You know what these Olympics need? The Soviet Union.
I’m kidding, of course. With the exception of Vladimir Putin, no one wants to see the return of the USSR. They were a real life Evil Empire, directly responsible for the killings of tens of millions.
But having a “bad guy” in the Olympics certainly made it easier to bring America together. Just watch “Rocky IV” and the fight against Ivan Drago. The country agreed communism was bad. Throughout the Cold War, it was a popular belief that partisanship ended at the water’s edge — while there may be Republicans and Democrats when it came to domestic debates, in foreign policy, we were all simply Americans.
That doesn’t quite hold true anymore. You saw it in 2012, when President Obama mocked Mitt Romney for saying Russia was our greatest geopolitical threat. Since then, Russia has annexed Crimea, harbored American fugitives, fostered civil unrest in the Ukraine, and supported Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, a regime to whom Obama famously gave a “red line.” Oops.
And today, you see the discord over foreign affairs everywhere. You see it in Clinton today echoing Romney 2012 on the threat posed by Russia, with Trump seemingly seeking a “reset” with Putin. Or in Trump and Clinton opposing Obama on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, despite Clinton serving as one of its architects. Or in the massive debates and parliamentary maneuvers over Obama’s Iran deal, with a bipartisan Senate majority failing to kill it.
This fraying of American unity has carried through to the Olympics. We used to chant “USA” until our voices were hoarse, reveling in the victories in some of the most obscure sports. Gold medal in Eventing? USA! Gold in the 1,000 meter 2-man kayak? USA! Yet, while Americans of all stripes cheer the successes of the gymnastics or swimming teams, domestic debates spill into the 31st Olympiad.
For example, Ibtihaj Muhammad is an American Olympian fencer. She also happens to be a Muslim and wears a hijab. That has brought her into debates about Islam’s place in American society, immigration, and terrorism. Rather than blithely cheering “USA!” as she wields a sabre against contestants from foreign nations, we are dragged into disagreement.
Or look at this year’s first American gold medalist, 19-year-old Ginny Thrasher. A young woman competing for her nation — in an event the U.S. had not medaled in since 2000 — should have been met with universal praise. Instead, since her sport involved shooting, she was served snark. Tweets about Americans expecting to do well in the “Mass Shooting” event have no place in what should be a celebration.
Fencers should not be held to account for the terrorists who use machetes to kill, injure, and maim “Christian infidels,” nor should athletes competing in shooting sports be dragged into arguments about gun control. And for a country founded on the ideal of religious liberty, our Olympians should not be subjected to questions about their religious garb, whether it is a hijab or a yarmulke.
So while going back to the USSR might make it easier to refocus on what makes us American — instead of doped-up Communist supermen — it shouldn’t be necessary for us to set politics aside and simply enjoy the efforts of our countrymen. The United States of America is the only nation in the world founded on an idea, rather than geographic happenstance or tribal affinity. We believe no matter your color or creed, men and women are individuals endowed with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Besides, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, America invented BMX; it is about time we win our first gold medal in it. And that is a good enough reason to chant “USA!” as any.