Stop Making Sense

The first teaching job was in the fall of 1969 – teaching English at a private boys’ boarding school in one of the few rich suburbs of Pittsburgh. It was a sort of a Dead Poets Society thing – well, not really. It was just teaching high school English, but forming a new student jazz group was fun. The drummer was good, a kid named Chris Frantz, but then he and his off-campus girlfriend, Tina Weymouth, were off to the Rhode Island School of Design the next September, and I was off to graduate school at Duke. That year didn’t amount to much – but at Rhode Island, Chris and Tina hooked up with David Byrne and formed that group Talking Heads – they took punk and made it into avant-garde art rock. The collaboration with the producer Brian Eno helped too. They got spacey and ambient, and they were big. At least someone became famous.

But everyone eventually ends up here in Hollywood. Over the course of three nights, down the street here at the Pantages Theater, in December 1983, Jonathan Demme filmed the Talking Heads in concert, and that turned into what Leonard Maltin called “one of the greatest rock movies ever made” – Stop Making Sense – which Pauline Kael described it as “close to perfection.”

Cool – and the old former high school English teacher that no one even vaguely remembers smiled. That’s a great title. Stop making sense. It has a literary ring to it. Or maybe it’s cultural commentary that seems more and more right each year. We do seem to live in a culture where, when you suggest to someone that what they’re saying makes no sense, and this other way of looking at things is what actually makes sense, they’ll tell you to stop making sense. Just stop it. Forget the evidence, believe the other thing – you know, like global warming is a total hoax, or the idea that big tax breaks for the rich create endless well-paying jobs for everyone else, or that Mexico is going to pay for that giant wall we’re going to build to keep people like them out. Stop making sense. That’s cowardly, or unpatriotic, or something. Believe what doesn’t seem to make sense. You have to believe.

That’s what we have now. Donald Trump could borrow that concert film’s title for his campaign slogan. So could Ben Carson. So could Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal. Trump would say that making sense is for losers, losers like Barack Obama:

President Barack Obama ridiculed Donald Trump’s proposal to use a “deportation force” to expel millions of undocumented immigrants from the United States, calling the proposal unrealistic as well as costly.

“The notion that we’re gonna deport 11, 12 million people from this country – first of all, I have no idea where Mr. Trump thinks the money’s gonna come from,” Obama said in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos at the White House. “It would cost us hundreds of billions of dollars to execute that.”

He was told to stop making sense:

Trump, appearing on “Morning Joe” this week, told co-host Mika Brzezinski he would have a deportation force to carry out his controversial immigration proposal. “You’re going to have a deportation force, and you’re going to do it humanely and you’re going to bring the country – and, frankly, the people, because you have some excellent, wonderful people, some fantastic people that have been here for a long period of time,” Trump said.

That didn’t make a lot of sense, but if this deportation force was made up of all volunteers, with their own guns and uniforms and whatnot, and there were minimal supervision – supervision and administration does tend to get expensive – this could cost very little, but Obama said it still didn’t make sense:

Obama challenged the humanity of Trump’s plan. “Imagine the images on the screen flashed around the world as we were dragging parents away from their children, and putting them in what, detention centers, and then systematically sending them out,” Obama said. “Nobody thinks that that is realistic. But more importantly, that’s not who we are as Americans.”

Obama seems to think that’s what makes the least sense:

The president said some Americans back the billionaire real estate mogul’s proposal because there has always been some anti-immigrant sentiment in this country – ironically, he said, from people who have immigrant roots. “It’s the job of leaders not to play into that sentiment,” he said. “We don’t want, I think, a president or any person in a position of leadership to play on those kinds of fears.”

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton attacked Trump on his deportation plan Wednesday, calling it “absurd, inhumane, and un-American.”

But later there was an answer to this:

Trump said his proposals will not be expensive or difficult if they’re “managed properly.”

“Mine is not mean-spirited, it’s business,” Trump said. “It will be done in a humane way, it’ll be done professionally.”

Anyone who has ever lost their job in a downsizing or to offshoring has heard that before – sorry, it’s just business – nothing personal – no one’s being mean here, just professional.

That kind of “boss talk” only makes matters worse, even if it is professional, but others aren’t even that professional:

The immigration squabble among the Republican presidential contenders has turned into an all-out brawl between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, with the two senators challenging each other’s conservative credentials on the hot-button issue.

While they were by no means the only GOP candidates throwing around immigration accusations on Thursday, the intensity was the highest between Cruz and Rubio, seen as two of the strongest ascending members of the Republican field, especially after Tuesday’s fourth debate.

“They fought tooth and nail to try and jam this amnesty down the American people’s throats,” Cruz said in an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham on Thursday, speaking about the “Gang of Eight” senators. Rubio’s membership in the group, which unsuccessfully shepherded a comprehensive immigration reform effort in 2013, has haunted him since.

“Talk is cheap,” Cruz continued, saying Rubio’s actions disprove any claim that he’s as conservative as Cruz on the topic.

The riposte:

Rubio, in roughly the same bracket of hours Thursday morning, took a few shots at Cruz while campaigning in South Carolina, hitting the Texas senator from the right.

“Ted is a supporter of legalizing people that are in this country illegally. In fact, when the Senate bill was proposed, he proposed legalizing people that were here illegally,” Rubio said during a campaign stop in Hilton Head, according to a read-out from his campaign. “He proposed giving them work permits. He’s also supported a massive expansion of the green cards. He supported a massive expansion of the H-1B program, a 500% increase. So, if you look at it, I don’t think our positions are dramatically different. I do believe that we have to deal with immigration reform in a serious way, and it begins by proving to people that illegal immigration is under control.”

A Cruz aide shot back that Rubio’s comments were not an accurate indicator of where the Texas senator stands on immigration.

That’s just a taste of it, and neither is proposing we do this, that, or the other thing about immigration policy. They had stopped making sense long ago, but Donald Trump is the master of that:

Donald Trump said Thursday that Ben Carson’s self-described “pathological temper” is incurable – adding that it’s like the sickness of a “child molester.”

“It’s in the book that he’s got a pathological temper,” Trump told “Erin Burnett OutFront,” speaking about Carson’s autobiography. “That’s a big problem because you don’t cure that … as an example: child molesting. You don’t cure these people. You don’t cure a child molester. There’s no cure for it. Pathological, there’s no cure for that.”

In his 1990 autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” Carson attributes violent behavior in his youth to his “disease,” a “pathological temper” that the Republican presidential hopeful said caused him to strike one friend with a rock and attempt to stab another. In subsequent accounts of his violent youth, Carson said he once attempted to attack his mother with a hammer.

“I’m not bringing up anything that’s not in his book,” Trump told Erin Burnett. “You know, when he says he went after his mother and wanted to hit her in the head with a hammer that bothers me. I mean, that’s pretty bad. When he says he’s pathological – and he says that in the book, I don’t say that – and again, I’m not saying anything, I’m not saying anything other than pathological is a very serious disease. And he said he’s pathological, somebody said he has pathological disease.”

It went on and on:

Asked by Burnett if he were satisfied by Carson’s assurances that he left his anger long behind, Trump demurred.

“I just don’t know,” he said. “You’ll have to ask him that question. Look, I hope he’s fine because I think it would be a shame. What he’s saying is these things happen. It’d be nice if he said none of these things did happen. He’s saying these things happen and therefore I have credibility. And what I’m saying is, I’d rather have them if they didn’t happen. I don’t want somebody who hit somebody in the face with a padlock.”

Carson’s campaign on Thursday night responded sharply to Trump’s comments, saying the real estate mogul was bitter and “rambling.”

Of course he was. What, you want sense? You’re not going to get it:

Donald Trump said on Thursday that Marco Rubio favors “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants because the Florida senator and his parents are Hispanic.

“That’s why he wants amnesty,” Trump told Erin Burnett… The billionaire repeatedly pointed to Rubio’s efforts in support of a 2013 bipartisan immigration reform bill, which passed the Senate but stalled in the House, as evidence against his Republican primary rival.

“He was always in favor of amnesty, he was always in favor of letting people pour into the country,” Trump said, “and then what happened is, when people found that out, he sank like a rock in the water.”

Maybe that’s so and maybe it isn’t – many factors are always in play as folks assess candidates – but Donald Trump is excellent at lashing out. It doesn’t have to make sense. It only has to be immediately devastating, until later, when you think about it a bit, which most people never do.

But as David Weigel points out, others can play that game:

In his first campaign stops after a well-received performance in Fox Business’s “undercard” GOP presidential primary debate, Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) mixed raw talk about addiction with even rawer criticism of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Asked about the protests at the University of Missouri and Yale University, where complaints of racism or racial insensitivity have pitted students against administrators, the Republican presidential contender said that President Obama had created an atmosphere of “lawlessness.”

“I think part of this is a product of the president’s own unwillingness and inability to bring people together,” Christie said in a short interview… “When people think justice is not applied evenly and fairly, they take matters into their own hands. The lawlessness that the president has allowed to exist in this country just absolutely strips people of hope. Our administration would stand for the idea that justice is not just a word, but it’s a way of life. Laws will be applied evenly, fairly, and without bias to everyone.”

The president’s own unwillingness and inability to bring people together is the issue here, and many don’t see that. They see conservative Republican unwillingness to even talk to him, which is what the Tea Party stuff was about from the beginning. Who keeps saying no compromise, ever? But no matter, Christie had a second thing on his mind:

Earlier, at a town hall further up the Mississippi River, Christie had chastised the Black Lives Matter movement on similar terms. “Don’t call me for a meeting,” he said, according to reporter Claude Brodesser-Akner. “When a movement like that calls for the murder of police officers… no president of the United States should dignify a group like that by saying anything positive about them, and no candidate for president, like Hillary Clinton, should give them any credibility by meeting with them, as she’s done.”

The evidence:

The claim of “calls for the murder of police officers,” which Christie has made in other forums, is based on an isolated incident after a grand jury failed to bring charges against the police seen on video putting Eric Garner in a chokehold, which led to his death. One group of people in a massive march chanted “What do we want? Dead cops!” That rhetoric has been absent from most Black Lives Matter protests, which partly inspired the university uprisings.

Weigel obviously should stop making sense, but of course Ben Carson had to do his thing too:

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson’s business manager and adviser Armstrong Williams attempted to support Carson’s bizarre debate claims on Syria during a Wednesday interview with MSNBC by assuring the anchor that the Chinese are, in fact, in Syria.

When MSNBC’s Tamron Hall told Williams on Wednesday that the Chinese are not in Syria, Williams remained steadfast.

“From your perspective and what most people know, maybe that is inaccurate,” Williams told MSNBC. “From our own intelligence and what Dr. Carson’s been told by people who are on the ground who are involved in that region of the world, it has been told to him may times over and over, that the Chinese are there.”

Carson and Williams have not been briefed by the CIA or the NSA or the Pentagon, or by the intelligence agencies of any other country, but they have their sources. They know this guy, see:

“Just because the mainstream media and other experts don’t want to see any credibility to it, does not mean some way down the line in the next few days that that story will come out and will be reinforced and given credibility by others,” Williams said. “But as far as our intelligence and the briefings that Dr. Carson’s been in and I’ve certainly been in with him, we’ve certainly been told the Chinese are there.”

So stop making sense. Carson knows what our government doesn’t, and Kevin Drum notes this:

In a typical election, candidates move from the extreme to the middle as the campaign progresses. If you’re a Republican, for example, you start out as a fire-breathing conservative in order to win the early primaries, and then slowly move to the center to win the later primaries and the general election.

Donald Trump has flipped the script, though. Now, you start out outrageous in order to get some attention, and then slowly become more sober-minded in order to appear more plausibly presidential. Will it work? Wait and find out! But it sure looks like Ben Carson has been taking lessons from the master.

Okay, this was an attempt to look sober-minded and serious, but as with denying any global warming, there is the matter of evidence:

Carson – or Williams – really ought to tell us who these experts are that keep briefing the campaign on foreign policy issues. Are these the same guys who told him that seizing the Anbar oil fields in Iraq could be done “fairly easily” and that ISIS could then be destroyed in short order? I mean, I like the can-do attitude here, but I’m still a little curious about what the exact battle plan would be. Maybe Carson will share that with us in the next debate.

Or maybe he won’t. He seems to have been advised to stop making sense. Maybe he’s a fan of the now-disbanded Talking Heads. Maybe his campaign, noting how well Donald Trump has done, has decided that to stop making sense is to win over the current Republican voters.

In the Washington Post, Philip Rucker and Robert Costa cover the panic this has caused:

Less than three months before the kickoff Iowa caucuses, there is growing anxiety bordering on panic among Republican elites about the dominance and durability of Donald Trump and Ben Carson and widespread bewilderment over how to defeat them.

Party leaders and donors fear that nominating either man would have negative ramifications for the GOP ticket up and down the ballot, virtually ensuring a Hillary Rodham Clinton presidency and increasing the odds that the Senate falls into Democratic hands.

The party establishment is paralyzed. Big money is still on the sidelines. No consensus alternative to the outsiders has emerged from the pack of governors and senators running, and there is disagreement about how to prosecute the case against them. Recent focus groups of Trump supporters in Iowa and New Hampshire commissioned by rival campaigns revealed no silver bullet.

This is getting urgent:

“The rest of the field is still wishing upon a star that Trump and Carson are going to ­self-destruct,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a former adviser to 2012 nominee Mitt Romney. But, he said “they have to be made to self-destruct. … Nothing has happened at this point to dislodge Trump or Carson.”

Fehrnstrom pointed out that the fourth debate passed this week without any candidate landing a blow against Trump or Carson. “We’re about to step into the holiday time accelerator,” he said. “You have Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, then Iowa and a week later, New Hampshire, and it’s going to be over in the blink of an eye.”

And they don’t know what to do:

According to other Republicans, some in the party establishment are so desperate to change the dynamic that they are talking anew about drafting Romney – despite his insistence that he will not run again. Friends have mapped out a strategy for a late entry to pick up delegates and vie for the nomination in a convention fight, according to the Republicans who were briefed on the talks, though Romney has shown no indication of reviving his interest.

That’s how desperate they are, because of this:

The apprehension among some party elites goes beyond electability, according to one Republican strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about the worries.

“We’re potentially careening down this road of nominating somebody who frankly isn’t fit to be president in terms of the basic ability and temperament to do the job,” this strategist said. “It’s not just that it could be somebody Hillary could destroy electorally, but what if Hillary hits a banana peel and this person becomes president?”

This is the Sarah Palin problem on steroids:

Angst about Trump intensified this week after he made two comments that could prove damaging in a general election. First, he explained his opposition to raising the minimum wage by saying “wages are too high.” Second, he said he would create a federal “deportation force” to remove the more than 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally.

“To have a leading candidate propose a new federal police force that is going to flush out illegal immigrants across the nation? That’s very disturbing and concerning to me about where that leads Republicans,” said Dick Wadhams, a former GOP chairman in Colorado, a swing state where Republicans are trying to pick up a Senate seat next year.

The blogger BooMan sees where this could go:

Another way of putting this is that the political concern is in jeopardy of getting trumped by a basic responsible concern for the welfare of the country. I think we saw some of this back in 2008 when Barack Obama was able to capitalize on a combination of the complete implosion of the Bush administration on every level and concerns about the temperament and suitability of both McCain and Palin to peel off traditionally right-leaning elites. It wasn’t just Colin Powell that defected, but William Buckley’s son and the offspring of Dwight Eisenhower and many big-name investors and capitalists.

There’s a point where folks will actually give up on the GOP and vote for the Democrat, and it’s really not that big of a leap to put your trust in the Clintons. You kind of know what you’re going to get and they’ve got a record of basic competence.

What you’re going to get is someone making sense. But we now have millions of Americans who are gleefully shouting “don’t make sense” – because they’re fed up with that. What good has that done them? So it finally happened. The Talking Heads were onto something. There are a whole lot of people who would rather not think about it, whatever it is. Sometimes rock music does capture who we are. Those kids from way back when were alright.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Stop Making Sense

  1. ffRick says:

    Trump on Morning Joe:

    “You’re going to have a deportation force, and you’re going to do it humanely and you’re going to bring the country – and, frankly, the people, because you have some excellent, wonderful people, some fantastic people that have been here for a long period of time,” Trump said.

    First of all, he’s channeling Sarah Palin. It’s not that there are no verbs in the sentence, it only seems that way. Still, the sentence ends in the middle, as if he forgot what he started out to say, and then just stopped. (For contrast, listen to our current president, who at least speaks in complete sentences.)

    Second of all, his “you’re going to do it humanely” sounds like he’s a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, describing how they slaughter pigs. I’d say Trump should be more careful with how he says things, and that he should stop saying stuff like that, but I’m getting tired of repeating myself.

    And regarding that Washington Post story on how panicked the Republican party has become over the possibility of a Trump or Carson nomination — I especially like this quote:

    The apprehension among some party elites goes beyond electability, according to one Republican strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about the worries.

    “We’re potentially careening down this road of nominating somebody who frankly isn’t fit to be president in terms of the basic ability and temperament to do the job,” this strategist said. “It’s not just that it could be somebody Hillary could destroy electorally, but what if Hillary hits a banana peel and this person becomes president?”

    So think about this headline:

    GOP Drops Out of 2016 Race!

    No, that’s not really an actual headline from Andy Borowitz, it only sounds like something he would come up with.

    By the way, I’m sure Borowitz is not looking for this campaign season to end, since he’s been going gangbusters with it. Some of his recent columns:

    NOVEMBER 8, 2015
    Carson: Loss of Keystone Leaves U.S. with No Place to Store Grain

    NOVEMBER 10, 2015
    Carson Hopes Debate Will Focus on Lost City of Atlantis

    NOVEMBER 11, 2015
    Study: Average American Can Stand Four Seconds of Ted Cruz

    But it’s occurred to me that, assuming Mitt Romney refuses to be drafted — and also assuming that “Banana Peel Scenario” — the party dropping out of the 2016 elections, leaving the candidates trying to figure out how to make it on their own, might be the only way they can stop either of these two blockheads from becoming president.


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