The Crisis of American Conscience

Morality and Michael Cohen

By David Brooks

Normal people have moral sentiments. Normal people are repulsed when the president of their own nation lies, cheats, practices bigotry, allegedly pays off porn star mistresses.

Were Republican House members enthusiastic or morose as they decided to turn off their own moral circuits, when they decided to be monumentally unconcerned by the fact that their leader may be a moral cretin?

Do they think that having anesthetized their moral sense in this case they will simply turn it on again down the road? Having turned off their soul at work, do they think they will be able to turn it on again when they go home to the spouse and kids?

This is how moral corrosion happens. Supporting Trump requires daily acts of moral distancing, a process that means that after a few months you are tolerant of any corruption. You are morally numb to everything.

In “East of Eden,” John Steinbeck writes: “Humans are caught — in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too — in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last. … A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard clean questions: was it good or was it evil? Have I done well — or ill.”


AZ8h ago

Times Pick

David, your outrage is understandable, even if its proximal cause isn’t and cannot be fully understood. But saying that excusing the behavior and subterfuge that is the hallmark of leadership these day is not normal isn’t quite accurate. Normal is a statistical term. And society grades on a curve. Normal ain’t what it used to be. Normal people are used to that. It’s sad, really.


Jose Becerra

Atlanta, GA |

@JustaHuman You are assuming a unimodal statistical distribution. But there are at least two frequency distributions mixed. A bimodal curve is not normal, I agree.

The normal curve for good people remains as is, confounded by its mixture with the normal curve for bad people. At the end it’s a simple binary choice, good or evil, as Mr. Brooks correctly states.


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