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“Rob has street cred that they can realte to. He takes no guff from anybody. He explodes in angry rants. He is not afraid of the police. Everybody picks on him. He’s one of us. And he tells us so. We so want to believe.”
– Someone on Facebook.
I lifted the above from NoFordNation’s Facebook page. It is the opinion of one random Torontonian; a response to a NOW article that asked “why do black people support Rob Ford?”, which is in itself a wrongheaded political question. Nevertheless, it illuminates a significant part of the Ford attraction and will help me describe what I think drives people to support him.
The following is an in depth examination of a random person’s Facebook activity, stop now if that’s too much for you.
“Rob has street cred”
Notice first that she refers to him as Rob, not Mayor Ford, or Ford, or even Rob Ford. First name only, like an old friend. This is subtle proof of the type of public appeal Rob Ford has: populist and apolitical. People don’t like Ford because of his ideas (he has seemingly so few to offer), they like him because he seems like a nice guy, who they can “realte” to.
“He’s one of us”
One of who I wonder? Who is “us”? When Karen Stintz stupidly tried to relate to the voters of Toronto by tweeting, “I am like you. I have a mortgage, kids, one car, and soccer games. Lets make it better.” she was skewered for being so out of touch. As one Twitter user responded, “FINALLY someone to look out for the upper middle class” STINTZ 2014”.
Why though does Rob Ford’s populist, everyman persona not come off as being equally empty? Does no one else ruminate on the fact that Ford grew up in Etobicoke, that his father owned a multi-million dollar business, and was later a provincial politician? For whom is this normalcy? Who looks at that description and says “yes, us”? Surely not most of the Ford supporters who showed up at Ford Fest at Thomson Memorial Park in Scarborough.
“He takes no guff from anybody”
This quality of Rob Ford’s I find particularly troublesome. To his supporters he’s a survivor who can come through any attack, any scandal, and through pure strength of character, persevere. To me he is a spoiled ne’er-do-well who flatly refuses to accept responsibility for his actions. Have we forgotten for how long Ford plainly denied using crack cocaine, drinking excessively, or partaking in any conduct unbefitting his office? He called all his accusers liars and worse, then, when he was finally cornered, his initial excuse was “you didn’t ask the right question”. This was not, as my chosen Facebooker would claim, “taking no guff” – it was horrifying irresponsibility.
Explaining this cognitive dissonance is not easy. The only way I can begin to try is by, once more, using this anonymous member of Ford Nation’s own words,
“We so want to believe”
By my own estimation, a more telling admission there has never been. It is the need for belief, the need to be a part of something that seems to drive not only the Ford movement, but all populist movements. This line of thinking is not unlike the Tea Party movement in America, or the countless first year communists I knew in university, reaching for the first thing they can use to explain the world around them, to give them perspective, to put them at ease. And when someone comes along and loudly confirms your belief, it makes it near impossible to hear anything else.
This belief extends to the point where “he goes on angry rants” is suddenly a compliment, something endearing about his character. Suddenly crack use, possible gang affiliation, public drunkenness, consistent disregard for the rules of his office and petty homophobia – none of that matters. It’s the belief and the belief itself that matters, and unfortunately, belief is not a truly intellectual process any more than guessing is. It’s a reflex. It’s the step before thought. It’s the stage before truth.
Consider for a moment the scariest part of her sentence. It is not the belief part, it’s the part before: “we so want to believe”. There’s something inherently desperate about that thought. The want is so powerful that no amount of evidence to the contrary can undo it. In other words, for the rest of “us”, those without a passport to Ford Nation, we might be out of luck. Totally helpless against the tide of emboldened ignorance that swells before us. Tory and Chow, may God have mercy on your souls.
By Jesse B