Tuesday, November 10, 2015

November 10, 2015--Angry Black Man

I have been struggling to understand Ben Carson's appeal to Republicans.

He is so boring, so unable to express himself, so passive and weak feeling, so unlike the kind of militant commanders-in-chief conservatives traditionally admire.

And so what is it that for the moment has him as the leader of the GOP pack?

Is it because of his calm exterior, his obvious God-given blessings, or the feeling that as a physician he will heal a deeply wounded America?

Or is his popularity a matter of a physician who has healed himself?

I suspect largely the latter.

I have been particularly perplexed by his defense of his claim that he had a violent past. As he put it in his autobiography, it was the result of a "pathological disease" A pathology he was able to cure, not so much because of his medical skills but because he turned to God. To Jesus.

This is a not an unfamiliar political redemption story that appeals to religious conservatives. Like George W. Bush who when he first ran for president subtly let it be known that he had a drinking problem as a young man but was able to overcome it when he was "born again." Or, to be bipartisan, Jimmy Carter's story about lust.

Redemption is essential to Carson's representation of his own personal narrative. He is after all not running a campaign rich in policy pronouncements and promises. His appeal is his life story itself and outsider status.

But his insistence that he was uncontrollably violent when a young man is unique in political history. Drinking is one thing, lust another, but violence?

If anything, if this were true, one would expect he would minimize, not inflate that aspect of his character. Admitting to having had a violence problem when, as president, he would have access to the nuclear codes with the red button always close at hand one would think would be more a political liability than an asset.

But then in his case there is also the powerful matter of race.

As a black man raised on the mean streets of Detroit, it would be understandable, sociologically and psychologically, that he would be a violent and angry man.  The very kind of African-American that looms in the fearful imaginations of many white people. Especially those conservatives who are dog whistle racists and thus for whom people of color haunt their feverous dreams.

For them, if a black man such as Carson can be "cured" of his blackness, if he can be so neutered and emerge so seemingly self-controlled there is less to be feared about the world and its threats.

For his cure to be fully believable and comforting it is essential that voters believe he began as that archetypical angry black man he repeatedly represents himself to have been. If he could heal himself of that perhaps he can be trusted to "treat" all the others with similar "pathologies" who make so many people feel threatened.

I is thus essential to this hopeful personal narrative that Carson was as violent as he has repeatedly represented himself to have been. That he stabbed his friends and once threatened to strike his mother in the head with a hammer must be believable if his campaign is to have this unique appeal and traction.

If he somehow grew up a sweet little boy who then managed to get to Yale and medical school--an urban Horatio Alger story--the meaning of his life story would be merely a remarkable exception, not literally miraculous.

And here is the political point and the key to his appeal--unless his representations are true, he could not represent himself as able to bring about similar cures for others equally afflicted. 

He represents the promise that blackness itself can be overcome. That it is curable. He is living proof of that.

Just as other Republican conservatives hold views about other pathological Americans who can be cured by prayer--homosexuals who, if they want to chose another "life style," can pray away the gay, Carson tells us that Blackness too can be prayed away.

From Ben Carson's House 

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