Of all the disturbing images of the 51-day FBI siege of the Branch Davidian complex 10 miles east of Waco, few convey the tragedy better than searing photographs of the place in flames amid a tank and tear-gas assault 25 years ago today. For those in the know, these images make people wince, turn away, shake their heads. Such images represent, after all, the awful coming together of dynamics contributing to a colossal loss of life that day (at least 76 people, many of them children, claimed by flames, smoke and gunfire reportedly originating with the Davidians themselves) and even earlier in the spectacularly botched Feb. 28, 1993, raid by federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents (four agents and six Davidians dead). But where to start in any retrospective analysis? Equally important: Do the dynamics of 25 years ago have contemporary parallels that compel us to question what’s happening all around us today? Dare we ask?

No time of year more than spring reveals how picky we McLennan Countians can be on what past local events rate historical and societal reflection. Many folks — especially those past a certain age — are happy to revel in a milestone anniversary of the May 11, 1953, tornado striking Waco. While the tornado left 114 dead and much of our city in ruins, the incident nearly 65 years ago is punctuated by rousing anecdotes of sacrifice, heroism and unity. Themes of rescue, renewal and rebuilding run rampant. And it’s not like anyone “caused” the killer tornado.

The Tribune-Herald was one of the very first newspapers in the nation to endorse Republican Congressman Paul Ryan when he was announced as the bottom-half of the Republican presidential ticket in 2012. Our editorial proclaimed that his presence on the team “guarantees the Republican campaign will focus on issues instead of the demagoguery and sound bites that now characterize both campaigns.” His involvement in the Mitt Romney campaign, we said, would “prompt vivid discussion about concerns the tea party first raised three years ago.”

Outrage, skepticism and, perhaps more than anything, confusion have festered lately in normally peaceful Woodway over questions of sexual harassment involving a once largely unquestioned city leader. The matter culminated when Yost Zakhary, who has long led the city as both public safety director and city manager, offered to resign from the latter post after earlier agreeing to leave the former.

From a business perspective, the empire launched by Waco-based reality TV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines demonstrates smarts, foresight and entrepreneural daring. Even as their home-renovation series ended last week (reruns continue), the couple has charted well beyond it, maintaining the insanely popular Magnolia Market at the Silos, overhauling and reopening the Elite Cafe as Magnolia Table, producing a handsome home furnishings magazine and plenty else. To our thinking, their example vividly bolsters the case for proper expansion of Cameron Park Zoo.

Many Americans’ preference for President Trump is based on an image he carefully cultivated as a decisive, studied corporate titan with useful insights into the qualities that make up a good management team plus a keen regard for all that unbridled capitalism can do. In the past year, this image has taken some lumps on the first point, given the number of people he has hired with great pomp, then thrown under the bus without so much as a parting “You’re fired!”

Individuals swept up in what has increasingly seemed a wildly indiscriminate Twin Peaks dragnet on May 17, 2015, are understandably disappointed by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks’ decision Monday further delaying action on their civil rights lawsuits. After all, many allege almost brutal disregard of their civil rights in the wake of deadly Twin Peaks violence between members of rival motorcycle groups, the Bandidos and the Cossacks. More than 170 bikers landed in jail on dubious charges. Many remained there for weeks on million-dollar bonds. Hardly justice’s finest hour.

Easter 2018 finds Christianity in crisis. As Americans mark the resurrection of Christ , some Christians fear their faith is under societal siege. Others wonder if Christianity isn’t so much imperiled by an increasingly agnostic people or godless culture but by their own church leadership, particularly among so-called “evangelicals.”

A memorial is nothing if it doesn’t yield lessons to subsequent generations. And while monuments such as the Waco Vietnam Veterans Memorial command reverence for the fallen and awareness of sacrifices borne by those who served alongside them in conflict, these monuments should also spur each of us to think hard in the here and now. When our political leaders whip followers into a frenzy for war, do we as citizens pause to ponder the cost in blood and treasure? Or do we let what passes for patriotism blind us to the frightful consequences and grim possibilities?

Federal lawmakers on the right and left are talking more about the need to regulate Facebook, which raises a basic truth that all businesses should embrace. If you want to discourage stern regulation by Big Brother, the rules are simple: Scrutinize your own business practices, stamp out abuses, anticipate trouble and, when you mess up, admit it promptly and offer pragmatic solutions to assure your customers that it won’t happen again.

Never did we imagine we would reach a point in national politics and American society where adults vehemently blamed and even vilified children for leading peaceful campus walkouts to improve campus safety. Even conservative jurists have made it abundantly clear that First Amendment rights do not end at the schoolhouse door. And if there’s one area of politics where high school students surely have the right to speak out, it’s societal conditions that leave them less safe in the classrooms and hallways of their own schools.

Even before 23-year-old Mark Conditt blew himself up Wednesday morning along busy Interstate 35 in nearby Round Rock, the vermin infesting political extremes tried to make hay of the series of explosions that left the city of Austin and Central Texas in terror. The goal: Use these tragic events to confirm their own political narratives, whether facts backed them or not.

For at least some Americans, war with Vladimir Putin’s Russia conjures images of combat on land, at sea and in the air, fought with tanks, ships and bombers. Yet intelligence information increasingly suggests that will be the final phase — and only after the Russians or other enemies of democracy have softened up the United States for the kill through more subtle but effective means of 21st-century warfare.

Our nation is about to get a whopping lesson in tariffs, an economic trade initiative that has sharply divided the United States since the republic’s earliest days. President Trump’s decision to impose largely indiscriminate and significant tariffs on imported steel and aluminum as a way to revive the domestic steel industry has fellow Republicans in Congress worried that it could undermine benefits of the recently passed tax law.

During a Wednesday afternoon press conference with Texas news media, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, second in command of Senate Republicans, voiced surprise at high Democratic turnout in the primary election back in his home state. He warned fellow Republicans to avoid complacency in the Nov. 6 general election, no doubt fueled by speculation that Democrats may retake Congress. Regardless of your party affiliation, that’s sterling advice for voters.

Republicans who treasure integrity, transparency and accountability in the administration of justice in McLennan County should vote for Barry Johnson for district attorney in Tuesday’s Republican primary election. Of all our election recommendations in spring 2018, this one we advocate most fervently. We do so not only for the sake of daily justice but also the reputation of our county.

If our accomplishments are to be judged fairly, they must be judged in proper context. Yet even this fails to tell the entire story. Certainly, retiring City Manager Dale Fisseler must be gauged by more than the time he spent leading our city — four years — even when placed alongside the 33 years that his predecessor (and supporter) Larry Groth spent in various capacities at City Hall.

For visitors, tourists and local folks alike, Magnolia Table now beckons, testing not only motorists’ vigilance on our city’s infamous traffic circle but Chip and Joanna Gaines’ ability to master ownership and management of a restaurant. Our view: The challenges of negotiating the roundabout or even restoring an old home pale alongside ensuring customer satisfaction in a competitive restaurant business that does not long tolerate slackers. This latest endeavor may well test the Gaineses more than anything they’ve thus far pursued.

Last week saw a remarkable televised town-hall meeting dominated by Stoneman Douglas High students and teachers, most of them outraged over the Valentine’s Day mass shooting that left 17 fellow students and teachers dead. The culprit in this massacre: a former student armed with an AR-15 rifle. Only hours later NRA firebrand Wayne LaPierre, speaking before the Conservative Political Action Conference, warned that “opportunists” now use this massacre to push a “socialist agenda” that includes scrapping gun rights.

Many old enough to recall crusading evangelist Billy Graham in his prime and his nationally televised sermons before thousands in coliseums and auditoriums worldwide marveled at his animated, stunningly direct way of spreading the Gospel, back when saving souls was the primary business of evangelism. At his very best, he stressed a Christianity of optimism, patriotism and inclusiveness, including in the area of civil rights.

Since his very first election in the tea-party tidal wave of 2010, McLennan County Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry has consistently impressed us as a bold leader and consensus builder. Rather than ducking problems or applying bumper-sticker slogans to complicated challenges facing the county and constituents, he routinely has rolled up his sleeves, sounded out his fellow commissioners and constituents for input and offered practical and thoughtful solutions. We strongly recommend Ben Perry be re-elected to a third term on the county commissioners court.

Hearty congratulations to the League of Women Voters of Waco for not only staging an engaging and informative candidates forum Tuesday at Knox Hall but pursuing a more active role in helping voters better acquaint themselves with both candidates and issues. At a time when more and more dubious sources on social media mislead if not outright lie to Americans about politics — and when too many of our so-called “friends” are happy to oblige the enemies of democracy by posting such filth — the nonpartisan league in its newly reinvigorated incarnation seeks to provide deeper insight into those individuals vying for our votes.

The past six Sundays, the Waco Tribune-Herald has again offered, as a public service, lengthy Q&As with local candidates in contested races in the upcoming primary election. In coming days we’ll offer Trib editorial board recommendations of certain candidates who particularly impressed us with their grasp of the issues (many of them complicated), their ability to offer practical solutions to problems and, yes, their talent for consensus-building. As we’ve said before, such recommendations are sometimes based on their politics but more often we ascertain candidates as if they were in a job interview: Based on their answers and demeanor, who would you hire to work for you?

Cruel ironies arise from the latest mass shooting, this one at a South Florida high school where a gunman took apparent revenge on students and teachers in halls he once walked. One irony: the cries of supposed grief and anguish from national leaders for young victims, even as many of these same leaders do everything they can to exile nearly 2 million young individuals whose only crime is they were born in a foreign land and came to America through no fault of their own.

With McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna desperately dumping Twin Peaks biker cases right and left in recent days, the astonished taxpayer must demand honesty of himself if not of Reyna: Does anyone really believe Reyna has suddenly been struck by an epiphany that has stubbornly eluded him in the nearly three years since the May 17, 2015, biker shootout that left nine dead and 20 wounded?

Whether in politically seismic times such as ours or more settled periods, certain truths endure. One is that government — local, state and federal — will often seek to control and contain the release of information. Government will often equivocate, evade and outright hide information on how it executes its duties and legal obligations — and, most importantly, it will often conspire to hide how it spends your tax dollars.

The past several days the Trib has published columns pro and con about a Republican-crafted House Intelligence Committee memo causing a national tempest. Republicans allege the FBI, in pursuing a Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court warrant as part of an investigation into Russia’s influence over Donald Trump’s inner circle, hid from a FISA judge the fact that evidence used to justify this surveillance warrant came from biased research funded by Democrats in the 2016 presidential race.

We seldom recommend attending specific events in this space, but we have no such qualms about pressing fellow citizens and cherished readers to take full advantage of next Saturday’s People’s Law School, hosted annually by Baylor Law School. It again offers a stunning variety of courses touching on concerns ranging from those in our personal lives to topics festering away in the daily news. Two facts further commend it: The courses are not only free but you can take up to three courses in a single, revelatory morning.

Judging from newspaper headlines, the nation’s electoral system often seems in peril with outrageously gerrymandered political districts and disturbing intelligence reports on Russian attempts to shatter public faith in voting. And voter suppression is alive and well these days. In 2016, Texas ranked 47th in electoral turnout. Disgraceful.

Political scientists and politicians disagree vigorously on Texas’ future as a resolutely Republican state, not only because of fast-shifting demographics but the state’s exceedingly poor tradition of voting by at least some population groups. But the Republican Party of Texas does itself no favors in the long term by moving further and further to the extreme right through such narrow-minded, cruel acts as the State Republican Executive Committee’s vote last week to censure Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.

If parents anywhere in Texas are outraged by shifting academic standards, test-oriented instruction, ebbing school funding from the state and what appears to be a push to funnel public money into private schools at all costs, they need to scrutinize lawmakers this key election year.

No one savvy about the embarrassing twists and turns inherent in many civil lawsuits will be surprised by the city of West’s $10.44 million settlement sans trial with defendants linked to the deadly April 2013 fire and explosion at West Fertilizer Co. Speculation is that the defendants — CF Industries, El Dorado Chemical and Adair Grain Inc. — wanted to avoid further public exposure and debate concerning not only the volatile nature of certain chemical fertilizers but arguably less-than-safe storage of such materials at West Fertilizer Co.

Amid all the swirling uncertainties about who’s to blame for shutting down our federal government this past weekend, let us state this much with absolute certainty: If you’re a Republican, you believe in your heart this was a Democratic shutdown. If you’re a Democrat, you believe in your heart this was a Republican shutdown. So it goes.

McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna expressed his familiar contempt for the Tribune-Herald in Thursday’s tooth-and-nail candidate forum with challenger Barry Johnson before the McLennan County Republican Club. In branding the Trib a purveyor of “fake news” and a “ridiculous rag,” he inspired applause from supporters in one part of Knox Hall, stunned silence from Republicans elsewhere. By the time the hour was done, the 45-year-old DA had succeeded only in confirming his sustained lack of accountability to taxpaying voters and reality-based press regarding sworn allegations of corruption.

The void left by Wilton Lanning’s death at age 81 isn’t hard to understand. Civic leader, successful businessman, founding president of the Dr Pepper Museum and W.W. Clements Free Enterprise Institute and regular Trib contributing columnist, Wilton was a genial presence about Waco, mixing with all walks of life, furthering worthy causes big and small and spreading optimism wherever he went. His departure is especially sorrowful because we need his encouragement now more than ever.

Is it possible to have a nuanced opinion about the Robert Mueller investigation into allegations of electoral collusion between the Trump circle and Russians? In today’s political climate, lots of knees are jerking left and right — calls to fire Mueller and demands for invocation of the 25th Amendment to eject President Trump from office as mentally unfit.

Tribune-Herald staff writer Shelly Conlon’s probing Dec. 24 survey of the 2011-12 cost-cutting consolidation of neighborhood schools in Waco Independent School District and whether it set some campuses back academically makes one thing abundantly clear: The option pursued by school officials sure didn’t bolster these schools. Then again, the other obvious option — laying off scores of classroom teachers instead of closing brick-and-mortar campuses where enrollments were flagging — probably wouldn’t have helped, either.

We’ll show some discretion by not identifying the candidate by name or party, but one of those we interviewed as part of the Trib’s public service of publishing Q&As with Republican and Democratic primary election candidates this spring declined to shake hands with us Thursday. Reason: Nothing to do with politics. The candidate had “the bug.” That bit of consideration earned the candidate some points from us right off — no questions asked.

As U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s column today proves, a Republican-led Congress in sometimes shaky partnership with a Republican president has accomplished more than one might initially imagine. This newspaper has supported some of this, including appointment of Neil Gorsuch to a pivotal U.S. Supreme Court vacancy and steady progress on the bipartisan Fix NICS bill to ensure existing gun laws are enforced.

Kudos to the Midway Independent School District board of trustees for setting an example of how at least educators should act when it comes to social media and their young charges. Possibly it’s too much to hope for today, given dramatically shifting political and social norms and morals, but some parents and students would do well to take notice and similarly embrace restraint and civility in what they post online to friend and foe.

Were friend Jeanie Mercer around to opine on her death Friday, we suspect she would find its timing apt — close to Christmas but not so close as to obscure celebration of her savior’s birth. And near enough to the start of a new year, which lays the groundwork for renewal. This is how we recall Jeanie, a member of the Trib Board of Contributors for more than 30 years who championed the daily paper as a vehicle for in-depth news and civil discussion. “I amen some things and argue with others on the opinion page,” she once wrote. She was 84.

The Christmas Eve message at churches in Waco and beyond almost certainly will highlight or incorporate the mystical, enthralling story of Jesus’ birth as the world’s savior. Yet a new Pew Research Center poll finds fewer Americans believe Jesus was born to a virgin, wise men were guided to Jesus by a star or an angel announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds — all key elements of the Christmas story.

If the tax-cut bill headed for President Trump’s desk proves anything, it’s that Republicans are even worse than Democrats in passing major legislation. Whereas Democrats spent a year holding congressional hearings before passing (and without a single Republican vote) the flawed Affordable Care Act of 2010, Republicans spent only a fraction of that time passing (and without a single Democratic vote) their so-called “tax-reform bill.” They held virtually no public hearings on key details of the bill (though some Republicans dispute this) and made a complete mockery of Trump’s claim that this is all about benefiting the middle class — and that it won’t benefit the rich.

Few daily newspapers, big, small or between, are lucky enough to have a lifelong champion such as Ann Roznovsky. Off the clock or on, she was an upbeat, highly visible reminder of not only the importance of an informed and attentive citizenry bolstered by a credible watchdog press but the joyous epiphany that comes when truth is disseminated in a vibrant democracy. Her death Saturday at age 81 reminds us of the steep challenges that remain, both for the Tribune-Herald which she long celebrated and an increasingly bewildered public.

Law enforcement officials nationwide are justified in their anxiety about NRA-backed efforts in Congress to allow anyone licensed to carry a concealed firearm in one state to do so when visiting another state. After all, some states aren’t as discerning as the state of Texas when determining who has enough knowledge, skill and competence to handle a firearm — and those shortcomings could prove disastrous in certain circumstances.

One by one, sworn affidavits by a retired police official and former prosecutors are painting a picture of corruption and politically charged schemes by Abel Reyna during his controversial two terms as McLennan County district attorney. Allegations, and from sources as credible as veteran prosecutor Greg Davis, cover everything from Reyna’s drug use to a pattern of doing political favors for friends and campaign donors, including dropping prosecution cases.

For better or worse, Donald Trump has changed, arguably forever, how we view politics in America. Perhaps even to his credit, the president has made us aware of conflicts of interest in the D.C. “swamp” and among politicians everywhere who conspire to enrich or bestow favors on their families, friends and political donors — a problem, alas, that Trump seems all too complicit in, making him unlikely to be the one who “drains” any swamp of corruption and self-interest. Sad.

In his typically thoughtful, insightful way, local philanthropist and former ambassador Lyndon Olson Jr. added to our understanding of Doris Miller during the unveiling of a statue honoring the hometown hero’s action under fire in the 1941 attack on the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. Olson told of his widowed grandmother, Lillie McLaughlin, living on a Speegleville farm during the Great Depression and how Miller’s father, Conery, without being asked, showed up to help plant cotton for the devastated family. This story of kindness takes on special significance when one remembers racial tensions marking our area during much of the turbulent 20th century. The men who came to the house to help were black. The McLaughlin clan was white.

Ouch. After Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in September the Trump administration would rescind temporary protections for immigrants brought to our country illegally as children, we looked to Congress to do the right thing. We expected lawmakers to ensure that protections for immigrants who grew up knowing only America as their home country were properly enshrined in federal law. Unfortunately, such efforts now seems imperiled.

No time of year more than spring reveals how picky we McLennan Countians can be on what past local events rate historical and societal reflection. Many folks — especially those past a certain age — are happy to revel in a milestone anniversary of the May 11, 1953, tornado striking Waco. While the tornado left 114 dead and much of our city in ruins, the incident nearly 65 years ago is punctuated by rousing anecdotes of sacrifice, heroism and unity. Themes of rescue, renewal and rebuilding run rampant. And it’s not like anyone “caused” the killer tornado.

Flashback

What were we talking about one year ago? Take a look back.

One political truism has become all too apparent in recent years: Those among us who most loudly claim to cherish and respect the U.S. Constitution often happen to be the most eager to gut and redraft key passages of it. Latest evidence: Republican state Sen. Brian Birdwell, who has pushed hard this legislative session for an Article V Convention of States to rewrite offending parts of the Constitution — a dangerous idea for all real patriots who love this republic and understand its intricate framework for governance.

From all indications, the Baylor University announcement Tuesday that Linda A. Livingstone, dean and professor of management at the George Washington University School of Business in Washington, D.C., will become Baylor’s 15th president is worthy of both celebration and hope, however restrained. Not only is she respected as a scholar and administrator, she’s also a strong example of a recent vow by the regents to increase diversity at Baylor, including in leadership. Given that many alumni, donors and even state lawmakers have targeted Baylor leadership over BU’s ongoing sexual-assault scandal, this can’t hurt. She becomes the university’s first female president in its 172-year history, though regent Chairman Ron Murff says her leadership abilities and credentials are what won her the board’s unanimous approval for the post, not her gender.

Passage of someone from our midst frequently prompts the observation that, whatever the profession or pursuits of the dearly departed, Providence simply doesn’t make ’em like that anymore. And it’s seldom true. But local attorney Tom Moore Jr. is the exception, the real deal. Such words are more than just true regarding his work as a public servant and belief in doing good, both in and beyond the spotlight.

Even though U.S. foreign policy is by now conflicted to the point of stunning inconsistency, most of us last week cheered President Trump’s ordering of a retaliatory missile strike against a Syrian military airfield where a horrifying chemical attack on men, women and children was launched. One can argue Trump’s motives — whether he sought to reverse his sagging poll numbers or show he was no mere stooge to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his odious ally in the war-weary Mideast. Yet one can never truly know what motive beats in the hearts of men.