A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece in this space about how Donald Trump was not Rob Ford, but to look at the situation a different way, perhaps the best thing the American voter can do is get Donald Trump out of their system, like Toronto did with Ford. The come out of nowhere election of Ford in 2010 surprised even the most skeptical of pundits; it floored the media and the political establishment that an unpolished, unpracticed populist with a simple message and a proclivity to stick his foot in his mouth would rise to the highest office in North America’s fourth largest city. On that basis, the comparisons between Trump and Ford are easy, and that’s why we know that the only way Americans are going to shake off the siren song of winning “yuge” is by seeing what four years under Trump looks like.
The seeming inevitability of Trump has all sorts of people scrambling to throw cold water on an electorate that’s positively lit up about “The Donald,” but everything they do to try and sink the frontrunner is failing miserably, so the question is why bother trying? “Black Lives Matter” erupt in protest, the crowd cheers as Trump nonchalantly says, “Get ’em outta here!” Confront voters with examples of times Trump took both sides of an issue, they wave it away explaining how he says what he means. The 2012 Presidential candidate has a press conference to denounce Trump, a couple of hours later Trump goes on TV himself and says that if he had told Mitt Romney to perform fellatio on him in 2012, the former Massachusetts Governor would have done it for Trump’s endorsement.
Within hours of saying that he could have made the previous Republican nominee for President “get on his knees” Trump told a national audience during a Fox News debate that he “guarantees” that there’s “no problem” with his male anatomy. You had to admire Trump’s restraint because it took Ford a matter of seconds to go from refuting a report that he had sexually harassed a staff member to defending himself by inferring that he gets too much, let’s call it “loving”, from his own wife for him to want to seek it out elsewhere. But it’s easy to match Trump and Ford tit for tat – so to speak – in terms of the X-rated things they say and have said, the basis for their appeal though is simplicity. A variation on the old self-improvement hack “if you can see it, you can be it.”
As noted in Robyn Doolittle’s book Crazy Town, in his days as a councillor, before his run for mayor, Ford’s pre-occupations could be organized into four things: cutting office budgets, eliminating council perks, stopping community grants, and “firing the people in charge of watering the plants in city buildings.” She added, “In Rob Ford’s perfect world, a city should have well-maintained roads free of cyclists, streetcars, and gridlock; running water; working lights; punctual, privately operated garbage collection; a well-staffed police service; and as few taxes as possible.” Simplicity, was the message, just as Trump’s comes down to building a wall along the Mexico border, defeating ISIS, bringing jobs back from China and Japan, and winning.
Hearing Trump talk about, well, any subject, his policy comes down to a simple two-step plan: 1) acknowledge that America presently is on the wrong side of an issue, and 2) elect Trump to make sure America emerges victorious. The wall, in particular, is a strong example of Trump’s two-step initiative: illegal immigration from Mexico is choking America, so Trump, as President, will build a wall along the border and make Mexico pay for it. How President Trump will make a sovereign country pay for a project worth hundreds of millions of dollars that they didn’t ask for is never explained. On top of that, illegal immigration from Mexico in the U.S. has technically been net-zero for years, the exact size of the wall fluctuates depending on the candidate’s mood, and actual engineers have said repeatedly that the construction of a 1,900 mile long wall is “implausible.” So doesn’t Trump’s wall sound a bit like another infrastructure project you can think of? For what is “the wall” but Trump’s version of “Subways, subways, subways!”
Remember that refrain? In 2013, Rob Ford decided that the seven stop LRT proposed for Scarborough should be scrapped in favour of a three stop subway. Forget the fact that no planning had been done on the subway, no funding arranged, and that the City of Toronto was already paying the price – literally – for pulling the plug on the Transit City plan, in Ford’s mind, this made sense, and he repeated himself till all levels of government agreed if only in the cynical expectation to ride Ford’s populist coattails. In 2014, Rob, and later his brother Doug, ran on having accomplished the Scarborough subway despite the fact that they had to implement a 0.5 per cent property tax levy to make it viable, and not one shovel had been put in the ground because a great many approvals and inspections had to be completed first. Did Ford Nation turn on their mayor for selling them what was, in essence, a bag of magic beans? Of course not.
What slays is that there’s actually some policy behind Trump, you just have to go to his website to see it. The latest is a healthcare policy that, despite the idea of cancelling the Affordable Care Act (AKA: Obamacare), actually has some practical ideas like allowing for interstate competition between insurance companies and creating ways to allow cheaper drugs to be sold. On the stump though, Trump says “I would end Obamacare and replace it with something terrific, for far less money for the country and for the people,” and that’s all there is to it. Making “something terrific” out of healthcare policy is relatively easy though. American healthcare policy only affects Americans as opposed to say, trade agreements with foreign counties, which Trump also talks about in overly simplistic terms. “I’m going to rip up those trade deals and we’re going to make really good ones,” he said during a campaign stop in Portland, Maine on Thursday. He then added, “We will actually have better relationships with Mexico and better relationships with China, they’ll respect us.” Presumably, nothing says “respect” like acting unilaterally.
Trump’s plan of magic and wonder regarding trade relationships is about as likely to work out as Ford’s subway plan. Still, it’s worth noting that Ford’s initial time in office saw political success with the establishment of the TTC as an essential service, a one year tax freeze, and a new agreement with CUPE workers that saw Ford win five more years before city employees reached the “job for life” threshold. You may not agree with those policies, but he enjoyed successes, but then, whether it was because of his combative style turning colleagues against him, or because of the growing spectre of drug and alcohol abuse, or some combination there in, the Ford agenda ground to a halt. All anyone remembers of the Rob Ford years now is the scandal, and a politician known more for his knack repeating policy goals than enacting actual policy.
On the Ford/Trump comparison Toronto Star columnist Edward Keenan wrote, “[W]e’ve seen in Toronto where the trainwreck politics of showbiz get you: years of constant distraction and outrage, the grinding to a halt of necessary and urgent business and a scorched-earth political scene in which fear of a return to the clownshow causes other politicians to adopt the clownshow policies.” To wit, we see Florida Senator Marco Rubio, once seen as the bright and shiny protege of the American right, only gaining political traction when he too starts doing more mocking than talking, and starts doing more a stand-up routine than a policy speech. And meanwhile, like Ford, the more Trump greets controversy, the more people flock to his side.
In spite of everything, after four years, Ford still had his supporters, but it’s noteworthy that Ford support did absolutely nothing for Stephen Harper last fall. That may have had more to do with Harper than Ford, but it did suggest that the sheen of the Ford dynasty isn’t as luminescent as it once was. Despite his ongoing health issues, Ford persists that he will be back to run for the mayoralty in 2018, but the hangover of four Ford years, and his own absence have made people realize just how much couldn’t get done while Ford was in office, and in the end, it seems that the worst that can be said about John Tory in his year-and-a-half as Mayor of Toronto so far is that he’s played it too safe. Either way, no one’s protesting for Ford’s return.
As the old saying goes, the only way out is through. True, the Republican establishment, if they exist, can use dicey delegate math to stop Trump at the convention, or they can let the nomination play through and see the relatively good chance of Trump’s defeat against a Democratic rival, but the forces behind them will be as strong as ever. At this point, despite the failed businesses, the rude language, the barrage of insults and half-truths, the lack of substance, and the casual racism, the only way to get people to understand the true harm of President Trump may be to let them live under him.