In recent days, President-elect Trump’s cabinet nominations have received lots of attention from political leaders on all sides of the aisle and beyond.
Whether it is politicians, the news media, advocacy groups or ordinary American citizens, it seems like the nominations for the various Secretary positions have received a particularly heightened level of interest during this period of transition in the Executive Branch.
One nominee who certainly has not been neglected is Ben Carson, the retired pediatric neurosurgeon who was one of 17 people who attempted to secure the Republican nomination for president in the 2016 election.
Trump nominated Carson for the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) position. The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs held his nomination hearing on Jan.12 of this year.
In that hearing, Carson spoke in a very heart-felt way about his upbringing and the extreme difficulties he faced growing up in inner-city Detroit with a single mother.
What followed, of course, for Carson was an unparalleled and inspiring career that makes us all have faith in the American Dream. After high school, Carson attended Yale University and then continued his studies at the University of Michigan Medical School. A leading light in the medical world, Carson was the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1984 until his retirement in 2013.
All this is to state the obvious: Carson is a truly remarkable man, and his dedication, hard work, and perseverance are an example for all Americans to follow.
Yet as one member of the Senate Committee importantly remarked, “much as we might wish otherwise, many children won’t have the same combination of fortitude, and a firm hand and a good fortune that allowed Carson to rise to the highest levels of medicine and the highest levels of our society.”
The Senator’s remark is a crucial point. Anyone familiar with Carson’s life story knows that while his rise to prominence was certainly magnificent, it is also extraordinarily rare and almost unheard of in a nation where increased economic inequality and decreased economic mobility have helped create an environment where even those who are profoundly dedicated and bright fall short.
A telling study that is relevant to Carson’s own field found that a mere five percent of students enrolled in America’s medical schools come from households with incomes of less than $20,000. Separate research has also found that only about one in 13 Americans will move from the lowest income quintile to the highest over the course of a lifetime.
None of this is to suggest, however, that hard work and dedication should be downplayed in any way at all. Carson’s incredible resilience and determination are an integral part of who he is, and upon hearing him speak, one realizes that Carson truly does believe that all Americans can and should be able to pursue their own happiness and live up to their fullest potential.
Yet the simple fact is that America’s economy absolutely does not work for everyone equally nor does it give every American a fair and equitable shot at rising to the top.
“For those who cannot overcome the odds on their own, should we not help them?” the same member of the Senate Committee asked.
Sadly, what Carson thinks about this question is unclear.
He has consistently made statements in recent times which are at odds with the overarching mission and goals of HUD, and in his writings he has demonstrated what effectively amounts to outright contempt of government assistance programs in general.
In his 2012 book Carson commented, “racist people from both parties adopted a paternalistic attitude toward African-Americans.” The government, Carson said, “enacted federal and state programs designed to take care of people who couldn’t take care of themselves — people who are ignorant, stupid or just plain lazy.”
In my own research, I have found claims like that one to be wholly unsubstantiated.
With respect to housing specifically, I examined how residential segregation began as an effort that was enforced by law, then moved into practices in the private sector — among them redlining, predatory lending and restrictive covenants — and finally arrived at more subtle forms of discrimination like steering — all of which are conducted to keep certain groups like African-Americans, Hispanics and others out of a given neighborhood.
This long pattern of pervasive segregation resulted in systematic and prolonged disinvestment in minority neighborhoods and communities. Much of the policies that existed before the passage of the landmark Fair Housing Act of 1968 still exert tremendous influence over the contemporary housing landscape in this country.
Put simply, there is a clear and discernible reason why far too many neighborhoods all across America are segregated, and there is likewise a reason why the neighborhoods that contain the greatest numbers of African-Americans, Hispanics and other groups are decidedly less developed than those of their white counterparts.
It therefore appears that Carson understands much of our nation’s housing history in a way that is not particularly supported by facts or evidence.
Given the incoming Trump Administration, few can find this to be entirely shocking.
For these reasons, then, Carson is a poor choice for HUD Secretary and he should not be confirmed.