On Friday, I watched yet another bizarre scene from an already bizarre election cycle: The affable but hopelessly vacant Ben Carson endorsing the demagogic real estate developer who once said of Carson that he had a “pathological temper” as a child and compared him to a child molester.
Carson said in his endorsement speech that there are actually “two different” sides to the front-runner.
What does this mean? Which one is real? Are they both? Is there a Jekyll to this Hyde? It was an exceedingly strange and feeble attempt to diminish the danger that this man poses, but in a way, if anyone could understand this duality, it would be Carson.
This is the same Ben Carson who has inveighed against the “purveyors of division,” who played a video at his presidential campaign announcement in Detroit in which the narrator said in part:
“If America is to survive the challenges of the modern world, we need to heal, we need to be inspired, and we need to revive the exceptional spirit that built America. Never before have we been so closely connected to each other, but more divided as a country.”
This is the same Ben Carson who used this closing statement at the sixth Republican presidential debate in North Charleston, South Carolina, by imploring Americans to join him “in truth and honesty and integrity.”
And yet, on Friday, Carson endorsed one of the most dangerous and divisive demagogues in recent presidential election history, a man for whom “truth and honesty and integrity” are infinitely malleable, and easily discarded, concepts, and whose rallies have been plagued by vileness and violence.
Carson, like so many conservatives, isn’t truly interested in unity as much as silent submission, a quiet in which one can pretend that hostility has been quashed, all evidence to the contrary.
These are folks who view discussions about reducing racial inequity and increasing queer equality as divisive. They are people who see efforts to protect women’s health, in particular their full range of reproductive options, including abortion, and to reverse our staggering income inequality as divisive. Indeed, the very words white supremacy, privilege, racism, bias, sexism, misogyny, patriarchy, homophobia, and poverty are seen as divisive.
Somehow, they think, these very real oppressive forces will simply die if only deprived of conversational oxygen. In fact, the opposite is true. By not naming these forces and continuously confronting them, they strengthen and spread.
Carson’s endorsement further tarnished his already tarnished reputation. He validated and rubber-stamped a grandiloquent fascist who is supported by a former grand wizard.
All Carson’s calls for civility were in that moment proven hollow.
No wonder so many Americans despise politicians and see them as soulless and without principle. And although both these men pride themselves on being political outsiders who’ve never held political office, they are undoubtedly political animals and relentless personal brand promoters who chase a check over a cliff.
But the more I thought about it, the more sense it began to make. Carson and the real estate developer are not so different from one another in this predilection for outrageous utterances, it’s just that one smiles and the other scowls.
This is the same Ben Carson who called President Barack Obama a psychopath who is possibly guilty of treason and was, oh my, “raised white.” He has accused Obama of working to “destroy this nation” and compared Obama’s supporters to Nazi sympathizers.
This is the same Ben Carson who on a radio show in 2013 said of white liberals:
“Well, they’re the most racist people there are because, you know, they put you in a little category, a little box — you have to think this way. How could you dare come off the plantation?”
This is the same Ben Carson who has compared women who have abortions to slave owners, who said Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery — yes, he’s obsessed with slavery — and that being gay is a choice because people go to prison straight and leave gay. On the issue of whether a Muslim should be allowed to be president, he said:
“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”
Carson isn’t the only one. Chris Christie’s endorsement of the front-runner is just as baffling and unprincipled. As The Los Angeles Times put it:
“Christie had spent years curating an image as a policy-focused administrator who reached out to Muslims and Latinos, and he was rewarded with rock star status in the national Republican Party. Now he’s backing a candidate who has insulted minorities, shown a casual disregard for policy discussions and is reviled by the party’s establishment.”
And yet it is Carson’s endorsement that I find more interesting, not because it will have a greater impact, but because he and the front-runner are two sides of the same coin: they are both dangerous, but one is a narcissist who just might win the nomination and the other is a near-narcoleptic who never had a chance.
All Carson’s calls for civility were proven hollow.