Newspaper article International New York Times

America at Odds over Outsiders

Newspaper article International New York Times

America at Odds over Outsiders

Article excerpt

Last year, the United States was roiled by hostility toward immigrants. Yet stories about the insight of outsiders emerged in literature and on the big screen.

In November, a veteran CNN correspondent was suspended for two weeks over a remark that she later acknowledged was "inappropriate and disrespectful."

The Twitter post by the correspondent, Elise Labott, came after the House of Representatives had just passed a bill that would have made it much more difficult for Syrian refugees to enter the United States: "Statue of Liberty bows head in anguish."

Even as critics of the suspension, like the journalist Glenn Greenwald, sped to her defense, Ms. Labott apologized for editorializing. She has not posted on Twitter since. Yet hers was one of those utterances that resist erasure, that linger. It spoke of a year in American life roiling with hostility to outsiders.

As millions of Syrians fled a shattered country, the United States departed from its own history to keep them at bay. "Please forgive our rudeness, but we have a war in our country," a Syrian man said memorably to the BBC.

The United States wasn't in a forgiving mood, though, and a majority of governors went so far as to oppose the settling of Syrians in their states.

And it was the year of Donald J. Trump's call for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," and for the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants. And a year of surging nativism, in which Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Mr. Trump's rival for the Republican presidential nomination and a son of immigrants, could run an advertisement bemoaning that people with "traditional values" now feel "out of place in our own country."

And yet.

Amid those calls, another story line could be heard in American popular culture this past year: stories about the special powers of outsiders.

"The Big Short," on the big screen, told the story of the 2008 global financial meltdown in a new way: by focusing on the odd ducks who saw it coming when few others did.

Virtually the entire world financial elite believed the housing market could never go down. It took a socially awkward loner, a pair of Colorado buddies shut out by Wall Street and an embittered, dyspeptic maverick to see what most of the whole world couldn't. …

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