Those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness. — Alcuin, c. 804
On an otherwise lovely day in the tentative transition zone between a Maryland winter and spring I fell into a melancholia that lasted into the night. Some might say this was a perfectly natural reaction to an American Zeitgeist that had inexorably, over the months, twisted its grip like the coils of a python around the necks of the innocents. Others, less given to reflection on civilization and its discontents, were insistent that America would be great again, and proved it by punching out reporters and protesters who dared object to the emperor, who not only had no clothes but was gleefully parading, butt naked, across the arena stages of these Untied States of America.
As the Republican party trudged along on its trail of tears, the E pluribus unum (out of the many, one) of elimination trials powered along at a burn rate of millions per day, each approved Superpac message arcing through its trajectory like incendiary flares. In that white-hot glare every pore, every bead of sweat, every curl of the lip and glint of the eye transfixed the doubtful and transported the faithful.
Whatever is new is news — history need not apply — and the news, like an unholy simulacrum of God’s creation, was brought forth every evening and morning in the fullness of time. The chairman of CBS chortled that whatever else was clear in the wake of yet another episode of the reality show called the Republican debates, the news for the stockholders was very, very good as 14.5 million viewers tuned in on February 13 for the Saturday night fights.
Throughout it all the doctor from Detroit, Ben Carson, ambled through his campaign with a benign smile as he pronounced the president a psychopath, Obamacare worse than slavery, and the pyramids — who knew? — to be ancient granaries. In the debates he was both literally and figuratively sidelined, giving way to the bombast of his opponents, while occasionally bleating that he got no air time.
Carson’s campaign was fueled from the beginning by his inspirational story of rising from poverty to become one of the world’s leading neurosurgeons. He was the recipient of countless awards, honorary doctorates, and royalties stemming from his autobiographical books. A movie starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. was made of his life. It was a good life.
Friends of mine who knew him from the Spencerville SDA Church spoke of him with respect for his accomplishments while quietly sidestepping a commitment to his campaign. But many Adventists believed he was sent “for such a time as this,” and enthusiastically followed his every pronouncement on the campaign trail.
When Adventists hit the news it’s rarely a good thing. Despite our relevance as an indigenous American product of the Second Great Awakening, our global hospital and educational systems, and our healthy lifestyles, we usually get pegged in the media as vegetarian blood brothers of David Koresh. Add to that the full coverage of our refusal to ordain women during last summer’s world-wide gathering of delegates at San Antonio, and we can be forgiven for wanting a different profile.
Thus, when Ben Carson, Seventh-day Adventist physician and inspirational speaker, dissed the President at a National Prayer Breakfast, it seemed like once again we’d be known for all the wrong reasons. And then he announced his candidacy. Compelled, he said, by thousands who implored him to run, and given the green light by a revelation from God, Carson jumped into a crowded and boisterous Republican field.
Well, we thought, okay, maybe his personal integrity would make up for his lack of experience. Maybe all that street cred he’d built up all those years, and his notable charisma, would carry the day. He might bring some civility and professionalism to a fractious national arena. His political positions didn’t seem all that different, in many ways, from those of Cruz and Trump, but at least he didn’t raise his voice when he insulted immigrants, his Democratic opponents, and the president.
We want to believe that political candidates don’t toy with our trust. We hope that we’re seeing the real person when he speaks and that he believes what he says. We hope that these candidates are not just pandering to their audiences to get the vote. Most of all, we hope that their personal integrity runs like a silver thread from past to present, that whatever their positions on issues they respect themselves enough not to bow the knee to whatever Mammon looms up demanding their worship.
But no. Carson took himself out of the race in the same oblique fashion that he entered it. He did not join in his last debate, but it was unclear if that meant he’d be heading home to Florida to chill. Finally, he made the decision, picked up his bags and headed for the exit. At that point one could suppose that he’d retire gracefully, beaten but not bowed, his dignity intact to fight for his causes another day, another way.
Thus, when he endorsed Donald Trump, the very antithesis of his own campaign style and of his personal Christian values, it was a stunner. He was consistent, though, in that his flair for the bizarre came through when he declared Trump to be “cerebral” and that they’d buried the hatchet. There may be depths to Trump that only Ben Carson and Trump’s wife have seen. Humans are complex, act for a variety of reasons, and do things surprising even to themselves.
But the notion that a kinder, gentler Trump might appear on January 20, 2017 is about as plausible as Ben Carson signing on with all his heart and soul to the whole Trumpian package. Because that’s what he did when he endorsed Donald Trump on March 11, 2016. Carson said yes to The Wall, to reducing freedom of speech and of the press, to violently throwing peaceful demonstrators out of public spaces, to labeling an entire country as rapists and murderers, and to regarding waterboarding as but the beginning of horrors for captured enemies.
So that is why I fell into a melancholy. While I would never have voted for Carson for president I respected his self-discipline, his abilities, and his faith. Chris Christie endorsing Trump seemed sheer opportunism for two combatants who certainly gave the impression that their blows were intended. But Carson?
Has all this rancor, this bile, this winter of our discontent, just been a show? Off the stage, behind the scenes, out of range of a hot mike, are these candidates really just good buds who have figured out who the alpha dog is and where each of them might line up in the pack? Were Carson’s good manners, apparent Christian faith, and personal integrity just chips he was willing to trade for a bigger score?
I had hoped he was better than that.