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Why Rob Ford is a Cautionary Tale For Donald Trump's Supporters

09/25/2015 05:12 EDT | Updated 09/25/2016 05:12 EDT
David Cooper via Getty Images
TORONTO, ON- DECEMBER 17 - Mayor Rob Ford shrugs as he responds to questions from Deputy Speaker John Parker as he apologizes for comments which derailed a city council meeting at City Hall in Toronto December 17, 2013. (David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The Donald Trump phenomena in the United States reminds me of our experience in Toronto, Canada, when a so-called everyman mayor who appealed to angry populism -- and without any actual policy options -- was elected.

In our case, we picked a mayor whose business success was largely thanks to his father and whose election platform consisted mostly of a slogan ("Stop the gravy train!"); lots of anger, anger, anger; as well as loudly disparaging and insulting minority groups. He was addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol, allegedly drove drunk, was observed urinating in public, may have had little understanding of the workings of City Hall; and -- well, that is enough for now. His antics reached far beyond Canadian borders -- he caused such a ballyhoo that he even landed an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

America, some of this may sound familiar to you. Well, maybe not the booze, urination and drugs (though self-stimulation in the form of boasting and attention-seeking may count), but the rest.

Donald Trump is surging in the GOP polls on an angry man platform, which in many ways is similar to former Toronto mayor Rob Ford's. Trump's platform consists of a slogan -- "Make America great again!" -- with no details, no plans other than kicking hard-working people out of the country if they do not look like him, calling Mexican immigrants rapists and building a big wall along the Mexican border. Can the 49th parallel be that far behind?

As it happens, like crack, angry man slogans can be appealing to some. In fact, we all get mad and want to lash out at the world. It inevitably ends in a bad place when the smoke clears. It should never be a constant state of emotion.

In the case of Toronto, we had a mayor without a plan other than to be mad. Yes, he claimed to have derailed the gravy train, but all the while he was allegedly using city-financed resources to advance his family business. So, at least some of the gravy train stayed on track.

Ford's behaviour (the Canadian spelling of which may be cause enough for a Trump wall) proved to be such a distraction that much of his agenda, such as it was, stalled at every step. Ford, like Trump, loved to attack people on their appearance, ethnicity and gender.

Over time, personality-driven, badly behaved leaders will get to the point of alienating all but their most ardent allies. In the case of Ford, even the Toronto Sun newspaper, once a fawning Ford admirer, ended its torrid love affair with comments like the following from an editorial:

"But we don't endorse his antics like showing up at The Taste of the Danforth, apparently three sheets to the wind, the latest in a long line of public embarrassments that indicate he may have a drinking problem."

Being a big-city mayor is a 24/7 job requiring good judgment and common sense. When Ford behaves like a raging bull, he not only becomes an embarrassment to himself and the city he serves, he detracts from his political effectiveness and his ability to get his agenda through at city hall."

I am not saying that Trump behaves in exactly the same way. I have seen no evidence of the deep personal problems that haunted Ford. But those problems were not the only troubles with Ford's time in the mayor's office, and his demons were not the deciding factor in killing his effectiveness as mayor. He even regained some credibility when he finally fessed up to his addictions and promised to get clean. Unfortunately, a clean-yet-still-raging mayor who does not play well with others is still a problem child.

Cancer prevented Ford from completing his run for re-election. He may even have won. But if he had, his negatives would have prevented him from succeeding as they had in his first mandate.

Lots of bluster. Few results.

This is a cautionary tale for our good neighbours to the south. Even presidents of the United States need to build coalitions and be bi-partisan from time to time. The nation is not the fiefdom of a single ego. As they say, anger is not a policy.

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