A specter is haunting Los Angeles: the specter of the Olympics. And this shape-shifting specter has now taken on a frightening form: that of Donald Trump.
On Tuesday, during a stretch of high-dollar fundraisers on the West Coast, President Trump swooped into Los Angeles to talk Olympics. He took the stage with late Hollywood mogul Lew Wasserman’s grandson Casey Wasserman, the chair of the LA 2028 Olympics, as well as Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Trump’s treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and number-one lackey, the broken Lindsey Graham, were also in attendance.
The main order of business was officially offering federal government support for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics. Olympic bidders originally pegged the Games costs at $5.3 billion, though, in April 2019, organizers revealed that costs had risen to $6.9 billion. But that price tag did not include the bulk of the security costs, which will likely total another $2 billion, at the least. Trump signed on for those costs, as everyone expected he would.
In doing so, Trump trotted out the standard-issue bromides that come with every Olympics, stating,
These games will also be a major economic victory. The 2028 Olympics will create 112,000 jobs and add $18 billion to our economy, at least, including $7 billion in wages for American workers.
In making such claims, Trump not only tapped into the rich tradition of overstating Olympic benefits but also acknowledged that the Games are an exercise in trickle-up economics. If the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics actually injected $18 billion into the economy and only $7 billion went to workers, where does the other $11 billion go? It’s like 1968 Olympian John Carlos said: “The reason they only have the Olympics every four years is because it takes them four years to count the money!”
As for Wasserman, he positively genuflected in Trump’s presence, saying, “Our goal is to create a safe, successful and secure Olympic Games. And that’s not possible without the support you and the federal government have provided us.” (No truth to the rumor that Wasserman asked to clean Donald Trump like a cat. )
Putting Trump blessedly aside, grand claims about the power of the Olympics is a rampant habit in Los Angeles. Previously, Mayor Garcetti claimed, without offering supporting evidence, that the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics would come out $1 billion in the black. He has also vowed that Los Angeles will have solved homelessness by the time the Games roll around in 2028.
In the meantime, under Garcetti’s watch, the number of unsheltered Angelenos has only risen. In 2018, the official point-in-time count found that more than 53,000 were homeless in LA County, although the Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit group, calculated nearly double that number: 102,278.
By May 2019, the official count rose by 12 percent to 58,936 in LA County, while homelessness in the city of Los Angeles spiked by 16 percent to more than 36,000. In LA County almost three people die in the streets every single day. When speaking to the media, Mayor Garcetti calls homelessness “the greatest humanitarian crisis of our times.” But that humanitarian crisis has only worsened under his tenure as mayor.
Jonny Coleman of the anti-Games group NOlympics LA told us, “Donald Trump is the perfect symbol of LA 2028 and the cruelty of the Olympic project writ large. He’s a slumlord, a hotel developer, a media mogul, as well as a pro-police, pro-incarceration xenophobe with a clear racist, anti-immigrant agenda. These are the same interests profiting from and backing this (and every) Olympic bid. In that invite-only hotel room in Beverly Hills, we got to see true class solidarity among the liberal Democrats backing the bid locally and the Republican goon squad to implement a policing nightmare for the next decade.”
At the press conference, Trump threw the most grotesque possible spotlight on the homeless crisis, slamming city leaders for failing to deal with it. Tapping into corrosive stereotypes about the homeless, he said, “They have to clean it up. You have needles. You have things that we don’t want to discuss all over the streets, flowing into the oceans.” Trump—and this is terrifying for the people who could be affected—threatened to intervene if the city does not “clean it up fast,” adding, “If they can’t do it themselves, we’re going to do it. The federal government is going to take it over and we’re going to do it.”
One federal government intervention is guaranteed: The 2028 Los Angeles Olympics will be declared a National Special Security Event, or NSSE. The NSSE designation shifts power to a bevy of federal law enforcement agencies that will descend on LA to provide security for the Olympics. An uncured virus of the Bill Clinton presidency, National Special Security Events are led by the US Secret Service, which designs a security plan and brings in the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Super Bowl is routinely designated a NSSE. Infamously, when Atlanta hosted the game in 2019, ICE swooped in and arrested rap artist 21 Savage.
Because the homeless population in Los Angeles is so massive, it has emerged as a central issue for the Democratic Socialists of America in LA. DSA-LA’s Housing and Homelessness Committee is one of the most active groups in the chapter, and it gave birth to NOlympics LA, the collection of activists who have fought back against the Olympic machine.
As Coleman said, “Through Trump’s arrogant threats and Wasserman’s grotesque fawning over him, we were given confirmation of things we’ve known for years. We got to see Trump threaten to cleanse LA of immigrants and unhoused people, which is what we’ve know is his, and our local politicians like Olympic booster Eric Garcetti’s, prerogative. We saw the secretary of DHS address the NSSE, a several-billion-dollar federally funded project that will undo whatever inkling of sanctuary protections that may exist here, with no mention from Trump, DHS, or the media as to what that implies for the largest undocumented population in the country. We know this is going to be a pretext for more policing in arguably one of the most militarized police cities on the planet.”
Jobs are not guaranteed by the Olympics. Economic growth is not guaranteed by the Olympics. All we know is that Los Angeles is getting debt, displacement, and autocratic militarization. In other words, this is the perfect symbol for the era of Trump.