The Ben Carson Show (Phenomenon)

Source photos: Ben Carson announces his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, 5 May 2015 (Paul Sancya/AP). A biblical inscription is chiseled into the wall of Ben Carson's home, with 'proverbs' spelled incorrectly (Mark Makela/The Guardian, 2014).

Tom McCarthy tries to explain the Ben Carson phenomenon for The Guardian:

He is more than an American success story, brilliant brain surgeon and bestselling author of 10 Christian-themed books. He has also coined some of the most outlandish statements ever uttered on the national stage, a purveyor of bizarre conspiracy theories and a provocateur who compares abortion to slavery and same-sex marriage to pedophilia.

This week, Carson restated his belief that the pyramids were built by the biblical Joseph to store grain, and not by Egyptians to entomb their kings. He believes that Vladimir Putin, Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Abbas attended school together in Moscow in 1968. He believes that Jews with firearms might have been able to stop the Holocaust, that he personally could stop a mass shooting, that the Earth was created in six days and that Osama bin Laden enjoyed Saudi protection after 9/11.

The Carson conundrum is not fully captured by a list of his eccentric beliefs, however. He also confounds the traditional demographics of US politics, in which national African American political figures are meant to be Democrats. Not only is Carson a Republican – he is a strong conservative on both social and economic issues, opposing abortion including in cases of rape and incest, and framing welfare programs as a scheme to breed dependence and win votes.

He has visited the riot zones of Ferguson and Baltimore but offered little compassion for black urban poor populations who feel oppressed by mostly white police forces.

Even Carson’s core appeal as a Christian evangelical is complicated by the fact that he is a lifelong adherent to a relatively small sect, the Seventh-Day Adventist church, whose celebration of the sabbath on Saturday instead of Sunday and denial of the doctrine of hell have drawn accusations of heresy from other mainstream Christian groups.

That last probably plays more strongly with the British audience; in the United States, Christian is as Christian does; Dr. Carson’s penchant for false witness and exclusionary, judgmental scorn are his own ad hoc iteration of faith, shot through with neurotic self-contradiction as it struggles to justify his self-centered pretense of humility. If one seeks strangeness about the SDA experience in general, it is a different phenomenon.

And then there is this:

In 2001, Carson and his wife, Lacena “Candy” Carson, placed a substantial share of that wealth in real estate, buying a 48-acre property outside of Baltimore in rural Maryland, that boasted Georgian décor, interior corinthian columns with gold-leaf capitals, a palace staircase, eight bedrooms and 12 bathrooms. His mother Sonya lived in the home with the couple and their three sons; the family now mainly resides in Florida.Dr. Ben Carson and Jesus, in undated painting, artist unknown; detail of photo by Mark Makela/The Guardian, 2014.

Numerous profiles of Trump in the last four months have noted his “me-wall”, his in-office shrine to himself. In Carson’s Maryland home, the “me-wall” was a “me-basement”, the walls covered with plaques. Upstairs, Carson’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, had pride of place near the front door. A painting of Carson in a surgeon’s coat hung over a mantle where a misspelled Bible verse was engraved. On another wall was a painting of Carson with Jesus Christ – his hand on Carson’s shoulder.

Anne Helen Petersen of BuzzFeed calls it, “Ben Carson and Klingon Jesus”, which sounds about right.

Here’s a challenge: You try explaining Ben Carson to the British. Or, in truth, anyone else. That is to say, the Ben Carson Show grabs conservative attention because he is an unknown factor in an anti-establishment year. But the state-smashing fervor of the Tea Party has shown itself often careless, promoting politicians who can talk the government trashing talk, but end up proving the thesis by showing that government just doesn’t work in their hands.

McCarthy had an opportunity to speak with Quantae Johnson, one of Dr. Ben Carson’s headline patients from 1991. Johnson was four years old when gang violence put a stray bullet into his head. The “Little Miracle Man” is twenty-eight today, and backs Carson’s run, explaining, “I believe he would put the right people in positions, who he perceives were good enough, and that would work out”.

It is not the worst of plans, though critics would suggest words like puppet and stooge. Surrounding oneself with good advisors is paramount, but also requires a president to comprehend what those people are saying. Team B comes to mind, as does Curveball. To wit, either President Reagan preferred the political assessments contradicting his own intelligence agencies, or simply couldn’t comprehend the difference. Similarly, we might wonder if the latter President Bush was desperate or stupid.

Dr. Carson’s beliefs become an important consideration in wondering just who the “right people” are, what they would tell him, and just how that all is supposed to work out.


Image notes: Top ― Source photos by Mark Makela/The Guardian, 2014; and Paul Sancya/AP, 2015. Right ― Dr. Ben Carson, with Jesus, in undated painting, artist unknown. Detail of photo by Mark Makela/The Guardian.

Makela, Mark. “Ben Carson’s house: a homage to himself – in pictures”. The Guardian. 7 November 2015.

McCarthy, Tom. “Ben Carson: inside the worldview of a political conundrum”. The Guardian. 7 November 2015.

Petersen, Anne Helen. “Ben Carson and Klingon Jesus”. Twitter. 7 November 2015.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s