Twice this week I have been taken aback by the casual use of invective pejorative phrases in our everyday political discourse. As we head into another election year in the political cycle, it seems like the rhetoric is probably running amuck.
I am still a little floored that Donald Trump, for instance, got away with tweeting about commentator Fox Megyn Kelly that “you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever” – ironically, after Ms. Kelly had pressed Mr. Trump about sexist comments in the past, such as calling some women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.”
While he got criticized by the establishment, if anything, the exchange has elevated his standing in the primaries.
Two more local examples of this came in the last few days. The Vanguard reported that the group UNITE HERE Local 49 is asking for the city, before granting the proposed Embassy Suites Hotel-Conference center a specific plan amendment, to consider the wages that would be paid to hotel workers. They write, “You can have high-road employers who agree to work collaboratively with their employees to create good jobs, or you can have low-road employers whose business model is based on low-wage jobs.”
They concluded, “We urge you not to encourage this kind of irresponsible development, and not to give the developers the gift they are asking for, unless and until they demonstrate a real commitment to good jobs and a healthy Davis community.”
Some of our posters likened the union’s request to the mob “demanding ‘protection payments’ from business owners.”
I don’t know where I come down on the issue of the pay or whether the city of Davis ought to get involved in the issue. But I certainly think it is fair for the union to raise the point, and I certainly did not see even an implied threat in their letter.
I rarely get involved in these kinds of discussions, asking whether we have regressed in political discourse so far, necessitating that a letter requesting the city take into account concerns about wages be compared to a mob demand to pay or face consequences. I don’t know if I agree with the letter or not, but I very much decry the mob comparison as unfair and inflammatory.
One of the posters responded, “It was not my intention to infer that the union would ever be violent in my comparison. I was trying to point out the influence the union has on a city council with members that aspire to be elected to higher offices asking them to make decisions not for the good of the city, but that have positive effects for the union.”
That is certainly a point that I have argued in the past, especially with regard to the firefighters’ union’s influence on past councils and current councilmembers – without the pejorative “mob” reference which, contrary to the poster’s argument, does imply violence and lack of legitimacy.
The bottom line is that the union was not threatening the city – it was merely asking that the city consider wages when they make a decision and that consideration is something I support. But even if I didn’t, I think the “mob” analogy has no legitimate place in civil discourse. It simply serves to delegitimitize a position out of hand.
Another term that caught my eye was in this sentence: “If you believe these thugs didn’t participate in the girl’s beating you would have to believe that this group of thugs participated in multiple false confessions about the same crime.”
The question is why the term “thug” was needed. The term thug is considered loaded, and many believe it is a “racial slur.” A fascinating article in Newsweek lays out the history of the term, which is more complex than it might seem.
Why the need to pejoratively label people – as thugs? As one poster commented, “What would you call a group of guys running through a park beating and assaulting victims? I call them thugs. What would you call them? Poor, misunderstood, misguided products of society?”
As parents, we are taught to label the behavior without labeling the individual – as labeling the individual can cause the individual to embody the negative characteristics of the label.
I would also point out that, the labeling aside, the core contention is a false contention by the poster. There is no clear evidence that the individuals participated in the beating other than their confessions – and the confessions omitted key pieces of evidence about both the scene and the attack. It is entirely possible, based on twenty years of research on false confessions, that the five individuals (actually, four individuals confessed) could have falsely confessed.
What we more likely have is a group of young men who were in the park and probably assaulted people. While we do not have proof of that, there is evidence to that effect. On the other hand, those men have been out of prison for 15 to 20 years now and none of them has committed a new violent act.
So, maybe instead of labeling people with derogatory labels and calling them thugs, we should condemn the act while supporting the individual. Or perhaps we should follow the teachings of organized religion which calls for us to love the sinner and hate the sin.
Have we really lost our articulation ability such that, in public conversations, we have no better terms than “thug” to refer to a misguided group of young men causing trouble? Maybe we can skip the pejoratives and work on changing the behavior.
—David M Greenwald reporting