Tuesday, 27 September 2016

A Post Debate Hangover Warning

A warning to my American friends.

It was really easy to "hate-watch" last evening's cage-match, mud-wrestling, throw down between your two presidential candidates. The jokes were far too easy and far too obvious. If anybody was hooked into either Twitter or Facebook last night, you probably had the most interactive and enjoyable TV experience since Grey's Anatomy decided it would broadcast a musical episode. (Only me? Ok.)


(C'mon. You had to know there was a but....)

There is a tremendous danger in making jokes about the perceived intellectual and character chasm between the two candidates and what is actually seen by the voters, especially those in critical rust belt swing states where many tend to go with their guts as opposed to consuming multiple media sources for several hours every day. For the sake of argument, let's call these voters "Lower Information Voters".

The Lower Information Voter couldn't care less about fact-checking. He or she is typically a hard working, middle-class, middle-income voter who is fed up with promises made and promises unkept by career politicians. The LIV may or may not have higher education. This is an important point. Not all LIVs are from the great mass that those in ivory towers like to refer to as the uneducated, although some are. But that lack of post-secondary education doesn't make their vote count for any less than the PhD sitting in panelled offices on ivy-covered university campuses, or the CEO of a hedge fund on Bay Street or Wall Street. 

For the sake of comparison, I would like to introduce my American friends to the Toronto mayoral election of 2010 when Rob Ford was swept into power. While the political systems are different and the stakes probably not as high as the upcoming presidential election, the contrast is rather striking. Please note that the Rob Ford who was ushered into the mayor's office in 2010 was not the crack user/alcoholic that most Torontonians saw. Those problems, while probably persistent and hidden during the campaign, came much later in his term as mayor. The Rob Ford that Torontonians elected was the Donald Trump of his day.

Ford was an obnoxious, bombastic, ten-year sitting councillor representing a small riding in the west-end when he decided to throw his hat into the ring. He had extremely rough edges and was not the "sharpest knife in the drawer" at City Hall.  He possessed no filter and his outlandish and offensive comments about women, gays, and immigrants were often fodder for the 6:00 news. Toronto citizens were still suffering a financial and social hangover of amalgamation from over a decade before, whereby several boroughs and areas were brought together under the city umbrella, merging services and increasing property taxes. There was extreme discontentment felt by the residents of the outer boroughs (which Ford represented) with the very left-leaning and retiring mayor David Miller, who was a product of the downtown "elites" and who often seemed tone-deaf to the pleas from these residents who complained that services like garbage pick-up and subway travel were less than adequate in their areas. It wasn't at all unusual for Ford to be a lone dissenter at council when it came to picayune budget meetings or finding wasteful spending. His mantra of "stopping the gravy train" (Make America Great Again?) at city hall became an easy sound bite that was highly relatable to his constituents. He would often hold massive free community barbeques and Ford Fests where he would personally interact with these disgruntled voters and ply them with free swag like hats, t-shirts, and bobblehead dolls. He was loved and beloved. So when he decided to throw his hat into the ring with outlandish promises like building a massive subway with no raised tax revenues (Hello Trump's wall) or promising to snub civic events like Pride (Hello! Mexicans are rapists and African-Americans are thugs) the dog-whistles were loud and clear. Those LIVs had finally found their voice in a slightly portly, slightly off-putting, very boorish loudmouth. Does this sound at all familiar, my American friends?

Ford was also fortunate enough to run against one of the most disliked career politicians in the province. George Smitherman was a sitting provincial cabinet minister who had served for many years in various portfolios, including a stint as deputy premier whereby he was often tasked with being the province's attack dog. His arrogant demeanour and his dismissive attitude towards LIVs was obvious every time he spoke. (Basket of deplorables, anyone?) And while his passion and commitment to public service could not be denied, he was definitely part of that "downtown elitism" and he had difficulty resonating with LIVs. (Does this sound at all like the way that many people view Hillary?)

Ford also had the advantage on election day of "Third-Party" candidates that helped split the vote. Ford received about 47% of the vote while Smitherman got about 36%. Others took in the rest, with Joe Pantalone (Still thinking of writing in Bernie?) garnering about 11% of that. 11%!! If the polls in the US hold and third party candidates like Gary Johnson or Jill Stein siphon off votes, it will most likely be Hillary who will suffer as millennials and younger Americans search for a palatable candidate. Like Ford, that could easily hand the election to Trump depending on the state/Electoral College in question.

Finally, there are those voters that voted for Ford simply because he was the conservative on the ballot. These people were not necessarily the racists, alt-right, or LIVs. They were highly educated, high earners who couldn't stand Smitherman and the ruling Liberal party of the province of Ontario. Many intelligent members of my own family fall into this category as they hoped and prayed that the boorish, ignorant Ford they saw on the campaign trail would regulate and moderate once in office. They were oh so very wrong, and very few of them voted for Doug (Rob was too ill to run for reelection so his even more loathsome brother stood in his stead) in 2014. (Does anybody really believe that Trump could moderate or regulate once in office?)

Rob Ford is the reason that I think jokes and smugness cannot be allowed to continue when discussing Donald Trump. LIVs are tired of being dismissed and they are highly motivated to get to the polls, especially in the Rust Belt swing states. They saw a very different debate last evening than did I, and they will defend their candidate no matter what he does, just like Rob's supporters still do for him even after all of his scandals and his untimely death. The Republican party has mostly caved and fallen in line behind their nominee and will go down with the ship before they abandon it. The only way to combat this behaviour is to work hard, get involved and get out the vote. If you are a concerned American with a vote this fall, you must vote and take all of your friends and relatives with you to the polling stations. If you are a concerned and disgruntled American young voter, you have to stop pretending that not voting isn't a vote for Trump because it is. If you are in a family with LIVs, it is incumbent upon you to try and talk (not argue) about why Trump is a disaster for the country and the world. If you are a visible minority, a woman, LGBTQ,  or a person of faith, you cannot sit this one out.

And most importantly?

Those memes, those jokes, those John Oliver segments, and the like that we are all so fond of sharing....they are preaching to the choir. You are in a bubble of "happy internet land". They will not sway a single vote. The only way to affect a positive outcome is to affect the turnout. If last night's debate didn't demonstrate the false equivalency between the candidates, nothing will. Politics at this level cannot and should never be left to the destructors. I implore you, America. Do better than we here in Toronto did. 

The world is watching and holding its breath.

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