Newly inaugurated President Trump pumps his fist at the conclusion of his inaugural address on Friday in Washington. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
Opinion writer

“Like him or hate him, learn from him. Learn from him that there should be nobody who’s left behind. And that everybody should be treated with a sense of their own dignity.”

Individual dignity has been a longtime focus of inquiry and study for Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. And the loss of said dignity among Americans gave him insight into what made Donald Trump the 45th president of the United States. “Donald Trump was talking to people in the parts of America that have been truly forgotten and left behind now for generations in a way that was inherent,” Brooks told me in the latest episode of “Cape Up.” “It helped people understand that he understood that they should have a sense of their dignity, too.”


For more conversations like this, subscribe to “Cape UP” on iTunes or Stitcher.

If you’ve read his book “The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fair, Happier, and More Prosperous America” you know Brooks is a religious man who strives to live the teachings of his Catholic faith. But you also know that the foundation of his conservatism rests on four pillars: family, faith, community and meaningful work. We started our conversation by talking about this and how it underpins why a friend of his from India earning “500 bucks a month … giving tours of micro-enterprises to Westerners” considered himself rich. It all goes back to dignity.

Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, talks with Jonathan Capehart during a taping of the “Cape Up” podcast on Jan. 17 in the AEI studios. (Carol Alderman/The Washington Post)

“Dignity is to be worthy of respect. That’s what dignity really means. And people can be stripped of their sense of their dignity in a lot of ways,” Brooks allowed, “but the number one way that people are stripped of their sense of dignity is when they feel superfluous to society, when they feel that they are not needed.” Enter Trump, who “taught people their own dignity or spoke to people about their dignity,” said Brooks, who is more dignified in person, thought and manner than the president has exhibited in the entirety of his public life.

Listen to the podcast to find out what role former president Barack Obama played in Brooks’s thinking on dignity and why the conservative scholar insists that everyone “be as helpful as we possibly can” to the new president, “to give him a chance.” As the nationwide demonstrations after Inauguration Day showed, that’s going to be a tall order.

“Cape Up” is Jonathan’s weekly podcast talking to key figures behind the news and our culture. Subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever else you listen to podcasts.