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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Right's perilous denial of reality: Rob Ford and anti-democratic fictions

Photo: flickr/ashtonpal

Two weeks on and Toronto's ever evolving "crackgate" scandal seems to show no signs of going away as daily revelations alternately stun and bemuse Torontonians, Canadians and, to a degree, the international press. It has been almost surreal in its absurdity and in the spectacle of such things as city hall security guards escorting a mayor's aide to the bathroom, Doug Ford holding press conferences to allow his brother to sneak out the back door of city hall, and so on.

A comprehensive outline of developments was put together by a Toronto weekly, The Grid, though this excludes the latest days of news, such as the assertion by the Toronto Star that Ford, who has claimed no video exists, told his staff he knew where it was, as well as news that two more staffers in the mayor's office have resigned.

From the first allegation of Rob Ford smoking crack with drug dealers, to the Globe and Mail expose of Doug Ford as an alleged former major hash dealer and their portrayal of the Fords as a wealthy, white supremacist befriending, violence prone, drug dealing Soprano-style family, it is an astounding tale. Given the mayor and his brother's rabidly pro-police, "law-and-order" stances it would seem that the city of Toronto is run by people who truly redefine right-wing populist "tough on crime" conservatism.

The Fords, with typical bullying instincts, have either denied everything or failed to actually answer allegations. As has been their narrative from the beginning of their political career, they have portrayed their opponents and critics, especially in the media, as a coalition of downtown "elites" and public sector workers and unions or as somehow beholden to them.

Attempting to include John Stackhouse and the business newspaper the Globe and Mail in this grand pro-labour conspiracy, as Doug Ford did in TV news interviews, truly qualifies it for entry as one of the dumbest and least believable conspiracy theories ever put forward; on par with David Icke's contention that Reptilian lizard people control the world's governments. The mayor's farcical attempts to claim that his aides (four to date) are all quitting because his office was simply a stepping stone to better things and that they in no way indicate that anything might be wrong at city hall are also humourously delusional.

Ford's allies on council and more broadly are trying to distance themselves from the mayor and the clear absurdity of many of his and his brother's actions and claims. But even here the connection to reality is often tenuous. The Deputy Mayor, Doug Holyday, for example, stated the obvious and agreed that a video of Ford smoking crack exists, but held out hope that it was all a fabrication by some apparently highly skilled drug dealing cinematographers and film editors. Meanwhile Ontario Tory House Leader Jim Wilson, in distancing the once enthusiastic Hudak Conservatives from the idea of Doug Ford running in Etobicoke North in the next provincial election, soared to new levels of denial inanity when he acted like he barely even knew who Doug Ford was, stating "I don't even know the guy ... personally I've never even met him." I am sure Tim Hudak wishes he could even attempt to say the same.

But the whole Ford agenda and narrative, quite apart from this latest scandal, has been a dangerous fantasy from the start and was even before they were elected. The notion that the city government could cut taxes but increase spending on infrastructure and build things like subways, all by eliminating the supposedly wasteful government "gravy train", by privatization, and by beating down the unions was obviously a fiction in 2010, when they got elected on the basis of it as a platform, and it has proven itself as such. Now the Fords are reduced to making claims about an allegedly impressive "fiscal record" in office that reporters such as Metro's Matt Elliott, among others, have fairly effectively demolished.

And the Fords are not at all alone on the right in indulging in wholesale and profoundly socially and economically damaging denial of reality. It is, in fact, the right's new normal in this country and more broadly.

From the spectacular failure of what Paul Krugman has described as "the austerity delusion" that is still widely accepted as economic gospel by right wingers like Ontario's Tim Hudak, to the truly environmentally suicidal attempts to either deny climate change or the seriousness of its implications by the Harper government, the right has completely embraced  false and destructive narratives. They have over the last quarter century created a new populism around lies about supposedly entitled welfare recipients milking the system, and nonsensical assertions about "special interests" and "powerful unions" and so on. In doing so, they attempt to turn the actual power relations in our society on their head, and assert that it is workers and the poor who are lazy, exploit the system, live off of the labour of others, shirk work, have politicians and "big government" in their pocket, etc., as opposed to those who actually indulge and benefit most in such patterns of behaviour and power: corporations and the wealthy.

They have been very successful in changing the discourse so that, for example, many in the media will talk about unions and corporations as if they have equal social, political and even financial clout and political power, a clearly false assertion. When faced with the fight and struggle of women, native people, marginalized communities and others for equality and justice they retreat to cries of "reverse racism" or "reverse sexism" to attempt to claim that it is actually those who have benefited for centuries from colonialism, racism and patriarchy who are now the "oppressed". This results in simply idiotic notions such as those that "men's issues" exist at all independently of race or class, or that white people are being disadvantaged by no longer being automatically granted the superior social statuses and outcomes that they were as a group in the past.

These ideas are ugly and angry and often succeed in enlisting those who have been left behind or who constantly face destitution due to the economics of the neo-liberal era. Further, they thrive on this anger and an increasingly extreme and vitriolic partisanship for them to continue to exist for the very reason that they are false. In this same way they undermine democracy as they are not based on rational discourse at all. They depend on a constant assault and lashing out against their opponents and enemies, real or perceived, in order to maintain their appeal.

The right wing politicians, media and core base in Toronto knew full well that Rob Ford was a bigot with a nasty and violent past, that he lacked self-control and that his platform was pure fantasy before he was mayor and yet they embraced and helped to elect him anyway. That many of them are turning on him now is simply opportunistic, not principled.

Ultimately this is why the scandal continues to matter and is not simply a sad spectacle or a case of personal misconduct. It is both an epic tale of the right's fundamental hypocrisy and an indictment of its anti-democratic false narratives.

Photo: flickr/ashtonpal

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