“If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS probably, that’s the bottom line.”
It may sound like him but that quote is not Donald Trump’s response to gay rights, or U.S drug policy. The invocation of the “bottom line”, the stunning ignorance and less than subtle hatred to an often maligned group bears all the hallmarks of a Trump quote . In fact, the quote is not from an American at all.
No, in Toronto many of us know too well the quote is from former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford when he was a city councillor. Before his notoriety literally went up in smoke, he was well known for remarks as offensive as they were outrageous.
A few weeks ago Karen Tumulty, no relaton, in the Washington Post questioned if there was a line Trump could cross he could not recover from. On Trump’s trail of misogyny and racism was there a point where not only decency but viability would be in the campaign’s rear view? Let me assure Americans, the answer is no.
Yes his most recent volley of vitriol at Muslims, sounds frighteningly similar to the sort of rhetoric popular in 1939 Germany. Yes, prominent Republicans, including one who advocated an illegal war and legal torture, have criticized Trump. Americans should not let any of that dissuade them of the idea Trump could win. Trust us in Toronto, if Rob Ford can win here not only is Trump winning possible but he may have an easier time of it.
Toronto is the largest city in Canada, and one of the most diverse in the world. Our parliamentary democracy means more people vote directly for the Mayor of Toronto, than the Prime Minister. The character of the city and the questions about his own, meant few thought Ford would get near enough votes to win.
He was brash, uncouth, and had a casual relationship with the truth. The beneficiary of inherited wealth, he held himself up as the champion of the everyman while decrying social programs meant to actually help them. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
While never accusing an entire ethnic group of being rapists, his comments on minorities were offensive even in compliment. He once lauded “Orientals” for working like dogs, and sleeping beside their machines.
His time as Mayor, was no better and often worse. Ford did at least apologize when a protester at his rally was assaulted. Though having knocked over a city council colleague himself in a reckless outburst, Ford and Trump may not be far apart on the issue of politically inspired violence.
Trump’s misogyny is as untamed as what he calls hair, but will it ever sink to the depths Ford did in discussing his own wife?
Ford has yet to mock a reporter’s disability, but he was forced to publicly apologize to a reporter he implied was a pedophile. A particularly disgusting lie even the Toronto Police confirmed as baseless.
Ford and Trump trade in lies to thrive in the politics of divide and conquer. Hardly a new strategy when reaching out to a base of low information voters. In adding fear and loathing to the mix though, they turn low information voters to motivated ones.
People see themselves reflected in these candidates. Hateful words justify and tactily endorse people’s own irrational prejudices. Zealtory and anger are formidable opponents in any election campaign. Given the fervor of his base, thinking Trump is unelectable is premature at best. Naive at worst.
It shouldn’t be controversial to say Canada is traditionally a more liberal country in ideology than the United States. Obamacare may be vilified as socialism by the GOP, but were it proposed here it would be met with uproar as a conservative claw back of Canada’s universal health care system.
Nevertheless, Canada’s largest city elected a boorish, unqualified, conservative with a well documented record of offensive comments and outright lies. A Trump in all but name, Rob Ford offers this cautionary lesson to Americans.
A segment of the population has no line of decency a candidate need worry about crossing. Donald Trump has the advantage of campaigning to an even larger number of them.