I recently realised that progressives aren’t the only ones who think they are striving for the welfare of the oppressed and vulnerable. Upon speaking to a Ford supporter for the first time, I was struck by how the right-wing strain of thought on which his political tastes were based painted himself – a white, middle-class, forty-something years-old, car-driving, Toronto home-owning man – as a victim in need of support from local government.
He complained of the entitlement of “lefty pinkos” that caused the current financial situation in Greece and of the increase in property taxes that he has to pay after having renovated his house recently. At one point, after emphasizing the excessive taxes he has to pay, he told my (young and non-home-owning, like myself) friend and I, “Wait, you guys aren’t even in this,” declaring the illegitimacy of the political opinions of such non-home-owning (and thus [supposedly] non-property tax-paying) Torontonians as myself. People like me, he implied, have no stake in Ford’s absence or presence in mayoral office, since we putatively don’t reap the benefits of tax cuts. I only realized after our brief conversation how spectacularly he had managed to spin a home-owning, materially-more-than-comfortable, always-driver as a victim of tax oppression, and young men like myself who rent tiny (shared) apartments and need to take TTC, cycle, or walk everywhere as invulnerable princes, with no care in the world. Despite his taxes being a product of having way more than us, he thinks of himself – at least in speaking of municipal political concerns – as more vulnerable and deserving of politicians’ support.
I have hitherto seen the progressive narrative as having a sort of monopoly on concern for the less privileged, seeing ourselves as countering powerful societal bullies and using government to make society less unfair for those that are most vulnerable. Recently, however, I’ve begun to realize that the right-wing perspective somehow has cast a similar oppressed-oppressor narrative on its own belief system. Through a sort of extreme meritocratic mindset and work indignation, people like Mayor Ford have come to see tax paying (being indicative of hard work) as the ultimate sacrifice, which magically renders the most economically comfortable as the most socially oppressed. This taxation-as-oppression mentality completely reverses traditional ideas of privilege, casting the poor as individualistic hedonists and the rich as exploited by a gluttonous collective. Amazingly, it seems that Ford genuinely believes mini-van-driving, huge suburban house-owning, comfortably-employed people like himself are the victims since such privileges (theoretically) amount to more of their dollars going to taxes. Essentially, the right have deluded themselves into seeing privilege upside-down.