American arrogance? An Olympic bid while Trump tells the rest of the world to get lost

Ibtihaj Muhammad, Mariel Zagunis, Monica Aksamit, and Dagmara Wozniak after winning the team sabre bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics.  Muhammad was the first U.S. athlete ever to compete in hijab at the Olympics.

Ibtihaj Muhammad, Mariel Zagunis, Monica Aksamit, and Dagmara Wozniak after winning the team sabre bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics.  Muhammad was the first U.S. athlete ever to compete in hijab at the Olympics.

It turns out, thankfully, that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will not tailor his conscience to suit the fascism of the times.

(Did I just write fascism instead of fashions?  Must have been a typo.)

In a statement about the Xenophobe-in-Chief’s travel and immigration bans on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, the most offensive but only the latest of the president’s unconscionable statements or orders, Mayor Garcetti said such action “only fans the flames of hatred that those who wish us harm seek to spread.”

So much for any worry that Garcetti would hold his tongue to curry the Madman-in-Chief’s support for the Los Angeles 2024 Summer Olympic bid.

The time also has come for the United States Olympic Committee to end its silence, no matter that the Third Grader-in-Chief might immediately give his usual “nyah, nyah” response on Twitter and do his best to undermine the Los Angeles bid (which he is doing already.)

And it is high time for the three International Olympic Committee members from the United States – including two women, one an African-American – to show they stand against intolerance. Neither of those two women, Olympians Anita DeFrantz and Angela Ruggiero, has replied to messages seeking comment.  DeFrantz once was courageous enough to defy the U.S. government by publicly criticizing the White House-mandated U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

And time for the IOC, which reaped such goodwill over its refugee team at the 2016 Olympics, to speak out rather than continue to hide behind the shibboleth of not interfering in the governance of sovereign nations.  That IOC already insists Olympic host cities – and by extension, their governments – play by its rules.

(The USOC weighed in Monday, a day after this column was published online, with a statement that was as anodyne as expected - far from the stronger stand it took on gay rights before the Sochi Olympics.   You can read the statement on Trump's executive order by clicking here.)  

To all people of good conscience, staying silent now is as heinous as it was during Hitler’s rise to power or during the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

That is why the condemnations of what Trump and his administration are doing by Olympians like figure skating champion Charlie White, track champion Mo Farah and soccer captain Michael Bradley are so meaningful.  And Olympian Breanna Stewart, one of the greatest college basketball players in history, joined a protest at Los Angeles International airport.  They all have chosen conviction about justice and freedom over the cowardly complicity of silence.

That is why anyone who cares a whit about human rights was thrilled when former President Obama sent an official U.S. delegation headed by several prominent gay athletes to the 2014 Sochi Olympics.  Yes, it was a slap in the face at President Putin and his country’s anti-gay legislation.  Being politic in the face of such politics would have unacceptable silence.

In my column posted a few hours before the Prevaricator-in-Chief signed the executive order that has turned everyone in the world but Marine Le Pen and a handful of dictators against us, I wrote about the negative effect the new president’s “America First” posturing and the rest of his closed-mindedness would have on the Los Angeles bid.

Why would anyone vote to put an event based on uniting the world in a country whose leader is hell-bent on dividing it from that world in every way and with every barrier possible?

To those who would make the case that Trump may no longer be president when the 2024 Olympics open: the damage he and his lackeys (I may have the lackey part backwards) have done to our country and its global standing in fewer than 10 days in office will continue well beyond his presidency – and the worst likely is yet to come.

The strongest statement Garcetti could make would be to withdraw the city’s support for the Los Angeles bid because it is unseemly to be a candidate for an event that stands for everything Trump and his apparent boss, Steve Bannon, reject.

But, you say, ending the L.A. bid would imply we don’t want to engage the world, even on a level as seemingly insignificant as sports.  And maybe ending it would end any chance of the Olympics coming back to the USA for years to come.

There are more important things at stake than being an Olympic host.  And engaging the world for a month at the Olympics and Paralympics would do little good after this inhumane president works to separate ourselves from it for at least four years.

I prize the way the Olympics, even with their massive flaws and hypocrisy, serve as a cultural exchange, no matter that it is all too brief and takes place in an artificially universalist and harmonious atmosphere.

By choice, I have devoted more than 30 years of my life to writing about the Olympics and the athletes in them, because they often do carry the torch for our better natures and the best of humankind.

But, you say, the Olympics were in the Soviet Union and in Russia and China and will be in China again, and those aren’t exactly places where human rights are held dear.   And you say, Le Pen could become France’s president (which I noted last week) and the third 2024 Summer Games candidate, Budapest, already has a national leader who hews to the same perfervid nationalism as she does.

We were supposed to be different, to be better.  That is not arrogant American exceptionalism.  It is pride in what my country has stood for, even if it has compromised those values over and over again, from its treatment of blacks and Native Americans to its covert interference in the affairs of other sovereign nations.

We are the country that chose a Sudanese refugee, whose country now is on Trump's banned list, as its opening ceremony flag bearer at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  We are the country that had a black Muslim woman wearing “USA” as she competed in hijab at the 2016 Rio Olympics, winning a bronze medal.  We are the country that had two African-Americans, a Latina and a Jew on its triumphant women’s gymnastics team in Rio.  We are the country that had a star player come out as gay just before she and three gay teammates helped the U.S. win a basketball gold medal at those Games.

The USOC rightly celebrated those examples of inclusiveness.  So how can the USOC justify its muteness about Trump’s actions?  That silence is rooted in misguided, Machiavellian service of the 2024 Olympic bid, as if speaking out could do the bid more harm than Trump is.

And the real arrogance is bidding at all while this nation’s president continues to tell the rest of the world to get lost.