Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

In “G.O.P. Debate Doldrums” Mr. Blow says as the time ticks down, Republicans continue to flirt with the idea of nominating someone who is wholly unelectable.  Mr. Cohen, in “Turkey Haunted by Its Ghosts,” says Erdogan re-enacts Ataturk as the Kurdish question strains Turkish-American relations.  Mr. Kristof considers “Mizzou, Yale and Free Speech” and says on university campuses, First Amendment rights are colliding with inclusivity.  In “Wow, More Terrifying Than Trump” Ms. Collins gives us some crib notes from the Republican debate to consider if our Thanksgiving dinner turns political.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The bloom is coming off the rose for the Republican presidential debates.

Now that could simply be me and my incredibly disenchanted view of this particular field of folly, but I don’t think so.

Much of the initial interest was in the mystifying appeal among Republican voters for the raucous real estate developer whose opening campaign salvo was an appeal to American xenophobia and a penchant for making unkeepable pledges completely divorced from reality and practicality.

The race had a charlatan as showman who attracted the attention like a train wreck: a disaster from which many were unable to look away.

Then came the rise of two other outsiders: the catatonic Ben Carson and the robotic Carly Fiorina.

Carson was the more compelling of the two, because he got more traction and his path to politics is even more unlikely.

He was a poor, and, he says, violent child — he writes of trying to stab a friend and going after his mother with a hammer — who turned his life around, became an acclaimed neurosurgeon and has peddled the story for profit ever since.

The story is fascinating, if true — though some of it is clouded by questions. The most recent examination, by The Daily Mail, calls the hammer anecdote into question.

The other spectacle to behold was to watch the Bush dynasty crash and burn because of Jeb(!)’s utter inability to give that exclamation point meaning and his inability to connect. So the establishment interest has slowly turned to his feisty, if hollow, young protégé Marco Rubio, who always strikes me as too slick by half and is apparently indesperate need of a personal accountant.

These debates are no longer about winning the nomination, but about avoiding doing something that would make you lose it.

Thus, we are treated to a rehash of the same tired talking points. Even the novelty has worn off. The candidates take few chances and offer few new nuggets.

Take all the other people with governor or senator on their résumés who thought that experience would mean something, but are gradually coming to realize that this is simply not their cycle.

John Kasich is growing ever more irascible the longer he stays in this senseless race. Rand Paul continues to sound like he’s phoning it in. Ted Cruz can’t translate his fire-starter reputation into barnburner enthusiasm.

In the undercard debate, Chris Christie continued his implicit anti-Black Lives Matter shtick by claiming that Democrats don’t support the police, Rick Santorum keeps trying to remind people that he did well last time, and Bobby Jindal… why is Bobby Jindal still in this race?

These debates have simply become an exercise in performance rather than policy review. We are watching to see who avoids the gaffe, who gets the applause, who attacks well and defends well against attacks.

This is all theater, an audition to see who would look less ridiculous standing opposite the eventual Democratic nominee.

Who will be able to offer a common-sense rebuttal on how to deal with millions of undocumented immigrants in this country? Who will articulate a strong national defense policy and antiterrorism strategy that isn’t too trigger-happy and war-obsessed? Who has a plan for tax and economic policies from which the most Americans would benefit? Who has the best plan to deal with culturally destructive social policies — like mass incarceration and the war on drugs — that are leaving more and more Americans disillusioned.

As it stands, the more articulate and electable voices among the Republican lot have failed to break into the upper ranks. Instead, the leaders continue to be men who have no experience in elected office and who no reasonable centrist voter — the ones who actually decide presidential elections — could ever conceive of in the Oval Office with access to nuclear codes.

It’s by no means clear to me that these two men even want to be president. But this increased exposure virtually guarantees increased book advances and speaking fees, and in the case of the real estate developer and maker of shiny ties, more sales.

These two guys stand to make out like bandits, while leaving the Republican Party’s presidential prospects in shambles.

Indeed, the whole Republican debate process is a parade of improbability. Every debate only bolsters Democratic optimism. As the time ticks down, Republicans continue to flirt with the idea of nominating someone who is wholly unelectable, thereby gifting to Democrats an election that many thought would be exceedingly hard to win.

Please to consider the fact that the NYT repeatedly informs us that Bernie Sanders is unelectable but takes the occupants of the Clown Car seriously…  Next up we have Mr. Cohen, writing from Diyarbakir, Turkey:

“We don’t want Turkey to become Syria or Diyarbakir to become Aleppo.”

Those were the words of Tahir Elci, the president of the Diyarbakir Bar Association when I spoke to him after the recent Turkish election here in this troubled city of strong Kurdish national sentiment. On the night of the vote tires smoldered and the tear-gas-heavy air stung. In the center of the old city, rubble and walls pockmarked with bullet holes attest to the violence as police confront restive Kurds.

Elci was detained last month for a day and a half after saying in a television interview that the Kurdistan Workers Party, or P.K.K., was not a “terrorist organization” but “an armed political organization which has large local support.” An indictment has been brought against him that seeks a prison sentence of more than seven years. The P.K.K. is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

“For a few words about the P.K.K., in which I said some of its operations were terrorist but it was not itself a terrorist organization, there is a lynching campaign against me,” Elci told me. “Yet there is no strategy among the Turkish security forces against the Islamic State, no real mobilization. If ISIS were treated like the P.K.K., it would be very different.”

As G-20 leaders prepare to gather in Turkey next week, the fissures in the fabric of a polarized society are more marked than at any time in the dozen years that PresidentRecep Tayyip Erdogan has held power. His initial push, as prime minister, to oversee an era of neo-Ottoman opening both to Turkey’s neighbors and to minorities within the country, has collapsed in violence.

In the place of dialogue with historic enemies of the unitary Turkish state forged in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk has come the increasingly authoritarian assertion of a new brand of Sunni religious nationalism, the replacement for Ataturk’s secular nationalism. Erdogan, the representative of Turkey’s religious conservatives, had sought to portray Ataturk’s fiercely secular state as a “parenthesis”; instead he has come to re-enact many of the characteristics of that state, not least its veneration of one man.

Turkey is not about to become Syria — indeed it has shown remarkable generosity and resilience in absorbing more than two million Syrian refugees — but some of the same actors are present, including the Kurds and ISIS. So, too, is violence.

The Kurdish question has boiled up again in acute form. Kurdish militias loyal to the imprisoned P.K.K. leader, Abdullah Ocalan, have taken control of a wide area of northern Syria that they call Rojava, defeating Islamic State. Kurdish pesh merga forces are fighting side by side with the United States against ISIS in Iraq. Young Kurds here in the Diyarbakir area have tried to set up autonomous areas within cities, only to be crushed. All Kurds at some level want the state denied them when the Ottoman Empire broke up. They may settle for autonomy but a dream persists.

“I want autonomy, non-assimilation, the ability to use our language in our daily lives, and recognition of Kurdish as an official second language in Kurdish-majority areas,” Elci said.

The emergence of Kurds as America’s Iraqi and Syrian allies against ISIS has complicated the critical Turkish-American relationship. President Obama probably needs Erdogan more than Erdogan needs him, a fact that limits American leverage. Still, renewed Turkish-Kurdish negotiation and real Turkish commitment against ISIS are paramount American interests. The impression with Erdogan has been: better a Sunni Islamist fanatic than a Kurd.

Turkey is at a crossroads. The modern state was born through military prowess and a ferocious act of will. Ataturk forged a Westernized nation state from the many-shaded ruins of the Ottoman Empire. His creation involved an attempt to excise other peoples and identities — be they Kurdish, Armenian, Greek or Alevi — in the name of the new nation.

But Ottoman diversity, the fruit of many centuries, could not be subsumed into Turkish nationhood overnight. Turkey remains haunted by its ghosts.

The reverberations from Turkey’s troubled birth and the years preceding it persist. The 1915 Armenian genocide remains unacknowledged by Turkey even though Germany’s president, in this centennial year, spoke of German complicity. Joachim Gauck said: “We Germans collectively still have to come to terms with the past, namely when it comes to shared responsibility and perhaps even complicity in the genocide of the Armenians.”

It is for Turkey to answer how Germany could be complicit in a crime that did not exist.

Just how sensitive these issues remain was evident in the electoral campaign. Among the slogans of the A.K.P., as Erdogan’s Justice and Development party is known, was: “One Nation. One Flag. One State.” The insistence on oneness reflected a reality of fracture. Settling the Armenian dispute and reaching a negotiated settlement with the Kurds must be central Turkish goals before the centennial in 2023 of Ataturk’s state.

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

On university campuses across the country, from Mizzou to Yale, we have two noble forces colliding with explosive force.

One is a concern for minority or marginalized students and faculty members, who are often left feeling as outsiders in ways that damage everyone’s education. At the University of Missouri, a black professor,Cynthia Frisby, wrote, “I have been called the N-word too many times to count.”

The problem is not just racists who use epithets but also administrators who seem to acquiesce. That’s why Mizzou students — especially football players — used their clout to oust the university system’s president. They showed leadership in trying to rectify a failure of leadership.

But moral voices can also become sanctimonious bullies.

“Go, go, go,” some Mizzou protesters yelled as they jostled a student photographer, Tim Tai, who was trying to document the protests unfolding in a public space. And Melissa Click, an assistant professor who joined the protests, is heard on a video calling for “muscle” to oust another student journalist (she later apologized).

Tai represented the other noble force in these upheavals — free expression. He tried to make the point, telling the crowd: “The First Amendment protects your right to be here — and mine.”

We like to caricature great moral debates as right confronting wrong. But often, to some degree, it’s right colliding with right.

Yes, universities should work harder to be inclusive. And, yes, campuses must assure free expression, which means protecting dissonant and unwelcome voices that sometimes leave other people feeling aggrieved or wounded.

On both counts we fall far short.

We’ve also seen Wesleyan students debate cutting funding for the student newspaper after it ran an op-ed criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement. At Mount Holyoke, students canceled a production of “The Vagina Monologues” because they felt it excluded transgender women. Protests led to the withdrawal of Condoleezza Rice as commencement speaker at Rutgers and Christine Lagarde at Smith.

This is sensitivity but also intolerance, and it is disproportionately an instinct on the left.

I’m a pro-choice liberal who has been invited to infect evangelical Christian universities with progressive thoughts, and to address Catholic universities where I’ve praised condoms and birth control programs. I’m sure I discomfited many students on these conservative campuses, but it’s a tribute to them that they were willing to be challenged. In the same spirit, liberal universities should seek out pro-life social conservatives to speak.

More broadly, academia — especially the social sciences — undermines itself by a tilt to the left. We should cherish all kinds of diversity, including the presence of conservatives to infuriate us liberals and make us uncomfortable. Education is about stretching muscles, and that’s painful in the gym and in the lecture hall.

One of the wrenching upheavals lately has unfolded at Yale. Longtime frustrations among minority students boiled over after administrators seemed to them insufficiently concerned about offensive costumes for Halloween. A widely circulated video showed a furious student shouting down one administrator, Prof. Nicholas Christakis. “Be quiet!” she screams at him. “It is not about creating an intellectual space!”

A student wrote an op-ed about “the very real hurt” that minority students feel, adding: “I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.” That prompted savage commentary online. “Is Yale letting in 8-year-olds?” one person asked on Twitter.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page denounced “Yale’s Little Robespierres.” It followed up Wednesday with another editorial, warning that the P.C. mind-set “threatens to undermine or destroy universities as a place of learning.”

I suggest we all take a deep breath.

The protesters at Mizzou and Yale and elsewhere make a legitimate point: Universities should work harder to make all students feel they are safe and belong. Members of minorities — whether black or transgender or (on many campuses) evangelical conservatives — should be able to feel a part of campus, not feel mocked in their own community.

The problems at Mizzou were underscored on Tuesday when there were death threats against black students. What’s unfolding at universities is not just about free expression but also about a safe and nurturing environment.

Consider an office where bosses shrug as some men hang nude centerfolds and leeringly speculate about the sexual proclivities of female colleagues. Free speech issue? No! That’s a hostile work environment. And imagine if you’re an 18-year-old for whom this is your 24/7 home — named, say, for a 19th-century pro-slavery white supremacist.

My favorite philosopher, the late Sir Isaiah Berlin, argued that there was a deep human yearning to find the One Great Truth. In fact, he said, that’s a dead end: Our fate is to struggle with a “plurality of values,” with competing truths, with trying to reconcile what may well be irreconcilable.

That’s unsatisfying. It’s complicated. It’s also life.

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Perhaps you didn’t watch the Republican presidential debate this week. That in no way excuses you from having an opinion about it. It’s the last one until December, and all you’ll have to work with if you want political conversation at Thanksgiving dinner.

Except, perhaps, Donald Trump’s proposal that we boycott Starbucks for changing its holiday coffee cup design. He also promised a crowd recently that when he is president “we’re all going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” Even if you never said it before? Hard to tell.

But about the debate. Jeb Bush sent out a mass email before the event began, asking all his “friends” to send him a dollar so he’d “know you’re at home cheering me on.” Doesn’t that sound a little pathetic?

As promised, it was certainly more issue-oriented than the ones that went before. However, the subject was supposed to be the economy, and we have long since learned that when these people talk tax plans, we’re not going to hear anything except the word low. And occasionally flat.

“As you noted, I have rolled out a bold and simple flat tax: 10 percent for every American that would produce booming growth and 4.9 million new jobs within a decade,” said Ted Cruz. In a perfect world, someone would have jumped up and yelled, “Say what?” since Cruz was talking about a potential $3 trillion budget hole.

Later, Cruz volunteered that he’d impose sharp budget cuts, including the total elimination of five major agencies — only four of which he could remember. People, do you think this should be the end of Ted Cruz? True, he got around it by listing the Department of Commerce twice, which was a little slicker than “Oops.” But still.

Carly Fiorina kept touting her three-page tax code. Not a three-page tax form — three pages of laws to cover all the taxes paid by every individual and business in the country. She mentioned the three-page code four times during the debate, and not once did anyone say, “Carly, what the heck are you talking about?”

The only person who might have passed for the teller of hard truths was — are you ready? — Ben Carson. While making the ever-popular promise to get rid of loopholes, Carson actually volunteered that he’d ax deductions for charitable contributions and home mortgages. Everybody liked them, Carson acknowledged, in his soft, calming voice. “But the fact of the matter is, people had homes before 1913, when we introduced the federal income tax, and later after that started deductions.”

Profile in courage or failure to think things through? Excellent topic for holiday discussion.

The only two issues that sparked genuine debate were immigration and military affairs. On the immigration front, both Bush and John Kasich attempted to tear into Trump’s plan to deport all the undocumented immigrants in the country. “Think about the families, think about the children,” Kasich begged, in an appeal unlikely to tug at the heartstrings of the Trump base.

Trump, for his part, claimed that President Dwight Eisenhower deported 1.5 million illegal immigrants to Mexico and stayed popular. (“Dwight Eisenhower. You don’t get nicer. You don’t get friendlier.”) This was a program titled “Operation Wetback” during which some deportees drowned.

Cruz took the opportunity to say that his father “came legally from Cuba.” It’s actually a very complicated story, but the important thing was that Cruz got to mention his immigrant parent. It is a rule in these debates that everybody who is not Jeb Bush or Donald Trump tries to sneak in some detail about humble origins. Kasich’s grandfather had black lung disease! And really, there should be a drinking game in which everybody takes a swig each time Rubio says: “My father was a bartender. My mother was a maid.”

Trump and Bush tangled over American involvement in the Middle East. Trump quoted an unnamed general, who said: “You know, Mr. Trump? We’re giving hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment to these people, we have no idea who they are.” Notice that in the Donald world, even generals call him “Mr. Trump.”

Meanwhile, Carson said America needed to make global jihadists “look like losers” by taking back a big oil field they control in Iraq. “We could do that, I believe, fairly easily. I’ve learned from talking to several generals, and then you move on from there.”

Who won? It’s hard to imagine voters who’ve stuck with Trump or Carson this long would be deterred by anything at this point. Many experts seem to think Cruz and Rubio did well, which I guess they did if you like illogical economic programs and totally terrifying views on foreign affairs. I guess Jeb felt encouraged. After the debate he emailed a request for another donation, to “keep the momentum going.”

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