A Conservative’s View Worth Hearing

I know some of my readers don’t have much use for New York Times columnist David Brooks, but there are a handful of conservative journalists for whom I have respect, and Brooks is one of them.  His views are more moderate than conservative, and when asked what he thinks of charges that he’s “not a real conservative” or “squishy”, Brooks has said that “if you define conservative by support for the Republican candidate or the belief that tax cuts are the correct answer to all problems, I guess I don’t fit that agenda. But I do think that I’m part of a long-standing conservative tradition that has to do with Edmund Burke … and Alexander Hamilton.”  At any rate, his column from Thursday is thoughtful and worth pondering.  I may not completely agree with his contention that all humans have a ‘soul’, for of late we’ve seen some pretty ‘soulless’ people, but I especially like the respect he shows for President Biden … something you will hear from almost no other conservative!

Joe Biden and the Struggle for America’s Soul

David Brooks

27 April 2023

Joe Biden built his 2020 presidential campaign around the idea that “we’re in a battle for the soul of America.” I thought it was a marvelous slogan because it captured the idea that we’re in the middle of a moral struggle over who we are as a nation. In the video he released this week launching his re-election bid, he doubled down on that idea: We’re still, he said, “in a battle for the soul of America.”

I want to dwell on the little word “soul” in that sentence because I think it illuminates what the 2024 presidential election is all about.

What is a soul? Well, religious people have one answer to that question. But Biden is not using the word in a religious sense, but in a secular one. He is saying that people and nations have a moral essence, a soul.

Whether you believe in God or don’t believe in God is not my department. But I do ask you to believe that every person you meet has this moral essence, this quality of soul.

Because humans have souls, each one is of infinite value and dignity. Because humans have souls, each one is equal to all the others. We are not equal in physical strength or I.Q. or net worth, but we are radically equal at the level of who we essentially are.

The soul is the name we can give to that part of our consciousness where moral life takes place. The soul is the place our moral sentiments flow from, the emotions that make us feel admiration at the sight of generosity and disgust at the sight of cruelty.

It is the place where our moral yearnings come from, too. Most people yearn to lead good lives. When they act with a spirit of cooperation, their souls sing and they are happy. On the other hand, when they feel their lives have no moral purpose, they experience a sickness of the soul — a sense of lostness, pain and self-contempt.

Because we have souls, we are morally responsible for what we do. Hawks and cobras are not morally responsible for their actions; but humans, possessors of souls, are caught in a moral drama, either doing good or doing ill.

Political campaigns are not usually contests over the status of the soul. But Donald Trump, and Trumpism generally, is the embodiment of an ethos that covers up the soul. Or to be more precise, each is an ethos that deadens the soul under the reign of the ego.

Trump, and Trumpism generally, represents a kind of nihilism that you might call amoral realism. This ethos is built around the idea that we live in a dog-eat-dog world. The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. Might makes right. I’m justified in grabbing all that I can because if I don’t, the other guy will. People are selfish; deal with it.

This ethos — which is central to not only Trump’s approach to life, but also Vladimir Putin’s and Xi Jinping’s — gives people a permission slip to be selfish. In an amoral world, cruelty, dishonesty, vainglory and arrogance are valorized as survival skills.

People who live according to the code of amoral realism tear through codes and customs that have built over the centuries to nurture goodness and foster cooperation. Putin is not restrained by notions of human rights. Trump is not restrained by the normal codes of honesty.

In the mind of an amoral realist, life is not a moral drama; it’s a competition for power and gain, red in tooth and claw. Other people are not possessors of souls, of infinite dignity and worth; they are objects to be utilized.

Biden talks a lot about the struggle between democracy and authoritarianism. At its deepest level, that struggle is between systems that put the dignity of individual souls at the center and systems that operate by the logic of dominance and submission.

You may disagree with Biden on many issues. You may think he is too old. But that’s not the primary issue in this election. The presidency, as Franklin D. Roosevelt put it, “is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership.”

One of the hardest, soul-wearying parts of living through the Trump presidency was that we had to endure a steady downpour of lies, transgressions and demoralizing behavior. We were all corroded by it. That era was a reminder that the soul of a person and the soul of a nation are always in flux, every day moving a bit in the direction of elevation or a bit in the direction of degradation.

A return to that ethos would bring about a social and moral disintegration that is hard to contemplate. Say what you will about Biden, but he has generally put human dignity at the center of his political vision. He treats people with charity and respect.

The contest between Biden and Trumpism is less Democrat versus Republican or liberal versus conservative than it is between an essentially moral vision and an essentially amoral one, a contest between decency and its opposite.

34 thoughts on “A Conservative’s View Worth Hearing

  1. What a bunch of bollocks. “America’s soul”, my ass. Make life better for the common people in a real, practical, economic way & the well-being of their souls will follow!

    Saying you’re fighting for the soul of America is fine rhetoric but it is MEANINGLESS. Only a bunch of baby boomers care about that kind of talk (Sorry but it’s true). The rest of us want the rich to get taxed to the max, we want our SNAP benefits restored, we want Medicare & Medicaid, we want our Social Security secure, we want new roads & schools & good education for our kids & grandkids that isn’t tainted with ideology from either the left or the right, we want a new fucking deal already. Give us what Reagan & the Bushes & yes, the Clintons destroyed!

    Give us that & then we’ll talk about fighting for the soul of America. BTW, has anyone asked a Native about the soul of America? I kinda doubt it.


  2. I always try to read conservative newspapers as I feel it’s important to have a balance of views and this was a nicely written piece Jill. I agree the upcoming election is less about left vs right or Republicans vs Democrats but more about what is moral and immoral. It’s gonna be a tense year and years ahead!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I must admit I don’t read as much from the conservative camp as I once did, for so much of it simply sickens me. But, Brooks and a few others are of the old-school Republican Party where values still mattered. Yes, it’s going to be a very stressful year-and-a-half and I wish I felt more certain that the people of this nation will step up to the plate and do the right thing, silence the awful, violent voices trying to undermine democracy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. One of the definitions for “soul” is The immaterial part of a person; the actuating cause of an individual life, To me, this makes sense. There is no religious connotation … it’s just a way of describing who we are at our core.

    I think the difficulty some of us have with the word is when it includes (as Brooks does) the word “moral” or “morality.” And once that definition comes into play, religion and belief in a god automatically become part of the definition.

    In any case, I appreciate Brooks’ perspective on Biden. I still have reservations about his age (for good reason), but he has definitely shown his care and concern for PEOPLE and not just “politics.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right. There was a time that I thought the use of the word ‘soul’ was hypocritical, since I don’t have religious beliefs and I associated the word with religion. But as I’ve grown older and hopefully wiser, I’ve come to see it as the essence of who we are, the mix of good and bad that is our persona. And as re ‘morals’, that to me is simply doing the right thing by most any standard. It is morally wrong to murder, whether you’re a Christian, Muslim, or atheist … it’s just plain wrong. It’s morally wrong, at least in my book, to slander another person or harm that person because they are Black, or gay, or atheist, or trans. In the end, it’s just a word that serves a purpose. As re Biden’s age, I’ll repeat what I said to David earlier tonight: Worst case scenario, Biden dies and Kamala Harris becomes President. Isn’t that much better than Trump or DeSantis being president?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m not a big fan of David Brooks. I’m okay with his brand of conservatism, but I find Brooks to be far too shallow — even superficial — for my liking.

    If “soul” means “moral essence”, then there are some people who seem to lack that. Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson and Vladimir Putin come to mind. But, apart from that, I mostly agree with what Brooks said in that piece. Yes, we should treat all humans with dignity — even those who seem to lack a moral essence.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hmmmm … I never thought of him as shallow or superficial, but perhaps we are each looking for different things.

      I think of soul as … yeah, I guess “moral essence” is as good a description as any. I think all people are some mix of good and bad, and that is their ‘soul’. I fully agree that the likes of Trump, Carlson, Putin and many more (Greene, Boebert, Gaetz) seem to lack a soul, they certainly lack any code of honesty or empathy. I would find it hard, if ever I were face-to-face with any of those aforementioned, to treat them with dignity. I’ve often said that if I ever met up with Trump, I would spit in his face.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. David Brooks represents the roots of the Republican Party, the political party that, once upon a time, fought for the abolition of slavery, and for women’s suffrage and other admirable goals. If the GOP had remained true to its founding principles, I might still be a Republican. I’m afraid, however, it’s gone too far to ever return. Even when Trump is dead and gone, it will be the party of Trumpism. I suspect I’ll be around for just a few more elections, so I’ll never again vote for a Republican.

    Liked by 4 people

    • You are so right. He is of the old school Republican Party, the one that still had a conscience, that still believed in democracy. Today’s GOP has no conscience, no soul, only a desire to turn this nation into a white, Christian, straight, male-dominated society where the rich are worshipped and the other 99% are damned. I think you’re right that Trumpism, or “maga” will live on long after Donald Trump is dead, for ignorance in this country seems to be on the rise. Like you, I won’t be here to see the full blast of destruction, maybe not even the next election, but I am nonetheless furious and heartbroken by what is happening here. I’ve only voted for a few Republicans in my lifetime, but today, there isn’t a single one I would vote for.


  6. Jill, as you know, I join with you in admiration of what David Brooks says. I do not always agree with what he says, but you need to listen to his point of view as it will help yours.

    Jon Meacham, the famous historian, wrote a key book about America called “Soul of America.” He notes that in-between significant positive changes, we Americans have not lived up to our ideals. The wave that Donald Trump rode to the White House and is still riding is a good example of not living up to our ideals. Lying, bullying, and name calling is not good governance, not even close. Sedition is not very attractive in a leader either.

    But, it is not unusual. We lived through Senator Joe McCarthy’s communist witch hunts where he made up stuff on the fly and accused people. The thought that in America, it is OK to be communist never entered his mind. But, it was not a concept to him, it was a weaponized label.

    We lived through the genocide of Native Americans who for some reason took offense at being removed from their property and being attacked because people were made to be scared of them. This, of course, fed into fears and more were killed.

    And, there was also that slavery thing and Jim Crow genocide and rights suppression going on for decades.

    We deserve better than what too many politicians are doing. We deserve better than Trump, DeSantis, Carlson, et al. We need the rational leaders to step up and demand the truth and chastise those who cannot find it or speak it.


    Liked by 2 people

    • So true, Keith … it isn’t necessary to always agree, but rather to listen to each other, think about our views. The average Republican today is unwilling or incapable of shutting their own mouth long enough to listen to anyone else, which is what I respect about David Brooks, George Will, et al. They aren’t closed-minded like most of the ‘conservatives’ these days. My weekly treat is the 12-minute clip of Brooks and Capehart from PBS each Friday … both are wise, reasonable men, and while they often disagree, they LISTEN to each other and respond respectfully.

      Indeed, I have read Meacham’s “Soul of America” twice now and can see some parallels throughout our history. I often wonder, speaking of Senator Joe McCarthy, if Kevin is somehow related to him. Our history, as described by Meacham and so many others, is being lost … nay, not lost … stolen … by the likes of Ron DeSantis and others who would like to sweep it under the carpet as if the genocide of Indigenous People, the slavery of Black people, Jim Crow and so much more never happened. They would paint a rosy, but very false picture of the history of this nation. Meacham’s book should be REQUIRED reading for every high school freshman!


      • Jill, while Kevin is unrelated I believe, there is a link between Senator Joe McCarthy and Donald Trump. As noted in an article in The New York Times called “What Donald Trump Learned From Joseph McCarthy’s Right-Hand Man,” Trump’s mentor was attorney Roy Cohn who became famous by advising McCarthy during the communist witch hunt. Per Trump’s several biographers, Cohn advised Trump to never apologize and sue everyone, both practices he follows still. Keith

        Liked by 1 person

  7. As you know Jill I will pick a fight with most conservatives (and socialists….of course!)
    However I would not like to go up against David Brooks’ unless shoved into a room with him having been told ‘Go on big mouth, say your piece to him,’
    He is the sort of Conservative I can respect and ask in all sincerity for him to explain true conservative American mindsets.
    Thanks Jill of sharing this man’s views against which the current populists of infesting the Republican Party are but small, squeaking scuttling things, giving mice and rats a bad name.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Roger, you would do well, but so would Brooks. I watched him weekly for ten years every Friday as he offered a conservative view to Mark Shields progressive view. They were obviously good friends and held each in high regard. I have read a couple of Brooks’ books and my wife and I went to hear him speak. To me, like Shields, I would love to have a friendly chat and discuss issues. Keith

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you Keith for your opening comment. Mr Brooks does seem to have an underlying optimistic and hopeful view, and like you I would love to chat and discuss. He might cure me of the ‘Realistic’ (In the International Relations use of the word) outlook

        Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I respect him, along with a few others like George Will, who I think I have quoted here before. You could hold your own with either or both of them, Sir Roger. They are the remnants of what the GOP once was, and I’m afraid once they are gone, there will be no more common sense in the Republican Party.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Jill for that😀🌻.
        I agreed with Keith it would be lovely to talk with such folk and exchange views….And with regard to Mr Brooks outlook on human nature. Even better to say at some stage:
        ‘You know what. I never thought of it like that. You could well be right,’


  8. Pingback: A Conservative’s View Worth Hearing | Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News

  9. Morality is, to me, a religious word, and not valid the way I look at the world. Good and evil do not exist as far as the world defines those words. But if doing good is to act in the support of all life its opposite is to act against the support of all life.
    I agree with Mr. Brooks’ statement that we are all equal, but I disagree with his aseertion “hawks and cobras” cannot be pro-life. They know the difference between killing for food, and not killing unless for survival, unlike humans who kill for food, but they kill wantonly for reasons that have nothing to do with survial. In this essence, hawks and cobras are infinitely more moral than humans. And it has nothing to do with gods of any kind, they know when to kill and when to let live.
    In place of Mr. Brooks’s word soul, I use the word spirit, which is our connection to life. Spirit has nothing to do with religion either, in my world. It speaks only to the interconnectedness of all living beings. We all have spirit, We are all equal.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I’m with you good friend on the question of Hawks and Cobras. Humans tend give themselves alone souls/spirits, or implant in other Life forms Human Natures. In the book ‘Other Minds’ Peter Godfrey-Smith delves into this topic using the Octopus’ nature (in so far as we know it) as a subject for discussion.
      Other than that Mr Brooks’ column is something I can applaud.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I knew you would, and each to their own. Getting down to the nitty gritty I tend to agree with much of what he is “trying” to say, but his vocabilary is not at all secular, though he insists it is.
        Someday you and I should have a discussion on the presence or absence of Good and Evil. I know what I was told as a youngster, and those teachings still shade even my vocabulary at times, but deep in my being they have become meaningless as defined.
        Please note, I did not say debate. I have no need to change your mind, or for you to try to change my mind. All said with mutual respect.

        Liked by 2 people

          • Inspiration is where you find it. Just please make sure all your family matters are dealt with to the best of your abilities.
            As for debates, I hate debates because they imply the declaration of winners and losers, as judged by those not involved in the debate. Discussions are just friendly conversations. Another rawgodism.

            Liked by 2 people

                • We still haven’t rid ourselves of the ‘Noble Heritage’ or Class systems.
                  When a politician gets up to make a lofty speech Sheila and I watch out for the ‘Churchill’ bit they all slip into. Unless they try a Shakespearean gambit, as in Henry V’s speech at Agincourt.
                  And anyone getting into a discourse (unless it’s on sport or voting intentions) has the secret fantasy of standing at a lectern at either Oxford or Cambridge Universities.

                  Liked by 1 person

    • I used to think of ‘morality’ or ‘morals’ as a religious word, but I no longer see it that way. Nowadays I simply equate it with ‘values’. I know many people who are atheists but yet have a good set of values, or morals, that guide their behaviour. It doesn’t have to mean anything about religion … only if you put it into a religious context, which needless to say, I don’t. As for what you say about ” if doing good is to act in the support of all life its opposite is to act against the support of all life”, there are degrees … it isn’t necessarily all or nothing at all. People … ALL people, I think … are some degree of good & evil. We all have it within us to kill, I think, under the right circumstances, but most of us far prefer to treat others with kindness than cruelty. Much depends on the environment one is exposed to in their early years, part depends on DNA, and part … I dunno.

      ‘Soul’ or ‘Spirit’ … either one works for me. It’s what you mean by it that counts, not the word you use.


      • We all add our own experiences to how we nuance “value” words. Because of my experiences in dealing with people who use morals as weapons, I feel the religion in the words, particularly the christian religion. They tell me I must have morals because they were handed down from their god, and god created me.
        That, of course, did not happen. My parents created me. And if I lived by my sperm donor’s morals I would be a real bastard, just like he was. When I was old enough, i made up my own guidelines of life, based on how I viewed the world. I don’t even call them values, they are just expressions of how I want to live.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I just tune ’em out when people start preaching their brand of religion to me, so I pay no attention to their verbiage. But, I do understand what you’re saying … I just don’t let them turn a fairly neutral word into a hateful one.


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