Let Us All Come to Worship at Olympia

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As the editor of a journal, I get lots of email advertising other journals. (Yeah — go figure.) I got some on August 19 from Commonweal, the liberal Catholic mag, puffing an article by E.J. Dionne, which starts with the following display of asininity:

Simone Manuel, Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles will not be eligible to run for president until 2032, although Michael Phelps hits 35 years old in 2020. After watching these Olympians display so many traits we admire — persistence, discipline, grace, goal orientation, resilience, and inner strength — perhaps we should consider drafting one of them some day.

It is both a blessing and a curse that the Summer Olympics happen during the election year. The blessings are obvious. Especially in this campaign, it is a relief to watch a display of American talent that truly brings the country together.

My first thought was, “It’s odd to be reading this a day after learning what Ryan Lochte and his Olympian buddies did in Brazil.” They might have shown a kind of persistence and goal orientation (whatever that means), but I have some doubts about the rest of Dionne’s list of admirable qualities. The idea that because somebody is a good athlete he or she must be a wonderful human being, and a political genius to boot, is even more ridiculous than the notion that because somebody is a good artist or musician, he or she must have all the answers about everything else.

But the thing that left a nasty taste in my mouth was the nonsense about bringing the country together. Let’s get this straight. It’s not necessarily a good thing that a country comes together. It’s most likely to come together under the influence of fear or in an episode of mob behavior or at the bottom of a descent to the lowest common denominator. Anyone with a brain must have observed that millions of fans all cheering for the Chicago sports teams have done precisely nothing to bring the city together in any other respect or to solve any problem except the teams’ desire for profits, and the same can be said about any other audience in any other city.

“For God’s sake and for God’s sake,” as the lady says in A Portrait of the Artist, do we have to keep hearing nonsense like this?

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