ROB FORD, henceforth the pro forma Mayor of Toronto, delivered a short statement just before Toronto city council moved to deplete his staff, privileges, budget and authority. After a brief introductory flourish, congratulating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for their recent victory, came a patchwork of personal anecdote, Bible verse and self-justification lumped together in an effort to discredit Ford’s fellow municipal councillors. His closing was of special note, striking as is so often the case with a Ford self-defence that irritating mixture of self-pity and belligerent menace:
This, folks, reminds me of when I was watching with my brother when Saddam attacked Kuwait and President Bush said, I warn you, I warn you, I warn you, do not. Well, folks, if you think American-style politics is nasty, you guys have just attacked Kuwait. And you will never, you will never see something that you have — mark my words, friends, this is going to be outright war in the next election and I’m going to do everything in my power, everything in my power to beat you guys. What you’re doing to me is kicking me out of my office … And it is absolutely the worst thing you can do for democracy and the City of Toronto. What goes around comes around, friends. Remember what I’m saying.
The Ford brand, or perhaps one should say the shreds of it that remain, now survives on a life support system nourished by the junk energy of media celebrity and notoriety, merchandising and false populism. It is anyone’s guess how many of those who line up for a Ford autograph and to buy a bobble head doll do so out of genuine solidarity with the man and his message or to get a piece of the infamy. In either case, the Ford brothers are our latest evidence on behalf of the proposition that there is no bad publicity. Each fresh disgrace brings the rewards of media appearances and merchandise, including a sympathetic program predictably called “Ford Nation,” hosted by Sun News Network. Now liberated from his powers, Rob Ford will doubtless have the time and incentive to inaugurate the nasty campaign he has over and again sworn he’ll deliver.
The invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein was not a coup d’état, as Rob Ford suggested, but an instance of attempted plunder propelled by irredentism, greed and bogus pan-Arabism. The mayor was not elected on the account of his subtlety, to be sure, but what’s so wrong with holding out for a public figure possessing at least enough brains to give a proper example of the phrase coup d’état? The Fords are weak not only in the intellectual department, but in the moral, emotional and accountability departments as well. One has to be a fool to go on believing them, and more of a fool to persist in believing in them.
For this reason, exhausted by the whole circus though I am I can nonetheless summon a residual pity for the mayor, who exhibits both mental and emotional unwellness and who I suspect is not entirely in control of himself: but I have no sympathy, and no kind feeling, for those who remain unreflective and uncritical citizens of Ford Nation. They are engaged in a corrosive and cynical bargain, exchanging the principles and standards of professional civic life for cheap slogans and empty postures. The mayor appears to believe that he is like everyone else, and that he should be held only to the base standard of universal debauchery. It is self-contempt to co-operate with him in this effort. Those who remain of his nation inhabit the gutter of politics.
Elitism is a defensible and even laudable principle, and we could use more of it. In the doctrine of some Christian sects, the elect are the chosen ones. In a democratic society, they are the elected. And in a meritocracy, the elite are, in theory at least, the best. Latent within the word elite is the notion of excellence, the pursuit and attainment of the highest standard. Elite is a term that can refer to an Olympic athlete or a master craftsperson or any person who strives after the highest attainments of human potential.
It can also refer to a privileged few elites who occupy unearned and undeserved positions of political, media and business power. Contempt for such people has produced the seductive mythology of an ordinary person’s mayor, whose character is defined by the things he will not do, is against, and doesn’t want. And today’s Rob Ford is an amalgam of both: he is a man of privilege who no longer deserves to be mayor – but since he’s a negation of values, of civic culture and of the entire political system, he’s praised by folks who claim (wrongly) to comprehend the elitism and elites he is supposedly against.
What does it mean that so many ‘ordinary’ people see themselves reflected in this particular mayor? The common person’s struggle, as I’ve always understood it, is to make excellence available to, and to place it in the service of, Folks Like Us: excellence for the mechanic, for the waitress, for the taxi driver, for the self-employed. A for-real working person’s mayor would rise before dawn and turn in late to make the city, as far as is humanly possible, ever more livable and affordable for the people of Toronto. He or she would be a mayor of sinew and imagination and principle and self-possession and dignity – not a spoiled half-assing prevaricating and undisciplined oaf who thinks loving Toronto is enough to earn his undying admiration.
As well as one can, John Moore has argued the hollowness of the Ford brothers’ fiscal claims in his article “Rob Ford never was ‘Rob Ford.'” Too bad that it won’t make any difference this late in the game. The voters made a mistake, and to err is human. But to be an uncritical Ford supporter at this date is to be an unserious person, filled with self-contempt and self-defeat and self-delusion. The trusted inner circle with whom the mayor has surrounded himself do not merely like having a good time, as Ford’s apologists claim. They are petty criminals, thugs, addicts and dealers, in some cases convicted of crimes including assaulting women. Their loyalty to the mayor is easily explained by the access to perks that he has provided. The remnants of Ford Nation have only their empty political worldview to explain a willful complicity. Today Rob Ford has promised an ugly battle, and I hope he gets it.