Defending (Or At Least Explaining) Ford Nation

I recently took a month off of social media because I was finding the whole experience overwhelmingly negative. People, myself included, have a tendency to vent online. It’s fine. We all need a place to share our frustrations. Still, it can be exhausting and present a myopic view of what’s really going on in our day-to-day lives.

April done, I popped back on to Facebook. I probably should have picked any day besides the one after Rob Ford’s latest scandal/confession/excuse.

Seeing people crap on Rob Ford is not new and I’m not above criticizing him myself (as you can see here, here and here.) What I’ve noticed more and more, however, is a tendency to be harshly critical of the people who voted for or continue to support him, colloquially called Ford Nation. There is no pause before calling them f**king idiots, morons, and right-wing *ssholes (* means I’m not really swearing, honest.) While it may seem hard to defend people who continue to support someone who is so clearly off the rails, these are the people I grew up with. I lived in Flemingdon Park, Malton and in Ford’s own backyard in Rexdale. This means that there’s a really good chance you’re insulting people I grew up with and people I’m related to. And I’m a little okay with that. Still, I feel the need to explain how this mysterious demographic called Ford Nation formed and why they continue to defend a man who, well, does crack.

What most people picture when they think of Ford Nation. Rob Ford clearly being spoon-fed by his large handed nanny.

What most people picture when they think of Ford Nation. Rob Ford clearly being spoon-fed by his large handed nanny.

Explanation The First: Living In A Crappy Neighbourhood Sucks 

Not shocking news, I suppose, but something you should bear in mind when considering Ford Nation. Most people who live in the “heart of Ford Nation” live there because they can’t afford to live anywhere else. We lived there because a janitor’s salary was enough to get a decent sized apartment. This was not true for, say, anywhere the subway goes. We lived in the ass-end of the city because it was cheap, not because we liked the sounds of late-night sirens, gun shots and our downstairs crack-dealing neighbour’s bass-heavy all-night music parties. We went to schools where teachers didn’t care. We had minimum wage jobs working for folks who hopped in their pretty cars and skipped back to Forest Hill when they were done bossing us around. We were occasionally afraid for our lives and almost always afraid for our bikes, sneakers and walkmans (what? It was the 90s.) I once had my bike stolen while I was riding it. It was an unhappy place to be. We knew the cops hated us. We knew our teachers dreamed of not having 3 devices protect their cars in the parking lot. We knew that politicians either ignored us or used us as talking points.

So how did this help Ford Nation to form? It’s easy. It’s like the soggy potato chip theory of childcare. You see, kids love potato chips (here serving as a metaphor for positive attention.) Ideally kids want nice, fresh, crispy chips. Still, if the only chips left are the soggy, gross ones, they’ll take those (our stand in for negative attention.) Basically, the Fords are our soggy potato chips. They may not be all crisp and tasty, but damn it, at least they’re chips. Most politicians don’t notice crappy neighbourhoods. Even if they do, they usually come to the conversation full of misconceptions, useless platitudes or downright silly suggestions.

Like that time Lyndon Johnston's wife suggested "adding flowers" would solve the problem of gangs and Eartha Kitt was her goddess of a self and told Lady Bird where to stick it only to earn this look from LBJ.

Like that time Lyndon Johnston’s wife suggested “adding flowers” would solve the problem of gangs and Eartha Kitt was her Goddess of a self and told Lady Bird where to stick it only to earn this look from LBJ.

The Fords may not be improving our neighbourhoods (in fact, I’ve talked about the damage I think their behavior does) but they are engaging with people who are often neglected. Unless you’ve lived in Rexdale, you can’t understand just how unseen and unacknowledged the residents can feel. To be seen and acknowledged is not the same as being helped, but it’s certainly better than being ignored. When you judge Ford Nation, realize that they aren’t just choosing between between bad and good, they’re choosing between bad and being ignored.

Explanation The Second: Ford Nation Used To Have The Moral High Ground

I come from the type of people who might support a guy like Ford. They go to church a little too much. They are pretty judgmental (though only of certain things) and they read The Sun. And thirty or forty years ago, most of the city was on their side. In the 80s, when I was a kid, marriage between two people of the same sex was still 25 years in the future. In 1989, two separate people were murdered for being gay or just appearing to be gay. Both of these events happened when I was in the eighth grade. It wasn’t until 1991 that we had our first openly gay Toronto politician, and he was elected in the riding commonly called the Gaybourhood. I remember the open joking and underhanded comments that accompanied his election. Now, in 2014, we may feel that we are a better community, but this openness does not have a long history. It is young and, according to a lot of Ford Nation, wrong.

I want to be very clear here: I’m bisexual. I’m all about rights. I’m as lefty as you can get (and still swing both ways.) But I understand that there are a lot of people out there, though the number is shrinking, who are icked out by gay people. And for a long time, they were generally supported in their point of view. The same can be said of their attitudes about homelessness, immigration, culture and finances. There was a time, very recently, where their opinions were the standard.

And now they are not.

I look at the things I believe deeply: That people deserve equal opportunities and treatment, that love is more important than money, that we need to protect the environment we live in. I ask myself, what if it swung over? What if rights were stripped away? What if the majority became opposed to multiculturalism or gay rights or education and health care? If my opinion was unpopular, would I abandon it, or would I dig my heels in and fight for change?

I like to think that I would fight for what I believe, with my votes, my behavior and my money. And in the end, that is also true of Ford Nation.

Are they wrong? I really, really think so. But they spent a long time being told they were right. The world changed and they didn’t keep up. That’s often how humans operate. We listen to bands we liked in high school. We drink our favourite beer. We pine for the good old days. And Rob Ford is right there pining with Ford Nation – and that may be something we cannot change.

Explanation The Third: Tax Money Really Matters To Ford Nation

I’m a grown up. I have a mortgage and bills and more than one type of insurance. It’s tough to stay on top of it. We do fine, but it’s given me a deep appreciation for the budgets my mother created. She fed, housed and clothed five people on what I now realize is a ridiculously low amount of money. Of that ridiculously low amount of money, a good hunk went to income taxes. Another hunk went to sales taxes. All told, more than 30% of our money disappeared into the well that waters our national garden. Now, we went to school and got medical care and enjoyed garbage pick up and paved roads, so I’m not going to complain about paying taxes, but I have a pretty personal understanding of how – uh – taxing those deductions can be.

Because our income was so low and my family featured an array of dependents, we almost always got money back after tax returns were filed.

How to put this? Tax return time was second Christmas at my house. If the tax return was big enough, we’d each get a $20 bill to spend on anything we liked. Anything.

And I chose this. This is the second coolest toy I have ever owned, after my Cabbage Patch Kid.

And I chose this. This is the second coolest toy I have ever owned, after my Cabbage Patch Kid.

Tax returns helped us pay down our bills, pick up the purchases we’d been putting off and even get a few treats. I cannot overstate how exciting tax time was.

Because when you are on the bottom of the income spectrum, every loonie matters. If someone promises a person making $50,000+ a year a few more dollars, it’s dismissible. Not so much if that’s your lunch budget for the week. To understand how important tax cuts are to Ford Nation, you have to understand the impact that a 10%, 20% or 30% deduction would have on a subsistence level income.

For me, it was the difference between Rocket Hockey and no Rocket Hockey. Which I think you’ll agree is a pretty damn big difference.

So in summary, my left-leaning, sane-thinking, baffled and bemused friends, call Ford Nation whatever smug nickname you want. Mock their intelligence, their ethics and their taste in track pants. But remember, what separates you from them may be a few years, a few dollars and a few kilometers. And that ain’t much.

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5 thoughts on “Defending (Or At Least Explaining) Ford Nation

  1. It’s a thoughtful perspective. I don’t condone the name calling. I do feel that Ford Nation; whoever and wherever they be, needs to look at what Robbie is and what he is saying is okay. They need to wake up and apply their own standards to the behaviour that Robbie is demonstrating… well before they get back into the voting booth.. Do they really want their kids modelling his behaviour? Geez… On a final note; this whole “Ford Nation” thing is an American political trick. It’s called divide and conquer; and this is a PM Harper and a Fordian thing… and it’s about destroying the City so the politicians can pick over the spoils… le’ts not be fooled; let’s pull together and make this City great again… Ford Nation? Are you with us?

    • We really do need to find the middle ground, which may only come after we’ve really, in a head on fashion, addressed the disconnect in our city. Before every election, I meet every politician running in my area. I do my reading. I get giddy when I vote. I never say “the government” as though it excludes me. In a true democracy, the government IS the people. Their not our bosses or our nannies, their our representatives. I always ask myself – would I let this person speak for me? If I can’t say yes, they don’t get my vote.

  2. I’m grateful for your thoughtful post. And it did make me stop and think which is always a good thing. I guess what I keep coming back to is a question I keep asking myself and any supporters of RF that I know; why doesn’t his integrity and honour matter? Why isn’t it vital? A good politician used to mean someone who lived out of a deep social conscience and these things were held up as a higher standard across all different socio-economic groups. I’m hearing your comments about the impact of his attention and potential real life impact of his promises of financial gain. But I went to school with him. I watched him in the halls belittling people with his football gang and watched him grow up to be a polititican who yes, answered phone calls but then he made fun of and insulted those same constituents at his poker games with friends. So I shake my head. I don’t name call but I do ask questions of his supporters. And most of the time I’m told to stop picking on him. I don’t live in Toronto anymore but this story has personal connections for me so I weigh in. Anyway…thanks again for your thoughts.

    • I absolutely agree that we’ve moved far past where he’s defensible. Even his staunchest supporters are shaken. That’s where the illogic comes in. They’ve invested so much that to back off would be do lose all they’ve put into it. It also means that they’ve been had. My biggest worry is that the hope they had, now clearly misplaced, will transform into an even bigger disconnect from civics and politics. It’s part of why I wrote this. If we just dismiss the “Nation”, we’ll likely see apathy or a new savior. I’d rather see a transformation to informed and dynamic engagement. A person can dream, I guess. 😀

  3. you make a good case that a large part of the city feels alienated by much that had hapened over the last 30 years. I have often reflected on the people who were displaced by downtown gentrification. Some of these people were among them, and some were never there. We have to develop a vision of the whole city.

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