Ryan Lochte Is the Ugly American
John McDermott

So much of what you wrote is right on the money (or on the diamond-studded grille), but you have an obligation, even in an opinion piece, to get the facts right. You may not have seen the gas station video, but it clearly shows that a security guard, not a cop or law enforcement professional, points a gun at people who damaged a bathroom door and a sign. A gun. Presumably loaded. At a vandal. We have a name for that in America: it’s called a felony. You can see in the video that these guys posed no physical threat to the guard, so there’s no argument to be made for fear of bodily harm. It was a drunken asshole doing what drunken assholes, American or otherwise, do. One thing that makes some of us ugly Americans is the assumption that everywhere in the world is just like America and has the same norms we’re accustomed to, but in no sense is it ok, even in Brazil if the coverage is to be believed, for you to be threatened with deadly force for tearing down a sign.

And to be clear, when someone demands money while pointing a gun at you, even in recompense for destruction of property, it’s robbery, by definition. Apparently, it’s commonplace in Brazil for this kind of self-help among merchants, but we shouldn’t accept that kind of bullshit strong-arm thuggery from anyone in any context. The merchant or the security guard could have called the police at any time for a resolution, and the suggestion has been made that Lochte, et. al., didn’t want that kind of attention, but it’s no excuse for holding them at gunpoint while they emptied their pockets.

The piece also conveys the idea that Brazilian authorities calmly suggested that the swimmers make a charitable donation to atone for the sins of vandalism and being drunken idiots in public, which is complete bullshit. The authorities demanded payment to a charity as a condition of allowing them to leave the country. It was a bribe, pure and simple. The alternative for the swimmers was spending some time in a Rio jail with their passports held hostage. This was not a “suggestion”, it was extortion. They paid thousands of dollars for a couple hundred bucks worth of damage because they had to, not because some judge believed it would be a nice gesture.

Do we hate Lochte so much that we’re willing to accept the fact that multiple felonies were committed against him (and other young men who were completely innocent of any wrong-doing) in the administration of street justice? He’s a liar and an entitled jerkoff, but should it have cost any of those guys their lives? This incident points up, in the most unexpected, convoluted way, the almost complete lack of respect for the rule of law in Brazil. Yes, Brazil produced a beautiful and virtually crime-free Olympics, but make no mistake, Rio and São Paulo are among the most lawless places on earth, ruled by criminal gangs for whom consequence-free violence is a way of life. Brazil is in crisis, economically, environmentally and, as we have seen, socially. The artificial glow cast by the Olympics should not tempt any of us to look past those problems just because it hurt the feelings of the populace that some American dumbass lied about a robbery. Brazilians should feel horrible about the state of their country and should be offended by the obscene amount of money that they paid to sanitize a city for a two-week TV series. They should be dismayed at a government that allows body parts to wash up on public beaches, not at Ryan Lochte for “making them look bad”.

Having traveled abroad pretty extensively, I can tell you that a lot of Americans are guilty of cringe-worthy behavior, not the least of which is the assumption that everywhere is like America. But we do ourselves a disservice when we accept crazy, outrageous, criminal conduct even when it is perpetrated against an asshole. To be clear: it is not legitimate to act like an idiot and tear shit up in a drunken debauch, but it is absolutely unacceptable and illegal (even in Brazil) to stick a gun in someone’s face and demand money you think they owe you. If it happened here, the author of this piece and everyone reading it would be justifiably outraged at the brazenness of it. Imagine that a young American kid tore up a gas station bathroom in St. Louis and some rent-a-cop held him at gunpoint and forced him and his friends to turn out their pockets. The security guard would be in jail and there would be protest in the streets.

We can’t let our distaste for this guy allow us to convince ourselves that the Rio judge politely suggested that it would be a good idea to make a charitable donation, either. It wasn’t a suggestion. It wasn’t a request. And what makes it worse is that those guys who made the donation were completely innocent of doing anything wrong. The Brazilians held onto them and extorted the cash because they couldn’t get at Lochte, who, in a move that may belie his apparent borderline IQ, got the hell out of Dodge.

I can’t believe that I’m defending someone whose every statement is an assault to my sensibilities (I mean, this guy is 32 fucking years old and seemingly has never read a book or even thought about how his actions might impact his friends or his country), but we have to be fair, and not just to the people we like.

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