Sat, Apr

Name Calling Vs. Critical Thinking: Donald Trump, the Ghost of Tricky Dick, and Saving San Pedro


AT LENGTH--It’s an old but tested technique of argumentation. When you can’t win on the facts or logic, call your opponent bad names. Donald Trump and his political surrogates have lost the argument on Hillary Clinton’s email. Now they’ve gone back to the “Crooked Hillary” schoolyard taunt. This is a tactic about as sophisticated as a couple of schoolboys tossing back and forth “yo’ mama” jokes. But it is not without historical precedent. 

The classic example was back in 1950 when Richard Nixon ran for the Senate against Helen Gahagan Douglas -- a campaign that echoed his win over New Deal liberal Jerry Voorhis for a House of Representatives seat by calling Voorhis a “Commie.” In the Senate race, the Nixon campaign manual included a “pink sheet” comparing Douglas’ voting record to that of the Communist Party­. Nixon won the California senate seat and an indelible sobriquet that would follow him for his entire life – “Tricky Dick.” 

Name calling and slander are the most common tactics the losing side uses to distract an audience from real issues. We’ve seen that to be true at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and we’ve seen that to be true in the recently concluded neighborhood council races. It even continues on Facebook today. 

I recently reposted a Facebook post from a Bernie Sanders delegate for the 44th Congressional District, Carrie Scoville. The post was on the terms “groupthink” and “norms” in a discussion on organizational theory. 

Groupthink: “Remaining loyal to the group by sticking with the policies to which the group has already committed itself, even when those policies are obviously working out badly and have unintended consequences that disturb the conscience of each member . . . Groupthink involves non-deliberative suppression of critical thoughts as a result of internalization of the group’s norms . . .” 

Renowned research psychologist, Irving L. Janis defined the term “Groupthink” as being the desperate drive for consensus at any cost. 

I thought this was a good topic to discuss amongst our community in light of battles over homelessness, coyote sightings and those claiming to be “saving San Pedro.” 

Coastal Neighborhood Council member Gayle Fleury was one of the first to greet the discussion topic with suspicion. 

“What is this in relation to?” she typed. “It sounds: 

  1. Ultra-left-liberal bias.
  2. A leap to judgment.
  3. An intentional swipe at people who were just seated on the council.
  4. A blind eye to the way Central was run the past year. 

What is your intention? Is it positive? Do you want GOOD things for Central? Or are you just driven by anger that you were not elected?” 

To which I responded: 

“Gayle, you inevitably will take the above academic discussion and twist it anyway that you can, but let me make one thing clear -- in both Central and Coastal neighborhood council districts, Sen. Bernie Sanders won a majority of the votes. In fact, he eventually won over Hillary in the entire LA County. (I was incorrect on this point in my response. Sanders lost Los Angeles County by more than 140,000 votes.) 

“So if anything that I write sounds at all like any of his political positions, then I would say that they are rather mainstream considering that the second highest votes went to Clinton, another ultra left liberal by your standards. This, in San Pedro, makes up something over two-thirds of the voters!

That through some mistake of neighborhood council elections [or distraction by the electorate] the people who mostly ally themselves with Trump have gotten elected to the majorities of two of these councils should not be overlooked by those paying attention to something more relevant than coyotes or panhandlers. 

“And as far as my leadership at the Central NC over the past 2 years, it was done with a high degree of ethics, command of the rules and compassion for those who needed help the most. That is more than can be said about the current leadership, which violated more laws, by-laws and broke more rules in just two meetings than I did in two years.” 

By the way, Gayle is not the only one who has continued to cast aspersions against me and others on social media even after the elections were over. As if to consolidate their “desperate drive for consensus,” even as they have called for community voices to come forward with concerns coated with the promise that they will listen. 

My suggestion to everyone with a gripe about the way the City of Los Angeles treats San Pedro is to show up and start complaining. They might even listen. But will they commit to getting the city to act and respect its citizens? 

As for my intentions -- they’ve been the same for more than 35 years -- it is to empower the people of this community with information, engage them in a public civic debate of the issues that affect them the most and to hold those who are in power accountable for the consequences of their actions. 

Or put another way, the role of journalism should be “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”  I do ascribe to that motto more than a little. 

However, what I will say to all of my critics both near and far is that once you start in on the juvenile name calling, you have already lost the debate, even if you win the election. I only wish this weren’t true in our national elections.  For what I actually fear most is that the good people of this country will remain silent, like many have in San Pedro, while belligerent bullies like Donald Trump mouth off with racist, sexist and homophobic name-calling to silence their opposition.


(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy - Don't listen to that man with the white cap - he might say something that you agree with!" He was elected to the presidency of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council in 2014 and has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen…and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


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