Cohen and Kristof

In “America’s Bountiful Churn” Mr. Cohen says those who would make America great again by building walls are in fact closing America down.  Mr. Kristof says you should “Test Your Savvy About 2016 With a Quiz.”  Will Trump, Cruz, Clinton or Sanders win the presidency? Will the refugee crisis improve? He gives us a multiple-choice exam on what’s to come.  Here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Gallup, NM:

The main drag in Gallup runs along Historic Route 66, adjacent to the railroad. The Hotel El Rancho, where movie stars filming westerns once stayed, is still there. A host of trading posts sell Navajo jewelry, pottery and rugs, as well as artifacts made by the smaller Zuni Nation.

I wandered into the Silver House Trading Co. and found Hafiz Nassar watching CNN with his wife. He managed a tired, amiable smile. Turned out he was a Palestinian who had left a village near Jerusalem more than four decades ago, tried New York and found it too noisy, moved on to Denver, before coming out to New Mexico to sell Lebanese and Turkish rugs. “You know, I just stopped here,” he said. “You have to stop somewhere.”

The Navajos and Zunis were interested in exchanging their products for his — and a decent barter business was born. Things are slower and harder now. As we talked, a young Navajo woman came in, showed Nassar a silver ring set with a turquoise stone, and pleaded for 10 bucks. He gave her a crisp bill.

We got talking about Middle Eastern politics, the last thing I expected to do in downtown Gallup, but you never know when or where conversation may veer to the travails of the Holy Land.

Nassar goes back to his village once a year for a few weeks. He complained about the Israeli roadblocks that turn the short distance to Al Aqsa Mosque into a long and tiresome journey. He talked about the connivance that cements the violent status quo. He said peace would have to come one day and on that day the world would be amazed at the wealth Israelis and Palestinians could create together. I agreed, a little wearily, a little wanly. On the eve of a new year the urge to imagine an end to the 67-year-old conflict resurfaces, even absent any progress.

We shook hands, Arab and Jew, there on what had long been America’s Main Street, the road westward from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif., avenue of hopes for countless migrants fleeing the drought of the Dust Bowl and assorted other disasters.

Like refugees today, they did not know where they were going but they knew what they wanted to leave behind.

I had been reading D. H. Lawrence, who lived in New Mexico in the early 1920s. He wrote: “That’s why most people have come to America and still do come. To get away from everything they are and have been.”

No vehicle for reinvention as powerful as America has ever been or is likely to be created. The vast emptiness of New Mexico, an invitation to the imagination, is a reminder of the space here to forget and begin anew. Those who would “make America great again” by building walls are in fact closing America down.

I thought of the just-married Syrian couple I met on the Greek island of Lesbos in September and the way the man, a dentist from Damascus, deadpanned, “This is our honeymoon.” I thought of the four Syrian Christians, lost souls, I found in a fifth-century monastery near Mardin, in southeastern Turkey.

This has been the year of the Great Migration — one million refugees arriving in Europe by boat, some 60 million displaced people on the move, more than at any time since 1945. This is a plausible moment to play on fears, to beat the nationalist drum. Those new buddies, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, specialize in that. The Vladimir Trump policy school teaches that big lies produce big fears that produce big yearnings for big strongmen.

Therein lies danger. Decency demands that in 2016 Western societies do better in accommodating the millions fleeing the Syrian debacle.

In Albert Camus’s “The Plague,” the doctor at the center of the novel, Bernard Rieux, concludes that the only way to save people is through decency. Asked what that is, he responds, “In general, I can’t say, but in my case I know that it consists of doing my job.”

My daughter, Jessica Rollin, a psychiatrist, is doing her job. She and her French-born husband, François, also a doctor, moved from A to Z this year, from Atlanta to Zuni. She now treats the mental health problems of the Zuni Nation. Zuni’s remote — it makes Gallup seem like a metropolis — and I thought there of the twists of repetitive displacement and migration that brought my grandparents from Lithuania to South Africa, my parents from South Africa to London, my cousins from South Africa to Israel, myself from London to New York, and my daughter to, of all places, Zuni.

Migration is loss, but also reinvention, as Nassar’s story of Palestinian-Zuni trade reminded me. Jessica’s second child will be born in Gallup next month, just off Route 66. I see hope and symbolism in that. America’s bountiful churn endures, quieter yet stronger than the angry bombast of division.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

1  At the end of 2016, Donald Trump caused a stir by …­
  • Preparing for his presidential inauguration by renaming the White House “Trump Palace.”

  • Raising funds to renovate the Statue of Liberty so that its arms move, waving immigrants away.

  • Actually, no stir at all. After being crushed in the presidential race, he has been quietly trying to repair business relations with Mexicans, Muslims, women — well, with everybody.

2  In the Republican presidential race …

  • Ted Cruz built on his Iowa caucuses victory to make further gains on Super Tuesday and win the nomination.

  • The failure of any candidate to win enough delegates led the convention to draft House Speaker Paul Ryan.

  • Marco Rubio overcame his failure to win either Iowa or New Hampshire to narrowly win the nomination.

3  Hillary Clinton …­

  • Dropped out of the race after a series of scandals, and a last-ditch effort to draft Joe Biden came too late. Bernie Sanders won the Democratic nomination and became America’s first democratic socialist president after Ted Cruz split G.O.P. votes with the

  • Easily won the Democratic nomination but then lost in November as Senator Marco Rubio and his running mate, John Kasich, portrayed her as a crony capitalist whose time had passed.

  • Became the first woman elected president.

4  In Russia, President Vladimir Putin ended 2016 …

  • By appearing in a television documentary riding bare-chested across Siberia on a dragon borrowed from “Game of Thrones.”

  • By dispatching provocateurs to instigate unrest in Estonia, then dispatching troops “to protect Russian lives” there. NATO responded by holding meetings.

  • By crushing growing anti-government demonstrations across Russia.

5  President Obama’s 2016 Syria strategy consisted of …

  • Persuading Sunni Arab countries to battle the Islamic State in conjunction with Kurdish forces.

  • Reluctantly dispatching 10,000 ground troops into northern Syria to destroy the Islamic State capital, Raqqa.

  • Really? You think he has a Syria strategy?

6  Regarding Obamacare, in 2016 …

  • Republicans voted 23 more times to repeal Obamacare, making it a major theme of the 2016 campaign.

  • The unpopularity of fines for lack of insurance made it a growing embarrassment to the Democratic Party.

  • Amid evidence of its success, Republican candidates dropped the subject.

7  In response to the Black Lives Matter movement …

  • Princeton University announced that it would rename the Woodrow Wilson School and invited bids for naming rights. Donald Trump bought them.

  • Not much happened: Attention switched to the presidential race.

  • After the election, Mr. Obama announced the formation of a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

8  Chinese-U.S. relations …­

  • Were set back after a naval clash in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands.

  • Deteriorated because of President Xi Jinping’s nationalist policies in the South China Sea and oppressive human rights policies at home.

  • Improved because undetected Chinese government hackers wrote glowingly about China in the President’s Daily Brief.

9  The technological breakthrough of 2016 was …

  • The Amazon/Uber joint venture to send a drone to pick you up and carry you to your destination.

  • The spread of bloodstream bots that roam your arteries and veins, looking for cancer cells to destroy.

  • The formation of a company to operate self-driving taxis.

10  The refugee crisis …

  • Ameliorated as Europe guarded its borders more tightly.

  • Deteriorated but received less attention as Europe bribed Turkey to curb the passage of refugees to Greece and make the problem less visible.

  • Worsened as hundreds of thousands of Iranians, Nigerians, Ethiopians, Afghans and others left for Germany.

11  Democracy …

  • Was the title of a smash Broadway show about early America by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also created “Hamilton.”

  • Retreated in central Africa, as leaders of Burundi, Rwanda and Congo all tried to cling to power.

  • Came to Belarus, often described as the last dictatorship in Europe.

We’ll see in a year how we all did. May our hopes be realized and our fears prove unwarranted. And happy New Year to all my readers!


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