Ben Carson, the up-from-poverty-and-separated-Siamese-Twins surgeon, now second only to The Donald in GOP popularity, is scarier than the bloviating, self-regarding Trump. According to Carson, he is God’s candidate. He is just what we need in this age of fundamentalism, where it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the Koran-thumpers and the Bible-thumpers. Which one is called by God? Does God own a gun. (Yes,)
Carson is gentlemanly and sounds reasonable. He does not usually attack opponents with personal insults. Unlike Trump, he was not born at home plate and thinks he hit a home run. His personal story is admirable – sort of Bill Clinton in a surgical gown and burdened not only by poverty, but also race. Like Trump, but not like Clinton (either one), Carson has zero government experience – which is his appeal to voters.
Plus, he is not Donald Trump. In at least one important way, he is worse.
First, a little background on Dr. Carson.
Carson’s administrative experience is limited to running the department of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins for 29 years.
According to Wickipedia, the only President to have attended medical school was William Henry Harrison, who withdrew after his father died and he had no money to continue his education. Harrison served as territorial governor of Indiana and represented Ohio in the House and Senate. His reputation was that of a military hero. Harrison only served a month as President before he died in 1841.
Heading a surgical department at Johns Hopkins is a considerable personal accomplishment, but anyone who has spent much time in a hospital, as I have, watching the institution operate, knows that the best surgeons are treated like kings by those around them. They might welcome assistance, but criticism, even from other surgeons, is muted, at best, and private always. This is hardly preparation for the cantankerous public opposition encountered in presidential politics and dealing with the heads of other nations.
At least Trump knows opposition. He is running on that experience. Deals require two sides, at least, and Trump claims to be the consummate dealmaker.
But Carson Is Scarier
The differences between Carson and Trump on most policies is pretty much nil, except that with Trump there are several issues on the “cultural” warfront in which he does not seem too dedicated to the conservative mantras – gays, abortion, and, as we note further below, Christian religion. In fact, Trump is the clear exception, perhaps with Kasich, to the notion that any GOP presidential candidate must bow to the altar of Christ. (An Appendix below gives a brief summary of the policy positions of Carson and Trump, brief as they are.)
Trump is a nominal Presbyterian. Presbyterians abandoned Calvin and predestination – the original tenets of the denomination — long ago. As a nominal Presbyterian myself, I am hard pressed to explain how it differs from other mainstream religions. It is less rigorous than some – certainly than Catholic or Baptist. All are welcome to the Communion table. To many, the principal distinction of Presbyterianism is process. It takes forever to get anything done. Everything is subject to negotiation. Trump worships at the right place.
There is nothing to suggest that Trump is anything more than a Presbyterian who attends church at least on Easter and Christmas but who otherwise proceeds about his secular interests. In other words, he is like most of us when it comes to religion.
Before addressing Carson, let me just say that I believe that the big religious issues such as Does God Exist? Is There Sin? Is There Heaven? If So, Who Gets In? are literally left to be answered by a Higher Authority or nothing at all. In all events, answering them is above my pay grade and I just try to live my life as a decent person by my precepts, influenced, surely, by the New Testament, those who raised and educated me, and my friends. I am more comfortable in a fact-based world than one of beliefs or myth.
But I don’t begrudge others their beliefs. It’s fine if they get carried away, though I likely would not be the BFF of such persons. Where I draw the line is on people who enter politics in the apparently sincere belief that they are Chosen by God to run for office and will do what God tells them to do if elected. My distaste for such candidates has always existed. Since 9/11 and the firestorm of the Middle East, I can’t say it has lessened.
Trump’s appeal to fundamentalist Christians is not a mystery. He appears to stand for much of what they like, which is effectively a return to the allegedly God-fearing 1950s, when the U.S. stood astride a world destroyed by WW II and embarked on a Cold War that the Godless Communists lost (many say not just under Reagan’s term, but because of Reagan). In this view, America was founded by God, favored by God (great founders, great geography, great people until, oh, the last sixty years) and must, therefore, be Of God. Trump reflects all the secular aspects of this desire. He just doesn’t handle the God part very well. He might mistakenly think HE is God.
NPR quotes Dr. Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, about Trump: “He’s someone who is an unrepentant serial adulterer who has abandoned two wives for other women. He’s someone who has spoken in vulgar and harsh terms about women, as well as in ugly and hateful ways about immigrants and other minorities. I don’t think this is someone who represents the values that evangelicals in this country aspire to.”
Trump begs to differ. He says of fundamentalists: “I love them. They love me. I am Protestant – I am Presbyterian. I love the evangelicals. Why do they love me? You’ll have to ask them – but they do.”
Here is where Carson finds his audience and voters. They are those fundamentalists or evangelicals who like Trump’s policies in some areas, but know he is lukewarm or worse on many of the issues most dear to them. These are the issues – gays, abortion, the Bible, among others – in which Carson better reflects their views. Carson is Huckabee, but without government experience and he is newer and shinier.
Carson is quoted in a Washington Post article published on September 13 that he is not running a religious campaign, but added, “I do believe that our country has a faith-based foundation. I know how many people would like to deny that, but think about it. Our founding document refers to the inalienable rights given to us by our creator.” His website is more explicit: “Our Founding Fathers never meant for the First Amendment to be used to drive prayer out of the public square.”
Without any elaboration, Carson’s website also states that “…we need to reverse the recent trend of secular progressives using activist, federal judges to drive faith out of our society.”
Well, even these sentiments – Fox’s “War on Christmas” mantra – are pretty much matched by other candidates, including supposedly more moderate Jeb! Bush. But here is the scary part. The same Post article quotes Carson as follows, speaking of the origins of his campaign, before The Eagle Forum Conference in St. Louis this past weekend:
“All the political pundits were saying it’s impossible. Someone like you? You can’t put together the political organization. You can’t raise the money. I said, “Phew, good!” It’s good to hear that. I finally said, ‘Lord, all the experts say it’s impossible. But if you want me to do it, if you open the doors, I’ll walk through them.’”
God always gives politicians such as Carson who beseech His guidance the same answer: “Go for it.”
Trump would make a ridiculous President as well as a failed one, but he likely would be grounded in the present. Carson, picked by God as much as by voters, might hear the Lord tell him Armageddon is upon us. For him, that might be good news.
God Help Us.
Appendix: Where They (Supposedly) Stand
Here is where Carson stands on public policy issues, according to his website, v Trump, who we are taking seriously for a moment. Carson’s website position is stated first.
- “I am unabashedly and entirely pro-life.” Trump was once pro-choice but is now anti-abortion. But it is not an issue he seems enthusiastic about. Trump might be like Reagan – giving voice to pro-life statements, but mostly ignoring the subject as president.
- “We must ratify a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution in order to restore fiscal responsibility to the federal government’s budget.” Trump told Sean Hannity on the day after he announced for President, June 17, that he would favor a balanced budget amendment “relatively soon” but not now because “we’re so far under that you can’t go too quickly.” But Trump understands the value of debt. He made his fortune off of it (and had a couple of corporate bankruptcies). This seems like it might be another Reagan-type of talk-the-talk, but not walk-the-walk.
- Local control of public schools, combined with a paranoid fear of national standards. “Any attempt by faceless federal bureaucrats to take over our local schools must be defeated.” Trump opposes Common Core and said in his announcement speech that “education has to be local.” He also promised in 2015 to cut the Department of Education “way, way, way down.”
- “Keep Gitmo open.” CNN reported that Trump wants to double-down on Gitmo by adding Americans accused of terrorism to the prison population. That is likely illegal under current law even for detention, and certainly unconstitutional if there is no speedy trial.
- “ObamaCare is a looming disaster.” Carson has also been quoted as saying that Obamacare is the worst development for African-Americans since slavery. Trump would repeal the law and replace it with “something terrific.”
- “I cannot and will not support any efforts to weaken The 2nd Amendment.” Trump again has a mixed record, both supporting gun restrictions and opposing them. Trump recanted a slightly moderate position and adopted a whole-hog stance in favor of assault weapons on a program called AmmoLand, whose website also has a video of Trump telling the NRA he loves it and the Second Amendment just before introducing his family to the NRA convention, who said they love the Second Amendment, too.
- “Our tax form should be able to be completed in less than 15 minutes. This will enable us to end the IRS as we know it.” Trump’s policy proposal, in a book, seems to be a substantial tax cut with four tax levels of 1 percent to 15 percent. He told Hannity that the U.S. has the highest taxes in the world – which is flatly not true. Our official corporate tax rate is very high, but hardly any corporation actually pays it.
Most of the above is similar to the positions of other GOP candidates. The only position stated in Trump’s official website is on immigration – he is against it. Carson’s site says nothing about the subject, but according to Think Progress, his is a slightly more moderate stance that would not require deporting 12 million undocumented residents.