The Politics of the Anonymous Plurality
By Susan M. Halpern
Former Addison Councilmember (1992-1999)
Context is critical: We have to know who we’re dealing with and where they’re coming from, including so we can evaluate motives and biases. All of which allows us to evaluate the claims being made. Clearly, context has been particularly important in Addison, given the many claims of those who seek to divide us. These folks deal in negativity all the time. I’ve written often about their formula: pick an issue, describe it in inflammatory and usually misleading terms, claim that the sky is falling, attack anyone who isn’t them, and claim that only they can solve the problem.
Within this model, these negatives and naysayers often claim widespread support for their negativity. The problem is, the supposed groundswell of support is never identified. So, the implication is there, but the facts are not: the claimed plurality remains anonymous, thus raising the question of whether it exists at all.
We’ve seen this play out in any number of ways. Consider, for example, the oft-repeated claims of the ex-mayor that “people have been asking me about,” always followed by some inflammatorily worded issue. The implication was of unsolicited questions which, in turn, suggested widespread concern for the issue of the moment. What followed was inevitably a one-sided discussion filled with misrepresentations, mischaracterizations and propaganda.
This very tactic was used during the 2017 campaign season, when the ex-mayor presented a blatantly misleading discussion regarding Addison’s Charter and the issue of term limits. The point, of course, was to harm the candidacies of Mayor Joe Chow and Councilmember Tom Braun, who had served on Council years earlier (as you can see, it didn’t work). So, who were the “people” supposedly asking about term limits? No names were ever given. They never are. All of which supports the conclusion I reached long ago that there never were any “people” asking questions.
More recently, one of the negatives has been employing this formula to attack the current council, moving from issue to issue in a desperate effort to gain traction and attention. Claims have been made regarding groups of “residents” or “parents.” But once again, no supposed member of the “group” is identified. So, is there a “group” at all? I doubt it. But even if I’m wrong about that, is the “group” two people? Three? Doesn’t that matter for all-important context? Of course it does. And that’s before you even begin to consider the implicit claim being made that the person speaking has been endorsed by the “members” of the “group” as a “spokesperson.” What nonsense.
Here’s the thing: people who have nothing to hide, hide nothing. Given this, when I was on the council, I had a policy of not accepting anonymous comments. I learned very early on that those who sincerely want to move Addison forward are proud to identify themselves and have a constructive conversation. Negatives and naysayers bent on causing problems, rather than solving them, tended to cling to anonymity. So, I spent my time with the positive folks, and found that this policy facilitated my positive service to Addison.
In the end, we could surely agree that the sky is not falling here in Addison. Quite to the contrary, we are blessed to live in a wonderful community with a hardworking council that continues to solve problems, address issues and move Addison forward. Our Council consists of seven people conducting Addison’s business in a professional and workmanlike manner, without drama, staged theatrics or fanfare. And, most importantly, with full recognition of the fundamental role of transparency in our democracy. TRUE transparency. Transparency firmly rooted in TRUTH. That’s what democracy is all about.
So, if anyone tries to claim that the sky is falling here in Addison, be skeptical. And be particularly skeptical if they employ the anonymous plurality trick. If they claim to be part of a “group,” demand to know its members. And, how those members endorsed this alleged spokesperson. And if they continue to duck the questions and employ anonymity, ignore them. Or, if you’re inclined, challenge them to be a positive part of Addison. We can always use the talents and knowledge of folks who will contribute to a positive process and our community.
Finally, if any of you have received any unsolicited emails and have questions about how the sender got your email address, please let the City Manager or a member of the council know about it.