Let’s go international this week, shall we?
A few days ago, Doug Ford won an election to become Premier of the province of Ontario, Canada. Premier is like Governor, and Ontario is like New York … if it were 1776, as in, if there were only 13 states. It’s important.
You may not have heard of Doug Ford, but you have probably heard of his brother Rob. Back in the first half of this decade, Rob Ford was the alcoholic, drug-using, racist Mayor of Toronto, and a popular butt of jokes on late-night television.
This was a guy who, while governing Canada’s largest city — and North America’s fourth largest — was caught on film smoking crack; a guy who, during an interview with national media, pondered giving oral sex to a female staffer; a noted drunk driver and the type of Mayor who smokes hash with prostitutes in his office; a guy who proclaimed, “I’m the most racist guy around.”
Rob Ford died in 2016. It was cancer, not “going out like Chris Farley,” as you may have expected.
With all due respect, it seems unusual, to the outside observer, that the good people of Ontario, having just washed their hands of the Rob Ford debacle, would elect his brother Doug to an even more important office.
At least Americans had the good sense to take a pass on Jeb(!) Bush two years ago. Of course, the alternative choice, The Donald, was not much better and probably worse. But good sense does have its limits. After all, passing on Jeb(!) was simply an application of the advice of George W.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice … you can’t be gettin’ fooled again!
Canadians seem to have missed this memo.
In reality, Doug Ford is more Donald Trump than Jeb Bush, and not just because of their vast family fortunes, their alleged criminal past, the racism which has swirled around their political careers, or even their unnaturally orange faces and off-yellow hair, their bumps in all the wrong places.
No, there is a deeper similarity.
How a politician campaigns is, for the most part, irrelevant to how they will govern. Whatever their platform or promises made, once in office they will govern beholden to the special interests that put them there. We aren’t children, we understand this.
There is something we can learn from how a politician campaigns, however. Not what they will do once in office, but what the people want them to do.
The promises they have no intention to keep are still a reflection of public desire.
Back in 2015/16, somewhat lost amidst the talk of racists and rapists, border walls and deplora-balls, was a different element to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign — an element which went beyond the populism of “drain the swamp.”
Trump railed against the “financial elite” and promised to turn the GOP into a “worker’s party.” Careful with the socialist lingo there big boy. As the “Fight for $15” raged on, he spoke constantly about “better wages,” and proclaimed, “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican.” He railed against never-ending involvement in far-off wars and rejected the corporate giveaway known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). On healthcare, he claimed, “we’re going to take care of people who are dying on the street” and have “insurance for everybody.” He proposed massive infrastructure investment, particularly in poor rural areas and inner cities.
If much of Trump’s campaign was a dog whistle to racists, then this portion was a dog whistle to who? …Poor people rolled under the wheels of oligarchy?
This is where the deeper similarity between Donald Trump and Doug Ford is reached.
The Ford Family of which Doug is a part — “The Canadian Kennedys,” as they like to call themselves — control a business and real estate empire stretching across North America, to say nothing of the political fiefdom they have overseen in Ontario for decades. Allegations of criminality, conflicts of interest, and cronyism have followed the brothers, Doug and Rob, throughout their political careers.
Despite these facts, Doug Ford campaigned for Premier much the same way Rob had campaigned for Mayor — as Ontario’s finest political scientists put it, by wooing a “working-class constituency” by being able to “articulate people’s anxieties about their economic struggles.” That is to say, by positioning himself as a champion of those crushed by the economic inequality… that would be the same economic inequality which has given “Ford Nation” (as they call it) so much power.
Ford launched his campaign by shouting out the grassroots and spoke constantly about “real folks” who are “struggling economically,” about “poor, homeless, and vulnerable people.” He made affordable housing a pillar of his platform. He proposed eliminating taxes on anyone making minimum wage. And so on…
Take a step back and examine what is happening here.
Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton, which should tell you all you need to know about public opinion toward moderates, by flipping states most decimated by corporate greed. We know how he wooed both open and closeted racists in those states, but for the rest of the people, there were campaign promises which sounded closer to Bernie Sanders than the Republican Party. Bernie, by the way, was (statistically) the most popular politician of the cycle, and he was saying some wild sh*t.
In Ontario, Doug Ford claimed leadership of the Conservative Party by defeating a group of more traditional conservatives, then proceeded to campaign in the general election using buzzwords like “poverty.” The Liberal Party, representing the Clinton-esque middle ground, suffered their worst result in the 150+ year history of the province. Second place instead went to the Democratic Socialist party. Even the Green Party captured their first seat ever.
The point is this:
People across North America are watching things get worse and worse. We do not need another laundry list of statistics on growing inequality and poverty to understand this.
What I bring to you is good news. Examining recent and ongoing political campaigns tells us what it is that people want, and, increasingly, it is neither militaristic, compassionless conservatism, nor “good as it gets” liberalism.
Moving toward the 2018 midterm elections we see this in the number of wildly progressive Democratic candidates challenging party orthodoxy — Berniecrats, you might call them. But we also see it in another way, through conservatives who have learned the lessons of Donald Trump and Doug Ford.
Much of the mainstream media narrative on Republicans heading towards the midterms has been about the oncoming rampage of the “deplorables” — candidates who are taking the darker part of Trump’s message and running with it.
Certainly, as in every election, there will be Republican candidates blowing their dog whistle, yelling about border walls, about crime and punishment, about Jesus and sending our young people across the world to die.
But, examine many of the closely contested races across the country and, more and more, you will find a different kind of Republican. That is not to say a Republican who, if elected, will act any differently, but rather who is speaking differently, speaking in a way that reveals public sentiment.
Consider GOP golden boy Josh Hawley, the current Attorney General in Missouri now running for Senate. The self-professed claim to fame of this Yale and Stanford educated lawyer is his “reputation for taking on the big and powerful to protect Missouri workers and families.” On the campaign trail, he is not afraid to recount times when he “battled” against “big business” and “the special interests.”
Consider Jim Renacci, running for Senate in Ohio, who has built his campaign around a tragic story of an auto plant shutting down in his hometown.
What about California Congressional candidate Young Kim, who speaks just as passionately about “investing in our schools,” as making sure “that those brought to this country as children without legal documentation are treated fairly and with compassion”?
Or how about Eddie Edwards, running for Senate in New Hampshire in proclaimed solidarity with those experiencing “the paycheck-to-paycheck struggle.” It is hard to tell what Edwards is more fervent about, “address[ing] the student loan crisis” or providing treatment rather than punishment to drug addicts, whom he calls “good people.”
Perhaps most comical is Kevin Nicholson, running for Senate in Wisconsin. He has been called “the Republican dream candidate” except for…you know…he used to be the president of the College Democrats of America.
There are many more, I assure you.
This is not about sniffing out more lies from Republican politicians. Rather it is about understanding, as the wave of public discontent continues to crest, what it is that people are really demanding.