The summer Olympics are ending, but they might long be remembered as the games that saved America’s sanity.
Not because so many U.S. athletes kicked ass, but because they gave us something uplifting to watch instead of nonstop, soul-sucking political news.
For more than two weeks, any time day or night, weary viewers have been able to tune out Hillary and Donald.
And tune out they have, by the millions. Sports viewing is our traditional vicarious escape, but this summer it’s more like an emotional refuge, a peaceful place to hide.
I’d rather sit through two hours of Olympic dressage than watch another panel of talking heads try to make sense of Trump’s latest blunder, or analyze Clinton’s latest non-explanation of her previous non-explanations of her email habits.
Dressage, keep in mind, is large horses prancing sideways carrying humans who are dressed like the butlers on “Downton Abbey.” The horses do almost all the work yet the humans take the medals.
Now, you can sit there pondering this peculiar choreography and wonder why it’s an Olympic event, or you can switch to CNN and watch Wolf Blitzer interrogate some glassy-eyed pollster about Trump’s new strategy in western Pennsylvania.
The pollster, trust me, would rather be watching dressage.
I can’t remember another election year when people were so sick of the process so early in the race. The Olympics arrived as a desperately needed distraction.
During past summer games, maybe we would have tried to catch a few finals of the swim competitions. This year we were watching every single heat, even the ones in which Michael Phelps wasn’t competing.
Why? Because nobody wanted to change the channel and accidentally bump into another news scroll about the Clinton Foundation or Trump University.
So we remained pleasantly inert, glued to the men’s and women’s heats for the backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle, medleys — you name it. If they’d been swimming on pogo sticks, we would have cheered for that, too.
And the best part was that no one could possibly feel guilty about this. It’s not like you were binge-watching “Naked and Afraid” instead of Bill O’ Reilly.
The Olympics are a patriotic and socially acceptable diversion from current events. Seeing Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky rake in the gold made you feel good, no matter which bar you happened to be sitting in, no matter what part of the country.
While the Ryan Lochte “robbery” furor dimmed the glow, it didn’t dampen America’s addiction to the games.
Many events weren’t dominated by U.S. athletes, yet there was no incentive to go channel surfing. Watching a dozen straight replays of Jamaica’s Usain Bolt winning the 100-meter sprint takes only two minutes, but that’s still more time than you’d care to spend listening to grumpy Rudy Giuliani on “Meet the Press”
This will be remembered as the summer when such seldom-heard words echoed in households throughout America: “Honey, come quick. You’re missing the field hockey!”
Field hockey is similar to regular hockey, without the ice, skates, speed and fistfights. Yet this mild and loping version became positively mesmerizing, when the viewing alternative was saturation coverage of the presidential race.
Does this make us bad citizens? No, it makes us human.
Not one other advanced democracy subjects its people to such a lengthy, tedious, petty, enervating and exorbitant method of choosing its leaders. After a grueling primary season, we now get a 24/7 fusillade of Trump-Clinton news, augmented by a gagging blitz of political ads on TV, radio and online.
So, thank you, Olympic broadcasters, for giving us a break.
Not just for showing us the heroics of Phelps, Biles and Bolt, but also for the field hockey and dressage, and even for the team rhythmic gymnastics — the synchronized ribbon waving wasn’t so baffling, if you had the Grateful Dead on your headphones.
After the closing ceremonies, we can all re-embrace our civic responsibilities. Through the archiving miracle of the internet, we can go back in time and find out what we missed in the realm of U.S. politics during these two carefree weeks.
And the answer will be: Not much.
Leaving us to wish that, for sanity’s sake, the Olympics could go on until November.