“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Perhaps eager to catch up to the horrifying, headline-generating antics of some of his fellow cabinet members, newly-confirmed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson appeared before agency employees on Monday talk a little bit about his vision for the future of the department. Given his frightening lack of experience in a field in which he is somehow expected to spearhead major policy initiatives for the next four years, the address provided Carson with a much-needed opportunity to demonstrate his willingness to learn, his ability to lead, and his common sense. You’ll never believe this, but Carson managed to accomplish exactly none of those tasks.
Towards the end of his prepared remarks, when discussing his desire to restore America’s reputation as a “can-do” society, Carson solemnly invoked the experiences of the millions of immigrants who came to the United States to seek a better life for themselves and their families.
Go through that museum on Ellis Island, and look at the pictures of all those people who are hanging up there, from every part of the world, many of them carrying all their earthly belongings in their two hands, not knowing what this country held for them. Look at the determination in their eyes.
This is, admittedly, a poorly-chosen example for someone whose boss is hard at work on a rebooted Muslim ban, but the retired neurosurgeon was undeterred.
People who worked not five days a week, but six or seven days a week. Not eight hours a day, but ten, twelve, sixteen hours a day—no such thing as a minimum wage.
[Somewhere, Paul Ryan perks up, jots that one down in his “Good Ideas” notebook.]
They worked not for themselves, but for their sons and their daughters and their grandsons and their granddaughters that they might have an opportunity in this land.
Again, tell your man, Mr. Secretary! However, trite though it may be, this is otherwise an unobjectionable statement, I suppose. Unfortunately, from there, Carson continued talking.
That’s what America is about. A land of dreams and opportunity—there were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships who worked even longer, even harder, for less. But they, too, had a dream, that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.
I cannot believe that I have to explain this to any rational adult, much less an ostensibly brilliant brain surgeon who now leads an entire agency within the executive branch of the United States government, but immigrants are people who come here voluntarily in pursuit of their own iteration of the American dream, while slaves were ripped from their homes and shipped to a faraway country against their will, where they were bought and sold as property and denied all basic human rights for hundreds of years. The comparison is equal parts incredibly insulting and stupendously dumb, and it strikes yet another false note on behalf of an administration that seemingly can’t find enough ways to cheerfully demonstrate just how tone-deaf it really is.
Secretary Carson concluded:
And do you know of all the nations in the world, this one—the United States of America—is the only one big enough and great enough to allow all those people to realize their dreams.
You hear that? All those immigrants can recognize their dreams! Except for—well, you know.