While widely predicted by almost all of the pollsters, Doug Ford’s victory on Thursday night, giving him a solid majority and electing him to the leadership of Canada’s most populous province, still left many Canadians in shock.
And not a pleasant shock, either. Many of us — and I count myself among them — had hoped the polls were as wrong as they were the time they had predicted Hillary Clinton was headed to the White House. I mean, who would be so inconceivably stupid as to vote for someone as inconceivably unfit for office as renowned snake-oil salesman, corrupt real-estate broker, reality-TV star, racist and misogynist Trump?
Ford ran an inept campaign. An ineffectual city councillor, Ford made ludicrous statements on the campaign trail, even suggesting if elected he’d cut funding for the CBC (which is funded federally, not provincially). And conservatives appeared to rally around someone who didn’t understand basic conservative beliefs: it was impossible to gauge how he would balance the books, as he and his party didn’t even release details of their budget, something the other two parties did, and which is standard practice during an election. Thus the shock at his majority win, and the accompanying nausea-inducing sense of déjà-vu.
But Ford’s victory could be even worse than Trump’s, if that’s even possible. Ontarian voters could see a full year’s worth of evidence of the damage a bungling, corrupt leader could do to a country. Trump provided an obvious cautionary tale, and yet they still guzzled the Kool-Aid.
By bizarre coincidence, this election coincides with my annual ritual of teaching a horror film class at Concordia University. One of the points of the class is to analyze just how political this genre has often been, and one film in particular gets at the gut reaction many felt during and after these elections: Don Siegel’s 1956 classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a film Stephen King has cited as a major influence.
In it, a small-town doctor becomes puzzled by a strange phenomenon breaking out among the locals: people are becoming devoid of emotion, and no longer seem to be their former selves. The good doctor soon learns humans are being replaced, one by one, with body doubles, born of pods from outer space. They are now cold, unthinking vegetables, and highly prone to mindless conformity.
The film has long been a point of debate: did Siegel intend it to be a cautionary tale about the deadening effects of living under communism, or was it an allegory about the mob mentality of the McCarthyite HUAC witch hunts? That debate almost seems besides the point to me; what the film does most brilliantly is depict a society utterly polarized by politics, a depiction of abject social alienation so stunningly accurate that it perfectly captures this moment in time.
It’s not as though Trump and Ford detractors have some criticisms of their fiscal policies or ideas around minority rights, it’s as if we simply can’t comprehend anything about them, or why anyone would support them. I have spent the past 500 days reading countless articles — each and every one of those days — analyzing why and how Trump won, and why some voted for him, and why he continues to maintain not-terribly-shabby approval numbers. I still don’t get it, and at this point, I’m not sure I ever will. All politicians lie, is the common refrain of Trump supporters, yet both Trump and Ford appear proud of and drunk on their dishonesty. It’s part of their shtick, to lie repeatedly while referring to any criticisms as fake news.
Having conversations feels like talking to people who have been replaced by alien pods — a new state of being that means they are impervious to logic or facts, show little or no empathy and willfully invest in and support things that are clearly absurd nonsense.
Meghan McCain, a co-host of the talk show The View and its token Republican, often finds herself trying to explain Trump’s popularity, despite her father’s own disdain for the President. She has repeatedly pointed to his extremely high popularity among Republicans — an 87% approval rating, that’s only matched by George W Bush’s numbers following the national trauma of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
These numbers are all the more shocking in the midst of the grueling litany of corruption, lies, ineptitude, hypocrisy and outright stupidity that is the Trump Administration. Children appointed to key positions, as if royalty in a dictatorship; a secretary of education who doesn’t appear to have had any education; a head of the EPA who has a history of saying the EPA shouldn’t exist; repeated and credible allegations of infidelity and sexual misconduct by the President; a prominent black cabinet member who suggests slavery wasn’t so bad. And this is merely a partial list.
This, while reports emerge that as refugees are stopped at American borders, their children are being taken from them. These children number in the thousands, with further reports that hundreds are now missing and unaccounted for. Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, defended the practice, stating that “If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them.” And one portion of the American population is outraged and distressed, while the other sees no reason for any outrage — as divided as the humans and aliens were in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
It feels like a horror movie for one simple reason: we are in one.