Every four years, the world’s eyes train upon humanity’s greatest specimens with hope and awe. National pride and accolades rain upon those whose lifetimes are dedicated to representing fellow citizens. Thank goodness we have the international spectacle of the Olympics to distract us from the current four-year cycle of politics in America. Thank goodness we have charismatic stars like Adam Rippon to rally round. Thank goodness we can separate good citizens from bad regimes.
While we may have entered a new gilded age as expressed by the gold-plated largesse of a billionaire president, American oligarchs still look to international comrades—other oligarchs from Russia to the Middle East—for fraternity. We, the proletariat and middle class, are frozen out of corrupt markets that swirl around metals like uranium and black gold. The rest of us look on with disgust as those same oligarchic fraternities are openly hostile to their own Adam Rippons. Besides the Chechen LGBT purges and their “gay propaganda” laws, there are many reasons for Americans to be abhorred by Russian norms. Their systematic cheating in international sport is emblematic of their arrogance: sins against decency, if not against democracy.
The International Olympic Committee has been slightly more effective in its ability to neutralize state-sponsored interference in free and fair competition than either the United Nations or the United States. Doping scandals at the Olympics have led to the freezing out of Russian-flag-draped athletes at these Winter Olympics. We may be inclined to feel badly for those Russian athletes who have been left stateless and without an anthem to accept medals beneath; if the isolation of these individuals leads to a Russian reckoning, then so be it. A system of cheating against opponents, whether political or athletic, unfairly benefits, unequally as it may be, an entire society. Sanctioning an evil regime’s bad behavior had the effect of eventually toppling the Soviet Union, after all.
Believers in the American federal system would describe ours as a highly organized, rules-based body meant to enforce fairness among its member states. This could also reasonably describe the compact that drives the United Nations. Both of these bloated institutions exhibit a systematized inability to neutralize the disruptive nature of a government led by a former KGB spy. Instead, the world needed an (ostensibly) corrupt-unto-itself governing body, the IOC, to strip the Russians of their mettle.
The same government that doped its athletes has meddled around the globe. In the Putin era, we’ve witnessed the world’s costliest cyberattacks, black marketeering, propping up rogue regimes in North Korea, Central Africa, and Syria, surreptitious annexation of independent neighbor states, and outright interference in elections around the globe from Radio Free Europe to former Soviet satellites.
While there is still question about the degree to which Russians colluded with internal American political organizations (though much evidence suggests that there were apparent efforts to support anything anti-Hillary Clinton) to affect the outcome of our most recent election, we know that they tried. We know that they attempted to hack voting machines. We know that they used our own Constitutional freedom of speech against us. We know that they exploited social media and fomented support for anti-establishment politicians like Stein, Sanders and Trump. We have enough evidence to indict thirteen Russian nationals—though, a mostly symbolic act—for failing to register as foreign agents, identity theft, and violating laws against the use of foreign money in our elections.
We also know that the Russian government is outwardly hostile toward American values like diversity. We know that, even if it had an Adam Rippon of its own, it would—at best—prevent him from representing it on the international stage. At worst, we can surmise that their own Adamov Ripponskis would have been rounded up and purged from its hateful society. Sadly, there are elements that maintain power in the United States which are outwardly sympathetic toward that hostility. Though not fully realized, the anthems of equality and diversity in America stand as a contra mezzos to those elements of Russian (and American) hate. Though not perfect, America continues marching against those elements of hate in America. The most recent four year cycle has both proven and disproven it: Olympics and elections.
The Olympics has shown us that there are consequences for cheating. The American backlash against Russia has shown us that there is favor—at least rhetorically—in diversity and democracy.
The resilience of America’s core values has given us pride, even in the face of fading hostility toward it. Thankfully, the Russian forces that may have tipped the electoral balance toward Trump have not been justified in what they expected would be similar hostility toward the LGBT community. Trump may not be the most pro-LGBT politician in America, but he’s also not the least. The Russian endgame was, undoubtedly, less interested in an explicit anti-gay message than it was in stirring up general distrust of liberal institutions. Nonetheless, those Russian oligarchs and spies who predicted that the election of Trump would have a tidy anti-gay side effect have to be disappointed.
As far as the Olympics go, as far as equality of opportunity goes, and as far as the visibility of LGBT superstars like Adam Rippon go, the best the Russians can hope for is to continue meddling. Meanwhile, we Americans—as imperfect as we may be—will take our pride, we’ll take our democracy, we’ll take our stage before the world and we’ll take our own, duly earned Olympic medals.