White, rich and male: Rob Ford’s a Triple Threat

26 Nov

Today, Torontonians found out that their official clown, Rob Ford, broke the law and will probably lose his position as mayor.

For many of us who aren’t used to seeing the law applied to people in power, the announcement is a confusing victory. On one hand, the democratic will of the city’s last election has been tossed out. However, a judge determined that the crime warranted the strict application of the law, which means we’ll all have to find another jester to occupy us online, between one soul-crushing defeat for progress after another.

Rob Ford is a symbol, not a mayor. He’s the physical manifestation of how disorganized is Toronto’s left, how broken are electoral politics and how easy it can be to ignore journalists (and probably some good advice) and still manage to find favour among a certain group of Torontonians.

Or, to put it another way…

Toronto’s left needs to work out the deep divisions that exist and create new, grassroots organizing models that will help to unite the suburbs with the core to build a better city that meets everyone’s needs.

Toronto needs to change its electoral system to allow for a more accurate representation of the will of the electorate.

We all need to examine the role of the press in defending and upholding democracy and apply this to journalistic coverage of all levels of politics.

But, aside from these important lessons, there’s a larger lesson to be learned.

Being a white, rich man is still a really sweet gig.

Rob Ford got away with his outrageous shenanigans for reasons no more important than his skin colour, his gender and his wealth.

Many, many people have tallied the long list of outtakes, from the DUI in Florida, advising someone to buy street Oxy-Contin, kicking riders off a TTC bus to chauffeur his football team, driving while reading, giving a woman the finger while driving, saying that cyclists deserve to be killed if they choose to cycle, and on and on and on, and they ask how was it that Ford could get away with such a laundry list of outrageous events.

Ford has been isolated by his privilege. The stature that comes with the office of mayor plus his constant air of entitlement has made him untouchable. Throw in the obligatory “poor me” sentiment once in awhile and a tornado of factors are present that had left him nearly unscathed. A second term still isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

The only unfortunate aspect of this decision is that rather than having Ford face the electors to atone for his sins, his Gravy Train is ending early, by the decision of a judge. But then again, Ford will remain shielded by his privilege in any future election.

Today, Ford got what he deserved.

However, though it’s fun to make fun of Rob Ford (and, it is totally fun. I had that .gif open on my computer for two whole days) reducing him to a caricature hides the reality that his entire circus has been made possible because of our oppressive system. Rob Ford has only been able to persist because some people are considered more appropriate than others to be mayor; that some people are considered to be more deserving of attention, high wages or honour; that some people are privileged with the benefit of the doubt; and that while some people can do no harm, others can’t catch a break.

Unfortunately, reducing this lump of a human into such terms obscures this reality. Many of us watched the Gravy-Train-Wreck with horror and bemusement. But, at this juncture, I think it’s important to recalibrate our analysis both for what it means for progressives who live in Toronto and for how it fits into a broader context.

For progressives, this victory must be celebrated but also used as an opportunity to re-group and build.

In the broader context, my guess is that Ford, with all his power, privilege and wealth will be made into a martyr.

And this martyrdom will come at a time where there’s been a clear rise in the rhetoric supporting so-called men’s rights. From a recent lecture at U of T on men’s oppression to Fox News specials, the ousting of Rob Ford by “the man ” (a.k.a. a judge) fits perfectly into the rhetoric of the oppressed man.

Ford and his supporters will be pushing this line through the appeal of his case right to the next by-election (or election) that Ford can run in. Because of this, activists are going to have to cut through rhetoric, draw the connections between Ford and oppression and demonstrate what forces really are at play.

The entitlement of Rob Ford (even identified today by the judge) is what makes him powerful. He’s not interested in criticism, facts or even doing a good job. Like a child who’s just heard “no” for the first time, the tantrum that we’re about to witness is going to be fierce.

He’s a bull in a china shop and Torontonians are various types of delicate, fine china.

Progressives need to show him the door before anything else ends up smashed.

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