Dr. Brother Cornell West Visits Utah Stories

Dr. Cornel West came on the Utah Stories podcast to discuss his campaign for President, his political views, and Utah’s political issues as of late.


Dr. “Brother” Cornel West sports a black suit and a tall gray afro and goatee. He reminds me of someone who might belong in the 19th century. Like Frederick Douglas prior to the Civil War, West is the voice and the conscience of a divided nation. 

“Brother West” as he prefers to go by, is a firebrand Christian who makes frequent appearances on the airwaves of both Fox News and CNN. However, West doesn’t fit in either camp. West is a rarity, calling himself a “truth seeker” who “goes against the grain,” and his non-ideological convictions make him comfortable debating policies on both left and right-leaning networks. While it seems he is a friend of both Sean Hannity and Jake Tapper, West has his own ideas.

West sits firmly on the far-left Democratic-Socialist end of the political spectrum. In 2020, as a campaign advisor for Bernie Sanders, he witnessed first-hand the complete corruption of the Democrat Party when Sanders didn’t get the nomination despite having the most votes. 

West paid a visit to Salt Lake City, Utah as part of his national speaking and engagement tour by tossing his hat into the ring of the 2024 Presidential campaign. Amazingly, West agreed to visit Utah Stories with Mayoral candidate Michael Valentine.

You read it correctly: one of the foremost national political commentators was coming to our little office in Holladay, Utah. In preparation, I researched West on social media. His most recent clip that went viral was of him speaking out against the Israeli-Palestinian war in an incredibly animated and passionate way. He spoke against the “killing of Palestinian babies.” He said the killing of babies on both sides was barbaric and had to stop. His most recent appearance on Fox News included a debate between himself and Alan Dershowitz. The debate became extremely heated when West believed a ceasefire needed to occur and that both sides were guilty. 

In preparation for West’s visit, I realized I didn’t want to cover this conflict or rehash the two sides of this debate. 

Photo credit: Robin Pendergrast

I believe there is another issue being ignored by the media and that is the duopoly of both left and right political beliefs. Diatribes and hatred are creating a fog surrounding the miasma of public discourse. And the real major issue of the United States is being ignored by both sides.

The real issue is that the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing. The elites on both the right and the left don’t seem to care about the growing disparity. The United States is a duopoly and a plutocracy whereby the elites and rich have all of the cards and the working class poor and the unhoused are suffering more now than ever before.

The homeless in Utah and around every urban center are suffering. It seems the US is out of touch with its own heart and soul, especially in finding a way to handle this situation. People are seeking common enemies on the left and on the right. On the right, the enemy is the Liberals who are running our cities into the ground. On the left, it’s the white supremacists and systemic racism and broken capitalism that are the root causes of poverty. 

“What you do for the least of these (the people) is a measure of your greatness — your spiritual and moral greatness. And that’s very different than worldly success. But trying to bear witness and allow the love that’s been poured into you to be manifested in the love you have for everyday, ordinary people,” West said.

Driving to the heart of this debate is what is the true heart and soul of the United States? What makes the United States a great country? Is the soul of America its compassion for the poor and suffering? Or is the heart of America the spirit one can tap into of our free markets, thereby enabling a person to climb out of poverty with one’s own hard work and initiative?

West described that in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, something is “rotten” in Denmark, and, West said, “Something is rotten in our political system.” 

This is what I wanted to discuss with Dr. West. What is real compassion?  Is it compassionate to allow so many people to use drugs all day in our parks? Is it compassionate to do as he says he wants to do: provide everyone in the US a home — to make housing a right? Haven’t we tried that? Weren’t the projects an experiment in free housing? 

“Politics in America are so corrupt that just to be decent makes you a revolutionary,” West said. 

The Soul Of The United States: Are We Still a Christian Nation?

On the compassionate side, it seems we are indeed lacking. Is the United States still a Christian nation? If so, does that mean Jesus is at the center? 

I appreciated how in some clips I watched, West quoted Jesus, and frequently quoted a key tenant to Christianity, Mathew 25:40: “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers you did for me,” In reference to feeding, clothing and providing shelter for the poor. West said, “It’s a measure of a person’s gratitude to God, what they are willing to bring forth in themselves to help others.” 

My questions are, “Where are the Christians who should be caring for the homeless?” Christians believe that worshiping in their church buildings on Sundays, and paying some of their money to tithing is good, but only one Church in Salt Lake City was willing to open their doors to the homeless to prevent them from freezing to death last year.

West received his PhD in Philosophy from Harvard University, but he is known as a theologian in the same spirit as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He believes we need to show far more compassion for the unhoused, but he also believes the government should provide this housing. 

Photo credit: Robin Pendergrast

This is where Dr. West and Michael Valentine, on the side of free housing, and I, on the side of the free market, disagree. I strongly believe everything that is handed over to the government to manage, especially these new “rights” people are proclaiming: the right to housing being the latest in a litany — including education, healthcare, food — is in the wrong spirit. This would be in the spirit of taking from Peter to pay Paul, or just stealing from the rich to give to the poor. The rich always find ways of getting out of paying. And the rich could simply take their money and park it elsewhere. This has never worked. Marxism and Socialism all sound great until, as Margaret Thatcher once said, “you run out of other people’s money.” 

Our conversation shifted to the spirit that made the United States a great nation. How and why has the US been a bastion for freedom? Why do people risk life and limb to cross our border to come to the US from so many South American countries?

Is it so they can get free stuff provided by the government? Or is it because we still have — despite innumerable flaws and corruption — one of the best free markets in the world? A collection of cities that provide any person of any race, creed, color or religion, the greatest amount of opportunity available? Which is it?

I argue that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights was never designed or intended to produce a magnificent government that could one day give people the right to housing, food, shelter etc — but it was designed to protect people from governmental powers which nearly always ends up in corruption. I argue that our founders understood that corruption is nearly inevitable when centralized powers exist. It is their foresight in understanding that the greatest threat to a nation is offering John Locke’s ideas of  “inalienable rights — rights granted to us not by man but by God”? This was the government itself. The Constitution was a framework to protect the people from the government. 

Photo credit: Robin Pendergrast

West didn’t seem to disagree on this point, but he believes that the solution to the extreme corruption of both parties; the extreme corruption of our governments being mostly driven and operated by special interests (corporate greed and power — is to provide the people the right to Universal Basic Income and free housing. We disagreed, but in a civil tone.

“What was crucial was that we understood that the Constitution was an experiment, which means it’s open to change. It’s open to revision. That’s what the amendments are for. But it has to be malleable enough and fluid enough. It’s almost jazz-like in a sense. It’s got to be improvisational. The final pillar is a commitment to fairness, so if you create conditions of fairness, then you’ve got to have a culture of civic virtue,” West said. 

It was one of the most fascinating conversations I’ve had on the Utah Stories show. The conversation ran directly to the point of the national identity problems we find ourselves facing. I would love to continue this  conversation. 

What do you believe? How does the US restore its soul? How does the US once again feel like a single country with a unified purpose and vision? And is the US great because of our government, or in spite of our government?

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