It is frightening to me that famed neurosurgeon Ben Carson stands a good chance of winning the Republican nomination for President of the United States: while currently running second behind Donald Trump (who scares me for entirely different reasons), polls have found that Dr. Carson would pick up nearly all of Trump's support should The Donald, for whatever reason, drop out, which would give Carson nearly fifty percent of the Republican vote.
The reason it is frightening is that Carson is so ignorant of world issues, history, and the U.S. Constitution. When I say, relative to Dr. Carson, that "the presidency isn't brain surgery," I mean it in an unusual way. I am saying that Dr. Carson is trained in brain surgery, and is proficient at that, but that in no way qualifies him for the entirely unrelated job of being president, about which he knows nothing. The presidency requires an expertise in the workings of the political process, a specific body of knowledge, and a grasp of the subtleties and nuances of what makes the world, and has made the world, the way it is, all of it far beyond anything Dr. Carson possesses.
In one interview, Dr. Carson suggested that we could solve the Palestinian statehood problem thusly: "I don't have any problem with the Palestinians having a state, but does it need to be within the confines of Israeli territory? Is that necessary, or can you sort of slip that area down into Egypt?" He appears dismissive of Egypt's own territorial integrity and the possibility that Egypt might object to some of its land being taken away and given to another country; ignorant of the fact that a large part of the Palestinian population is within the borders of Jordan, so "slipping the Palestinian state into Jordan," where they already live, would make more sense, other than, again, ignoring possible objections from Jordan; and ignorant that the very existence of "Israeli territory" is exactly what is under dispute -- that before that area was Israel, as it has been for less than seventy years, it was Palestine, hence the existence of "Palestinians" (it appears Carson may have no idea where the name came from or that Israel pushed the Palestinians out of Palestine, and they want it back).
In another interview, Carson was asked whether the U.S. should go to war with Russia, were Russia to invade the Baltic states, following on Russia's push into Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. The good doctor suggested that the Baltic states should become more involved with NATO. He had to be told by the interviewer that the Baltic states already are members of NATO, which is exactly the reason that the possibility of Russia invading them had become an important issue.
Dr. Carson has said that Islamic radicalism dates back "thousands of years," to the "Biblical battle between Jacob and his brother Esau" in the Book of Genesis. Islam, of course, is about 1400 years old, dating from its founding by Muhammad, centuries after Christianity began, and the book of Genesis dates from centuries before that. There is a tradition that the Arab states of the modern world owe their founding to Esau or to Ishmael, one of another set of Biblical brothers, so here Dr. Carson seems to be equating Muslims and Arabs -- a common mistake, but identifying Muslims with Arabs would annoy Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Muslim portions of India, those parts of the planet where most of the world's Muslims live, none of them Arabs. There is no evidence Dr. Carson is aware of that.
But I'm most concerned about his ignorance of the Constitution, and its protections of freedom of (and from) religion.
Dr. Carson made a considerable amount of news with his rejection of the idea of a Muslim president, unless such a person would be willing to "reject the tenets of Islam and Sharia Law." I would challenge him to state, accurately, exactly what those tenets are, and how his position fits with the statement included in the Constitution by the Founding Fathers, who were concerned with avoiding a possible religion-based tyranny, that "...no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." (Article VI, Paragraph 3.)
But the doctor's latest pronouncement on that theme is genuinely scary. I have my own fears about Dr. Carson that are almost identical to his fear of a Muslim president: That he will base his policies on Biblical principles (often with those principles not even really Bible-based but simply made up in his head based on what he thinks the Bible says), rather than finding practical solutions that take reality into account.
Dr. Carson, completely ignoring all of the written evidence that the Founding Fathers did not want the country run on a religious basis (including the religious-test prohibition cited above, and the anti-establishment clause in the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"), told the assembled audience in a Gainesville, Georgia church that "The pledge of allegiance to our flag says we are one nation under God. Many courtrooms in the land on the wall it says 'In God We Trust.' Every coin in our pocket, every bill in our wallet says 'In God We Trust.' So if it's in our founding documents, it's in our pledges, in our courts and it's on our money, but we're not supposed to talk about it, what in the world is that? In medicine it's called schizophrenia. And I, for one, am simply not willing to kick God to the curb."
Dr. Carson, it seems, is under the impression that the Founding Fathers, as part of the Constitution drafted in 1787, included the national motto "In God We Trust," and the Pledge of Allegiance describing the U.S. as "one nation under God." But "In God We Trust" first appeared on coins in 1864, and was not made the official national motto until 1956. (And only after that did it ever appear on paper currency.) The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892, but did not contain the words "under God" until 1954. Neither the motto nor the pledge is, by any possible stretch of the concept, part of America's "founding documents." There is no "founding document" of American history that includes any of the sentiments to which Dr. Carson is referring and, as I said above, the founding documents in fact actually go a considerable distance in the opposite direction. (I would also dispute the accuracy of the "schizophrenia" diagnosis and Dr. Carson's qualifications to make it or his understanding of what the word means. But that's another issue.)
Note the dates on the inclusion of the "God" reference in the pledge and the official adoption of the motto: Both occured in the mid-1950s, at the height of a national panic over the threat of Communism. Christians in America believed themselves to be endangered by "godless" Communism, and the proclamation that America was a Christian nation, stated in as many ways possible, was felt to be an important way of standing firm and fighting back. Consider the similarity, in that sense, between the 1950s and the 2010s: Today, again, Christians in America believe they are under attack, both from outside (Islamic radicalism) and from inside (secular, non-God-based forces that would destroy the very fabric of America and reject the principles on which America was founded -- ignoring the fact that it wasn't founded on those principles). So, as was the case sixty years ago, there is pushback against the threat. In the 1950s, many Americans had their freedom and ability to make a living taken from them based on unfounded rumors that they might be communists. A Ben Carson presidency may well usher in an era that repeats that past, ending freedom of thought, freedom of association, freedom from religious coercion, and wrecking, once more, the lives of many whose personal beliefs don't meet with the approval of self-appointed guardians of religious orthodoxy.