Conn Smythe used to say “If you can’t beat ’em in the alley, you can’t beat ’em on the ice.” That’s not as pugnacious as it sounds really, he was talking about hockey after all.
Smythe was talking about the need for players to have a certain attitude, to bring a combative approach to how they played the game. Hockey is a physical sport, not for the faint of heart.
Politics, also not for the faint of heart, is not supposed to be a physical sport. But in the United States in the past couple of weeks it has been becoming one. We have seen scenes reminiscent of third world dictatorships. Demonstrations at political rallies have gotten out of hand on more than one occasion. Who is to blame is irrelevant; violence escalated to the point where police had to use pepper spray on the crowd.
Now Donald Trump is predicting riots if there is an attempt to deny him the Republican Presidential nomination, assuming he doesn’t manage to lock up sufficient delegates in the primaries. He says he’s not inciting violence, not endorsing violence, just letting people know what could happen. Of course by doing this he is perhaps giving some less stable people an idea for future actions, but he really wants you to know that actions have consequences.
I’m not sure when we had our last political riot in Canada. There was the G20 Summit in Toronto a few years ago, 2010 I think it was. And there were protests that got out of hand at the APEC meetings in Vancouver in, I think, 1997. Those were about international gatherings.
When it comes to domestic politics we are pretty polite people. There were student demonstrations in Quebec in 2012 that were a little out of control, but I’m not sure they qualified as a full-scale riot. After all, in that case there were politicians marching with the students (I am assuming the politicians had a lobotomy first). Given that crowd estimates were that 200,000 people were marching at one point it was a remarkably well-behaved group.
There was the St. Jean Baptiste Day riot in Montreal in 1968, the day before a federal election. That one also wasn’t a really big deal, but is remembered because it solidified the election of Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who stood up to demonstrators who were throwing things at him.
Indeed, our biggest and most destructive riots have been hockey related, that’s the sort of country we are. When our teams win, or lose, there seems to be a strong possibility violence will break out. Maybe if they didn’t sell alcohol at the stadium there wouldn’t be a lowering of social responsibility. But if you suggested that then there might be a riot.
So what do we make of the violence that has been happening and is predicted to happen in the United States? It is not the first time we have seen violence happening there, though I don’t remember the two major political parties being involved in recent ones.
In the third world violence surrounding elections is frequently the aftermath of losing the vote. I am told that in Ukraine political parties budget for the post-vote protests – they want to make sure everyone knows the election was stolen from them. Maybe that is where Trump is trying to position himself and his supporters. He figures he needs to win the primaries because he knows he can’t win an open convention.
The hallmark of a true democracy is how you handle losing. Winning an election is easy. What is more important is gracefully accepting defeat when you lose at the polls (or if the rules don’t let you have your way). Donald Trump hasn’t lost yet, but he already is showing signs he hasn’t learned the lesson.