PUNTA NIZUC, MEXICO – A wall.
Donald Trump, the bilious billionaire who is edging ever-closer to the Oval Office, wants to build a great big wall between this country and the United States. He says he is going to get Mexicans to pay for it.
The reason? Mexicans are “rapists,” he says. “Murderers,” too.
Now, like everyone else, Mexicans have been transfixed by the ongoing psychodrama that is Donald Trump. They’ve watched, for months, as a horrified Republican establishment – and then a perplexed and/or concerned Democrat establishment – have tried to come to grips with Trump’s undeniable momentum.
They’re not big fans. Former Mexican president Vincente Fox called Trump “racist and ignorant” for what he said about Mexico. He said Trump’s anti-Mexican insults – which the short-fingered vulgarian has repeated over and over – were “disgraceful and highly offensive.”
“He thinks building the ‘Trump Wall’ will right every wrong in the United States,” Fox said. “Indeed, he’s built a huge mental wall around himself already, which doesn’t allow him to see the greatness of our people.”
And Mexico is indeed great. It was the place where five complex civilizations came into being thousands of years ago – and several centuries before pink-skinned (or, in Trump’s case, orange-skinned) Europeans arrived. The Olmec, Maya, Teotihuacan, Toltec, and Aztec indigenous peoples were innovating in architecture, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and theology while Donald Trump’s ancestors were still dragging their hirsute knuckles around in what would later become Rhineland Germany.
(Oh, and on Trump’s German antecedents: Vincente Fox said that the putative Republican Party nominee reminded him of Adolf Hitler. We note, without comment, that Hitler had a deep, documented affinity for the birthplace of the Trump family name. Draw your own conclusions.)
Anyway. It’s hard to spend too much time thinking about a subject as ugly as Trumpism, in a place as beautiful as this. But, as his team’s sturmabteilung march gets closer to the prize in Cleveland, we need to. Can he be stopped? Can he be beaten?
Take it from visiting Canadians, Mexican allies: Trump-style politicians can indeed be beaten. Up in the frigid North, we had extended exposure to a variant on the Trump genus: former Ford Nation.
Once formidable, once unstoppable, Ford Nation was ultimately defeated by that uniquely Canadian personality trait: relentless, plodding civility.
Ford Nation, many Americans will perhaps recall, was just as offensive, and just as bigoted, and just as out-of-control as is Donald Trump. Despite all that, its champion Rob Ford won a landslide victory in the mayoral race in Canada’s largest and moost diverse city in 2010 – and his brother Doug very nearly repeated the feat in 2014. Rob, in particular, would go on to become the most famous Canadian. But for all the wrong reasons.
Ford denied smoking crack cocaine, then admitted he had indeed smoked it while in office. He denied drinking and driving – and reading and driving – but those things turned out to be true, too.
He used racial epithets to describe non-white Torontonians, who form a majority in that city of some five million. He said and did awful things – on one occasion bowling over a female councillor who got in his way, and on another occasion extending his middle finger to a child. He swore at people. He got drunk in public.
Mexicans heard all about Rob Ford because, for a time, he was the most famous Canadian who ever lived – more famous that Michael J. Fox, Celine Dion and Arcade Fire all put together. He appeared on Jimmy Kimmel. He was name-checked in late-night talk show monologues. He was international news – day after interminable day.
Mexicans observing the Trump phenomenon with dismay will be sadly familiar with how too many Toronto voters initially reacted to Rob Ford. Instead of denouncing him, they laughed at him. Instead of seeking his ouster, they indicated they would be willing to vote for him again. Instead of opposing him, they lined up to get selfies taken with him – or they stood in queues to purchase his bobble-head doll, conveniently sold right out of the Office of the Mayor of Toronto.
Pundits and politicos roundly and angrily condemned Rob Ford, naturally. Political panel talking heads would intone – again and again – that, this time, he had gone too far. That he was finished.
But with every elite dismissal – with every op-ed from yet another pointy-headed intellectual – Ford Nation only grew more popular. A large segment of Torontonians loved how Rob and Doug Ford enraged the establishment. They weren’t horrified by their outrageousness – they were drawn to it.
Ford Nation voters, in the main, were angry, older white men living in Toronto’s inner suburbs. They lacked post-secondary education and riches, but Rob Ford was their guy. The more the media and the elites attacked him, the more they liked it. Sound familiar?
And then, around the time that Ford was planning another run at the mayor’s office – and around the time that he was grappling with a cancer diagnosis that would ultimately (and tragically) kill him – something unexpected happened. Something surprising, to those who had reluctantly come to acknowledge the immense power of Ford Nation.
Rob Ford became a lot less popular. He started to lose. Because Torontonians had become weary of all the drama, all the time.
When the city’s 2014 municipal election rolled around, Ford Nation’s principal challenger turned out to be a calm, thoughtful, inoffensive former business executive named John Tory. Tory – against whom, full disclosure, I had briefly campaigned with another canddiate – was the embodiment of wholesome Canadianess. Compared to Ford, he was a bit boring. He was a little bland, even. He was nice.
And it worked. He won.
Many years earlier, Tory had been chief of staff to the long-serving Ontario Premier, Bill Davis. Davis famously personified the “bland works” formula, and always did his utmost to be as unexciting as possible. Tory, a smart student, did likewise. He beat Ford Nation, and rather decisively, too.
Politicians (or, more accurately, anti-politicians) like Rob Ford and Donald Trump are cut from the same cloth. They have no legislative accomplishments to speak of. They have no overriding policy goal. They simply are the ultra-conservative millionaire sons of million fathers. So, to get noticed, they talk LOUDER. They are more OUTRAGEOUS. They say things NO ONE ELSE WILL.
For a while, as Rob Ford showed an astounded Canada (and a bemused US and Mexico) that sort of demented populism will work. Then, eventually, it doesn’t.
The Ford Nation movement was defeated – just as Trump’s can and will be beaten – for this reason: after a while, average folks simply get tired of being at the circus all the time. After a while – and even if they distrust or dislike government, as many Canadians and Americans and Mexicans increasingly do – they just want to go home, watch TV, and not hear from politicians anymore. Particularly the shouty ones – who don’t know how to do anything but, you know, shout.
Want to defeat Donald Trump, North America? Don’t be outraged and offended all the time. Be Canadian instead: wear him down with civility and honesty and decency.
Trump, like Ford, won’t know what hit him.
Wall or no wall.