By Aristophanes and Hermes
2017 is a year to remember. From political upheaval to mass tragedy and more, last year had its fair share of breaking news stories, at times surprising, delighting and horrifying your American Unionist correspondents.
Below, our politics crew lists what we consider to be the 10 most important news stories of 2017. As an outlet primarily focusing on United States coverage with a political bent, this list is dominated by American affairs. However, we do include international and foreign news stories when such would appear to be a significant world occurrence even in the eyes of our predominantly American audience.
Additionally, we’ve decided not to include many ongoing events that have commanded news coverage for several years, unless a significant enough development occurred in 2017. Unfortunately, this precluded things such as Myanmar’s Rohingya refugee crisis, the Yemeni civil war and the Venezuelan economic collapse from appearing on our list. All of these events, though important to discuss and address, are not included as individual events for our rankings.
With that in mind, please enjoy our selections, and be sure to voice your support, critiques and general thoughts in the comments section at the end of the article.
10. The fall of ISIS
In 2017, the Islamic State terrorist organization, also known as ISIS, suffered tremendous defeats. First, ISIS lost its control of the metropolitan hub of Mosul in Iraq. Later, the group was driven out of Raqqa in Syria, ISIS’ de-facto capital.
Despite this, there has been surprisingly little focus on this pivotal change in power in the Middle East. President Donald Trump has touted our allies’ victory, but the news cycle has continued on, more interested in confronting the sensational scandals and democratic norm-breaking of his young presidency (and rightly so).
ISIS has not been defeated, per say, but it seems 2017 was an almost insurmountable setback for the young terrorist organization.
9. NFL protests
On August 14, 2016, then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made a statement heard around the sporting world — and the U.S. responded. Kaepernick wanted to protest the racial inequities of police brutality. After originally sitting for the national anthem, he met with a Navy SEAL, who suggested kneeling. It stuck. The silent protest spread amongst other professional athletes. It was, however, not without controversy.
Critics said the protests were inappropriate and that it was “un-American” to protest at that time and place. They believed the players who protested should have been more grateful for their privileged perch. Much of the criticism came from social conservatives. President Donald Trump was a key opponent of the protests, condemning them frequently through tweets. At a rally in Alabama, the president said the “sons of bitches” who protest the anthem should be fired. Vice President Mike Pence walked out before a game between the 49ers and his home-state Indianapolis Colts.
Proponents of the anthem protests believed these criticisms were the exact reason the protests were necessary in the first place, arguing it was their First Amendment right to make such a statement. Proponents also said their intentions were being willfully misunderstood; the protests were never about grandstanding, but spreading the word about the unfair treatment people of color receive on a daily basis in America.
While his protesting may not have landed Kaepernick a new job after opting out of his contract with the 49ers after the 2016 season, it did end for him with a nomination for Time‘s Person of the Year and GQ‘s Citizen of the Year awards for his efforts to make positive change. The NFL also put down $89 million towards social justice causes, especially those with a focus on improving black communities. Regardless of whether the move was genuinely heartfelt, it was still a major win for Kaepernick and other NFL players. Kaepernick also has a pending lawsuit against the NFL alleging the 32 teams’ owners colluded to keep him out of the league.
The story isn’t over. We’re likely to see these same issues re-emerge in 2018.
8. Doug Jones’ Alabama upset
When Jeff Sessions left his Alabama Senate seat to become U.S. attorney general, few doubted his successor would be anything other than a conservative Republican. Then, the unthinkable happened: Alabamians went to the polls in a special election December 12 and selected a liberal Democrat to represent the state. The winner, former federal attorney Doug Jones, bested his Republican rival, accused child molester Roy Moore (pictured above), in a stunning upset that few foresaw.
One of the reddest states now has a split delegation to the U.S. Senate, harkening back to the 2010 Republican victory in reliably blue Massachusetts, when conservative Scott Brown won a Senate seat in normally unfriendly territory. Then, as now, the country’s primary opposition party received a remarkable boost in support as voters became disillusioned with the current administration’s governance.
The 2010 race preceded historic loses for the Democrats in that year’s midterm elections. Will the same happen to Republicans in 2018?
7. Emmanuel Macron’s French revolution
Since the institution of the Fifth Republic in 1958, France has maintained a remarkably stable two-party system — that is, until Emmanuel Macron’s “La République En Marche!” (REM) routed both right and left in a radically centrist coup.
On May 7, Macron, a former economy minister in Socialist President François Hollande’s government, won the presidency in a run-off against the far-right Marine Le Pen. A month later, his newly founded political party, with its coalition partner, won historic margins in legislative elections — 350 seats out of a total of 577. The center-right Republicans and the left-wing Socialists were devastated, losing their vice-like grip on the legislature with the flipping of hundreds of seats.
France is no stranger to shocking revolutions, but the rise and dominance of the pro-European Union REM party is all the more shocking coming amidst populist, anti-EU political uprisings in other countries across the continent, included the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands. Macron’s presidency may be off to a rough start, but his residence in the Élysée Palace alone is triumph enough to grace this list.
6. North Korean nuclear crisis
The hermit kingdom of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has long aspired to be a nuclear power, but such a dream seemed far-fetched until last year. Throughout 2017, North Korea has shocked the international community by ramping up its missile testing, sparking further sanctions from the United Nations.
On August 8, the Washington Post released a report from American governmental analysts claiming the North had mastered the ability to miniaturize its nuclear weapons, allowing them to be placed inside a missile. The regime’s latest missile test, in late November, led many experts to conclude the country may already possess intercontinental ballistic missiles with a range large enough to reach the entirety of the U.S. mainland (though many still doubt the DPRK has mastered the re-entry technology necessary for a nuclear warhead to survive such a journey).
The crisis is one of failed diplomacy. The United States has long held an objective of complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-Un, seems to believe possession of these weapons of mass destruction is the only way to ensure his draconian rule remains intact.
The conflict kicked into overdrive last year under the presidency of Donald Trump, who has lobbed insult after insult against Kim Jong-Un on Twitter. One particularly egregious tweet caused a North Korean liaison to the United Nations to say the U.S. had “declared war” on his country.
In an official statement, Kim Jong-Un called Trump a “dotard” and a “gangster fond of playing with fire.” The president retaliated with a fat joke.
Only 2017 would be this odd — and terrifying.
(For strong reporting from inside North Korea, I recommend this short documentary narrated by the New York Times‘ Nicolas Kristoff, as well as this excellent feature from New Yorker reporter Evan Osnos.)
5. Republican tax bill
After the GOP’s failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a long-running campaign promise of many Republicans, it was an open question whether the party had the wherewithal to accomplish its second big legislative goal: A wide-ranging reform of the federal tax system. With full control of both Congress and the presidency, and the ability to use reconciliation rules to skirt a possible Democratic filibuster in the Senate, Republicans needed only simple majority support to pass their bill. However, with such a narrow margin in the Senate — 52 to 48 seats — many wondered if it could be done.
On December 20, they succeeded. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law over objections from many professional analysts. Critics of the legislation worried it would balloon the deficit and that the vast majority of tax cuts would accrue gains to only the wealthiest Americans while middle class and low income families saw little change. (For more info on the bill, here’s a thorough analysis from the New York Times.)
Seemingly, the conservative bill is at odds with Trump’s populist campaign promises. Will that hurt him if he runs for re-election? Will the sheer unpopularity of the bill, as evidenced by public polling, hurt the Republican Party in the 2018 midterm elections? And will economic stimulation promised by the bill’s supporters really off-set the near-term revenue loses, or will the analysts’ prediction of increasing national debt come to pass? We may soon find out.
4. Severe weather
In 2017, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria headlined an unusually strong hurricane season that caused a record $369.86 billion (and counting) in damage. Confirmed dead top 880. States bordering the Gulf of Mexico took the brunt of the storms, with one of the worst crises befalling the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. There, the total death toll is still being calculated. Official counts have been questioned for low-balling the numbers.
More recently, deadly wildfires in California continue to burn the countryside, forcing many to evacuate from their homes. Hundreds of thousands of acres of land have burned, especially from the Thomas Fire, the largest in state history. California is under emergency protocol, and this crisis will bleed into 2018. Billions of dollars of damage is expected, but, as the fires continue to burn, no one really knows how bad things will end up.
3. Mass killings
Mass shootings and bombings frequently stole headlines in 2017.
On October 1, a man shot and killed 59 people, including himself, at a country music festival in Las Vegas. It was the deadliest individual mass shooting in U.S. history. For a moment, public conversation was brought back to the potential of reasonable gun control. However, three months out, little has changed. The next month, 26 people were killed in a church shooting in a small rural town outside San Antonio, Texas. As usual, there was an outpouring of grief, but few concrete steps have been taken to forestall future tragedy.
Outside of the U.S., a terrorist bombing in Manchester, England, killed 23 and injured over 500 in May. A similar attack was carried out with assailants using a van to hit pedestrians in London two months later, and another in New York on Halloween. The Syrian Civil War rages on, as does the humanitarian disaster in Yemen. The persecution of the Rohingya people continues in Myanmar and Bangladesh, as does sectarian conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East. Each of these ongoing conflicts have resulted in numerous deaths.
Mass killings continue to make the news year after year. Unfortunately, it seems this trend is likely to continue.
2. Donald Trump’s presidency
President Donald Trump’s first year in office is, without a doubt, one of the biggest stories of 2017. This was my original choice for the top slot, and I believe there’s still a strong case for positioning it at No. 1.
Beloved by his supporters, abhorred by his critics, Donald Trump has been, if nothing else, an interesting political phenomenon. While he did not get as much major legislation passed as he may have hoped, he has made headway on several priorities, such as cracking down on illegal immigration and imposing a travel ban, currently held up in court, against several majority-Muslim countries. Notably, he and his party failed in their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but managed to pass serious tax reform earlier this month — his first major legislative victory (and, on its own, No. 5 on our list).
Trump has also kept himself busy in the foreign policy arena. His April missile strike on Bashar al-Assad’s anti-humanitarian military in Syria received bipartisan praise. Under his guidance, the United States-aided forces have severely limited the Islamic State’s control over portions of Iraq and Syria (No. 10), while his bombastic rhetoric has escalated tensions with the nuclear-armed communist state of North Korea (No. 6). Trump also decided to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an act condemned by the United Nations due to the ongoing sectarian conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians in the contested capital city.
What’s to come in 2018? Expect more from the Robert Mueller-headed FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. After Trump in May fired then-FBI Director James Comey, who was then heading the bureau’s Russia investigation, independent counsel Mueller was appointed to ensure the professional and unbiased continuation of the inquiry.
Mueller’s investigation has already resulted in the guilty verdict of at least two former members of the Trump campaign, and the indictment of several others. Where there’s smoke, there’s often fire. The guilty verdict of Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, to lying to the FBI is a clear sign of the inquiry’s power and speed. Rumors have swirled that Trump may be considering ordering the firing of Mueller, which would severely curtail the investigation’s work. Without good cause, such a thing is likely obstruction of justice — an impeachable offense.
It’s only two words, but it’s our top story of the year.
It’s not as if the Trump presidency isn’t worthy of the top honor on its own — and we know how much he hates to lose. But his story and this one intertwine, combining into something more significant.
Trump has proudly admitted to his own sexual misconduct, caught on tape and released during the 2016 presidential campaign. That year, he was outed and shamed, yet American society at large decided this didn’t disqualify him from serving as president of the United States.
The day after Trump’s inauguration, an estimated 5 million women marched in the largest single-day protest in American history. In the Women’s Marches, held in Washington, D.C., and around the world, women (and men) took a stand against the draconian promises of the new ruling administration. Many of the marchers protested in support of the Affordable Care Act and reproductive rights.
For a while, it seemed as if progress had stalled. Then a bombshell report in the New York Times voiced credible accusations of serial sexual abuse and rape against media mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Even if she was not the first to use the phrase in this context, Alyssa Milano’s response to the allegations against Weinstein definitely got the ball rolling. Several other women came out against the disgraced titan, essentially ending his career and causing everyone and everything to distance themselves from him. The “unspoken secret” was public, and that wasn’t all.
The “Weinstein effect” empowered women to speak out against a slew of men across the entertainment and political spectrum: Journalists Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer, lawmakers Sen. Al Franken and Rep. John Conyers, and Hollywood stars Kevin Spacey and John Lasseter, among many others, have been accused of varying degrees of sexual misconduct. Many have lost their jobs, and very likely their careers, in the fallout.
Notably, in Alabama, accused child molester Roy Moore lost a normally safe-Republican Senate seat to the liberal Democrat Doug Jones — story No. 8 on this list. This, too, was a part of the #MeToo movement.
In recognition of the gravity of this cultural moment, Time named the “silence breakers,” or the many women who have spoken out against sexual abuse, as its Person of the Year.
This is not the end. Many Trump accusers have re-emerged, calling for his resignation or impeachment. He’s denied the claims, with White House sycophants backing him up. This issue will continue into the new year and beyond. If the #MeToo movement has proven anything, however, it’s that social norms are changing for the better, and that sexual harassment is become increasingly unacceptable in modern times. This may be a top story for years to come.
- Neil Gorsuch becomes a U.S. Supreme Court justice
- The Great American Eclipse sweeps the United States
- Catalonia secedes from Spain
- British elections pose trouble for Theresa May’s embattled conservatives
- The Qatari diplomatic crisis sows uncertainty in the Middle East ■