by Dante Zappala
Donald Trump was in full focus on Thursday night. Even on the YouTube stream I was watching, every line of anger in his face was sharp. The lens that provided the tight shots was set to a wide aperture. The depth was shallow. The flags in the background were only a blur, an impression of familiar colors, but otherwise undistinguished.
I tried to listen objectively. Despite my disdain for the man, despite my fear of what his presidency might bring—or maybe because of it—I haven’t been able to watch a speech of his from start to finish. I felt obligated to hear this one, the biggest of this campaign so far.
I’ve been having an e-mail dialogue over the past few months with my friend, Charlie, who is a southern conservative. Interestingly enough, he now lives in socialist Canada. We’ve gotten into it in every which way around Trump, Clinton, police brutality, authoritarianism, race, class, and propaganda (just to name a few topics). I sent him a note during the speech that simply said, “Your boy is doing a good job.”
I certainly don’t buy it. The broad promises to immediately end crime, to eliminate ISIS, and to restore the middle class all sound like great ideas. But there’s clearly no substance or specific path to do that. Still, I thought his anti-establishment appeal to the Bernie Bros was savvy. It was his most calculated, deliberate and effective political move to date.
My interest started to wane just as the vehement anti-gay bigots in the crowd had been unwittingly baited into affirming that the LGBTQ community should also be protected from terrorists. Just then, I got a text from Marielle Hall to coordinate a run in the morning. That was excuse enough to shut off the speech and get to bed. Our runs have taken on a new focus these past several weeks. Her third place finish in the 10,000 meters at the US Olympic Trials earned her a trip to Rio. On August 12th, she’ll be toeing the line of an Olympic Final. I’ve been trying to make myself available to her at every turn during this critical period of preparation.
The timing of getting this text during the Trump speech brought an ironic smile to my face. In the purest sense, Marielle is heading to Olympics to represent her country. The competitions will commence just as the conventions wind down. After being inundated with appeals for who should represent us in the White House, we’ll cheer on our athletes who represent us at the Games. We might be hoarse by the end of it all.
Yet behind all of the screaming and shouting that defines our passion for these institutions, we find significant intellectual gaps. Trump has painted himself as a Messiah who will deliver us from this uncertain time of violence and chaos back to an era where we had the rule of law. This vision of America is attractive to a large swath of the electorate. But that’s all it is: a vision, like one Betty Parris and Abigail Williams might tell to the village. This whole theme of Trump’s campaign is rooted in an appeal to a racist history of oppression and hierarchy. Sadly, this makes some people feel safe. Even more lost on these people is that their own white ancestors probably weren’t doing so well back then either, particularly if they came from the immigrant class and/or were Catholic.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that the Democrats won’t attempt to create their own spin. They will use equal force to convince us that Hillary Clinton will lead us to prosperity and peace. Much of it is a smokescreen. While Democrats make efforts to pass gun control laws domestically, they have simultaneously engineered a grotesque proliferation of automatic weapons worldwide. They’ve put countless guns into war zones, weapons that inevitably have been used to kill innocents and American soldiers alike.
These productions beg us to seek an honest debate, to seek reason, truth and pragmatism, as our choices ultimately boil down to A, B or none of the above.
In that cynical context, we should welcome the Olympics, where the world’s nations gather in the spirit of unity and friendship. Still, behind that façade, we find an event rife with controversies around drugs and cheating. Worse, the International Olympic Committee operates as something of a cartel. They strong arm host countries into investing billions of public dollars into needless infrastructure with the false promise of economic impact.
IOC Rule 40, commonly known as the blackout rule, prohibits athletes from engaging with non-Olympic sponsors in the weeks before, during and after the Olympics. This severely limits athletes’ ability to profit from their participation and success at the Olympics; which, for many, will be the only time anyone watches them and their sport.
Like politics, the Olympic movement is seemingly rooted in noble ideals, yet it operates with an emphasis on power and money for an elite few.
Sometimes it’s best not to lift the curtain. Myths have sustained settlements and civilizations throughout the course of humanity. Our politicians appeal to the American myths of equal opportunity and freedom. They hang a banner of belief that says we have shared ideals and values. One needs only to read my e-mail exchanges with Charlie, or to simply walk on South Broad Street with his eyes open for a few blocks to find that there is no baseline consensus in our society whatsoever.
But perhaps if we believe there is a thread that keeps us together, we’ll continue to strive for understanding. Or, at the very least, we’ll reject anarchy.
With that in mind, Marielle and I set out the next morning for a long run, a chance to chat about my move to a new house this summer and her strategy for winning a medal. Within this wide spectrum of topics, as the temperatures rapidly rose and with many miles waiting ahead of us, there was one thing we didn’t discuss: Politics.