Before Donald Trump, there were the brothers Ford.
In many ways, Doug and the late Rob Ford, the travesty twins of Canadian politics, presaged Trump’s pestilential presidency albeit on a much less consequential, but still instructive scale.
It’s instructive because the success and stubborn popularity of the brothers Ford are a frank rebuttal to anyone, anywhere, who envisions Canada, and more particularly, Canadians, as enlightened antidotes to Trump’s seething malevolence.
Indeed, the brothers Ford are proof that with the right help, at the right time, and given the right circumstances, lots of gullible people, propelled, in part, by fear, avarice and ignorance, are susceptible to the appeal of calculating charlatans who exploit that fear, avarice and ignorance for their parochial, largely libertarian, aims.
It was true in 2010 when Rob Ford became mayor of Canada’s largest and most cosmopolitan city and it will be true again if, in a few months, Doug Ford becomes premier of Canada’s most influential and, arguably, most cosmopolitan province.
Trump and the Fords are infected by the same sinister contagion and employ the same cynical modus operandi disguised as “populism” to infect as many others as possible – whatever the cost to the common good or decency.
Like Trump, the Ford brothers – bound by their wealth, gluttony, stupidity and trash-talking swagger – were vaulted into office by a criminally negligent corporate media that treated a trio of unabashed nihilists as “controversial” and “colourful,” but ultimately, harmless characters.
The damage Trump has exacted on America and the world is deep and may prove beyond repair. Toronto has only just recovered its psychological and civic ballast after surviving Rob Ford who, like Trump, revelled in his signature form of delinquency day after dreadful day during his four years in office.
Every ugly, abominable act of Rob Ford’s ugly, abominable tenure as mayor was routinely paraded on television and his unrepentant scatology catapulted him into international infamy.
Ford lied with pathological ease. He partied with gangsters. He threatened to kill people in profanity-laced tirades captured on a smartphone. He belatedly admitted to smoking crack cocaine in “one of my drunken stupors” after denying it first as, in effect, “fake news”. He was even pictured by police urinating behind a public school in broad daylight.
And, through it all, Rob Ford had a willing and enthusiastic mob of enablers, chiefly his brother, Doug, and the fidelity of reliable sycophants who sought to explain away his goonish behaviour by claiming his “blemishes” were simply the signs of a troubled man with human imperfections.
Together, the enablers convinced themselves, and too many Torontonians, that Rob Ford wasn’t a rich, maniacal thug, but an everyman with a heart tinged with sentimentality made of gold.
After Rob got sick, Doug stepped into the breach to try to become mayor in 2014. He lost badly. Sanity and civic responsibility seemed to have prevailed.
Bruised, yet undeterred, I suspect the Fords have plotted their revenge ever since they suffered that humiliating rejection. But Rob Ford died of cancer in March 2016.
So, the job of resurrecting the Fords from political wilderness and reaping the retribution they thirsted for, fell to Doug Ford, the vindictive, elder brother who instantly assumed his late brother’s legacy.
Rather than stand again as a candidate for mayor, as he had originally planned, Ford tacked, knowing he would likely lose soundly to the popular incumbent.
So, after the sudden resignation of the long-standing leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario over allegations of sexual assault in late January, Doug Ford leapt like a grubbing opportunist at the unexpected chance to become premier.
Luckily, the political gods kept smiling on Ford. With the help of a convoluted voting system and the support of a zealot obsessed with getting rid of sex-education in Ontario classrooms, Ford won the leadership contest by a thin margin.
The surprising victory coupled with province-wide anger and malaise with the spent, scandal-ridden sitting Liberal government, have translated into a slew of polls showing that – despite Doug Ford’s tepid approval ratings – he’s on the precipice of becoming premier.
You’d think that Doug Ford’s role as faithful apologist-in-chief for a mayor who, by his appalling words and deeds, will be remembered as a permanent stain on Toronto’s reputation would jolt Canada’s corporate media from performing as court jesters to another blustering bully with a grating, self-satisfied smirk.
Alas, the same giddy, ever so agreeable media that fashioned happy-face caricatures of Rob Ford and Trump as “populist” rebels, is busy fashioning a happy-face caricature of Doug Ford as a “populist” rebel, too. Once established, the canard is, of course, hard to undo – even with the facts.
The facts are that: “populists” don’t promise to deny a livable minimum wage for working people; “populists” don’t deny that the earth is heating exponentially and that humans are responsible for the impending catastrophe; “populists” don’t tell teachers that they can’t teach a fact-based curriculum; “populists” don’t tell women what they can do with their bodies; and “populists” don’t tell the father of an autistic boy “to go to hell“ and accuse him of being part of a “jihad”.
Illiterate frauds who reject civility, science and reason and celebrate their illiteracy like preening cockatoos, like Doug Ford and company, do all that.
Readers should mark June 7, 2018, on their calendars. On that day, a provincial election of considerable consequence will be held in Canada.
If, as anticipated, Doug Ford emerges as premier with a comfortable majority, Canadians will no longer be able to say smugly that the Trump-like virus hasn’t penetrated the 49th parallel.
Instead, Canadians will finally have to acknowledge that the virus has been festering here all along waiting for the conditions to turn ripe once more and allow the pathogen to evince itself in a distinctly Canadian way.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.