Ben Carson’s appearance on “Meet the Press” this weekend was a clarifying moment in American politics. Carson is currently riding high in 2016 Republican primary polls – he sits comfortably in second place nationwide and is making gains on frontrunner Donald Trump. His hardline conservatism and refusal to be “politically correct” have endeared him to Republican base voters, Tea Party types, and even some GOP establishment figures. And when he went on NBC on Sunday morning, he exhibited the sort of rank bigotry that should have shocked the senses of any decent person unfortunate enough to have been watching.
Jumping off from a recent Islamophobic outburst from one of Donald Trump’s supporters, Chuck Todd asked Carson if he believed Islam is “consistent” with the Constitution. “No, I don’t, I do not,” Carson answered, adding that “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.” When the thoroughly justified backlash came down, Carson’s campaign stood firm, saying that Carson “has great respect for the Muslim community,” but, “there is a huge gulf between the faith and practice of the Muslim faith, and our Constitution and American values.”
This way of thinking is dangerous, and it confirms that Ben Carson should not be president. He should quit the 2016 race entirely to ensure that there exists no threat of him becoming president.
This is not a question of “political correctness” or civility. The country cannot have a president who believes someone’s faith or religious identity automatically excludes them from the Constitution or the country’s identity. How would that sentiment find expression with Ben Carson sitting in the Oval Office? What would happen to the citizens of this country that President Carson doesn’t consider fully American? Would their rights as citizens be protected? What reason would American Muslims have to believe that the government is looking out for their interests when the president believes they cannot coexist with his idea of America?
As president, Carson could staff the government with people who think this way. He could nominate judges who think this way. He would communicate to the Islamophobic bigots and extremists that their poisonous worldview is sanctioned at the highest level of government.
Under ideal conditions, repellent views like these would be met with unqualified rejection across the political spectrum. But Carson enjoys the support of influential forces within the conservative movement that agree with, defend, and rationalize this garbage. For years now, conservatives have been conflating Islamic extremism with the broader Islamic faith to argue that Muslims in this country shouldn’t be allowed to go certain places and should sacrifice their rights so that non-Muslims won’t feel threatened. The same conservative voices who preach unswerving fealty to constitutional principles as an antidote to the Obama presidency also defend or endorse Carson’s flagrantly un-American worldview that a person’s religious faith makes them an outsider within their own country who is unfit for public office.
When Carson’s bigotry is viewed alongside the political rise of Donald Trump, you start getting an idea of just how toxic conservative and Republican politics have become. Both men are running campaigns that embody exclusionist principles – Trump argues that the children of undocumented immigrants are not citizens and are not entitled to due process, and Carson views Muslim Americans as fundamentally incompatible with our system of government. They are currently the two most popular candidates in the Republican field, and they explicitly argue that certain classes of American citizen are not deserving of their rights or identities based on the accident of their birth or the character of their faith. “Carson is a bigot playing to a base which considers bigotry to be a feature, not a bug,” writes Ta-Nehisi Coates.
The views expressed by Trump and Carson make clear that neither man has any business being president, and it’s legitimately terrifying that so many Republican voters want to send them to the White House.