Part 4—Where the music men are: Is Donald J. Trump a modern "music man?"
We'd be inclined to say he is. Tens of millions of other people have a different reaction.
Inevitably, our judgment about Candidate Trump is a subjective judgment. Here are two things which can't really be viewed as subjective:
Various groups of music men have been driving our discourse for many years. Also:
Many major career liberal voices aren't willing to tell you about that.
How have these groups of music men been shaping our national discourse? In his new column, Paul Krugman sketches an example of the way this destructive game works.
As he starts, Krugman says he's been "struck by several recent polls showing Mr. Trump favored over Hillary Clinton on the question of who can best manage the economy."
In this passage, Krugman explains why he finds that poll result so striking. He also describes the decades-long reign of two groups of music men:
KRUGMAN (5/27/16): This is pretty remarkable given the incoherence and wild irresponsibility of Mr. Trump’s policy pronouncements. Granted, most voters probably don’t know anything about that, in part thanks to substance-free news coverage. But if voters don’t know anything about Mr. Trump’s policies, why their favorable impression of his economic management skills?In that brief passage, Krugman describes the work of at least two groups of music men. Let's identify these different groups.
The answer, I suspect, is that voters see Mr. Trump as a hugely successful businessman, and they believe that business success translates into economic expertise. They are, however, probably wrong about the first, and definitely wrong about the second: Even genuinely brilliant businesspeople are often clueless about economic policy.
An aside: In part this is surely a partisan thing. Over the years, polls have generally, although not universally, shown Republicans trusted over Democrats to manage the economy, even though the economy has consistently performed better under Democratic presidents. But Republicans are much better at promoting legends—for example, by constantly hyping economic and jobs growth under Ronald Reagan, even though the Reagan record was easily surpassed under Bill Clinton.
Why are Republicans trusted over Democrats to manage the economy, despite their unimpressive track record? Why is Reagan seen as more successful than Clinton, despite the objective statistics?
According to Krugman's overview, the misperception was built in two major ways:
First, a group of Republican music men skillfully created a legend about the work of President Reagan. Then, a second group of music men played along with this deception, offering the type of "substance-free news coverage" within which such legends can thrive.
In that brief passage, Krugman describes two groups of music men. Partisan Republicans form one group. Mainstream journalists form the other.
Krugman doesn't try to explain why partisan Republicans are better at creating legends than partisan Democrats are. This part of his theory cries for further examination.
But in that short passage, Krugman has described two groups of music men. Each groups has helped create the world in which Trump and Trumpism thrive.
How have these groups helped create that world? Let's separate two distinct strands in the dysfunctional world these music men have created.
Starting perhaps in the 1960s, conservative groups began creating myths and legends about major matters of substance. Over and over, voters were subjected to claims like these:
Claims about matters of substance:All these claims were supported by slickly manufactured, grossly misleading presentations. The first group of music men pushed these claims extremely hard. The second group of music men persistently refused to debunk them.
The Social Security trust fund is a worthless pile of IOUs.
If we lower our tax rates, we receive higher revenues.
The top one percent are paying a wildly disproportionate share of federal taxes.
These claims had been in circulation for decades when the first group of music men expanded their line of attack. Now, they began to peddle claims in which they attacked their opponents' character.
On the presidential level, the emergence of this second front is fairly clear. In 1984, there were very few character attacks directed at Candidate Mondale. In 1988, there were some fairly vicious attacks directed at Candidate Dukakis.
Candidate Dukakis lost that election; we never saw what would have happened had he entered the White House.
But in 1992, Candidate Clinton won the election. As a result, we saw the full emergence of the new culture in which we all live today.
A wide array of crazy attacks were launched by one group of music men. The other group of music men either ignored the craziness of these attacks, or actively pimped them along.
Starting in March 1999, the next wave of bogus character attacks were launched against Candidate Gore. By now, the music men of the mainstream press were playing a very active role in this highly destructive game. This includes many "music men" who are widely viewed by us liberals are being part of our team.
To this day, you're kept from thinking about the way this destructive con game unfolded. A code of silence has long been in effect. It constitutes a gigantic con, and it's being widely played.
Below, we'll cite one recent example of that code of silence. First, though, let's think about the craziness which emerged from these earlier cons. We'll even name the names of some people who perpetrated these earlier cons—the earlier cons which paved the way for today's lunatic Trumpism.
For simplicity's sake, let's name one name. Let's quickly discuss Chris Matthews.
Matthews' conduct from 1999 through 2008 is hard to separate from that now displayed by Trump:
Overt misogyny, though only aimed at liberal women? Check.
Ludicrous and appalling insults directed at preferred targets? Check.
Utterly crazy subject matter? Check. Overt misstatement of basic facts? Check. Check. Check.
Especially in the earlier years, Matthews' trusty Sancho Panza was Newsweek's Howard Fineman, for whom no claim was too absurd if it was made on Hardball.
Earlier this week, Fineman warned Matthews, on the air, that Candidate Trump is "dangerously crazy." According to Fineman, Trump's crazy claims "are not tied to any provable reality. They have an element of hothouse nuttiness about them."
Matthews seemed to semi-agree. But how strange it was to see these men complaining about the lunatic world they worked so hard to create.
How crazy was Matthews' nightly work during the anti-Clinton/Gore years. which stretched out for roughly a decade? Among a million possible examples, we thought back to his discussion in November 1999 of the psychosexual meaning of Candidate Gore's troubling three-button suits.
Matthews spoke this night with Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, his trusty expert on body language. After playing tape of Candidate Gore at a campaign event, he launched the kinds of insulting attacks from which Trump has assembled his current campaign style:
MATTHEWS (11/14/99): You got to go pretty far into the Third World to find tribal rituals like that one. All those ringers jumping up and down and clapping their hands, him doing those incredible Clutch Cargo gestures. What kind of—Instantly, Matthews pictured Gore on trial for a crime, after ridiculing him for his "Clutch Cargo gestures."
Let me ask you a question. If you had Al Gore in the defense box in a trial, and he was the defendant in a serious case, a criminal case, would you want women jurors with this guy, based upon that latest new, latest new Al?
Dimitrius played along, as she always did on Hardball during this ludicrous era. Presumably, it was good for business. Matthews was soon saying this:
MATTHEWS: Al Gore, I know him. He's a guy who can really stare you down, he can intimidate you. He—he sat across from me and if he wants to express anger at something you just said, he gives you that cold stare, which you don't know whether it means, "Who the hell are you, nobody, to be talking to me like that? I'm vice president."Gore hadn't been yelling, or jumping up and down. But so what? Dimitrius played along.
Or does it mean, "I'm really mad at you." But now he's gone to totally new— Is this yelling and jumping up and down going to work for this guy?
After comparing Gore to "the gangster, Mickey Cohen" and complaining about his "road rage," Matthews reached his most important complaint:
Candidate Gore had been wearing three-button suits on the trail. Matthews wanted to know what this "new costuming" could possibly mean. He was especially concerned with the possible psychosexual content of those three-button suits.
Does Candidate Trump seem crazy today? Chris Matthews, who was owned by Jack Welch at the time, was crazy in all the same ways many years earlier.
Jo-Ellan Dimitrius played right along. So did the whole liberal world:
MATTHEWS: Quickly, you know, there's been a lot of talk about the new costuming of Al Gore. You know, he used to wear blue suits like I do—or gray suits. Now he's wearing these new olive suits."How does my mind work that way?" At long last, the lunatic Matthews had asked a sensible question.
He's taking up something rather unconventional, the three-button male suit jacket. I always—my joke is, "I'm Albert, I'll be your waiter tonight."
I mean, I don't know anybody who buttons all three buttons, even if they have them. What could that possibly be saying to women voters, three buttons?
DIMITRIUS: Well, I think that—
MATTHEWS: Is there some hidden Freudian deal here or what? I don't know, I mean, Navy guys used to have buttons on their pants. I don't know what it means. Go ahead.
DIMITRIUS: No, I, I— I think actually that Al's probably read the, our second book that's about to come out that talks about the different colors, that particularly males can wear in their suits. We talk about how olive green, dark green is much more approachable, whereas, your dark blue and your black—
MATTHEWS: Right. Is that why Peter Pan wore green?
DIMITRIUS: Could be. Could be.
MATTHEWS: How does my mind work that way?
The lunatic Matthews was Trump-before-Trump all through Campaign 2000. He relentlessly savaged Candidate Gore; he relentlessly savaged senate Candidate Hillary Clinton, AKA Evita, in relentlessly misogynistic ways.
The overt sexism and overt misogyny continued in Campaign 2008, until a few feminist groups finally managed, by some miracle, to notice that Matthews had been acting this way for the prior ten years. They offered a small, weak complaint.
Today, of course, Matthews has been thoroughly reinvented, in line with changed corporate policy. That said, there is nothing that Trump is doing today that Matthews didn't do when he was pimping the interests of his corporate owner, Jack Welch.
Matthews is one of the music men who created our current lunatic world, in which facts and logic play little role and our discourse runs on crazy claims and lunatic insults. But as liberals, you still aren't allowed to know that, or to know anything like it.
We say that because of what we saw Kevin Drum write this week.
At some point, a sensible person has to surrender his ghosts. We decided to surrender ours as we read this post by Drum, in which he explained "the rise of Donald Trump."
As always, Drum described the role which has been played by one group of music men—the music men who work within the other tribe. As always, he chose to end his story there. At this very late date, we're going to call his bowdlerized account the equivalent a lie.
A wide array of music men have reshaped American culture over the past fifty years. Some of them have come from the right. But many others have come from the mainstream, even from the list of mainstream stars who we describe as "liberals."
Their names are endless, unless you read the claims of our good corporate players. Drum is paid by Mother Jones, an entity which promotes itself by getting its stars on Hardball.
The lunatic culture in which we all live was not created by the right. It was created by the right and the mainstream—by teams of horrible music men politely working together.
No one did more than Matthews has done to create the world in which Trump thrives. Kevin Drum will never, ever be willing to share such facts.
Tomorrow: Rachel Maddow. It's truly hard to find the words
Very hard to capture: Matthews' role in creating Trumpism is vast, gigantic, extensive.
All the basic parts were there by early 1999—the misogyny, the ranting insults, the complete disregard for mere facts.
Our archives are full of this material. Even at book length, it would be hard to capture the sweep of Matthews' role in the invention of the culture within which Trumpism thrives.
For one small attempt to capture the arc of Matthews' decade of cons, see this four-part report from November 2007. That said, it barely scratches the surface.
(To see him kissing the ascot of Ann Coulter, you can just click here. It was now 2006.)
The Drums of this world will keep disappearing this essential part of the story. They're one of the groups of music men who have established this terrible con.
This decades-long con has now given us Candidate Trump and his astounding Trumpism. Regarding silent partners like Drum, we'll take a general guess. Their silence keeps their salaries rolling, even as the con they've enabled threatens the health of the world.
We detailed this from real time on. You can't make music men speak.