So I have just seen the latest (but guaranteed, not the last) The Daily Show bit on Rob Ford and will admit, I cracked a politely amused smile. Having said that, I also still think Stewart's must astute line on Ford was this:
"Are you waiting for this man to hit rock bottom? ... Mayor Ford's a lot of fun to ridicule, but my guess is not a lot of fun to eulogize and that's where this thing is headed."
Ford is clearly in denial about his personal issues; everyone in his inner circle, including his own mom, is enabling his fall. All politicians live in a bubble, but few dwell in as toxic a space as Toronto's Mayor.
Yet, as Stewart points out, Ford still has a ton of supporters who, if a vote was called tomorrow or ten years from now would stand by their man.
The question has been asked repeatedly - how on earth can anybody still support trailer trash like Ford? It's a question that gets asked bitingly, satirically, even mockingly, but so far not seriously.
Nobody does anything without a reason, though they may not always be conscious of what that reason is. That's key, because there is often a significant distortion between how we see ourselves and the world and how we actually are/how the world sees us.
What happens when we are forced to face the fact that our actions don't meet our self-image? The harder choice is that we change our actions to become what we aspire to be - that's taking responsibility. The complete cop-out is to declare that we're entitled to our entitlements or decry that there's no morality in the world anyway, we're victims as much as anyone; this approach tends to really piss off everyone else.
The third choice is to place blame elsewhere. If our actions are justified - even if they aren't how we believe we would act under normal circumstances - then we must have been pushed to extremes by some one or something. This is the exportation of responsibility and by far, the most common approach of the three.
Poverty and crime within marginalizes populations like aboriginals or the descendants of imported slaves? What happened happened, man, they need to put it in the past and take responsibility for themselves. Youth who spent extra time and money getting post-secondary educations with the expectation of extra pay for adding extra value? They need to get over themselves and work their way up from the ground, just like their parents did.
People who commit crimes are not like us - they are foreigners. Those who commit terrorist acts aren't even human or if they are, they must be crazy. People who don't see the world the way we do aren't patriotic, they're socialists and separatists. Those who put hugging trees and thugs before stability and security are ignorant (the reverse is also true - it all depends on your point of view).
Equally - if I did something that was wrong like hit my spouse, belittle an employee, stab a colleague in the back or completely dehumanized an entire demographic as trailer trash, I must have been provoked into doing so. They had it coming, they deserved it. Seeing as how they're not worthy but I am, it's frankly within my rights to take what I want and ignore them entirely; it's what they would do, after all, if they were as smart as I was.
There's a fine line between delusion and desperation - both narrow one's point of view and put self-interest first.
The worst form of desperation is a response to an acute crisis - a typhoon, for instance.
As we're seeing in the Philippines, the first response to a disaster is to become social - to seek and offer help, to look for or offer leadership. When help doesn't come and when designated leaders fail at their tasks, the feeling of helplessness turns to bitterness and an urge for justice sets in.
Then there's chronic crisis, which is what poverty and all its co-morbidities (like illness and crime) are. When you can't get a job no matter what you try, can't get out of trouble because there are no alternatives and when there is no hope to be found, desperation sets in. You'll ask for help, for a while, but eventually you're going to conclude no help is coming - and that's when you get bitter.
Conservatives of years ago saw society as organic, all being part of the whole, and tried to fashion policies that brought people together, whereas the new Conservatives/conservatives, a la Mr. Ford, see society as inherently divided between a mythical sense of "the people" and their foes. And for this attitude, those who fall on this side of the divide reward leaders with loyalty that cannot be shaken.
So let's revisit the question - why do so many people still support Ford?
There are those who are consistently maddened by fiscal waste and scandal and want to keep more of their deserved slice of the pie - let someone else earn theirs. These folk will point to Ford's fiscal record as the only thing that matters, because it's the thing they have focused on as most relevant to them. What he does in his personal life, consorting with crack-dealers in slums they'll never visit doesn't matter.
Then there are those marginalized folk in the poorer parts of Etobicoke who can't get ahead, can't achieve the success they see among others who mock them and can't shake the various layers of stigma that cast them as untouchable. They see other people's kids get ahead while their own struggle with multiple part-time jobs or maybe fall into crime. What happened to the Just Society?
If you don't believe in politicians because they're all self-serving and focused on issues that don't matter, it would be very refreshing to have a leader - the Mayor, no less - who focused on returning your calls and making sure you got a new playscape in your park. Those are the things that are tactile, tangible and personal - it's the lowest tier of leadership, but the only kind you've experienced.
You want to like Ford, because he does something you can relate to. You like the fact that he brands himself as something other than a condescending elite - he's a normal person, much like you are. He's got substance issues, maybe, and maybe he has questionable friends, but so many in your community do because that's just the reality chronic poverty creates. If a guy like him, warts and all, can become Mayor, maybe there is hope for your kids.
That's a powerful combination - a bit of hope, a validation of self and even more, support for your sense of inequity and desire for social justice.
Ford isn't the mayor - mayors are those kinds of people who take power and opportunity away from folks like you. Ford is just a normal, regular person and quite frankly, the only leader on the scene that you can both relate to and feel vindicated by.
There are good reasons, contextually rational reasons for why Ford enjoys so much support and why, more broadly, we have a rising tide of movements like the Tea Party, Occupy or in the most exaggerate form, Golden Dawn.
Ford Nation isn't going away - and now, Mayor Ford will have that much more time between now and next election to stoke the fires of resentment, remind his people of what he did when he was functionally the Mayor and of course, he gets to work those phones. He did promise a war, after all.
Do I see Ford going to extreme lengths to mobilize his base, tap into other disaffected populations and intimidate others from participating in the political process? It's not like he's done any of those things before.
The big difference is this time he's not likely to have the Nick Kouvalises of the world to turn to. As we have seen, Ford is increasingly turning to the people in his world to round out his team. Some of those folk have criminal records and histories of violence.
You want to hope for the best, but it's wise to plan for the worst.
Rob Ford is not rational; he dug his own partisan grave by not thinking ahead, assuming others wouldn't watch what he did closely and by ignoring issues he thought of as not essential to his narrative. It's not that surprising; after all, he's only human. What more can we expect of him?
Leaders don't have the luxury of being human; they have to own responsibility, unite the commons and chart a course forward, ensuring we've got the systems and resources we need to get there. Which, of course, is why governments work better than dictators and democracy works better than feudalism.
Here's hoping our leaders are looking ahead, scouring the trend lines and planning accordingly. Lots on their plate and it'll be hard to focus on sideline issues that distract from their core objectives, but such is the nature of public service. They may be fun to ridicule, but I guarantee they won't be fun to eulogize - and that may just be where this is headed.
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