Home > Current Affairs, Navel-Gazing, Politics > “Everyone Expects Me To Be”: An Existential Lament from Rob Ford

“Everyone Expects Me To Be”: An Existential Lament from Rob Ford

Every time I write something about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, I swear it simply must be the last time. Few would have expected that the man and his erratic, controversial actions could prove to be such a fruitful, tenacious subject of discussion. For a figure whose view of the world is so simple, whose motivations and psychology appear so entirely self-evident, Ford has proven to be a portal to access deeper social and political issues in Toronto, Canada, North America, and the West in general. This seems to be why critical analysts and opinion writers can’t quit Robert Bruce Ford, can’t seem to shake this bad habit of a subject. He’s like a drug.

But what’s even more like a drug is the drugs. Namely: crack cocaine, which a now-notorious (and still unconfirmed) video taken by an anonymous Somali-Canadian drug dealer from Etobicoke allegedly shows Mayor Ford smoking from a pipe. First reported on by a writer for American snark-oriented news site Gawker and very soon after corroborated by the Toronto Star (the Ahab to Ford’s elusive White Whale), the tantalizingly unsubstantiated cell phone video is the subject of much public and press speculation, a brusque dismissal (but not a full denial) from Ford and his brother Doug, and a “Crackstarter” fundraiser project at Gawker which seeks to raise $200,000 (the drug dealer’s supposed asking price) in donations to purchase the video’s rights in order to exhibit it to the world. The story has spread to the American media, may have contributed to Ford’s removal as head coach of a local high school football team (though the school board claimed to have been reviewing his tenure since March), and has (possibly) led to the dismissal of his chief of staff.

I certainly hope that is an Arizona Iced Tea in your right hand, young man.

But my interest is not in the ins and outs of this latest Ford scandal, yet another movement of the continuous, aggressive paso doble between his conspiracy-spinning defenders on the right and the relentless critics on the left hoping for his ouster. One moment, one alleged quotation from Ford in the infamous video as described in the Star, caught my attention and suggested previously unsounded depths to Rob Ford. I don’t mean when he apparently referred to Justin Trudeau as “a faggot” or to his football players as “just fucking minorities”. I mean this described instance of apparent introspection, doubt, and self-analysis:

“Everyone expects me to be right-wing. I’m just supposed to be this great.…” and his voice trails off.

We cannot be certain until the video is confirmed to be real and actually viewed, but if Ford did “mutter” these words, how can we understand them except as a sort of existential cry for aid? Is Ford voicing his own self-awareness, his knowledge that smoking crack is understood as being beyond the pale of the sort of settled suburban conservativism that he claims to represent? Is he chafing under the mantle of celebrated champion of the tax-hating, union-bashing, hippie-punching right wing, or retreating from its extreme pressures into narcotics abuse? Are the stresses cracking Rob Ford? Or is it something else?

The trailing off after that bitterly ironic amplifier “great” is interesting, indeed. The lament of Ford is one of deflated expectations of towering achievement, of the failure to live up to the ideological grandeur of the axis-shifting agenda that his Nation’s “revolution” was supposed to engender. Tone of voice is hidden from us (as is any certainty that he said it at all), but the chosen words sound resigned, melancholic, and above all self-deprecating. He doesn’t say that he does not meet these expectations, but the subtext is there; it would be the next sentence, surely, perhaps followed by a pithy quotation from Nietzsche or Kant (unlikely, yes, but then he’s purportedly doing drugs as he speaks; his power of intellectual recall may well be enhanced).

It is reminiscent of Ford’s greatest (alleged) moment in my experience, perhaps the only time that I’ve ever liked him or understood how he might be appealing to anyone other than your run-of-the-mill, pinko-raging, self-interested political reactionary who clings to a comforting narrative of persecution and victimhood even while reaping socioeconomic rewards. An inebriated Ford was reported to have responded to a female critic on the Esplanade on St. Patrick’s Day who told him to his face that he was “the worst mayor ever” by kissing her on the forehead like a corpulent linebacker Jesus is a sweaty suit and saying, “I know. But I try.” Ignoring the invasion of personal space, his kiss struck me as a simultaneous act of benediction, forgiveness, and atonement, and his response betrayed self-awareness, wit, and even humility.

This latter quality is perhaps the most salient common feature of these two otherwise very different reported exchanges, and the most fascinating for its brief, unrehearsed appearance. Ford, a comfortable son of a wealthy businessman who now rubs shoulders with the Prime Minister and has much of the city’s elite on speed dial, has built a meticulous populist image for himself as a fighter for the self-perceived marginalized suburban conservative tax base.

Whatever we might think about this image’s authenticity or lack thereof, it is at its heart based in an essentialy humble proletarian ideal. But it has been adopted by a man whose boorish, aggressive, confrontational and self-aggrandizing approach to being a champion of the people has left little room for humility. When Rob Ford talks in an alleged drug-using video about what his fellow citizens expect of him, he is stepping outside of that image, examining it, critiquing it, and finding it wanting. How much more productive his tenure as mayor may have been had he applied this same cool eye for self-examination and constructive criticism to his application of civic policy.

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