At least Rob Ford couldn’t start a war,

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - Ed­ward Keenan

Watch­ing help­lessly from Toronto as this strange and sav­age U.S. elec­tion cam­paign un­folds, it’s near im­pos­si­ble to avoid a sense of déjà vu. Ev­ery time Don­ald Trump opens his mouth, or ev­ery time a poll shows him hold­ing or surg­ing after yet an­other scan­dalous episode that would have ru­ined any con­ven­tional can­di­date, you feel it: we’ve seen this movie be­fore.

There are sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences be­tween Trump and late Toronto mayor Rob Ford, ob­vi­ously: Trump is far richer and prone to os­ten­ta­tious dis­plays of car­toon­ishly poor taste, while a black Cadil­lac SUV given to him by his broth­ers is as show-offy as Ford ever got. Ford had a com­mon touch and gen­uine love for re­tail face-to-face con­stituent ser­vice that Trump shows no ev­i­dence of even pre­tend­ing to. Ford suf­fered very sadly and fa­mously from ad­dic­tion prob­lems of a kind that are ap­par­ently not among Trump’s long list of vices. And for all the dis­plays of obliv­i­ous racism, sex­ism and ho­mo­pho­bia Ford forced Toronto to en­dure, he never whipped up open, white na­tion­al­ist racism quite so proudly and trans­par­ently as Trump has.

But oh, the sim­i­lar­i­ties: the wealthy son of a wealthy man who some­how suc­cess­fully presents him­self as the avatar of the down­trod­den; the war against the main­stream me­dia and the burn-it-all­down flame-throw­ing at vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one, left and right, in the es­tab­lished sys­tem; the ap­par­ently patho­log­i­cal habit of say­ing un­true things — even small, eas­ily checked, seem­ingly ir­rel­e­vant things — and of hav­ing those er­rors and lies fact-checked by the Star’s Daniel Dale. And you have both men, de­spite their long, ob­vi­ous records of dis­hon­esty, wield­ing rep­u­ta­tions among sup­port­ers as bold truth-tell­ers, for the ap­par­ently sim­ple rea­son that they fre­quently say vul­gar and of­fen­sive things, ex­press out loud the usu­ally ver­boten id of the elec­torate.

It has been called “authen­tic­ity” in both men, but it is pre­cisely their dis­re­gard for fac­tual pre­ci­sion that is be­ing la­belled by the word: This is cor­rup­tion and skul­dug­gery! These Ori­en­tals are tak­ing over! She should go to jail! We should ban refugees! Those im­mi­grants are rapists! The con­stituency for this stuff does not give a crap to check the foot­noted sources or parse its lit­eral ac­cu­racy, they see truth in the wild howl of re­sent­ment, ex­pressed plainly and force­fully.

With both Trump and Ford, there’s the bel­liger­ent in­dif­fer­ence to the vi­a­bil­ity of pro­pos­als or any pol­icy nu­ance or the po­ten­tial con­se­quences of ig­no­rantly think­ing out loud. The con­tempt for ex­per­tise. The hos­til­ity not just to stuffy pro­to­col, but to the ba­sic in­sti­tu­tions and prac­tices that gov­ern and pro­tect the in­tegrity of the demo­cratic sys­tem. The pet­ti­ness, the seem­ing in­abil­ity to re­sist im­pul­sively lash­ing out, the in­sis­tent black-and-white di­vid­ing of society into us and them. The sim­i­lar­ity be­tween the two men’s po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tives even ex­tends to un­ex­pected pub­lic ut­ter­ances of a crude fe­line syn­onym for fe­male gen­i­talia that forced a rare apol­ogy and seemed to be a straw that would break the back of pub­lic sup­port.

And here is where peo­ple in Toronto could be the voice of ex­pe­ri­ence, hav­ing learned that such a thing would never cause pub­lic sup­port to crum­ble.

Cer­tainly, prom­i­nent politi­cians and civic lead­ers would back away and con­demn, but that only causes the diehard reg­u­lar folks to dig in their heels, con­vinced all the more that their man is be­ing per­se­cuted by a rigged sys­tem. And even­tu­ally, the en­durance of the grass­roots fer­vour draws the politi­cos back to­ward the fold, like flies un­able to re­sist the al­lure of a dung heap. And soon, the bad crazi­ness seems nor­mal — in­deed it has be­come nor­mal.

What hap­pened in Toronto is that you had this fig­ure who was so si­multa- neously com­pelling and un­pre­dictable — so bizarrely dra­matic a char­ac­ter — that you could not stop watch­ing or talk­ing about him, and yet also a man so fun­da­men­tally and uniquely un­suited to the job at hand that all other po­lit­i­cal de­bate seemed to be­come of rel­a­tively low im­por­tance. His ten­dency to make ev­ery­thing a re­flec­tion of him­self be­came a univer­sally shared trait, and sud­denly the only is­sue, in the eyes of sup­port­ers and op­po­nents alike, be­came with-hi­mor-against-him.

Much the same, al­ready, has be­come the case with Trump. See tra­di­tional con­ser­va­tives such as David Frum and pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush ex­press­ing the in­ten­tion to vote for Hil­lary Clin­ton. Be­cause when your op­po­nent is a nar­cis­sis­tic au­thor­i­tar­ian who might con­ceiv­ably ir­repara­bly dam­age the en­tire in­sti­tu­tion of con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy in your coun­try, your dif­fer­ences of opin­ion on vir­tu­ally ev­ery pol­icy is­sue seem in­signif­i­cant by com­par­i­son.

It has been called “authen­tic­ity” in both men, but it is pre­cisely their dis­re­gard for fac­tual pre­ci­sion that is be­ing la­belled by the word

And here’s where the par­al­lels end: the stakes. The sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Ford and Trump lead to the feel­ing that maybe a story that played out first as farce might re­peat as tragedy. Or maybe not tragedy, maybe apoc­a­lyp­tic hor­ror.

Be­cause while there was gen­uine per­sonal pain and sad­ness in Ford’s story, and his pol­i­tics had se­ri­ous con­se­quences for many peo­ple in Toronto, he was ul­ti­mately just the mayor of a city — and a city where the mayor wields lit­tle uni­lat­eral power, at that.

The pres­i­dent of the United States, how­ever, con­trols a nu­clear arse­nal, can spark over­seas wars or stock mar­ket crashes with a poorly cho­sen turn of phrase, can tram­ple a lot of do­mes­tic lib­erty be­fore en­coun­ter­ing checks on his au­thor­ity — and this po­ten­tial pres­i­dent has a lot of sup­port­ers who are heav­ily armed, a lot who are openly racist, a lot who seem to be ea­ger enough to make the phrase “cul­ture war” a lit­eral one.

It’s not that Trump would cer­tainly im­pose an au­thor­i­tar­ian state or spark a world war so much as that it is con­ceiv­able that he could — and could be in­clined to try.

With Ford, you could hope to rally and wait and or­ga­nize. And from Toronto, you could pre­pare to vote for some­one — any­one — else. For those of us watch­ing Trump from afar, that is not even an op­tion. If he is elected, we can only stock up on canned goods, start digging a bomb shel­ter and pray.

Don­ald Trump and Rob Ford share a bel­liger­ent in­dif­fer­ence to pol­icy nu­ance, Ed­ward Keenan writes.

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