Ben Carson Visited Baltimore Amid Trump Attacks

“Why did someone come onto church property without permission?” Evans asked us, as he shooed us away. “This community needs some support on all kinds of issues—on dilapidated housing and everything else. All of a sudden you’re going to show up on our property and not even ask permission to be here?”

A few minutes later, Carson arrived. He had invited Cummings to join him, but the congressman declined. Cummings’s office said the invitation came last night and he couldn’t rearrange his schedule.

Carson had been briefed on the kerfuffle with the church and was none too happy, using it to make a broader point about vanishing civility. “It’s a church!” he said. “They say, ‘Get off my property.’ A church! … This is the level to which we have sunk as a society.”

Carson spoke for about 20 minutes, making a statement about how he had watched Baltimore’s uneven progress while working as a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital and then taking a few questions. He’s in an uncomfortable spot from which there is no easy escape. He’s the lone African American Cabinet secretary serving a president whose attacks on people of color are now commonplace. And implicitly, the president’s demonization of Cummings is an attack on Carson’s agency: HUD. Carson said at the news conference that $16 billion in federal money has flowed to Baltimore in the past year alone. Without providing evidence, Trump has said that funds have been “stolen.” Even if that were true, isn’t it his administration’s job to properly account for the money and ensure that it was properly spent? (Carson, asked about Trump’s claims of theft, said he has put rigorous “financial controls” in place.)

As a Cabinet secretary, Carson would likely lose his job if he were to slight Trump in a way that offends his vanity. That’s happened before—just ask the former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. However, in his remarks today, Carson separated himself from his boss in some fundamental respects. Though he didn’t directly impugn Trump’s behavior, it seemed at times as if he were talking to the president himself.

Carson said that Americans need to “realize that we’re not each other’s enemies and that we have a job to do here.” That doesn’t sound much like Trump, who seems less focused on wooing political adversaries than forcing their unconditional surrender. Or their exile: Tweeting about the four freshman congresswomen of color known as “the squad” earlier this month, Trump wrote, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.”

I asked Carson whether Cummings is largely responsible for poverty in his district. “I’m not one who likes to sit around and point fingers at people,” he said. “I like to come up with real solutions.” Trump is someone who does point fingers. In a tweet last week, he wrote: “So sad that Elijah Cummings has been able to do so little for the people of Baltimore.” The final question came from a reporter who asked whether Trump’s remarks about Cummings were racist. Carson walked away silently, got into a waiting SUV, and drove off.

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