It’s difficult to say who was more confused by Don Cherry’s Tuesday appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight – Don Cherry or Tucker Carlson.
The Fox News host didn’t seem to know who Cherry was (or that Canada had fought in both World Wars). Cherry seemed to have little understanding of why he was there.
Carlson wanted to talk about “fascists” and dog charities. Cherry wanted to talk about Bobby Orr and someone named Liz.
About a minute into the interview, Carlson started to get a look. This was not turning into the U.S.-style screed he’d hoped for. In his crotchety way, Cherry was almost apologizing.
With the crutch of hockey talk taken away, Cherry made even less sense than usual.
“We’re all immigrants and the whole deal and but I knew and nothing happened that night and nobody said anything that night and they ran it that night and they ran it later and the whole deal. And the funny thing is I never heard a thing that night. I heard it the next day at the, uh, the silent majority, as you know, is always silent.”
Carlson tried to goad Cherry into some fresh outrage. Cherry was either disinclined or couldn’t pick up his drift.
The segment would have gone smoother if Carlson had interviewed Ron MacLean, who in turn could have translated the questions into Ontarian and put them to Cherry.
Instead, the two men talked by, over and around each other. It was a nice metaphor for current cross-border understanding.
By the end, Cherry’s routine had so flustered Carlson that he signed off with this incongruous sentence pairing: “Google Don Cherry. He’s a famous man.”
So now we know: 72 hours or so – that’s how long it takes a national reckoning to descend into farce.
Three days is also enough time to sort the winners from the losers in this thing. There are no winners.
Rogers Sportsnet loses. They’re now stuck with a $5-billion hockey package they can’t afford and no one to provide the face of it.
Cherry didn’t just take himself down. He turned Hockey Night in Canada into the newest salient of the culture wars. Good luck to whomever has to replace him. It won’t save them. They are doomed. But good luck anyway.
MacLean loses. It’s possible he wasn’t even listening to Cherry as he wandered into a field of rhetorical bear traps. I mean, after 30-odd years of that blather, would you? But that thumbs-up at the end has brought MacLean low. He’ll spend the rest of his career being asked about it.
Hockey loses. The one thing the NHL would like to avoid in this country is a deep consideration of what hockey means.
Hockey would like to mean Jean Béliveau, frozen ponds on a Saturday afternoon and Paul Henderson’s goal. But all those things are from a long time ago. What does present-day hockey mean in modern Canada? That discussion starts by asking everyone in the room to stand up and split off into their tribes.
If America has blue states and red states, Canada has hockey regions and non-hockey regions. Hockey has very little to do with it, but it’s a convenient conceptual divider.
The regions were in a state of détente until Cherry’s forced ouster. That acted like a rocket launched over the border from downtown Toronto into Anywheresville, Alta.
If I roll up to you in an airport departure lounge this morning and say, “Don Cherry, eh?”, within 30 seconds I will be able to take a good guess at who you vote for, what kind of work you do and whether you live in a hockey or non-hockey region.
Dignity loses. There were a half-dozen turnings in this story that might have made it a hopeful, redemptive or maybe just useful one.
If MacLean had confronted Cherry in the moment; if all the organs of hockey, instead of rushing to cover their own hindquarters with vague statements about diversity, had brought the weight of the game down on their errant bannerman; if Cherry had said on Canadian TV what he seemed to be trying to say on the U.S. version of Soviet Central Television.
For a few moments, it seemed as though this could lead to a productive discussion about what it means to be Canadian. How ought we define that? Ought we define it at all? Given recent events, the question feels urgent. Four stray words from Cherry – “you people … come here” – had given it focus.
What do you feel about that and why? How does it inform your relationship with your neighbours? Do you wish you knew your neighbours better? Not the ones who live directly beside you or think exactly like you, but all of them. You probably do – and just as probably don’t know how to do it.
Whether we like it (and I believe the overwhelming majority of Canadians do), we’re all in this together. Cherry had given us a reason to talk about what that looks like, what it means and how we might make it better.
But that opportunity burned off quickly. Everyone ran to line up with their side and start chucking rocks. A little scroll through any random Facebook comments section on the matter is a vertical toboggan ride into intellectual hell.
My two key takeaways: The all-caps button ought to be banned from future keyboards, and if you are going to e-mail people and profanely berate them, you probably ought not do it from your work account.
Then Cherry pops up on Fox, making us all look like idiots, and you think: This cannot possibly get any stupider.
But it can. It always can.
Most of all, Canada loses. This country will be fine one way or the other. It’s too big an endeavour and too good an idea to fail.
But every once in a while, it’s useful to step back and really think about the big, fundamental questions. Without meaning to do so, Cherry gave us that chance. We were too busy yelling at each other to take it.