Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is not an accident. He’s not a car that suddenly lost control of the steering and veered off the road.
Is Rob Ford cunning or pathetic? Or both? Is he a ridiculous political clown who got elected by fooling everyone? Ford doesn’t only show us the flaws in Toronto’s system of municipal governance. He shows us what the radical right has brought into politics.
Something that I will call Dark Politics. Political ideology that accompanies economic neoliberalism. Politics that seeks to obfuscate, misinform, change the rules of conduct and flourishes most when no light of truth is shone upon it.
It continually seeks to convince a weary public that government is the problem and that funnelling tax dollars upward and lowering taxes on wealthy corporations, while driving down wages, is the best way out of any economic slump — despite all evidence to the contrary. That rich people are “job creators” that should not be burdened with tax woes because of all the good they are doing for the economy.
Tax burdens shifted from prosperous businesses, corporations and the wealthy onto the backs of the average tax payer creating an ever alarming divide between the 1% and the rest of us. This created a self fulfilling prophecy about the trust worthiness of governments. Governments elected to carry out this agenda were backed by powerful financial interests that paved the way for governments to become almost indistinguishable from administrative arms of corporations.
It is pathological politics that lives by its own circular logic. Attempts to engage it with facts and logic are quickly countered with an Escher-like road around any sense of sound reason. Logical premises fly out the window and a bizarro world of normalizing the absurd ensues.
Just as the Christian right demands that creationism be taught alongside evolution, as though the two things deserve equal billing, Dark Politics routinely demands that equivalencies be made where no equivalency exists.
Dark Politics demands that corporate psychopathy be treated, and often with even less criticism, as organizations that desire to better society for all of us and our planet. It expects that under the guise of “balance” a far right radical should be viewed through the very same lens as a slightly left leaning moderate.
Only it is the moderate who ends up being labeled as some anti-business spend-happy job killing socialist. It demands that the likes of Sun TV be regarded as equally deserving of the public trust as the CBC. In this altered state, America’s Fox News portrays itself as a “real” and balanced voice in a liberal media conspiracy.
With the rise of economic neoliberalism and the Dark Politics that came with it, certain ideas took hold that became increasingly pervasive and practically invisible.
Ideas such as the notion that the role of government should be increasingly inched towards the ultimate goal of doing little more than reducing taxes while begrudgingly still paying for things like the military and a few other “essential” services. That government should largely divorce itself from civic engagement or from acting as an equalizing mechanism. From fulfilling the collective will of the people.
Governments that continued the role they had for generations, even if they had balanced books, were labelled “tax-and-spend liberals.” Meanwhile governments that cut services and turned surpluses into debt laid claim to being the fiscally responsible choice.
It was within this ideology that Rob Ford achieved his support. He would be the cost cutter — cutting taxes, cutting government, taking care of your money. Don’t look over there at the broader picture of multi-billion dollar multinationals getting billions in subsidies and tax breaks, look instead at how much money those lazy union protected city workers are getting! Don’t peel back the curtain on what goes on with developments in Toronto, look at the “gravy” of municipal programs for the poor.
In spite of what can only be described as “off-the-rails” behaviour of Tea Party style politicians: the crazy antics, hypocrisy and spectacle that so many Tea Party style politicians display — Ford included — the ideas behind Dark Politics nevertheless persist.
As though the very side-tracking with all the political entertainment allowed these ideas to sneak past the radar. To sit undetected in people’s brains, while we looked away at the three ring circus. Move the goalposts so far to the right so that less fringe ideas seem normal and rational in comparison.
It is politics that strays ever further from fact, evidence, reason, science and especially from empathy and compassion. It is contemptuous of these things even.
Ford was an ideal candidate for Dark Politics. His populist “everyman” persona — in spite of being a member of the 1% — meant he was successfully able to co-opt the very type of citizen that is most harmed by Dark Politics. Inspire their loyalty even. His personal failings were excused and separated from his politics and his policies. His short comings actually appeared to aid pushing through his agenda. A Dark Politics agenda that always supports increasing inequality.
But Rob Ford’s personal conduct should not be separated from his politics. His personal conduct displays a lack of empathy and a sense of entitlement and so does his politics. And he certainly didn’t rise to the office of Mayor alone. He had many backers right there with him. Enabling him all the way.
Ford’s conduct is the politics of entitlement taken to an extreme. His addiction problems simply highlight how far you can go before you cross a line with a core segment of political and public supporters who are believers.
Whatever Ford does, no matter how out there it is, he has thus far managed to elude normal consequences. And as far as Ford Nation sees it, if anyone attempts to hold him accountable then they are the ones victimizing him.
Rob Ford may seem to be an anomaly — an outrageous example of a politician gone off the rails, but he is in fact an example of what Dark Politics allows in. Ford also demonstrates how far afield things have moved.
Even though most of his political supporters have now jumped ship, they do not seem to be taking any issue with the politics that brought someone like Ford to power in the first place.
Ford was a clear and obvious liar before he was ever elected as Mayor. He clearly had substance abuse issues before he was elected. But the right didn’t care. They supported his views, enabled him and aided his rise to power because ideology always trumps everything else in political extremes, whether it’s right or left. He was on the winning side, so he had eager members to join his gang and overlook or be in denial about his obvious short comings.
Now they divorce themselves from his antics and try to claim that his character is no reflection on their ideology. But it is profoundly a reflection of their ideology. For it was this ideology that gave them their willful blindness in the first place. Because there were plenty of others who could see Rob Ford for what he was right out of the gate.
We must not lose sight of the political darkness that Ford represents. Rob Ford should be an indictment of radical right-wing politics in Canada. The Tea Party and what it has wrought, should be an indictment of radical right wing politics in the United States.
How far must things go before the public starts to wake up to the political lies they have been sold?
Rob Ford is not a champion of the little guy. The little guy is never what politics for the rich and by the rich is about. The Rob Ford sideshow is merely Dark Politics accidentally showing its hand in ushering in a dark age of the decline of reason and social responsibility for government, business and citizens alike.
Heather Morgan is a writer and musician living in Toronto. She tweets @HeatherMoandCo
Illustration by Arlene Bishop