The mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, has admitted that he has smoked crack cocaine.
To those of us who have been following the story, this isn’t a surprise. What is surprising, to me at least, is the level of glee, the schadenfreude, that the Mayor’s political opponents have been displaying ever since the allegations first became public months ago.
Look, I lived in Toronto for four years. I lived there when Rob Ford was elected mayor. I didn’t vote for him. I think his politics are regressive and his political style is repellent. I am one of the Mayor’s political opponents. But I’m still made very uncomfortable by many people’s reaction to Mayor Ford’s spectacular crash and burn. Why that reaction, and why my discomfort?
In order to answer that, we need to recognize that this mess has raised two distinct questions: Should Rob Ford be mayor? and What is going on with Rob Ford’s personal life?
My answer to the first question—and the answer of the Mayor’s other political opponents—is clearly “No.” I won’t speak for others, but my answer has been “No” ever since I voted for someone else in the mayoral election. The Mayor’s policies and actions since being elected, from the irresponsible (tearing up bike lanes to score political points with his base) to the morally reprehensible (his merely tepid and reluctant support for the city’s LGBTQ community), have done nothing to dissuade me from that view. That’s a given; that’s why I voted for someone else.
But that doesn’t mean I have any personal animosity towards the man. Even his personal misbehaviour since entering office—bouts of public drunkenness and now admitting to having smoked crack cocaine—aren’t enough to make me hate, loathe, or even disdain the Mayor. Are these things indicative of a person who isn’t responsible enough to be mayor of the largest city in Canada? You bet. Entering, in his own words, “drunken stupors” fairly frequently is not conducive to being able to carry out the duties of public office. Smoking crack cocaine, while in one of these stupors, in the company of alleged gang members is not something that we want our leaders to do, and is an action that diminishes the dignity of the office.
So, no, I don’t think that Rob Ford should be mayor of Toronto. I never did, and the Mayor’s subsequent policies and actions have done nothing but cement my initial impression.
What about the second question? What about Mayor Ford as a human being, rather than as a politician? Well, here’s where I feel I depart from many others who think that Rob Ford should not be mayor. I said above that, for all that I think Rob Ford is a bad mayor who never should have been elected, I have no negative feelings towards him as a person. I don’t hate him for having bad policies. I don’t loathe him for governing poorly. I don’t disdain him for having a substance abuse problem. I disapprove of him, sure, but nothing beyond that.
And now that he’s fallen apart entirely, I don’t feel any sort of joy or superiority. In fact, I feel very badly for him.
Watching the Mayor admit to a scrum of reporters that, yes, he had smoked crack cocaine, I wonder how anyone could feel something other than pity and empathy for him. It was clearly not an easy thing for him to do, he was plainly very emotional, and it was obvious that he’s been in severe mental and emotional distress for some time.
How could anyone not feel some sympathy for a man whose life has fallen apart, and who has only recently admitted it to himself?
I feel bad for Rob Ford. Because, no matter how much I think he should never have been elected, no matter how unsuited I think he is for the job, no matter how reprehensible his politics… he’s a human being. In distress. And no one seems to be interested in helping him.
It makes me sad. Nothing else.
And that’s why those people who oppose Rob Ford politically, but who are somehow pleased with the Mayor’s personal implosion, confuse and disturb me. I suspect that they’re unable to separate their answers to the two questions from each other. To many, the view that Rob Ford should not be mayor necessarily implies that Rob Ford deserves no sympathy as a human being. Likewise, on the other side, many think that because Rob Ford, human being, does deserve sympathy it necessarily follows that he should be mayor.
I don’t think either of those is right. Rob Ford clearly should not be mayor—not just because I disagree with his politics on a fundamental level, but because his personal behaviour is inappropriate for high office. At the same time, Rob Ford clearly should not be mocked for having a substance abuse problem. His opponents shouldn’t lord it over him; they should want him to get help. Because, after all else is said and done, Rob Ford is just another person. A human being like the rest of us.
We should treat him with the dignity and compassion that every person deserves.
Update: I realize that to some, it may appear that my calling on people to treat Mayor Ford like a person–profoundly troubled, but still a person–is a tacit endorsement of his views or a dismissal of those who oppose them.
I assure you that is not the case.
Mayor Ford has some deeply worrying views. He refused to attend the Toronto Pride Parade a number of times, and though he attended the most recent one, he appeared to be very reluctant to do so. Moreover, he is alleged to have made homophobic and racist comments in the video taken of him smoking crack. He’s also been criticized for allegedly making other racist and racially insensitive remarks.
None of these are okay. If Mayor Ford holds homophobic or racist views, I condemn them and him in the strongest terms. Such views are morally repugnant and anyone who holds them should be held accountable.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. My objection in this post is to the seeming glee and excitement that many people have at the prospect of another human being’s suffering. I’m not okay with that. No matter how irresponsible, distasteful, or immoral a person, such delight at suffering is at best unseemly and at worst itself immoral.
Should we delight in another’s pain? Even if we don’t like them? Even if we think they hold immoral views?
I can’t say yes to that.