Trump and the Olympic Games: One City, Two Narratives

For the better part of last week, Los Angeles essentially became a microcosm of the US: on one hand, LA served as the background to the painful erosion of Washington’s democratic standards. On the other, it showcased the enduring resilience of local authorities wanting to keep America on an even keel.

Exhibit A: The world watched, stunned, as James B. Comey received one of Donald Trump’s famous “you’re fired” declarations while speaking with FBI agents at the LA field office. Unlike the hapless contestants on The Apprentice, though, Trump didn’t do him the service of ousting him face-to-face. The FBI director learned that he had been fired while watching a news report on TV.

Exhibit B: With the President busy cheapening the dignity of his office efforts were afoot elsewhere in LA to bring the 2024 Olympics Games to town. Over three days, the LA 2024 team sought to woo the International Olympic Committee (IOC) with a combination of “Hollywood pizzazz” and admirable frugality.

Those efforts can’t have been helped by the timing of Trump’s actions, which only fed the outside perception that America under Trump is out of control and volatile. Some say Comey’s dismissal is just the start of Trump’s own Night of the Long Knives, with rumors that he is on the cusp of firing other senior figures – with Press Secretary Sean Spicer topping the list. In any event, the political discourse in the US has now spent months lurching from one crisis to another: when Trump isn’t busy obstructing justice, he’s divulging highly classified secrets to hostile foreign powers or showering praise on despots.

Indeed, for the LA 2024 bid, Trump has been nothing short of a nightmare. Rumor has it that LA has even started pushing for the 2028 Games, when Trump would be safely out of office. His “America First” rhetoric, enmity towards other countries – particularly those which are Muslim majority – have left many wondering if the US is really the best place to host an international event of this magnitude. Somali-born British gold medalist Mo Farah lambasted Trump’s executive order on immigration, saying that it leaves him unsure if he can return to his training base in Oregon, and that the president “seems to have made me an alien.” Make no mistake, while the ban was ultimately blocked by the courts, international athletes have already felt the burn. In February, the U.S Embassy in New Delhi denied a visa to an Indian athlete, which was due to participate in a snowshoe championship, citing reasons of “current policy.”

The fact that the president himself didn’t look too keen on lobbying on behalf of LA’s bid – declining to meet with the IOC itself and repeatedly boasting of his disdain of sports and exercise in general – certainly didn’t do the city any favors. Even with the LA 2024 team pulling out all the stops to showcase all that is good about America – baseball, Hollywood glitz, world-famous locations – Trump is the elephant in the room and increasingly hard to ignore. As in so many areas – the environment, international relations, and women’s rights – NGOs, community groups or local authorities try to move forward, but Trump keeps dragging them back.

Like so much of coastal America, Los Angeles could pay the price for Trump’s presidency while doing everything it possibly can to distance itself from the man and protect Angelenos from the destructive impact of his policies. Even before Comey was fired, the City Council passed a 10-0 resolution asking that President Donald Trump should be investigated for any high crime or misdemeanor sufficient to warrant impeachment proceedings. Since Trump took office, LA has been one of the main cities stuck in a standoff with the administration over its potential status as a “sanctuary city.” Mayor Eric Garcetti doesn’t like using that term, but the argument seems pretty straightforward: LA refuses to turn its policemen into immigration enforcement officers and have them hunt down undocumented immigrants. A reassuring message of welcome from the city, but only against the backdrop of a foreboding threat from the Feds.

As a bittersweet reminder of what Trump could have done to help win the Games for the US, the IOC followed up its visit to Los Angeles by going straight to Paris and conducting a separate inspection tour there. In stark contrast to the borderline constitutional crisis currently engulfing America, the Olympic representatives found the newly-minted French President Emmanuel Macron there to welcome them. Just two days after being sworn in, Macron met with IOC officials and those responsible for leading the French bid at the presidential palace. There’s no telling what impact the French president’s intervention will have on France’s chances, but it certainly provided a striking contrast. Then again, considering Trump’s track record when it comes to delicate conversations with foreign officials, perhaps it’s for the best he wasn’t personally involved.

Obviously, political circumstances might (hopefully) be very different by the time the Games actually roll around. Trump would need to be re-elected to actually preside over the 2024 Olympics. It’s hard to see him lasting even a single term in office at this point. Even so, the IOC can only decide based on the circumstances as they stand now. Unfortunately for the city of Los Angeles, circumstances mean trying to justify why President Donald Trump deserves to host the Olympic Games.