Empathy as political virtue

I think it's pretty awful that people are making fun of the tearful Ford supporter who said Tory's victory was like "ISIS coming to Toronto." Yes, that's a ridiculous thing to say. But listen to what else she's saying: she is terrified that her mother is going to get taxed out of her home. A $25 increase in her cell phone bill is deeply upsetting to her. What does this tell us? I don't want to presume too much, but it sounds to me like this is a person having a tough time. A person who is struggling, alongside her family, to make ends meet. She probably feels like a victim of forces much more powerful than her. Yes, she has garbled up the causes and effects, and it is objectively true that voting for Ford would do nothing for her, and may make things worse.

So why does she support the Fords? Because they have given her a narrative that helps make sense of why things seem so bad. The narrative may be incorrect and cynical, but no one is offering an alternative. And they make a show of paying attention to the people like her, which, to a person who is used to being marginalized and ignored, is incredibly powerful.

To people who don't worry about their mothers losing their homes or paying for their cell phone bill, its easy to write her off as unstable, or stupid, or both. But if we're serious about understanding why the Fords are popular, and how to undo the deep divisions they have cultivated, we need to pay attention to this woman and people like her. We need to stop thinking Ford Nation is a uniform collection of idiots, and actually listen to their worries and their ideas. We need to offer a vision of Toronto that includes them and aims to makes their lives materially better. And we need to deliver this vision to them, in person, in their communities in a respectful and attentive way.

Until we do that, the Fords will continue to cynically manipulate the marginalized and the fearful. Divisions in our city will persist, and a Ford may once again return to the mayor's chair. Some attempt at understanding is the way forward. Mockery is a dead end.