In a move that had been teased for the past two weeks, President-elect Donald Trump nominated retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson for secretary of Housing and Urban Development on Monday.
“I am thrilled to nominate Dr. Ben Carson as our next Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,” Trump declared in a statement. “Ben Carson has a brilliant mind and is passionate about strengthening communities and families within those communities. We have talked at length about my urban renewal agenda and our message of economic revival, very much including our inner cities.”
Trump added that Carson “shares my optimism about the future of our country and is part of ensuring that this is a Presidency representing all Americans. He is a tough competitor and never gives up.”
Perhaps ironically, Carson reportedly turned down the position of Health and Human Services secretary because “he’s never run an agency and it’s a lot to ask.” While he has no government experience, the neurosurgeon grew up in inner-city Detroit and worked hard to achieve in school. He graduated high school with honors as a senior commander in the ROTC program and earned a full scholarship to Yale University, where he graduated in 1973.
Carson and his wife Candy started the Carson Scholars Fund, which has provided more than 7,300 scholarship since 1994. In 2000, the Library of Congress honored him as one of its “Living Legends,” and in 2008, President Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His story represents a quintessential “rags to riches” American success, and it seems Trump is banking on that success to guide housing policy.
The secretary of Housing and Urban Development oversees federal public housing programs, helping to formulate policy on homelessness and housing discrimination. As with all cabinet secretaries, the position must be confirmed by the Senate.
On Wednesday afternoon, Carson teased his appointment to the position, announcing on Facebook that his forthcoming role in the administration would be made clear soon. “After serious discussions with the Trump transition team, I feel that I can make a significant contribution particularly to making our inner cities great for everyone,” Carson declared.
In late November, Trump announced he was considering Carson for the position on Twitter.
I am seriously considering Dr. Ben Carson as the head of HUD. I've gotten to know him well–he's a greatly talented person who loves people!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2016
During the general election campaign, Trump promised to prioritize the restoration of America’s inner cities, emphasizing what he described as exceedingly poor conditions. “The violence. The death. The lack of education. No jobs. We’re going to work with the African-American community and we’re going to solve the problem of the inner city,” he declared at an October rally in Toledo, Ohio.
Next Page: What Trump said about Carson just one year ago.
Before joining Trump’s campaign, Carson was one of the many Republican candidates for president. Carson powerfully denounced President Obama at a National Prayer Breakfast in 2013, which propelled him to prominence. He enjoyed a surge of enthusiasm in his presidential campaign in late 2015 and early 2016, dropping out of the race after a disappointing finish on Super Tuesday.
During the campaign, Carson came under fire for previous comments he had made about having a violent childhood (he almost stabbed a fellow student, and that led him to realize learning, not violence, was the answer), and about his belief that the Egyptian pyramids served as grain silos for the biblical figure Joseph (rather than tombs for kings, as has been decisively proven by archaeology). This led Trump to unleash a Twitter firestorm against the retired neurosurgeon, and to call him “super low energy” in a debate.
In one particularly nasty tweet, Trump hit on all these issues, asking, “With Ben Carson wanting to hit his mother on head with a hammer, stab a friend and Pyramids built for grain storage – don’t people get it?”
With Ben Carson wanting to hit his mother on head with a hammer, stab a friend and Pyramids built for grain storage – don't people get it?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2015
Trump tweeted that on November 6, 2015. What a difference a year makes!
This appointment has met with a great deal of criticism from the left. The New York Times‘s Trump-blaster in chief Charles Blow penned an article entitled “Trump’s Agents of Idiocracy,” which asked, “What if Trump has shown himself beyond doubt and with absolute certainty to be a demagogue and bigot and xenophobe and has given space and voice to concordant voices in the country and in his emerging Legion of Doom cabinet?”
“In that reality, resistance isn’t about mindless obstruction by people blinded by the pain of ideological defeat or people gorging on sour grapes,” Blow triumphantly declares. “To the contrary, resistance then is an act of radical, even revolutionary, patriotism. Resistance isn’t about damaging the country, but protecting it.”
Blow declared (without evidence) that “Trump and his agents of idiocracy are now engaged in an all-out crusade to exaggerate the scope of his victory, rewrite racial history, justify their vendettas and hostilities and erase the very distinction between true and false.” Oh, and they’re bringing hell on Earth as well, believe me.
This kind of hyperbole over decisions which are — to a large degree — sensible should strike many as desperate. Indeed, some have noted that attacks on Carson, were they to come from the right, would be dismissed as racist.
But criticism on Carson’s appointment is not limited to the left. Amanda Carpenter, who served as communications director for Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, attacked the decision as “Cronyism. Patronage. Swampy.”
Carson is a true American success story, whatever he believes about the pyramids, and he will bring a real-life experience of the inner city to his work at HUD. There is reason to believe that, despite his inexperience in government, the good doctor will be more than up to the task.