In hockey you have the defending champion – that’s like the party in power. Trying to replace the champ is the opposition – much like the Opposition party or parties in politics.
Like hockey, politics can get dirty. There are rules and people to enforce them. Most of the time, they work. Sometimes they don’t.
In hockey, it always starts with a player trying to get an advantage by a little stick work. A butt end in the solar plexus works pretty well, in close quarters. Easy to get away with. The ref might not see it, but the other team will know all about it. The next thing you know, the retaliations start, and the whole thing goes downhill.
In politics, the accepted rules of decorum only last as long as it takes for somebody to start taking cheap shots, exaggerating, grandstanding, casting aspersions. With the tone lowered and expectations for decent behaviour ruined, the downward spiral continues, with all parties joining in the childish and stupid behaviour.
A lot of people, looking at this, may be sick of it and wish for something more civilized. A lot of others, it must be said, enjoy it and join in the mud-slinging with great relish. Social media is a great forum for such bare-knuckle antics.
The thing that saves hockey from being ridiculous is that underneath all the antics, you get the impression these guys actually respect each other. Or at least they end up respecting each other. Politics? It seems to be getting dirtier and nastier with each passing month.
The performer with the biggest mouth and the most outrageous claims seems to be on a winning streak. Scoring points seems far more important than telling the truth, let alone showing basic respect.
Willam Butler Yeats, the Irish poet, seemed to speak to this sort of situation in his famous poem ‘The Second Coming,’ which goes, in part:
‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.’
That’s perhaps a bit on the apocalyptic side, but it has a nice ring to it. There is something valuable at risk here – what some like to think of (perhaps naively) as the ‘moderate centre.’ When the radical extremes get too strong, too strident and too popular, things do fall apart. But the ‘middle of the road’ types by nature aren’t the ones who make noise. They can only make their noise at election time. And that, as we’ve seen, is no guarantee that things are not going to spin off into weirdness.
Common decency – perhaps it’s been too much taken for granted. In hockey you don’t leave it to chance. The NHL has been down that road and has bit by bit been reducing the possibility of things descending into anarchy. In politics – as in life generally – it’s a lot harder to figure out how to do that. Faith in the system has a lot to do with it. When that faith is lost, things can get very bad indeed.