the vet will make sure he doesn’t suffer.

Merlin is growing weaker by the hour, and we don’t expect him to last the week. The canned food still tempts him, but he can manage only a few bites before giving up. But when we fondle and scratch him, he still has that awesome purr.

The approaching end has caused me to shed some tears despite my best efforts, but I still have hope.

Because of my faith, I firmly believe in heaven. Theologians might disagree, but I believe paradise also awaits cats and dogs, too. Of course, nobody knows what comes in the afterlife, but I like the idea put forward by some scholars that death brings us unity with God for all eternity, and we are embraced forever in His almighty splendor.

To the Maker of All, mankind is special, created in His image. But all life bears a sparkle or hint of the divine. The bridge between people and their pets is vast, but it’s a only an atom’s span compared to the inconceivable gulf between man and God. In His infinite compassion for His creations, He surely wouldn’t condemn the tiny spark of a soul in a cat or dog to everlasting darkness.

I pray that Shirley and I earn a place in heaven. But it wouldn’t truly be paradise if Merlin doesn’t pull himself away from Shirley every now and then and come up to me and demand a scratch. I’ll be ready to give it.

Health care. Russia. Travel ban. Wiretapping. Budget cuts. Leaks. And on and on and on.

Work up a lather, rinse, repeat.

O Lord, grant me relief from the endless cycle of “news” based on the possibly informed insights, half-truths, pure speculation and outright lies that pass as journalism these days.

Never has so much blather been spent on issues that are no more real than unicorn dust or three-legged Martians. Talk about Russia’s links to the 2016 election or illegal wiretapping is ridiculous until the probes are done. Fury or relief over health care changes is silly until the legislation gets through the sausage factory known as Congress. Same with the budget.

As for the travel ban, its outcome is uncertain until it finally gets out of the hands of judges who don’t understand executive authority and confuse campaign speeches with the wording of legal action.

You want solid information? You’re better off these days spending time on Pinterest projects or following some nobody’s Twitter account.

The problem is, outside of Donald Trump, news is impossible. It doesn’t happen anymore. He hasn’t just sucked up all the air in the room — he’s inhaled the Earth’s entire atmosphere. If anything that doesn’t involve the Prez is going on, it’s not getting a dab of ink, a digital pixel or a moment of airtime.

It’s all so boring.

When I was a young man, the idea of a 24-hour news channel seemed like a dream. Most people had only three options for national and global news — CBS, NBC and ABC — and they provided just 22 minutes a day. As a Detroit suburbanite, I could watch Canadian news, which offered a broader outlook on the world. I could only imagine what vistas a daylong news station would open up.

Ted Turner once considered news a joke. When the feds told him to add a news program to Atlanta’s WTBS to fulfill its public service requirements, he put a dog on the air alongside a human anchor. But after TBS became a hit on cable systems, Turner figured he could make more bucks with an all-news channel. Thus was born CNN.

From the start, CNN was a disappointment, offering repetitious reports on easy-to-cover news. Soon enough came the parade of talking heads to tell us what the news really meant. Gee willikers! Instead of being bored every Sunday morning with Meet the Press or Face the Nation, we got a chance to hear puffed-up pundits seven days a week.

My hopes rose briefly when MSNBC came along in 1996; at the time, thanks mainly to David Brinkley, NBC’s news operation was respectable. But MSNBC followed CNN’s template from the start and never distinguished itself until transmuting into a lunatic asylum for deranged leftists.

By the time Fox News came along, the mold for 24-hour news had become unbreakable. But at least we finally got news that the other channels ignored, plus some conservative viewpoints.

The basic problem is all three news channels are obsessed by immediacy instead of context. Got a wildfire in California, snowstorm in New York or school shooting in Colorado? Brace yourself for the wall-to-wall coverage. The networks are like a dog with a bone that keeps gnawing away long after the last shred of meat is gone.

Yes, at times, the networks have provided a tremendous service. CNN earned its stripes with its Gulf War reporting, and all three channels were invaluable on Sept. 11, 2001.

But the tendency to dwell on a single topic above all else is worse than ever today. CNN and MSNBC are hellbent on destroying Trump, and Fox is dedicated (sort of) to protecting him. The coverage has been going on nonstop since Nov. 9, and I’m done in by fatigue. Maybe you are, too.

But it has to end sometime, preferably soon. Because I have a tip for the news networks:  Trump ain’t going anywhere, so get used to him.

Wendy’s recent announcement that it’s installing 1,000 self-service kiosks in its restaurants is a huge counter-salvo against the Fight for $15 and its effort to push through an unreasonable national minimum wage.

Most mainstream economists believe paying America’s youngest and least-skilled workers at least $15 an hour will kill countless jobs, especially for those least able to lose them. But the progressives behind the push, seemingly ignorant about how the economy actually works, claim the wage hike would have few ill effects.

But the Wendy’s plan, plus similar automation ideas being considered by other fast-food chains, puts the lie to that contention. When you force employers to pay workers more than they’re worth, the result is fewer people have jobs.

The battle over the minimum began at the turn of the 20th Century, the dawn of the original Progressive Era . There is, however, a huge difference with how the leftists of yesteryear approached the issue. The original Progressives backed a minimum wage precisely because it would throw people out of work.

As economic historian Thomas C. Leonard explains in Illiberal Reformers (Princeton University Press, 2016), the Progs were a new breed on the national landscape at the end of the 19th Century. Devout believers in science as a cure for every ill, Progressives were convinced the only way America could survive and thrive was if all aspects of society were run by experts — namely themselves.

One of the Progressives’ main concerns was racial purity. They feared that Americans of Anglo-Saxon stock were threatened by hordes of inferior creatures, primarily racial minorities and immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. They concluded that an efficient way to protect the native-born was to drive the undesirables — whom they called “unemployables” — out of the workforce.

The “experts” believed the government had to intervene to prevent white workers’ pay from plummeting to unsustainable levels. They thought blacks and immigrants would accept lower living standards than white men, so they would accept lower wages. The ensuing “race to the bottom” would cut white men out of the job market and leave them unable to raise families.

To that end, the Progressives sought a national minimum wage — or, as they called it even back then, a “living wage” — to make labor so expensive that employers would hire only highly competent workers (i.e., white men).

(The Progressives also wanted women out of the workplace. Not only did they hold jobs that men could do, but the Progs also wanted females at home, breeding and caring for their families for the betterment of the race.)

So what would the “unemployables” do if they were prevented from working? Under the Progs’ plan, some — imbeciles, drunkards, criminals and the disabled — would be institutionalized, while others would be placed in “labor colonies,” a euphemism for work camps. It’s not a stretch to imagine that such places could eventually become concentration camps.

By 1919, fifteen states had minimum wage laws, but the Progressives never got the federal law they wanted. Acts were passed, but the Supreme Court struck them down as unconstitutional because they interfered with employers and workers’ right to enter into free and willing contracts.

Not until Franklin Roosevelt’s administration did Congress approve a law, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, that survived judicial review.

When it comes to the Progressive Era, historians are unfailingly generous in telling how it improved American life by creating better working conditions, establishing food and drug regulations, and reforming the political system. Many also credit the movement for women gaining the right to vote even though most Progressives opposed the idea.

But the dark side of Progressivism is buried and rarely comes to light in the history books. Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism is an excellent antidote that is both enlightening and entertaining. Now we can add Thomas C. Leonard’s Illiberal Reformers to the must-read list for exposing the anti-humanity ideals that formed the core of the Progressive machine.