As we watch the run up to the American election unfold south of the border we are reminded how divisive politics can be. We witnessed it here during the summer of 2015 in the lead up to our own federal election with the Tory attack ads against both Trudeau’s Liberals and Tom Mulcair’s NDP. Canadian Tories and American Republicans share a common view of human nature that privileges fear, hatred and self-interest over hope, possibility and the common good.
Trump’s populist appeal south of the border reminds us of the politics of Rob Ford and his Ford Nation. Both politicians created coalitions of unlikely partners fashioning themselves as the mouthpiece for their constituents. Ford who was mayor for the city of Toronto from 2010 until his ouster by John Tory in 2014 lost his battle with cancer on March 22nd. While it is sad that he died young at age 46, it is hard to write about someone who was so divisive in life. His political tenure as both mayor and councillor was built on an ego that viewed itself as an embattled everyman against an imaginary “elite”. Ford wore his politics on his sleeve and made everything personal. This idea appealed to those in Ford Nation who believed him, their working-class saviour, never mind that he came from a well heeled Toronto business family.
While those in Ford Nation viewed him as a hero, the little guy battling against taxes and an imagined “elite”, those who were on the receiving end of his divisive policies remember him as a bully and a tyrant. There is no doubt that he passionately believed what he preached but the politics of division, based on homophobia, misogyny and racism that is fanned and fostered by men like Ford and Trump, appeals because of its simplicity and has long lasting effects that linger after their political campaigns. They offer simple answers and solutions to complex situations pointing out scapegoats for the all the problems they believe they can solve. As we know municipal politics during Ford’s reign was more entertainment than actual governance. We remember his time in office because of his antics rather than anything he tried to accomplish.