By Peter Daou and Tom Watson
A U.S. presidential election isn’t a political entertainment show – it is a vetting process that shapes our collective future, weeding out candidates who lack the vision, character, judgment, experience, knowledge or temperament to assume the monumental responsibilities of the presidency.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has demonstrated an abundance of each of those presidential attributes. In glaring contrast, two men sit atop the 2016 Republican primary field who, despite their accomplishments, lack the vision, character, judgment, experience, knowledge or temperament to become President of the United States.
First, Donald Trump, an entertaining billionaire bloviator born on third base who insists he hit a triple. Or as Ann Richards famously put it about George W. Bush: “He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” Trump recently lamented the hardship of his early years by protesting that his father only gave him a $1 million loan to scoop up Manhattan real estate.
We don’t pretend to be psychologists, but a quick search of the term “narcissist” yields a perfect description of Trump: “A grandiose view of one's own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.”
Writing for TIME, Jeffrey Kluger tackles the narcissism issue:
The problem with being Trump is the same thing that explains the enormous fame and success of Trump: a naked neediness, a certain shamelessness, an insatiable hunger to be the largest, loudest, most honkingly conspicuous presence in any room—the great, braying Trumpness of Trump—and that’s probably far less of a revel than it seems.
Contented people, well-grounded people, people at ease inside their skin, just don’t behave the way Trump does. The shorthand—and increasingly lazy—description for Trump in recent weeks is that he is the id of the Republican party, and there’s some truth in that. Trump indeed appears to be emotionally incontinent, a man wholly without—you should pardon the expression—any psychic sphincter. The boundary most people draw between thought and speech, between emotion and action, does not appear to exist for Trump. He says what he wants to say, insults whom he wants to insult, and never, ever considers apology or retreat.
That those insults include degrading and sexist comments about women should alone disqualify Trump from the presidency. But there’s much more. Ruth Marcus talks about Trump’s “boastful ignorance” and questionable temperament:
The primary ingredient — and the fundamental attribute that disqualifies Trump from the presidency — is temperament. This is a catchall that includes the capacity to lead and inspire; qualities of integrity and discipline; aspects of personality that range from steadiness to charm.
Trump’s temperament issues are … distinctively Trumpian: his incessant need for self-aggrandizement, his reflexive intolerance for being disrespected. These form a dangerous brew in a potential president, equal parts narcissism and its mirror image, insecurity.
Donald Trump shouldn’t be president, but it’s not because he doesn’t know the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas, or Quds and Kurds. It’s because he isn’t embarrassed by this ignorance, or at least pretends not to be.
While Trump’s flaws are loud and obvious and his obsessive self-inflation the centerpiece of his campaign, Ben Carson conceals his egomania behind a soporific demeanor and a celebrated career as a neurosurgeon.
We won’t pretend it’s easy to square Carson’s impressive medical achievements with his serial fabrications, his intolerance and his bizarre pronouncements. As Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons opined on Twitter: "Of course he shouldn't be president but don't denigrate his accomplishments."
Cynthia Tucker attacks the Carson paradox head-on:
To read Ben Carson’s memoir, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, is to enjoy an uplifting and inspiring tale of a man who overcame a traumatic childhood to become one of the nation’s leading neurosurgeons. That man is certainly worthy of widespread admiration. But who is the guy taking his place on the campaign trail? Who is the man bashing Muslims, denouncing gays, and dismissing science? Who is the candidate engaging in all sorts of weird conspiracy theories? That Ben Carson deserves nothing but contempt.
The good doctor is given to outrageous rhetoric, comparing Obamacare to slavery, for example. In a recent interview, he claimed that limiting firearms in the United States could lead to the rise of a government like that of Nazi Germany.
Given Carson’s worldview, it’s perhaps folly to try to find, among his beliefs, those that are most outside the mainstream. But a leading candidate for that dubious distinction is Carson’s fixation on a John Birch-type figure named W. Cleon Skousen, who has been described by the conservative National Review as a “nut job.” Carson frequently quotes works by the late Skousen, who wanted to repeal the minimum wage, outlaw unions, eliminate anti-discrimination laws and repeal the income tax.
Dr. Sayantani DasGupta is even less forgiving:
As a physician trained at Johns Hopkins Medical School, I stand with my colleagues who are outraged at Carson’s opinions about Obamacare “as slavery”, abortion “as human sacrifice” and prison as capable of turning “a lot of straight people into gays.”
His recent public comments have ranged from the offensive to the bizarre: from his assertion that he would have tackled the Oregon college gunman to the discovery that he once “bravely redirected” an armed robber he encountered in a Baltimore Popeyes. And how can we forget his infamous comments about how a Muslim shouldn’t be President or how Jews could have stopped the Holocaust had they only been armed? His statements are so increasingly preposterous that it’s hard to distinguish a satirical headline from a real one (like this hilarious Andy Borowitz report, “Ben Carson: Pompeii Victims Should Have Outrun Lava,” which many on social media thought was real).
In the public consciousness, Ben Carson used to be the grape jelly to Donald Trump’s chock-full-of-nutty peanut butter. He was the seemingly mild-mannered straight man to Trump’s loud-mouthed crassness. Yet he’s gone so far off the rails these days as to appear borderline unhinged, certainly out of touch with reality. Ben Carson is, in the words of another genius Andy Borowitz report, single-handedly shattering the stereotype that brain surgeons are smart.
Mike Lofgren adds:
Ben Carson is anti-knowledge incarnated, a walking compendium of every imbecility ever uttered during the last three decades. Obamacare is worse than chattel slavery. Women who have abortions are like slave owners. If Jews had firearms they could have stopped the Holocaust (author’s note: they obtained at least some weapons during the Warsaw Ghetto rising, and no, it didn’t). Victims of a mass shooting in Oregon enabled their own deaths by their behavior. And so on, ad nauseam.
This is all part of a flood of recent criticism directed at Carson for his rapidly emerging veracity deficit on everything from his invented West Point scholarship to his shilling for Mannatech to his supposed violent past that no one else recalls.
We all know that Ben Carson has some wacky ideas. We also know that he has some pretty strange views of history. And that a lot of his policy proposals make no sense at all. But he's long had a pretty good reputation for being truthful. Crazy but honest, that's Ben. Except that it's now starting to look like he has some real problems with being honest in his personal life.
Chronic prevarication is the least of our concerns about Carson. Like Trump, Carson’s sense of self is so inflated that he clearly doesn’t belong anywhere near the presidency. We’ll quote extensively from a well-written and deeply troubling Washington Post article:
Ben Carson became convinced of two things during his teenage years. First, that he was uniquely talented, “one of the most spectacular and smartest people in the world.” Second, that God would answer his prayers, however specific they might be.
Throughout his books, Carson, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, describes himself as an instrument of God. This man of science is often skeptical of non-spiritual explanations. When a dying patient makes a surprising recovery following a high-risk surgery, Carson cuts off a Hopkins colleague offering more Earth-bound hypotheses. “This is a miracle. Why not accept it for what it is?” Carson demands. “They don’t come any more blatantly than this.”
Such faith is self-fulfilling; the more fervently Carson believes in God’s involvement, the more he assumes it will happen again. Though still supremely confident in his medical skills — “I had been extremely well trained, was quite smart, and knew that I was especially capable” — he now has backup, too. “It has become abundantly clear to me that the Lord was letting me know . . . that He is there for me, available to be used if I call on Him,” Carson explains.
When things go wrong for him in the operating room, when a patient dies, Carson concludes that the surgery was impossible from the start and, prophet-like, chastises God for wasting his talents. “Why did you let me spend so much valuable time and energy in something that could not possibly work out?” Carson asks God. “Why would you provide an opportunity like this only to allow us to fail? Why?”
In a particularly unnerving intercession, Carson asks God for help in dismissing his incompetent, alcoholic secretary without hurting her feelings. (“I’m softhearted,” the doctor assures, “and it is especially hard for me to fire somebody.”) Two weeks later, the secretary doesn’t show up for work. “We never did find out what happened to her,” Carson writes. “She simply disappeared.” He regrets not being able to help her, but nevertheless, he is “thankful that this problem was resolved without any unpleasantness on my part.”
This photo from the Guardian speaks volumes. In the Guardian's words: "The decor at Ben Carson’s home in Maryland shows that Donald Trump may not have the biggest ego among the Republican candidates. On display are awards, certificates, medals, and a painting of himself with Jesus."
We leave it to Jonathan Capehart to summarize:
Trump and Carson rode to the top of the GOP field on a wave of racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance. They willfully peddle lies and falsehoods. And they have dumbed down our political discourse in the process. … both men don’t deserve to be president, let alone be the nominee of their party. That both men are riding high shows that the Republican Party’s self-perpetuating death spiral on the national level continues unabated.
Simply put, Donald Trump and Ben Carson are unfit to be president.
With each passing day, it becomes clearer that Hillary Clinton is America’s best (and only) choice to keep the God Complex away from the nuclear button.
Peter Daou and Tom Watson founded #HillaryMen to provide actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics. Peter is a former senior digital adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative. He is a veteran of two presidential campaigns (Kerry '04 and Clinton '08). Tom is an author and Columbia University lecturer who advises companies and non-profits on social activism.