Everybody has an opinion on Rob Ford, but how well do we really understand him? Armchair analysts like to weigh in on his psyche at every controversial turn of events, but no one’s really an expert…except, well, the experts. So, in an effort to better understand what motivates the Fordian mind, we asked three disinterested analysts to put five of the mayor’s most facepalm-worthy moments on the therapists’ couch. The session starts now.
Our Expert Panel
Dr. Robert Feldman, author of The Liar in Your Life and a social psychologist and dean at the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, has studied deception for more than 25 years.
Dr. Robert Gardner, a Jungian analyst and past president of the C.G. Jung Foundation of Ontario.
Dr. Dan P. McAdams, narrative psychology researcher, professor of psychology at Northwestern University, and author of George W. Bush and the Redemptive Dream: A Psychological Portrait.
CASE STUDY #1
You could blame the Leafs, I guess
In 2006, Ford, then a councillor, was removed from a Leafs game for shouting insults at fellow fans. When the story broke, he told a reporter, “This is unbelievable. I wasn’t even at the game, so someone’s trying to do a real hatchet job on me, let me tell you.” Days later, he admitted he was there, and very drunk. “Being in politics, you’re in the spotlight all the time. I made a mistake. I made a major mistake. I really regret it.”
“[Ford] is a very bad liar,” concludes deception expert Robert Feldman. “Part of everyday life is lying. 1 Telling people we’re fine even if we’re not. Or telling people they look good, even if we don’t think that.” But most of us, he says, are better than Ford at knowing what we’ll get away with. “This case is so irrefutable. People saw him there,” Feldman points out. “Most of the time we don’t lie about those kind of things. We lie about things hard to detect.”
Dan McAdams says his pet subject, George W. Bush, was known to have delivered similar drunken rants, but nothing quite as “out of control” or “impulsive” as Ford was at that game. To McAdams, a narrative psychologist who specializes in looking at how people create their identity through personal narrative, an interesting contrast between the two men is their relationship with regret. “George W. Bush, for instance, never regrets, never looks back,” he says. “There’s a famous scene in a press conference where they’re trying to get [Bush] to admit to a mistake related to his presidency, and he just can’t come up with one.” Which makes Ford, one supposes, the better man.
“It’s interesting to me that [Ford] was inducted into office by Don Cherry,” says Robert Gardner, a Jungian analyst. “By someone who is not renowned for his liberal views or his ability to entertain The Other.” 2 Gardner suggests that the tough-guy persona that both men share, and which Ford brought out to play at the Leafs game, usually originates as a need to protect a fixed view of the world. Instead of accepting the uncertainty of his own perspective, the “bully” will attack—and insult—to defend his position. “We tend to project the devil outside of us,” he says.
Subject displays difficulty limiting fabrications, but when caught, is unusually honest about this shortcoming. Fear of existence of The Other may inspire him to put on a hardened mask. Subject should not operate heavy machinery.
CASE STUDY #2
What happens in Florida, stays in Florida, right?
During his 2010 mayoral campaign, Ford denied ever being arrested for drug possession. When confronted with proof he’d been pulled over in Florida in 1999 with a joint in his pocket, and then charged with a DUI, he claimed he’d forgotten about it. He said he had a glass or two of wine but then, when pressed, admitted he may have shared a couple bottles. “Maybe I shouldn’t have been driving.”
“Most of our memories are imperfect,” says Feldman. “We remember things from our past that are self-serving. Ask someone for their high-school grades and they’re going to say they are better than they were. We look at ourselves through rose-coloured glasses.” That said, he admits Ford’s Florida run-in would be hard for even the rosiest lenses to alter. “Most of us don’t get arrested very often.”
During the 2000 U.S. presidential election, McAdams says, a similar story came out about George W. Bush—he’d been charged with a DUI in 1976. “Bush’s advisors accused Gore of using it to give him a negative image, but he wouldn’t deny it or lie about it. He’s not the kind of guy who would minimize.” Instead, he used it to his advantage. Exaggerating past mistakes can become a strategy used by people shaping their identity through personal narrative, explains McAdams. “Exaggerating [the bad] is a key part of the psychology of redemption.”
Obviously, Ford may not be ready to use that same strategy, but watch out for it two years from now. Bush may have had to wait over a decade to play out the redemption arc, but it can go much faster these days. Charlie Sheen, anyone?
In this instance, Ford tried to avoid facing his trespasses in full, a fairly common instinct that Gardner explains diverts many of us from our path to individuation. 3 The individuated adult must suffer consequences and learn to embrace their full self. “The person has to say, ‘You’re right. I have to do something about it.’ Some can, some can’t,” he says. “If I’ve learned one thing in this job, it’s that we’re geniuses at not confronting the truth. It’s difficult. To be fair, a lot of people don’t know how to do it and aren’t prepared to.”
Subject displays delusions of rosiness, a block towards acquiring a personal myth of redemption. Could benefit from sustained self-reflection, a behaviour not commonly found in the human species.
CASE STUDY #3
Okay, so I screwed up once. If I score you some Oxy, we’re cool, yes?
Also during his mayoral campaign, a tape emerged of Ford suggesting that Dieter Doneit-Henderson—an HIV-positive gay man whom he’d become acquainted with via a previous gaffe—buy OxyContin off the street. He even went so far as to suggest he’d score Doneit-Henderson’s drugs himself. Ford said that he was just trying to help a guy out, and that he was also telling him what he wanted to hear.
What amazes McAdams most when he hears this anecdote is Ford’s struggle to establish boundaries. “As [candidate for] mayor, you can’t go along and do the things you did before. There’s a certain role you have to play that should permeate your everyday life. Even if [Ford] is a good friend to this person, mayors can’t talk about doing illegal activities…. You can’t be in a situation where someone is knowingly breaking the law. You just can’t do it.”
McAdams admits, though, that certain inappropriate behaviours sometimes make for good PR. “Most politicians, even at the level of village councilmen, are strategic. They have self-monitoring. 4 They are always in tune with how they are appearing to their audience. Almost to a fault. They can seem phony.” Ford, he says, is “oddly low” in self-monitoring. “Maybe it works because it makes him appealing to the common man,” he says.
“[It is] a bit of his sentimental Eros,” 5 says Gardner of Ford’s explanation that he was just helping. “He plays this ‘I’m looking after the disadvantaged’ tune a lot. It’s a way out. ‘I’m a nice guy. I’m doing good things.’” These type of specific heart string–pulling stories, he suggests, can hook people in. But they also distract from an assessment as to whether the storyteller follows through at large, and has a “real connectivity with the gay community, or people who are marginalized and need to be brought in and related to.”
Subject possesses difficulty staying in bounds, though this lack of self-consciousness ironically serves to create an illusion of trustworthiness. Displays propensity to tell others what they want to hear.
CASE STUDY #4
Rage, rage against the spying in the night
In May, Mayor Ford rushed to the land behind his home and cornered Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale. According to Dale, a regular on the City Hall beat, he explained he was there to investigate a piece of public land Ford was applying to buy, when Ford repeatedly asked him if he was spying and ran at him with a “cocked fist.” Ford called the police on Dale and the next day said he would not speak to the media if any members of the Star were present.
“For any of us, when we are taken by surprise, we react in a regressive 6 fashion,” says Gardner. “If an aggressor burst through my door, I’d be first out the window.” But if Gardner’s own fear instinct would’ve been flight, Ford’s was definitely fight.
As to Ford’s infamous “puncher’s stance” and his spirited words about defending his family the next day, McAdams says this posturing might have inadvertently been a good PR move. “If [politicians] show emotion, they usually do it in a strategic way,” he said, explaining how this had hurt Michael Dukakis in 1988, after he was asked during a debate if he would support the death penalty if his wife were raped and killed. “Rather than show outrage or anger, Dukakis gave a mild-mannered response and talked about the legal system. He didn’t show emotion. He should have been outraged.” Dukakis’s polling numbers plunged overnight.
Of course, when Ford saw a reporter half his size with whom he was acquainted, that might’ve calmed his regressive instinct to fight for his family’s life. “I think you can make the argument that when you get angry, 7 you get less guarded,” says Feldman. “If someone is truly angry and has lost control, what they’re screaming is what they feel at the moment. What happens in a state of anger is more the real person than when they’re under control.” Which would mean, then, that you could also make the argument that, despite any evidence, Ford really does believe the media is spying on him.
When faced with possible threat, subject exhibits an emotional response likely to elicit empathy from the population at large. When that threat is removed, subject exhibits emotional response likely designed to shift negative focus away from himself and onto ‘aggressors’ such as Dale or Mary Walsh.
CASE STUDY #5
The rules of the road don’t apply to everyone, do they?
In August, Ford was caught reading while driving on the highway and explained that he was “busy.” A year before that, a woman claimed he gave her and her daughter the finger after they motioned him to stop using his cellphone while driving. He called the story not “accurate” and a “misunderstanding.” When one reporter questioned him directly about it, his only response was to laugh.
“I’m guessing that this is the tip of the iceberg,” says Feldman about Ford’s vague denial that he flipped the bird. “He probably lies routinely, as we all do in social situations.” The difference, he suggests, is that Ford may be past the point of earning a he said/she said dismissal. “In times past, before some large lies got exposed, he was probably able to get away with things, but that’s less effective now. All he can do is fall back on apologies. Or his little laugh.”
Ford and Bush may both trade on an “everyperson” persona, 8 but McAdams points out that even Bush had limits to that. “To his credit, [Bush] really held the office of the president in a high esteem,” he says. “He thought it should be something that should be venerated. ‘I’ll never disgrace the office again,’ he told us, referring to Clinton’s impeachment scandal. He saw the Oval Office as a sacred space. He wouldn’t walk in unless he had a suit and tie on.”
Driving himself everywhere is Ford’s way to bring the office of mayor down to the scale of the average citizen, and the disgrace that he promised to avoid was the infinity pool of gravy. The latter has lately not panned out so well, but he has stayed true to the former. According to Gardner, it has made Ford a very particular kind of mirror.
“[Ford] is carrying our Shadow,” 9 Gardner says. “We all think we should be able to park wherever we like, and we hate people who corral us into conforming.” A society’s collective Shadow was something Jung thought often emerges in the form of one person’s rebellious behaviour. “The good side about Ford coming into office is that we’re all talking about politics again in an active way,” says Gardner. “He’s been a gift to the city, because we’d been sleeping. He is representing so much of the opposite of what we like to think we are.”
Subject displays common propensity for stretching the truth, but likely more commonly than an Everyman persona will allow. Subject’s sense of entitlement may represent the Shadow of society at large, all members of which should rush to the therapy couch themselves before the next mayoral election.
1. Deception is a relational transgression, violating societal expectations that friends, partners, and even strangers will be truthful most of the time. [^]
2. ‘The Other’ is composed of that which is distinct from one’s idea of the self; as such, it is partly how one actually defines the self. [^]
3. “In general, it is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology.” –Carl Jung [^]
4. Low self-monitors behave according to feeling, regardless of surroundings; high self-monitors tweak their circumstantial behaviour in hopes of achieving a better outcome. [^]
5. “In Greek mythology, the personification of love, a cosmogonic force of nature; psychologically, the function of relationship.” —from Daryl Sharp’s The Jung Lexicon [^]
6. Regression, according to Sigmund Freud, is a defence mechanism. Rather than deal with unacceptable impulses in an adult manner, the ego temporarily reverts to an earlier stage of development. [^]
7. Episodic anger of this kind, as defined by 18th-century bishop Joseph Butler, is connected to the human impulse for self-preservation and occurs when humans and non-humans, alike, feel trapped or tormented. [^]
8. Jung said it best: “A kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression on others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual.” [^]
9. From the The Jung Lexicon: “Hidden or unconscious aspects of oneself, both good and bad, which the ego has either repressed or never recognized.” [^]