Noam Chomsky once wrote, “For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.” Perhaps nowhere has this been more personified than in the ongoing and unfolding true crime tale that is the Rob Ford saga; a true crime story that as yet, astoundingly, has not led to any truly serious consequence for the mayor despite the claims of councillors to have actually removed his authority.
This now epic tale began many months ago, when some began to note the seeming discrepancy in the treatment of Ford, a discrepancy that is now so glaring that it is the day-to-day musings of columnists and news outlets across the continent and political spectrum.
For a generation we have had to endure right wing and populist rhetoric about drugs and criminality, seeking to reinstitute the harsh and brutal ideas of crime and punishment that we socially began to step away from for a time. We have been told of the need for "zero tolerance". Drugs, according to the right, are always a scourge and there is never an excuse for criminal behaviour no matter the circumstance.
Ironically, of course, it is the same Rob Ford who famously said that society should never "hug a thug" that now seeks forgiveness for astounding and even self-admitted illegal transgressions. The list of these is now very long and, other than for someone happily trapped on a moon of Saturn for the last few months, truly not worth repeating given that even the apolitical in Arkansas know about them. He has become a celebrity lawbreaker and he has certainly embraced the role to an astonishing and revolting extent that displays an almost sociopathic juvenile unwillingness to accept responsibility for anything.
The list of the crimes, both self-acknowledged and alleged, which has now grown even longer with the addition of the new wire tap allegations that he has not yet admitted to, (and given his pattern of denial and then fake-penitent apologetic admittance, who knows what tomorrow will bring), are truly unprecedented for an elected official.
Despite the rhetoric of Conservative talking heads like Tim Hudak who have defended extremely harsh anti-drug laws and even opposed decriminalizing marijuana while admitting that its use was "pretty normal", we see a remarkable lack of action on their part to truly hold the Mayor to these standards. Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, while having been the beneficiary of the rightful usurping of most of Ford's powers, still talked on CBC Radio in the wake of the latest wire trap revelations, of the Mayor stepping aside to "get help" and holding open the possibility of him returning when , presumably, he has stopped participating in criminal acts!
We do not need to wonder if Norm Kelly would extend the same liberal vision of possible redemption from criminality for basically anyone else, as we know the answer is no. He will extend it only to his wealthy, white, powerful former friend. Just as when the notably cold-hearted Jim Flaherty got all emotional for his old friends the Fords. For anyone else, we all know exactly what Norm Kelly would call for. It would not be a leave of absence.
Never mind the nearly unbelievable spectacle of convicted criminal Conrad Black, who despite having renounced his Canadian citizenship was allowed back into the country after his time in jail was done, and now has a show that apparently needed a Ford ratings boost, interviewing Ford and afterwards saying that he was “not a bad influence to youth”, was "a very nice man" and then implied that he would at least consider endorsing him in the next election. A shout out from a wealthy convicted criminal to a wealthy person who has admitted to multiple criminal acts, that in the end it is really all about the political agenda.
Basic decency and morality is meant to keep the rabble in line.
If you are good for business and an anti-worker, anti-union agenda, it is amazing what the "high and mighty" will often tolerate.
John Honderich Chair of the Board of The Toronto Star called out the striking cowardice and lack of action from Toronto's true elites in a December 5th piece "Rob Ford scandal: Where is the outrage from Toronto’s business, academic and cultural leaders" . It is nowhere to be found! As Honderich notes:
So where are Toronto’s business, cultural, academic and moral leaders when it comes to the Rob Ford saga?
To date — missing in action
As the city continues to be a laughingstock around the globe and the Ford antics — now shown even more vividly in the wiretaps — likely to provide additional fodder for the likes of Jay Leno and Jon Stewart, what has been the reaction from the opinion leaders of Canada’s largest city?
Quite simply, the collective silence has been deafening.
Beyond all of this tragicomic farce, the allegations are now far worse. More extreme drug use, extortion, threats of violence, and, hanging over it all, the murder of Anthony Smith.
Yet the mayor remains.
It is difficult, frankly. to imagine an analogous situation where the wheels of "justice" would have so spectacularly failed to turn. When even the Toronto Sun is driven to question the conduct of police, then one realizes just how bizarre the situation has truly become.
Maybe, to a degree, this is because elements of the right have shifted so far into paranoid, exclusionary and anti-democratic narratives that they no longer really care about legality in any meaningful sense at all. When a person with such an extraordinarily dubious record on respect for the reach of his own legal and democratic authority as Julian Fantino weighs in to hug the Ford thug, this could not be any clearer.
This lack of true action, the lack of charges, and the astounding lack of explicit condemnation from much of the business and political community means that he continues to get to play the part of Mayor, with disastrous implications as long as we let him. Taking away some of his budget, his staff, and many of his powers is simply not enough anymore.
It was a pretend "punishment" if the fiasco gets to continue with his equally thug brother Doug Ford yet again and more absurdly than ever claiming a conspiracy and with the Mayor showing up to make a mockery of equality before the law and justice by tossing candy at kids or making NFL picks on US radio while attacking universal health care.
He is even enjoying, it seems, his new role as mayor as spectacle. Presumably he feels the circus will ultimately carry the day.
The fact that he is still in the office undermines basic ideas of fairness and makes a total mockery of our democratic system. It openly exposes the absurd notion that all citizens are treated the same way. While this may, in some ways, expose realities that many of us on the left know to be true, it also will only continue to benefit the right and create ever greater cynicism and even pop culture reverence for a profoundly dangerous political figure as long as it continues.