Don Cherry: Don’t feel sorry for this outdated relic of a dumber, whiter, less inclusive time
To kick off today’s in-depth exploration of the obvious, let me ask you a question: Who gives a flying fuck about a miserable, bigoted, old white guy sportscaster with bad taste in clothing and worse taste in philosophy?
As it happens, I’m the first one hundred people who reply: Not me, Murgatroyd McGraw. Look—pockets empty. Not a single fuck left to give. But it is Christmas season coming. Ask me again on Boxing Day. Or, better yet, Epiphany!
For those of you not privy to, or interested in, the finer points of Canada’s sports world and its personalities, let it be known that Don Cherry worked—the past tense is deliberate— for decades as a sportscaster for Sportsnet, a subsidiary of Rogers Media. He was and is known for his ridiculously garish suits, his supposed dudely brilliance in the area of hockey coaching, playing and announcing, and his tough, no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is 80-year-old heterosexual male bluster, which is just as tedious and backward and unapologetically, ear-splittingly raucous as you might expect.
Unfortunately, on Remembrance Day, Mr Cherry removed the puck from his mouth, became confused, and inserted both his feet instead.
Live on Sportsnet, Mr Cherry offered his opinion that “immigrants” were not buying enough red poppies and wearing them to honor the fallen:
“You people, you like our country, you like our milk and honey, you could at least spend a couple of bucks on a poppy and wear it.”— Don Cherry
This was an opinion-based, rather than a fact-based, opinion which we can unpack like this:
You people. You people who are immigrants, who are physically different, who aren’t white; you people who wear funny clothes and speak with funny accents; you people who are taking over, who want hand-outs, who are lazy, when you’re not stealing our jobs; you people who aren’t Christians, who aren’t “real” Canadians.
That’s a lot of hatred and the resulting damage packed into two words. It’s shameful that anyone, let alone a public figure with the responsibility to set an example, can have missed the point so completely and thought it would be acceptable to make such a demeaning, patronizing and divisive, in a word, such a racist comment.
Rogers Media issued a statement apologizing for Cherry’s remarks, then fired his saggy white ass.
Predictably, middle-aged white guys are up in arms—well, actually, they’re in their La-Z-Boy recliners swilling Labatt’s 50—because Don Cherry got fired for stating his opinion. Freedom of speech!
But how was his freedom of speech curtailed? He said exactly what he wanted to say! May I remind you that the “freedom of speech” that conservatives everywhere keep yelling about—Americans and their tedious trotting out of the First Amendment, to be specific— pertains exclusively to the freedom to criticize the government.
That’s right! Criticize an elected official, your police chief, a magistrate, the President, any civil servant, and you’re protected, as long as you make the statements without malicious intent and in good faith. You’re not even required to fact-check in detail, or be one hundred percent accurate.
But you can’t scream “censorship” when a university declines to welcome a neo-Nazi speaker; they’re not obliged to give anyone a platform. You can’t print libel or make statements harmful to someone’s reputation or shout “fire” in a crowded theatre without repercussions.
In Canada there’s less confusion about this because we still have a shred remaining of our social contract, a sense that the scope of rights is larger than each individual.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms makes it clear that every freedom must be balanced with others’ freedoms, considering the common good.
Freedom comes with adult responsibilities not to cause harm to individuals or to society. We recognize that some speech is so harmful it can be criminal. This is called hate speech.
But go ahead, Don, say whatever the hell you like, in private. I just don’t understand why you’re so damn proud of it.
And while I’m on this particular rant, let me take this opportunity to bemoan the hegemony of professional sports. (Sportsarchy?)
Hockey may be your national identity, fellow Canadian, but it ain’t mine. Please note that there are at least several of us who are not knuckle-dragging homophobes with no front teeth.
Sports is supposed to be the great leveler, a way for citizens to bond and feel a common cause. The whole gung-ho, well-rounded, wave your team’s flag and get shit-faced pro sports boondoggle reminds me of those Fascist parades with girls spinning Swedish medicine balls and precocious boys with way too much muscular development for their age. As Noam Chomsky has suggested, it’s a way to keep us occupied with something useless but addictive, anything that stops us thinking deeply about our world and fills up the time we’d be better off using for activism.
As excited as everyone is for me to be a “joiner,” I have always sashayed to the beat of my own drummer and wailed off-key to the synthetic tones of my karaoke machine, depending on the night of the week.
We don’t need to reduce everything to the highest common factor and dumb everything down until we’re spitting out our broken incisors and talking like Donald Trump, who’s made President of the United States, the most powerful position in the world, into a massive, developmentally-challenged fifteen-year-old’s macaroni picture that you stick on the fridge door.
In Canada, we have other pursuits besides holy hockey. For winter sports, climb onto a circular aluminum toboggan and swirl down the hill behind the primary school, right out into the oncoming traffic. Personally, I’m hot for skating with my ankles bent inward at a forty-five degree angle, and stopping myself by slamming into the cold, wet walls of the ice rink, or a concrete arch, if I’m in Nathan Phillips Square.
And culture, forever underfunded and relegated to “the elites,” is on our radar, too. Curl up with Margaret Atwood’s latest dystopian saga, a bottle of Seconal and some razor blades, or watch something by David Cronenberg involving people with new orifices growing out of their necks, a nasty sex virus and a posse of wise-cracking, animatronic bugs.
Sometimes I play the piano of an evening. And, trust me, no one was telling Beethoven, “You should get out more, Ludwig. You’ll never find your beloved—immortal, hanging on for dear life, or even prone to occasional nasty chest colds—sitting at home scratching out these—watchamacallilt, symphonies. Honestly, you really think Napoleon is gonna listen to this shit for an hour? My crazy Komponisten! Go out, live a little! Be a joiner! Fancy a Jagermeister jello shot? What? Oh, you mean I have to write that all down…?
But most of all, I love to spend time at the Canadian Opera Company, where at any given performance you’ll find more combat, gore and hysterical screaming than you could shake a Zamboni at, but nothing aimed at your head that’s more dangerous than a high F.
And there, resplendent in Balcony Three, and Canadian as all-get-out in my bow tie and loafers, I’ll stay.
I never thought I’d be in a position to complain about an entire generation being too concerned with getting things right. And I never envisaged the possiblity that this same generation, raised with LCD crystal displays for eyes and a 404 Not Found error message where their emotional intelligence should be, would feel empowered to talk back so sassy to their elders.
I’m interested in the mindset of perfectionism, seeing that this behavior is supposed to be the Achilles heel of Virgo, my astrological sign, and stop putting your hand over your mouth when you titter, I’m not fooled.
Over the past five to 10 years, Young People (which is everyone at least one year younger than me, just so we’re on the same page) sacrificed an entire country, the United States of America, on the altar of “if I can’t have Bernie, I don’t want nobody, baby” and during the same time Republicans, determined to thwart Obama’s every proposal, refused to engage the primary engines of democracy, namely, compromise and consensus. Frankly, I’ve begun to despise the entire concept of insisting on the most perfect manifestation of your ideals, up to and including the end whose bitterness is a foregone conclusion.
Here’s an example I stumbled on recently, in an online rag with a definite tilt to the far left called “Common Dreams.” It’s a short read, if you care to, is entitled
and takes for its premise: “if Barack Obama truly cared about endorsing a progressive economic leader, or even a leader of colour just like him, he could have chosen Jagmeet Singh of the left-wing New Democratic Party. But he didn’t.”
(The link above opens a new tab. Of course it does! Jeezus. Who do you think this is, ol’ Grampa Wilkinson with the rosy-apple cheeks and his Princess telephone from 1971?)
Ah, to be young and dewy-eyed again! If it ain’t one hundred percent perfect, goes the sentiment, then we’ll take our votes (endorsement, goodwill, high fives or whatever benefit would have been forthcoming) and go home.
According to this mindset, for Obama to endorse Trudeau can only mean one thing: they’re part of an international cabal of the one percent (how much is Bernie Sanders worth, again?); and Trudeau’s lifting out of poverty of 300,000 children is just slight of hand to distract us from his….? What? Helping Hillary at the pizza parlour?
I’m as dumbstruck and angry as you about corruption and economic inequality—just ask Canada Revenue Agency—but good reporting, even good opinions, don’t result from taking a holier-than-thou stance then cramming the facts into it like an ugly sister’s foot into a glass slipper.
I dunno, is it possible that Obama holds progressive views, Justin holds progressive views, they’re great friends and Barack truly believed he was the best choice for Canadian Prime Minister (not that we vote directly for the prime minister, we vote for a party, as I keep reminding everyone in my snippy, know-it-all way)?
What’s Obama supposed to do? Endorse everyone so they won’t be hurt, like mom buying all the kids the same Christmas toy?
Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party and a political novice, appears to be a man of great integrity, and demonstrated real leadership and finesse throughout his campaign, especially his dignified, restrained yet still straight-to-the-jugular handling of Blackface-gate.
However, the idea of Barack Obama endorsing Jagmeet made me choke on my maple-glazed donut. It would be like Barack Obama endorsing Marianne Williamson for President, or doing a commercial for Mar-o-Lago: utterly bizarre, laughable, a pity endorsement.
The New Democrats have never held power federally. Ever. Not in my entire lifetime and before and beyond. And Jagmeet Singh is a promising progressive voice, but with almost no experience. Normally we endorse a product that we’ve used and that we know works. Kind of thing?
Canadians definitely know how our dysfunctional first-past-the-post electoral system works, i.e. with results weirdly disconnected from the actual numerical vote count and with most of the parties ending up with few or no seats in Parliament. Is it any wonder that many voters feel that their participation was a waste of effort? In Ontario, after a year enduring the awful oppression of Conservative premier Doug Ford’s “balanced budget” (translation: cuts to essential services), we weren’t about to let the Conservatives and their dissembling leader, Andrew Scheer, anywhere near the driver’s seat.
We voted strategically, holding our noses about the blackface pictures, for the Liberal Party. This past federal election was, for Canadians, desperately important. We had endured the Harper years, like Trump years currently, just quieter, and we needed to send a message about keeping our progressive image and values. We barely succeeded.
I’m also sorry to see yet another tiresome iteration of the Conservative baloney about SNC-Lavalin, our lame Canadian attempt at a scandal that would be user-friendly, not involve sex or drugs and get everyone to bed by ten PM after making hot chocolate, watching Peter Mansbridge, then brushing and flossing.
In this particular scandal involving the corrupt dealings with Middle Eastern clients of a Canadian firm, the Ethics Commissioner misinterpreted his own legislation to the extent that, were his interpretation followed to its logical conclusion, every tax break and every other incentive to any corporation would have to be judged a breach of ethics.
Then there was the “pressure.” The choice was: litigation or remediation (hefty fines). The legislation allowing remediation was tabled by the CONSERVATIVES. The execs at SNC had already done their time, and there was nothing to be gained by litigation except the probable loss of 9,000 jobs. That was the issue that caused Trudeau to “pressure” the Attorney General, Little Orphan Jody.
Imagine the blow-back if the company had folded due to the litigation. “Did no one see this coming?” everyone would have shouted. Well… yes. Justin. Can you say, “can’t win this one”?
Then of course, as soon as Trudeau shows any backbone and demotes her in a carefully-calibrated-to-be-obvious cabinet shuffle, it turns out it’s the wrong kind of backbone. He fired a woman! He must not be feminist after all! He fired a member of the Indigenous community! He’s racist!
Please. I’m as feminist and as supportive of women’s and Indigenous rights as it’s possible for a white male oppressor to be, and I’ll happily state for the record that Jody Wilson-Raybould was incompetent and not up to the pressures of her appointment. If anything, Trudeau erred on the side of over-confidence in appointing her.
I’m disappointed with Trudeau’s apparently empty promises; but to use what fell off the table to utterly discount his other significant achievements is unbalanced, unfair and maybe just the tiniest bit immature.
Remember this: Justin deliberately ran a deficit. In case you get the wrong idea, I’m not giving this as an example of his incompetence, but as an example of his courage.
For a few decades, “austerity” (but only for the middle class) has been touted around the world like a regifted Christmas sweater and foisted on one unwilling citizenry after another. I nearly wept for joy when Justin declared that he was going to spend some money to take care of infrastructure and to stimulate the economy, and when he declared that running a deficit was OK.
To be OK with a deficit flouted economic dogma. To be OK with a deficit and even smile about it was just unseemly. To spend like a good old-fashioned Keynesian economist while all the world worships the golden calf of Milton Friedman was a big mud in yer eye to the austerity drones.
Everyone who fails to keep a promise isn’t part of a sinister cabal or just pretending to be progressive.
World leaders, if you haven’t noticed, have fairly full schedules, which includes responsibilities to all citizens.They also have to have, up to a point, rather stinky diplomatic relations with autocrats, which does not constitute condoning their actions, necessarily; and they must engage in other imperfect, messy, reality-based activities that nonetheless have concrete and positive results, such as promoting human rights both at home and abroad.
Also, let us not forget that our involuntary bedding down with elephants has consequences. Justin Trudeau’s agenda, be it ever so imperfect, was additionally derailed by The Great Mouth Breather, Donald Trump. From nasty accusatory Tweets targeting our PM and his resolute negotiations for a new NAFTA, to MicrophoneGate, to embroiling us in the US targeting of Huawei with the resultant worsening of our relations with China and the danger to our nationals in that country…
…to the shooting down of a Ukrainian Airlines flight resulting in the horrific deaths of dozens of Canadians, as direct result of Trump’s unrestrained and unaccountable actions in Iran—Canada’s leadership has spent much of its time baby-sitting the US President and containing the fall out from his recklessness for the better part of four years. Don’t talk to me about broken promises until you acknowledge the distratction and disruption to our interests this represents.
My heart sincerely goes out to Young People, who’ve been taught from birth to expect instant connections and even faster results, who’ve lost the art of subtle thinking in direct proportion to their disdain for reading and therefore history, which means re-inventing the wheel, with no benefit of context or any notion of degree, countless times in a day.
Young People have been saddled with moral, spiritual and geophysical debts of every kind just as the last of us boomers are preparing to leave spaceship earth, waving farewell with our angel wings and mouthing, “Good luck, suckers!”
We fucked up. Everything. Our fragile, wounded planet. The climate. How we raise children. Sex. The way we grow lima beans. Justice. Relationships. Choosing VHS instead of Betamax. Everything.
I know this. I literally tear up when I see the frustration and anger, above all, the lost innocence of the next generation as they realize, at way too young an age to fully understand its enormity, the grand larceny we’ve committed in the name of greed and profit.
And the white male oligarchs of greed and profit have no remorse. They react in outrage at outspoken Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old climate activist from Sweden, seeing in her nothing but teenage rebellion and lack of respect, when they should be begging for her forgiveness. She is the sad avatar of her generation, children forced prematurely into adulthood as they struggle to salvage something from the wreckage in order to live. They are the new chimney sweeps.
Nothing is perfect. Insults are not political argument. There are shades of grey for the same reason that there are emergency generators and the cloud. You need a Plan B. You need to keep what works and throw out what is not working. You can’t, and you don’t need to, throw out everything.
What works, what lubricates the gears of democracy?
Compromise. Consensus. Slow, gradual, incremental change is how liberalism works (unless your country will be underwater in ten years. That merits a bit more speed). Consider how France descended into the Terror through rigid ideology that renamed the very months of the year and enforced its codes with the guillotine, and compare how England, stodgy and tradition-bound, established liberalism and true freedom through a slowly evolving concept of precedent and the inviolable rule of law.
The neoliberalism we hate is an ideology, not an economic theory. There is no such thing as a democratic ideology, because ideologies are rigid boxes. Neoliberalism is profoundly undemocratic.
So is revolution.