“One Nation” by Ben Carson

One Nation

America, and Hawaii in particular, has often been described as a “melting pot” – a mix of different peoples who come together, sharing some of the best traditions and ideals of each culture. Ben Carson, a columnist, author, and former director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, believes that America can and should become a more unified country – and this can lead to a stronger and more successful future.

In “One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future” (2014), Carson (with his wife Candy Carson, an accomplished musician) focuses on the underlying attitudes that divide our country and shows us how we can challenge our biases and assumptions. Instead of blaming individuals or groups, he refuses to think of minorities as victims or as incapable of succeeding on their own. Instead of complaining about the wealthy, he reminds us that we have opportunities to achieve success.

Carson offers glimpses into his past and the influences on his life. I admire how Carson overcame poverty and racism with the support of his mother, who understood the value of education; his own determination and patience; and his faith in God.

With straight-forward and reasoned arguments, Carson outlines his stances on four issues: health care reform (we need health savings accounts), tort reform (we need immediate and appropriate compensation or medical injuries), welfare (we need to eliminate welfare for able-bodied individuals who could work and support themselves), and taxation (we need a flat tax that is fair to everyone and allows everyone contribute to public services). In each chapter, he offers “Action Steps” that help us examine the way we think challenge our beliefs. Carson warns, “As the rights of the government increase, the rights of the people decrease” (page 93).

According to Carson, there are six causes of disunity and decline in America:

  1. Political correctness. Open, calm, and reasonable discussions are important. When we refrain from being offended by words, we keep the conversation on the issue, not the speaker.
  2. Elitism. When we constantly provide benefits to those less fortunate, we perpetuate an elite class. Instead, we must promote self-reliance and self-help – teaching self-respect, encouraging education, offering affordable child care, and teaching economics and money management. “To facilitate dependency by giving able-bodied people hand-outs rather than requiring they work for pay is every bit as cruel (even if unintentionally so) as the activities practiced by racists of the past” (page 52).
  3. Ignorance and forgetfulness. Be aware that people frequently re-write history to increase self-esteem or discredit others. We need to examine accounts from different, trusted sources.
  4. Bigotry. We should try to look at the situation from the other person’s point of view, and remain civil when confronted by bigots.
  5. Political divisiveness. Politicians and the media need to focus on solutions, not blame or victimization.
  6. National debt. Debt leads to disaster. The US federal debt is almost $17 trillion in 2014. The solution is to grow the economy and balance the budget, just as individual households to.

Carson offers six attitudes and actions that can help us bringing America together:

  1. Accountability. Track politicians’ votes and expose negative patterns to the public. Use social media to fight against media bias and gain allies.
  2. Choose to respectfully disagree. “It is eminently possible to have substantial disagreements with others and remain friendly and cooperative” (page 99). We need to let someone else be right sometimes and always be ready to listen.
  3. Compromise. Identify principles that can’t be compromised, as well as ideas that could be compromised.
  4. Be informed. Informed voters look beyond party affiliation to voting records. Education can lead to economic prosperity and personal fulfillment.
  5. Practice wisdom. Learn from your mistakes, be able to prioritize, and acknowledge that there is still more you can learn.
  6. Family and community obligations. We must care for the elderly and disabled in our families and the poor in our communities, instead of relying on government programs. Government should be a supplement, not a main source of income or support.

Carson also identifies four things we as Americans and elected leaders need for a better future:

  1. Vision. Just as we need a personal vision to succeed in life, our political leaders need to have a vision for our country, based on the US Constitution.
  2. Role models. We need to help set role models for our children, starting with parents and teachers.
  3. Morality. Carson believes that some things are immoral, but we can all agree on basic principles of right and wrong. However, he concludes that “I do not believe it to be necessary for us to all agree on the source of morality as long as we agree on the basic principles of what is right and what is wrong” (page 200).
  4. Courage. We must consider what will happen if we fail to act – or if we act thoughtlessly.

What do you think are the biggest challenges that America faces? How can we balance multiculturalism (celebrating our differences) and Americanization (shared culture)?

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