The nation in 2017

Women, hurricanes, terrorism and the eclipse

By Los Angeles Times

(McClatchy) — This was not the year of the first female president. It was, though, the year that women said #MeToo — and #Resist. The biggest single event occurred the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, when more than a million women and their male supporters rallied in cities around the world, including Washington, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. “We can whimper, we can whine, or we can fight back,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told marchers in Boston. “Me, I’m here to fight back.”

By their telling, white supremacists were emboldened by the election of Trump, who was slow to renounce them and embraced some of their social media memes during the campaign. That came to a head Aug. 12, when neo-Nazis and other white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, Va., chanting “blood and soil!” and “white lives matter!” A woman died when she was run over by a car, whose driver, a white supremacist, was charged. An independent review of the events conducted by former U.S. Attorney Timothy Heaphy concluded that the city of Charlottesville had failed to protect public safety and the protesters’ right to express themselves.

It was a hurricane season like no other. Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Gulf Coast of TexasAug. 25, drove north and remained over Houston for days, bringing a deluge that flooded tens of thousands of homes. Statewide, more than 50 people died. Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Irma ran through the Caribbean before hitting Florida, causing widespread damage but far fewer deaths than feared.

Then came Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico directly, leaving most of the island without power or potable water — but with plenty of anger over what was perceived as inadequate help from the Trump administration. More than two months after Maria tore through the island, much of the U.S. commonwealth remained crippled.

On the ground, it was a party. Thousands of people were spread out across a fairground, enjoying a country music performance as part of the Route 91 Harvest festival. High above them, a man with high-powered assault weapons was watching from a window of the Mandalay Bay hotel. Then he opened fire. Fifty-eight people died and more than 500 were injured in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The shooter apparently took his own life; his motive remains a mystery.

Authorities said he killed eight people by driving a rental truck along a popular bike path in Lower Manhattan. Sayfullo Saipov, in his hospital bed, said he “felt good about what he had done” and asked for an Islamic State flag to be hung in the room. Saipov, a legal immigrant from Uzbekistan, was yet another acolyte who had been radicalized by Islamic State online and allegedly took it upon himself to kill as many people as possible. New York refused to bow. The New York Marathon went ahead as scheduled the following Sunday.

The killer was methodical, relentless. He marched through the church with an AR-15-style rifle and mowed down everyone he saw — adults, teenagers, babies. His target was as “soft” as they come — First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, a welcoming place whose congregants included the shooter’s mother-in-law, with whom he was apparently having a dispute. In the end, 26 people were killed.

Scientists bade bittersweet farewell to Cassini, the NASA spacecraft that spent 13 years exploring Saturn. Cassini, whose breakthrough discoveries revolutionized the search for life beyond Earth, disintegrated in the ringed planet’s cloud tops. NASA had extended the spacecraft’s original four-year mission twice. And even in the final seconds before it burned up like a shooting star, it sent new data from deeper in Saturn’s atmosphere than it had ever been before.

Moving along a 2,600-mile, 14-state path starting in Oregon and ending in South Carolina, a total eclipse of the sun Aug. 21 seemed to bring out everyone’s awestruck inner poet — or curious amateur scientist. Even in cities where the eclipse was only partial and the sky barely darkened, office workers clustered on street corners, using protective glasses to look. And for those who fell in love with the darkest moment of the celestial event, when they had the rare chance to glimpse the sun’s fiery corona, it’s not too early to plan for the next one in the U.S., in 2024.

U.S. politics in 2017

With his Jan. 20 inauguration, President Donald Trump signaled that the tone of his campaign would carry over into his presidency: combative, alternately gilded and populist, and challenging of both norms and facts. His 16-minute inaugural address was notably dark and divisive. He spoke of the “American carnage” he inherited as President Barack Obama and other predecessors sat stone-faced nearby. One of the most enduring memories is Trump’s complaint the next day, echoed by his press secretary, that the media did not report that his crowd was the largest ever to witness a swearing-in, a claim easily refuted by photographs and other evidence.

After their failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Republicans wanted to deliver tax cuts —— and they did. The new tax law, signed by President Donald Trump Dec. 22, was, to Democrats, a giveaway to the wealthy that adds to the national debt and raise taxes for many in the middle class. The law challenges Republican orthodoxy against deficit spending: Even after accounting for future economic growth, the plan is estimated to add $1 trillion to the deficit over 10 years, despite Republican promises that the tax cuts will pay for themselves.

In May, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey during the investigation of whether the Trump campaign was complicit with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. At first, the White House said Trump had followed the advice of Justice Department officials. But in an interview a few days after the firing, Trump said he had planned to fire Comey, whom he called a “grandstander,” regardless of his advisers’ recommendation, suggesting he acted because of his unhappiness with “this Russia thing.” That was in contrast to his staff’s claim that Comey was dismissed for mishandling the 2016 inquiry of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she as secretary of state. About a week after Comey was fired, the Justice Department named a special counsel — Robert Mueller, who preceded Comey as FBI director, to take over the inquiry into Russia interference.

Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, was forced to resign after only 24 days on the job. His immediate problem: reports indicating he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his meetings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. But his long-term problems — Flynn’s contacts and contracts overseas — put him in the crosshairs of the special counsel’s investigation. On Dec. 1, Flynn pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of “willfully and knowingly” making “false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the FBI about his communications with Russia’s ambassador in December 2016, after Trump named Flynn to the national security job.

The special counsel’s investigation produced three indictments Oct. 30. Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his deputy, Richard Gates, were charged with conspiracy, fraud and money laundering in an alleged scheme unrelated to the election. Another former campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and court papers showed that he had helped prosecutors.

The first year of the Trump administration had more turnover in the top ranks, in less time, than in any other recent presidency. White House press secretary Sean Spicer left in late July. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus soon followed Spicer out the White House doors; both opposed Trump’s hiring of Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. Before he even officially started the job, Scaramucci was fired at the insistence of the new chief of staff, John F. Kelly, after profanely assailing Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon. Weeks later, Bannon also was out.

Trump’s promise to temporarily ban all Muslims from the U.S. was among the most incendiary of his campaign, and his executive order, issued in late January, to restrict travel from several mostly Muslim countries was widely seen as an effort to put that promise into action. After its chaotic introduction, a series of federal judges blocked the ban from taking effect. In March, the administration issued a new version of the ban, designed to be less legally vulnerable. It, too, had difficulties. Eventually, the Supreme Court found a compromise, allowing part of the ban to take effect. In the fall, the administration issued another version, which the Supreme Court upheld in early December.

Before taking office, Trump derided the science linking human activity to global warming as a “hoax.” So it wasn’t a total surprise when he announced that the U.S. would no longer participate in the Paris agreement on climate change, the 2015 deal that set country-by-country goals for reducing fossil-fuel emissions. Every country except the U.S. — nearly 200 in all — have signed the agreement, leaving China as the world leader in combating climate change. The withdrawal from the Paris agreement was the highest-profile item on a long list of President Barack Obama’s environmental policies that Trump has taken steps to reverse.

Before he was sworn in, Trump was warned that North Korea was a foreign policy nightmare. Since then, he and Pyongyang’s ruler, Kim Jong Un, have traded crude insults. Trump denounced the North Korean leader as “Rocket Man” at the United Nations General Assembly. Kim responded by mocking Trump as a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” Beyond the insults, the danger is real as Kim continues to test nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles and Trump strengthens military forces in the region.

The president has repeatedly dived into culture wars, frequently on topics with racial overtones, and typically using language that in previous administrations would have been considered unpresidential. Trump’s Twitter war against NFL players who knelt during the playing of the national anthem combined all those elements. Trump began denounced the players, mostly African-American, who had been kneeling during the anthem to protest social injustice and racial inequality.

For a time, Trump’s election papered over the split his candidacy opened between pro-Trump partisans and establishment Republicans. But by October the establishment’s criticisms, which had been mostly private, became extraordinarily public. In the span of eight days, three Republican senators and the previous Republican president attacked Trump’s style and stewardship. On Oct. 24, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., excoriated the president as “reckless, outrageous and undignified.” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Trump would be remembered for “the debasement of our nation.” That came after Sen. John McCain and former President George W. Bush gave speeches that didn’t name Trump, but plainly were directed at him.

Women, hurricanes, terrorism and the eclipse

By Los Angeles Times