Our Best Stuff From a Golden Week
The Olympics end on a high note for the U.S. track and field team.
Happy Saturday! Were you excited as I was when you woke up to see that the U.S. men’s and women’s 4x400 meter relay teams both won gold? I was especially happy for sprinter Allyson Felix, who became the most decorated U.S. track and field athlete ever (topping some guy named Carl Lewis) with 11 medals.
If you missed this newsletter the past couple of weeks, well, no, I have not been locked in a room watching the Olympics nonstop, my eyes pried open Clockwork Orange style. That’s actually more tempting than it sounds, because I hate to miss anything. But the real explanation is that my husband and I snuck away for a little vacation to celebrate our 20th anniversary.
When I was growing up, I swam and ran track. As much as I loved watching football on fall weekends, and as much as Cleveland Indians were a constant background presence on warm summer evenings, I got to watch the stars of my sports on TV only once every four years. I particularly remember the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. I would come home from swim practice, make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and watch swimming until NBC switched over to badminton or volleyball or gymnastics. And then I would watch those. Knowing that my heroes competed even though winning didn’t promise fame and fortune (back then at least, when the athletes were nominally amateur) gave me an appreciation for all the other sports.
Yes, I am an unapologetic sucker for the sentimentality and drama, the tears of joy and sadness, and athletes wrapping themselves in their country’s flag. And I am well aware of the downsides. I don’t like that the IOC awards games to dictatorships (Sochi, Russia, in 2014; Beijing in 2008 and 2022) or that securing those bids can be a corrupt process, or that cities spend billions to host only to leave impressive structures decaying a few years later.
But there is something truly special about watching people who’ve worked to become the best in the world at something do what they do best. Pierre de Coubertin started the modern Olympic movement with the lofty goal of promoting peace, to show the world that it’s better to compete on the track or the mat or in the pool than to fight on the battlefield. At times, the results have been the opposite: In 1972, Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes in what became know as the Munich Massacre, and the Cold War loomed over the games throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, most notably with the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games and the Soviet-led boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles games in response.
While the Olympics haven’t wrought world peace, there are moments that do reflect de Coubertin’s goal, and athletes can effect real social change. One of my favorite moments from these games came in the men’s high jump. Qatar's Mutaz-Essa Barshim and Italy's Gianmarco Tamberi were both successful at 2.37 meters, but they missed all their attempts at the next height. Instead of having a jump-off, they asked officials if they could share the gold. The officials said yes.
Simone Biles’ withdrawal from most of the gymnastic events and the largely positive reception she got was another important moment. It’s our privilege to watch these athletes do what they do best. It’s not our right. And even less significant stories can nod to the power that athletes have. The aforementioned Allyson Felix is competing in her fifth Olympics. Her fifth. In 2018, she gave birth to a daughter. Generations of female athletes have started families only after their careers ended. Felix wasn’t ready to quit, but Nike, her sponsor, effectively quit on her. The company offered her a drastically reduced endorsement deal. She spoke out, violating her non-disclosure agreement. Nike quickly backtracked, implementing a new policy to guarantee pay around pregnancy. It was too late. Felix signed an endorsement deal with Athleta instead. And in Tokyo? She was wearing her own shoes. Not from her closet, but from her shoe company. She ends her career with a record number of medals, and an unofficial record for most mettle.
Now, onto our best stuff. Thanks for reading.
On August 4, 2020, a huge explosion ripped through the Port of Beirut, killing 200 and injuring thousands. In a country that’s been devastated by terrorism, assassinations and civil war, it might have surprised some that the explosion—caused by a fire that detonated 3,000 tons on ammonium nitrate—was the result of incompetence: The material had sat largely unattended in a port hangar after being removed from a Moldovan-flagged ship in 2013. But Lebanon’s government has long been plagued by upheaval and corruption, and no one dealt with the problem. Several people have been named prime minister only to find themselves unable to form a government. The country is suffering from inflation. The Dispatch’s Emma Rogers marked the anniversary by talking to families who lost loved ones and other survivors and explaining in-depth the many problems that have Lebanon on the brink of collapse.
It’s difficult to read Jonah’s midweek G-File and not come away with the impression that the pandemic has simply broken many people. He shares stories of unruly airline passengers being duct-taped to their seats by flight crews, consumers berating retail and fast-food workers, increased road rage incidents, and a spike in ER visits by teenagers in need of mental health treatment. “I think of the pandemic—both the disease itself and the pressures and stresses attendant to the response—as a kind of background radiation that affects people differently. Some people were downright blasé about the pandemic, but lost their minds about shutdowns,” he writes. “Some people were blasé about shutdowns, but are coming apart about going back to normal.”
The report from New York Attorney General Letitia James’ investigation into Gov. Andrew Cuomo was damning: multiple allegations of sexual harassment, including claims by an executive assistant, and aide, and a state law enforcement officer. Cuomo responded with a bizarre press conference where he played a slideshow featuring him hugging a wide variety of people and compared that to Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush consoling people after natural disasters. In The French Press, David has a few thoughts, namely that it’s time for the parties—both parties—to start policing their own. “One could call this the Bill Clinton playbook, or the Ralph Northam maneuver, but the modern politician who perfected the art of simply staying put is Donald Trump,” he writes. “He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he could count on the support of a party that would have voted to toss any Democrat out of office under remotely similar facts.”
There’s no doubt we live in polarized times. But it’s also true that those on the extremes of either side are the loudest and as such shape our discourse. What are those in the middle—the vast majority—supposed to do? Some have suggested a new, third party for centrists. But Thomas Koenig has another idea. He calls for a cross-party faction of liberals and conservatives who prioritize the truth. “They can continue to vote differently, disagree on tax rates, and diverge on the morality of abortion, but they can and should openly acknowledge that they share an epistemological framework. That is, they both hold the simple yet profound assumption that in politics, truth matters, and that politics ought to respond to and cope with reality rather than seeking to overcome it.”
Now for the best of the rest:
In Vital Interests, Thomas Joscelyn draws a sharp distinction between the statements from the Biden administration about our Afghanistan withdrawal and reality on the ground. ”It is self-evident that the Taliban seek a durable solution. It is not in their interest to attempt to wrest power by force, ” was the absurd claim this week from State Department spokesperson Ned Price, uttered even as the Taliban has taken over half the country’s territory and has begun to seize provincial capitals. The insurgents, apparently, have not been persuaded by our hashtag campaign, #CeaseFireNow.
Speaking of appeasement … Richard Goldberg analyzes the first six months of the Biden administration’s handling of Iran. The regime has increased its nuclear activity, sponsored terror in the Middle East, and attacked a U.S. base and an Israeli oil tanker. The Justice Department indicted four Iranians for a plot to kidnap an Iranian journalist living in Brooklyn. And? “The response from the Biden administration was to reaffirm its commitment to rejoining the nuclear deal and lifting sanctions on Iran.”
The pandemic has exacerbated homelessness crises in many cities. Andrew reports on the situation in Washington, D.C. Encampments have popped up in small parks and plots of land overseen by the National Park Service, which has declined to enforce “no camping” rules throughout the pandemic. The camps offer the homeless safety in numbers, but the litter, public hygiene, and public safety issues have prompted businesses and residents to call on the city to do something.
And we can’t forget the pods: On The Dispatch Podcast, the gang covers all the hot topics: Cuomo, the (likely unconstitutional) expansion of the federal eviction moratorium, and the right’s new fascination with Hungary. Advisory Opinions is hitting on some non-legal topics this August, and you won’t want to miss David and Sarah’s conversation with astrophysicist Avi Loeb, who thinks it’s possible that aliens have visited earth. As hard as that is to top, Jonah’s Remnant conversation with Nathan Allebach, manager of the Steak-umm Twitter account, comes close.