Conflict of interest and the toxic Ford effect | #TOpoli
It’s no surprise that the Ford conflict-of-interest proceedings have our attention. Laughs, drama, embarrassment, and more #headdesk moments than you can shake an Escalade at — this has it all.
And of course, it’s no surprise that it’s generating more noise, commentary and Twitters (that is what the young folks are calling it these days, innit?) than any reasonable person can normally keep track of. If there’s any quick observation here, it’s that whatever your views of the mayor, nothing coming out of these hearings is likely to change them. The storylines likely to emerge are, also, predictable, whether you’re talking about the sneering from the Downtown Elitist Lefties on teh Tweetr or the standard braying from the tabloid poo-flingers.
But let’s take a breath, step back, and try for a somewhat higher-level view, because despite the easy snark, there’s a larger lesson in this.
That lesson goes beyond conflict of interest, reading behind the wheel, blowing past open streetcar doors, mischaracterizing the St. Clair ROW, fumbling the transit file, all-night deputations, lack of curiosity, simplistic lapel-button slogans, Ferris wheels, drunken tirades at Leaf games, lies, charging at Star reporters with fist cocked, or bike lanes. If there’s an overarching theme here, it’s this: we’ve seen, over the past day and half, just how uninformed and disengaged our Chief Magistrate seems to be when it comes to the mechanics of government and the requirements of his job. And yet, we’re faced with the possibility that a large number of our fellow citizens are just going “meh … what are you gonna do. That’s Rob Ford.”
And it’s then that the realization sinks in. Just consider the impact that the Ford ascendancy’s had upon politics, upon governance, upon public conversation, upon civic life in our city. Consider the effect on our standards for transparency, for integrity, for intelligence and the ability to work collaboratively. If I were to try summing up the effect, I’d argue that the Ford era has enervated us so profoundly that it’s lowered our expectations of government, and by extension, of ourselves. It’s stripping the whole notion of “citizenship” of any sense that it’s something honourable, something to be cared for and stewarded.
It wasn’t that long ago that ignorance, shallow thinking, and disengagement were considered drawbacks. They weren’t marks of pride or authenticity; they were things to be downplayed, traits you wanted to work to overcome. Now? We just shrug it off. We’re used to it.
I’m not going to try predicting the outcome of this particular court file. Opinions on its merits and its political significance are plentiful, and while I don’t necessarily agree with him, I’d recommend Matt Elliott’s take in particular. I’ve also been mulling over Michael Kolberg’s argument at the Toronto Standard: what if Ford gets struck down, runs again, and wins? Initially, my inclination was to blow off that possibility, reasoning that the dead-enders of Ford Nation are so invested in their victim complex and committed to avoiding critical thought that they’re going to lose their shit no matter what happens. But Michael may be on to something with this:
… despite the technical details being debated by pundits and political junkies in the City Hall bubble, I’m not convinced that inside baseball stuff has any effect on the broader electorate. Those of us who choose to live inside the bubble tend to forget that there is a huge contingent of voters who chose their leaders based on gut-instinct.
It’s instructive, in that regard, to recall something Trish Hennessey wrote almost a year ago about the mythologies underlying the Ford appeal, in particular because of the way they tie into Michael’s argument about gut instinct.
He made them feel hopeful that positive change was coming; that he was going to punch a hole into the bubble of the elites. When they talked about Rob Ford, they often spoke in appreciative, glowing terms – in the same way they spoke about another well-loved politician, Jack Layton. In the focus group discussions, they saw little ideological divide between Jack Layton and Rob Ford. Rather, they felt the two men had in common a sincere drive to take on the struggle of the people despite great odds.
My response to Trish’s piece may have been a little intemperate, but she’s just as right now as she was then. The events of the past year have simply brought things into sharper relief.
But back to people voting on gut instinct. We all know the Victim Narrative the tabloid screed-writers and talk-radio yellers will be spinning — witch hunt, bullies, elitists, a regular guy being persecuted by a bunch of sore losers, yada yada yada. It may not have much to do with factual accuracy, but it’s got emotional resonance.
The key, I’d submit, is to frame a counternarrative with just as much emotional resonance. And Rob Ford’s testimony yesterday has furnished us with plenty of material for that.
How would you feel about a guy who grows up privileged, who’s had more money, support, family connection and opportunity than most of us will ever see, but who’s never had to deal with the consequences of his actions? Not only does he not follow the rules — he doesn’t even bother to figure out what the rules are. Add that to a demonstrated record of stretching the truth and obvious unfamiliarity with the requirements of his job as both mayor and councillor and we’ve got something with the potential to hit a lot of people right where they live.
One of the guy’s most powerful assets to date has been his regular-guy appeal. I’m just like you folks! Well, no. Ordinary people have to follow the rules and face the consequences when they don’t, but not him. He thinks he’s special. He thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Be interesting to see how that plays on the campaign trail, whether it’s now or in 2014.
Update: Now playing over at TorontoCitizens.
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Misogyny, sexism and violence in popular culture: what @jm_mcgrath and @amirightfolks said
Right away, I’ll make it clear: I’m not a gamer.
Stephanie got things rolling by calling out some loser for setting up an online device aimed at Anita Sarkeesian — a woman he disagreed with. His response to the disagreement and her inexplicable failure to engage in conversation with him: punch her in the face. Virtually. Ha ha. So clever. So mature.
Really, there isn’t much to say about this that hasn’t already been said, although I was particularly impressed by Emma Woolley’s essay: among other things, she argues that nobody is entitled to an audience, to engagement, to conversation, or even to attention. You can say whatever you like, no matter how ridiculous, but that doesn’t impose a corresponding obligation on anyone else to listen to you or answer you. (That resonated with me particularly because of another loser’s smear job on another friend; the said loser tried to rationalize it by arguing that he sent my friend a bunch of questions and my friend chose not to answer.)
John picks up on this in another thoughtful essay on his own site (and John, let me know when that malware thing gets straightened out so I can link to it … ). In it, he goes into some detail about the implicit assumptions surrounding whiteness and heteronormativity, and the almost instinctive resort to violence and hatred when someone’s world view or sense of entitlement is challenged. I won’t try to summarize it here, but do go and read it ASAP.
John’s post focuses at length on the significance of online games as storytelling devices, and it’s a worthwhile look at a subculture not everyone may know about. It’s particularly instructive for its acknowledgement of privilege:
“… for many, many games there’s an unnecessary barrier between the gamer and the game … I’m a straight, white dude. And there’s almost no game I can pick up, turn on and be alienated from.”
So while I’m not a gamer, I can’t see any reason why that’s not a valid observation, and why it isn’t fodder for a worthwhile conversation. And to my knowledge, that’s the very subject Anita Sarkeesian’s trying to address. And for that, she’s been subject to a disgusting campaign of online harassment, namecalling, violent imagery, and rape threats. And god knows, she’s not the only one …
@amirightfolks Maybe you shouldn’t be a cunt, first.— Justus MTBW/ Haxagon (@EggNoggFan) July 8, 2012
@LadySnarksalot in unrelated news, can i just say that your face is fucking hideous.— Greater Than Gaming (@GreaterGaming) July 8, 2012
To which I can only respond: these guys are walking proof of what Bill Maher says about right-wingers, 14-year-old boys, and being dicks.
The only other observation I’d make, and it may be a trite one, is that this kind of thing isn’t limited to gaming. At one of the first WiTOpoli panel discussions, Kristyn Wong-Tam talked about getting hateful phone calls in which she was called a cunt; while I haven’t researched this comprehensively, I’d bet money that white guys in politics or journalism or whatever aren’t targeted with similar derogatory sexualized or racialized terms. At another WiTOpoli event, another friend talked about this kind of hatred, and how it affected her reluctance to reveal herself as a woman online.
That’s why it’s important to confront it and call it out. It’s also good to acknowledge one’s own implicit and built-in advantages, whether they’re based in gender, class, or skin colour.
Creating room for other people in the conversation demands no less.
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Chris Hedges schools Kevin O’Leary | #uspoli #OccupyWallStreet
Chris Hedges, who’s been cited here before, calls out Kevin O’Leary for his snide condescension, name-calling and browbeating, all the while recasting the whole notion of conservatism versus radicalism in the context of discussing the Occupy Wall Street action currently taking place in New York. Several important points about what Hedges characterizes as the criminal nature of the parasitic banking class, and how it contrasts with traditional views of capitalism and productivity. Right toward the end, Hedges turns the traditional corporate-media analysis on its head by making a trenchant observation about who the conservatives are and who the revolutionaries are.
As Jymn points out, anyone who still thinks of the CBC as a left-wing propaganda outlet ought to see this. O’Leary does his best to channel the likes of Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity, complete with the insults, interruptions, sneering and red herrings, and Hedges pins the Fox comparison squarely on his forehead.
If we’re interested in preserving the quality of public discourse, if we value respect and civility, we could start by taking away Kevin O’Leary’s publicly funded soapbox.
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Chris Hedges on #OccupyWallStreet | #classwarfare
The Best Among UsPosted on Sep 29, 2011
AP / Louis Lanzano
Protesters pass Federal Hall on Wall Street in a recent march. The Occupy Wall Street protest is entering its third week in New York City as demonstrators continue to speak out against corporate greed and social inequality.
By Chris Hedges
Editor’s note: Chris Hedges’ weekly columns usually appear here on Monday mornings, but Truthdig posted this week’s edition early, on Thursday, Sept. 29, in the wake of controversy about the pepper-spraying of participants in the Occupy Wall Street protest.
There are no excuses left. Either you join the revolt taking place on Wall Street and in the financial districts of other cities across the country or you stand on the wrong side of history. Either you obstruct, in the only form left to us, which is civil disobedience, the plundering by the criminal class on Wall Street and accelerated destruction of the ecosystem that sustains the human species, or become the passive enabler of a monstrous evil. Either you taste, feel and smell the intoxication of freedom and revolt or sink into the miasma of despair and apathy. Either you are a rebel or a slave.
You can tell a lot about the power of a narrative by measuring the resources devoted to opposing, discrediting or suppressing it.