This story was excerpted from the July 22 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.
The Tokyo Olympics, a year late, shorn of crowds and now opposed by many in the host city, are already one of the strangest in history. Japan’s hopes of using the Games to project an image of modernity and power in Asia are dashed. Even before the torch is lit on Friday, the Covid Games are already a symbol of a world muffled by the pandemic and its relentless capacity to crush dreams.
It’s one thing to swim, vault, sprint and ride in empty arenas. But there are now questions about the sporting integrity of the Olympics as more and more athletes arrive in Tokyo, test positive and have to pull out. The IOC’s preparation and health protocols are already under scrutiny.
One argument for carrying on is that the sportsmen and women, many in disciplines that need their quadrennial spotlight, trained for years and deserve their chances. But it also clear that commercial considerations are driving decisions. That is where the US comes in. The Olympics are a massively lucrative exercise. US television network NBC has another 11 years to run on a rights deal worth more than $7 billion. Multiple American corporations drive the financial success of the Games with sponsorships and have big dollars invested.
This Olympic year already seems a bit off-kilter stateside, because the Summer Games usually coincide with a presidential election — and often have a political overhang. The 1984 and 1996 Games, on US soil, gave Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton a chance to bask in reflected patriotic glory before winning reelection. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter called a boycott of the Moscow Games over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and months later lost his job. In 2008, President George W. Bush agonized over whether to go to Beijing over human rights concerns, in the end making the trip. Business wiz Mitt Romney saved the 2002 Winter Games from financial disaster, but by 2012 his poorly received comments about London as the Republican presidential nominee became an election issue.
Olympics are often heralded by media critiques over venues, doping scandals, and corruption and hypocrisy that often surround the Games. But that’s usually forgotten once athletic icons like US swimmer Michael Phelps and gymnast Simone Biles write their names into the national zeitgeist.
Maybe the five-ring circus can work its magic again.
Roll of dishonor
At this point, it might be easier to keep a list of close Donald Trump associates who haven’t fallen into trouble with the law.
Another one of the ex-President’s cronies, billionaire investor Tom Barrack, has found himself behind bars after being accused of illegal foreign lobbying on behalf of the United Arab Emirates to influence Trump’s foreign policy.
Barrack, who was chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee, denies the charges. But he joins a long line of Trump associates who have faced charges. Some — like Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign foreign-policy adviser George Papadopoulos — spent time in prison. Others — like Roger Stone, a longtime master of the dark arts of political campaigning, and ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn — benefited from Trump wielding presidential pardons to get them off the hook. But Barrack, and possibly Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, who has pleaded not guilty to tax fraud, won’t benefit from such powers if they need them since Trump is now a private citizen. One list of members of Trump’s firm, campaign or administration who have been charged with crimes has 11 names on it and stands as a memorial to one of the most corrupt administrations in American political history.
Remember when the former President said he would pick “only the best and most serious people” to staff his operation?