LochteAleppo

By now, you know the news that Ryan Lochte, whose claim of being robbed at gunpoint with friends overwhelmed Olympic coverage in Rio for days, was lying. He made the whole thing up, claiming to be pulled over by armed Brazilian thugs as a cover for being an American thug who beat up a bathroom and urinated outside. He underestimated a lot of things in this process, including the power of surveillance, the sophistication of the Brazilian government and people, and the intelligence of everyone. But the main thing he overestimated, as do most Americans spending any time outside the confines of this nation’s borders, was American Exceptionalism.

No better poster-boy could be imagined for American Exceptionalism, and for that at least, I guess we should be grateful to Lochte. For he shows us our true selves, as we really are: entitled, spoiled, lazy, violent, and willing to use words and the presumption of our innocence to manipulate, mislead, and ultimately abuse others. A gas station in Rio de Janeiro did not appear to him as a real place worthy of respect, merely as an obstacle to be destroyed when it did not suit his immediate wants. The people of Rio did not seem worthy of respect, so he made up a story that perpetuated dangerous stereotypes about their city. Even his friends were not deemed deserving his loyalty, so he fled the city before they could catch up to him. At every turn, the momentary whim and reputational superiority of Ryan Lochte were all that mattered.

Of course, he got caught. And the reason for his incredulity about this, the reason he could make such uncalculated and boneheaded decisions in the first place, is because of a more insidious part of American Exceptionalism. It’s not just the audacity to do and say and be things that no one else is allowed to. It’s the further insult of assuming everyone loves you for it.

It’s a tiny bit understandable why a star Olympic athlete would think this way. After all, he’s surrounded by a glorifying and grateful nation, where reporters ask him questions no harder than “Were you happy after winning the gold medal?” Everywhere he goes, he’s admired for his physique, his athletic achievements, his contributions to our country. So perhaps it’s easy then to think he’d be untouchable, that all he’d have to do after a night of roughing up some facilities in Rio is make up a plausible-sounding lie about those dangerous natives and their treacherous ways. But if we miss the larger point of Lochte here, we do ourselves a mighty disservice. His need to be the victim, to be the one in danger and protected, when he was in fact the threat: this is the beating dark heart of American Exceptionalism.

It is through our wailing victimhood that we attempt to curry the favor of a subservient planet. Even though we use more resources than anyone, even though we accumulate more wealth at the expense of literally everyone else, you must feel bad for the poor, poor American people. It is us, not you, who knows what it truly means to suffer. We are the ones who are attacked, who are victimized, who are in need of recompense and now. And we actually believe that the rest of the world goes along with this prioritization. How else to explain reporting on terror attacks abroad where the headline is that one American was killed, and only the subhead mentions the 63 others dead? How else to explain our endless citation of 9/11 as a reason to permanently, endlessly bomb tens of other countries? To reserve the right to bomb any of them, at any time, including any civilians who make the mistake of being in the same square mile as a suspected “terrorist”?

Of course the Emperor, like Lochte himself in the pool, has no clothes. Mercifully the rest of the world, when not being bullied into a vote at the UN at least, sees through the pitiable attempts of Americans to grab the title of most wronged people. They have their surveillance cameras out, they talk to their police, they are willing to ask slightly more probing questions than “was it just awful for you to go through that?” The world can see Americans for the brash bullies that we are, hogging everything and complaining that we don’t get more.

So the next time someone asks “why they hate us,” think of Ryan Lochte. Think of what you would think of this flag-draped American hero were you not from the same country he is. The man is an unrepentant, muscular, unthinking model of the way we put ourselves out into the world. We expect to cruise through it on charm, good looks, and the envy of others. They aren’t buying it anymore. They’ve caught us on tape, desecrating their land, disrespecting their people. And they’re going to call us out.

Maybe we should spend less time going for the gold. Maybe we’d be better off thinking about the weight on others’ shoulders first before trying to adorn our own.