(image from staticflickr)
President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet selection process has begun a bizarre saga of game-show style deliberation and highly publicized nominations. Trump seems to be running the process in the same format as “The Apprentice,” albeit with the ridiculous challenges replaced by the intricate politics of helping run a global power. A number of Trump’s potential and final candidates have drawn ire from Washington and the public, but one of his most recent seems to be the most ill-informed. This refers to the selection of former-neurosurgeon and one-time presidential candidate Ben Carson as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The HUD oversees public and assisted housing programs, as well as enforcing the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which seeks to suppress housing segregation.
It seems obvious that Carson is grossly unqualified to run the HUD department. However, after minority leader Nancy Pelosi voiced her opinion on Carson’s nomination, former governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee asked on Twitter, if she was “racist or just dumb?” Ignoring Huckabee, one would benefit by looking at Carson’s qualifications (or lack thereof) for the position. Here is his résumé: he grew up in the “inner city.” This justification—which presumably mirrors Trump’s delusional reasoning—is about as logical as saying that I am qualified to the President because I am a heterosexual white man.
Trump’s comments on the campaign trail about the state of America’s cities, which he characterized as being largely African-American, seem to offer some explanation regarding Carson’s selection. Trump’s equation that “inner cities” are the cores of black population in the United States likely made Carson the logical choice. Based on Trump’s definitions, Carson fits the criteria; he is black and he is from an impoverished area of a city.
As New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams stated in an interview with Democracy Now!, “And maybe—I was thinking, maybe because it had the word "urban" in it, Trump felt that he needed to have someone with some melanin in his skin; otherwise, I couldn’t figure out why not something that fit the skill set that he had.”
Carson’s selection is not only politically ridiculous, but detrimental to government housing programs. Currently, HUD remains underfunded–receiving only $51 billion of the $4 trillion allocated in 2016. As a result, the benefits that HUD offers are tightly restricted. For example, the housing voucher program, which subsidizes housing payments for individuals and families, functions as a lottery system because it is unable to support all applicants. According to an op-ed in the Washington Post, only one in four of all qualified renters receive housing assistance. Additionally, a 2013 study carried out by Stefanie de Luca, Philip M.E. Garboden, and Peter Rosenblatt showed that the housing voucher program, which should theoretically move families to more affluent neighborhoods, rarely allows beneficiaries to escape impoverished areas.
It seems clear that HUD is a department with a number of flaws, especially in regards to its affordable housing programs. Now, it is to be run by a man who, in a 2015 interview with a radio station in Iowa, called the voucher program “communist”, and, in another radio interview in 2013, believes that poverty is a “choice”. Carson’s “bootstraps” philosophy, while reflective of his personal success, remains a laughable social myth.
Most notably, however, is Carson’s opinion on a law passed under the Obama administration that required urban areas to analyze the extent of their racial and financial segregation. The objective of this rule was to try and push back against segregated housing. Carson publicly criticized the law, as well as a 2015 Supreme Court ruling that reinforced fair housing standards.
Ultimately, Ben Carson is a propaganda tool. He was selected by Donald Trump for the HUD position as a result of his race and personal history, but this election certainly has stripped Carson of his legend. His success in the medical field and his admirable personal achievement has been sullied by his vitriolic opinions and his myopic views on poverty. However, Carson fit neatly into Trump’s idea of the “inner city” and his idealized future for the HUD department mimics the President-elect’s own. With the selection of Carson, Trump has condemned American housing policy to four more years of growing segregation and cyclical poverty, further condemning any pretense of equality to its long, slow death.
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