RESURGENCE OF THE MUSIC MEN: One, two, many music men!


Part 2—It started with Matthews and Fineman:
Is Donald J. Trump a "music man?"

That's a matter of judgment. Below, we'll describe the conduct of the original "music man," a professor named Harold Hill.

Donald J. Trump may or may not be in Professor Hill's class. But last night, Howard Fineman seemed to offer an even tougher description of Trump on the Hardball "cable news" program.

The gang had been discussing some of Trump's array of crazy semi-claims: the claim that the Clintons helped murder Vince Foster; the claim that Obama was born in Kenya; the claim that Ted Cruz's father shot JFK and JR.

To Fineman, this goes beyond being a mere "music man." He offered a tougher assessment:
FINEMAN (5/24/16): Michelle [Bernard] put her finger on the way to go after Trump, at least according to the Democrats, the smart Democrats, I talk to, which is that he's dangerously crazy.


FINEMAN: I'm serious, Chris. The conspiracy things [peddled by Trump] are not tied to any provable reality. They have an element of hothouse nuttiness about them.

MATTHEWS: Call-in radio feeds on that stuff.

FINEMAN: Right. I know it does. But that's only one part of the country.

MATTHEWS: I know, but they're all listening and talking. Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don't know.
Fineman offered the possibility that Candidate Trump is just "crazy." When he did, Matthews offered his trademark laugh. For many of these terrible people, this whole thing is still a big joke.

(On yesterday's Morning Joe, Katty Kay authored the official approved trademark chuckling when Trump was quoted crazily discussing the death of Foster. To people like Kay, the advance of the ludicrous Candidate Trump remains an entertainment event, a source of amusement and laughter, and of course a few ratings points.)

"I'm serious," Fineman said in the face of Matthews' trademark laugh. He cited the "nuttiness" of Trump's behavior, seeming to endorse the claim that the candidate may be crazy.

We've been suggesting a variant of that idea for some time now. If true, it means that Trump is more than a mere "music man."

We'll explain that term below. First, let's talk:

As a general matter, it's a very good idea to keep psychiatry and pseudo-psychiatry away from discussions of politics. But Trump's behavior is so strange, this possibility keeps forcing itself on the world.

Is Candidate Trump "dangerously crazy?" After Fineman spoke, Matthews noted the fact that talk radio feeds on the types of claims whose "nuttiness" Fineman derided.

Matthews then went to commercial break and the discussion ended.

Is Candidate Trump "dangerously crazy?" Is he "crazy" at all? It's hard to answer a question like that, although we'd say it's an obvious question.

That said, Candidate Trump is clearly a type of "music man." Let's discuss the meaning of that colorful term.

History's original "music man" was Professor Harold Hill. The good professor wasn't crazy. Instead, he was a con man and swindler, though also a lovable rogue.

According to Meredith Willson, Professor Hill showed up in an Iowa town called River City in July 1912. He had a minor con in mind.

Professor Hill was going to sell the townfolk a bunch of trombones, along with some band uniforms. The trombones were real, but the scam was this:

Professor Hill planned to skip town without teaching the local children how to play their new trombones. Instruction had been part of the original deal.

(Professor Hill had told the rubes that he would teach the kids how to play the trombones through use of his "think system." This claim was so manifestly absurd that Candidate Trump may adopt it, perhaps to explain how he'll get Mexico to pay for the wall.)

Professor Hill was planning to run a standard small-scale scam. He would have been able to pull it off because of the force of his personality, which made him an excellent con man.

Along the way, though, he fell in love with the local librarian, who looked just like Shirley Jones. For this reason, he decided to stay in River City and take his just desserts. When he did, it turned out that his think system actually worked!

When Meredith Willson revealed this history, a memorable term was born. That memorable term is "music man." It's just another name for a type of likable con man who's good at selling his cons.

Professor Hill wasn't crazy; it may be that Donald Trump is. But Trump is plainly a "music man." As it turns out, he's highly skilled at peddling ridiculous tales.

Could that skill get Trump elected? Yes, it actually could! But Trump is hardly the first "music man" to invade our political/journalistic culture in recent decades and years.

Over just the past thirty years, a wide of array of "music men" have helped create the nutty, crazy crackpot culture Candidate Trump is now exploiting. Many of these "music men" are well-known. Some of them are music women, with names like Maddow and Dowd.

Around the time that Professor Hill went straight, American culture was organizing itself against the depredations of the music men. To cite just one example, the FDA came into existence in 1906. This protected average citizens against all types of cons.

In theory, sets of political and journalistic gatekeepers were put in place to keep these nutty music men away from our highest political realm. Eventually, though, the music men found ways to start fighting back.

Candidate Trump didn't start this powerful resurgence, which now has him dangerously close to the White House.

Candidate Trump didn't start this disastrous resurgence. Along with quite a few others, though, Matthews and Fineman did.

Call-in radio feeds on that stuff? At one time, so did the cable show Hardball! That went on for quite a few years!

Fineman is singing the blues today. What was he doing back then?

Tomorrow: The stories you still can't be told

One pundit who doesn't do it: Joy Reid doesn't chuckle and shake her head about the amusements of Candidate Trump.

Reid seems to know that this is real. We respect her for it.


  1. "In theory, sets of political and journalistic gatekeepers were put in place to keep these nutty music men away from our highest political realm."

    In reality, the deciders put these gatekeepers in place to channel lesser talents like Bob Somerby into public school classrooms where they could do little harm and possibly a tiny bit of good. Then some got greedy and others passed their wealth and powers to a generation that no longer gave a damn.

    1. I don't think the gatekeeprs would have allowed Al Pacino to play a role in "The Music Man."

    2. "In theory, sets of political and journalistic gatekeepers were put in place to keep these nutty music men away from our highest political realm."

      "In reality, the deciders put these gatekeepers in place to channel lesser talents like..."

      Bwah hahahaha ha!

      No, but really it's o k -- if you don't understand theory behind our republican form of government and the role of press in it, that's fine.

      No one should ridicule you for your ignorance, or find you laughable for the arrogant obstinacy of what you sadly appear to believe is your own cleverness.

      I shouldn't.

      But man, I do. I really do.

    3. Trump is either crazy or a con man but the real problem is Somerby. Yes, that makes sense.

      Just as Mathews laugh bothers Somerby, the unending stupid jokes of the trolls here about Somerby grate on my nerves. He is talking about serious issues that we care about but the trolls only care about mocking Somerby.

      In fact, that attempt to distract from the larger issues may be why they are here. On the one hand, media figures seem to be treating Trump as a joke, but on the other, they are trying to normalize his behavior, treating him as if he were a real candidate, as if his ideas made sense.

      WE need to be taking Trump seriously and working to make sure he isn't elected. Somerby is at least working in that direction too. I respect HIM for that.

    4. You know what, 11:32? Only a pseudo-intellectual snob would believe that the rest of America needs protection from information by "gatekeepers" who will decide what we can and cannot read and see.

      And that is the "serious" theme of this blog, and has been for quite some time. "We're so smart than everybody else."

      Wanna know something else? Only a pseudo-intellectual snob would believe only he and Somerby were "taking Trump seriously."

      And no, I don't identify with pseudo-intellectual snobs, nor do I respect them.

    5. @12:00, are you the one who keeps trying to denigrate BS by how he isn't as successful ("vanity" blog, stand-up career, etc.) as he should be? Who is the snob?

    6. @12:00
      As long as you keep attacking Somerby instead of attacking Trump, no one is going to take you seriously.

      I think Somerby is more intellectual than pseudo-intellectual and I think it is anti-intellectual to deride someone for his interests in philosophy or cosmology. Somerby longs for a time when the crazy didn't appear in print, on evening news, or in public discussions/debates. I am his age and I know there was such a time.

      It always bothers me that I coexist in a world of crazy people, because it makes me feel unsafe. The internet has brought us craziness that has warped popular culture and now dominates intellectual discourse. Twerking! Sexting! Tweets from public figures (who used to use their time differently)!

      A democracy depends on the rationality of the people voting, on their education and their civility. When those capacities are being undermined by our own culture, is our government in safe hands? I see the Bernie supporters as a mini-version of the Red Guard in China. Their millenials went on a rampage that was enormously damaging to existing culture and their own future. We are not immune from such things when our discourse is dominated by Twitter and someone like Bernie or Trump aiming young people at targets in service of ulterior motives they do not have the experience to understand.

      This isn't about snobbery. It is about who will govern and how well -- because it is about how we select our leaders now. Keep sniping at the voices urging rationality and civility. You will probably be happy with what Trump gives you.

    7. "The internet has brought us craziness that has warped popular culture and now dominates intellectual discourse."

      Fan O'Bob @ 4:15

      "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet."

      Roommate O'Bob 1999

  2. A lot of things Trump says aren't worth checking like if Rubio is sweating. Others are and they come out as nonsense. He is for Saudis, he's against Saudis. He donates 100k to Clinton's foundation then runs against her. He is in it for the show for certain. Principles are secondary.

  3. Since I have given up on MSNBC, I don't see Joy Reid any longer. Does anyone have a link to illustrate Bob's comment at the end?

    1. Since you have not given up on Bob why do you need a link? Why don't you just take his word for it.

    2. You seem proud as a peacock that you see right through Somerby. Why do you have such a hard time seeing the motivations of the technically accurate, but misleading, work of our press corps?