It was Christmastime in Washington, and Ben Carson couldn’t stop talking about the apocalypse.
“Did you know,” the secretary of housing and urban development asked his acting chief of staff, Deana Bass, at a Capitol Hill holiday party, “that if North Korea detonated a nuclear weapon into our exosphere, it could take out our entire electrical grid?”
Bass shook her head.
“What’s that movie where there’s complete lawlessness and anarchy for one night a year?” Carson said, calmly resting his right hand over his left. “ ‘The Purge’! It will be like ‘The Purge’ all the time.”
Carson is an acclaimed neurosurgeon who oversees a large government agency for which he has no particular qualifications and in this way represents the grand theme of the Trump administration. He, like the president, came to power by promising that an outsider would have the “common sense” it takes to cure what ails us.
And so, while conservative gadfly Armstrong Williams played host to this party at the Monocle restaurant, it was Carson everyone came to see.
“There’s never been a time in the history of the world where a society became divided like this and did well,” Carson said as a crowd — including an off-duty New York Times reporter, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, a slew of representatives from housing nonprofit organizations and old friends from his presidential campaign — circled him. “And we don’t really have a reason to be fighting each other. There was a movie some years ago, a Will Smith movie called ‘Independence Day’ . . .”
With his soothing, story-time cadences and heavy-lidded gaze, Carson proceeded to hold forth on how Earth’s near-annihilation laid bare the superficiality of all the world’s strife. If only, he argued, people realized that the fate of humanity hung in the balance, then Palestinians and Jews, or even the United States and Russia, could be “like best friends.”
Carson has been telling stories about a dystopian future ever since he got into politics. In 2014 he warned audiences that if Republicans didn’t win back the Senate, there might not even be an election in 2016. And when there was an election in 2016, Carson ran for president with a simple message: Democrats and career politicians were taking the country on a dark path.
In his new role, Carson still sees himself as a warrior against impending doom, but he’s battling contradictions on the side. He wants to be a good steward for an agency he calls the “philanthropic” arm of the government, even if he doesn’t think of the government as a philanthropy. He wants to clean up the swamp but finds himself swimming in ethically murky water.
Carson is a man torn by differing impulses. And nearly a year into the job, it’s unclear whether he’s fighting the chaos or helping create it.
At first, the idea of Carson running a government agency seemed far-fetched — even to Carson.
“Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience,” Williams, his informal spokesman, told the Hill newspaper after the 2016 election. “The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”
The president-elect felt otherwise. Trump met with Carson multiple times and even called his wife, Candy, so insistent on bringing him on board that Carson’s friends joked he should ask for the secretary of state position.
The initial reports stated that Carson picked HUD because he had grown up in public housing. In fact, he had grown up only “near” public housing. It’s a significant distinction. When Carson thinks back to the families he knew who relied on government assistance, he doesn’t think of them as saved by a social safety net, but as captives.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Ben Terris