Feature

The year in review

As election year begins, Mitt Romney wins the New Hampshire primary, the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia runs aground...

JANUARYAs election year begins, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wins the New Hampshire primary. Romney is considered the front-runner for the GOP nomination, but has yet to win over the party’s conservative base, which continues to view him as an untrustworthy closet moderate. Romney is still facing credible challenges from Rick Santorum, the socially conservative, sweater-vest-wearing former senator, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Near an island off the west coast of Italy, the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia runs aground and partially capsizes. At least 30 passengers drown after a bungled rescue and evacuation of more than 4,200 passengers and crew. The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, is charged with numerous maritime offenses, including leaving the ship before passengers; he claims to have tripped and fallen into the lifeboat that carried him to safety. Romney’s post–New Hampshire momentum is extinguished when Gingrich crushes him in the South Carolina primary by 12 points, after he attacks Romney as a predatory capitalist who got rich gutting companies.

FEBRUARYSinger Whitney Houston drowns at the age of 48 in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles, after suffering a “cardiac event” caused by long cocaine abuse. In a gated community outside Orlando, a 17-year-old black teenager, Trayvon Martin, is shot and killed by George Zimmerman, 28, a neighborhood watch coordinator, after the two engage in a violent struggle. Prior to the shooting, Zimmerman calls police to say he suspects the hoodie-wearing Martin of being “up to no good,” though Martin is merely returning to his father’s house after purchasing iced tea and Skittles. The case sparks a national debate over hoodies and racial profiling.

MARCHIn Kandahar, Afghanistan, a U.S. soldier, Sgt. Robert Bales, slips out of his base under cover of darkness and, in a two-hour rampage, allegedly murders 16 Afghan civilians in their homes, setting fire to some of the bodies. Mitt Romney cleans up in the “Super Tuesday” round of national primaries, but still struggles to connect with more-conservative voters, as Santorum wins primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, with Gingrich coming second in each. “If you’re the front-runner and you keep coming in third,” Gingrich acidly remarks of Romney, “you’re not much of a front-runner.”

APRILWith his campaign out of money, Santorum suspends his presidential campaign, all but guaranteeing Romney’s eventual victory. In Florida, a special prosecutor charges George Zimmerman with second-degree murder in Trayvon Martin’s death. A blind human rights activist, Chen Guangcheng, escapes house arrest in China and takes refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, sparking a tense diplomatic standoff that ends when Chen is allowed to flee to the U.S. North Korea test-fires a long-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, but the missile disintegrates shortly after takeoff, dealing a blow to new leader Kim Jong Un’s efforts to fill the platform shoes of his father, the late Kim Jong Il. During the centenary commemoration of the sinking of the Titanic, young Twitter users express shock at learning that the film Titanic was based on a real event. “How am I just finding this out?” tweets one young woman.

MAYEdvard Munch’s iconic painting The Scream sells in New York for a record $120 million. Newt Gingrich suspends his presidential campaign, and Mitt Romney officially clinches the GOP nomination with victory in the Texas primary. Obama becomes the first U.S. president to state his support for gay marriage, saying that his views on the issue have “evolved.” In France’s presidential election, voters weary of unemployment and austerity measures brought on by the euro crisis boot out Nicolas Sarkozy and elect the Socialist Party’s François Hollande. “Austerity need not be Europe’s fate,” says Hollande, who later makes good on a vow to raise France’s top tax rate to 75 percent.

JUNEIn Britain, Queen Elizabeth II celebrates 60 years on the throne with a pageant of nautical vessels down the River Thames and a concert featuring Sir Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder, who serenades the queen with “Isn’t She Lovely.” In Egypt, Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood is elected president, in the country’s first democratic elections since the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011. To the deep dismay of conservatives, the Supreme Court upholds the Affordable Care Act in a 5–4 decision. Chief Justice John Roberts casts a surprising deciding vote, ruling that the ACA’s controversial “individual mandate” is in effect just a simple tax on the uninsured, and thus constitutional under Congress’s broad taxing power.

JULYThe Olympic Games begin in London with a lavish and surreal opening ceremony in which a stuntman dressed as the queen parachutes out of a helicopter. American swimmer Michael Phelps wins his 19th career gold medal, becoming the most decorated Olympian in history. Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva announce the discovery of a new subatomic particle they say is “consistent” with the legendary Higgs boson they’ve been hunting for half a century, solving a key mystery of physics. In Aurora, Colo., James Holmes, 24, a loner with a history of psychiatric problems, goes on a shooting rampage in a movie theater with a semi-automatic rifle equipped with a 100-round magazine, killing 12 and wounding 58. In Moscow, members of Pussy Riot, an all-girl punk-rock band, go on trial in Moscow for performing an “unauthorized” concert inside a Russian Orthodox Church with lyrics strongly critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the church. A South Korean rapper, Psy, releases the video of his latest single, “Gangnam Style.” The oddly compelling video, in which the chubby 34-year-old performs a peculiar horse-riding dance at various locations around Seoul, instantly becomes a YouTube sensation around the world, with millions of views.

AUGUSTIn Russia, three members of Pussy Riot are sentenced to two years in jail for “hooliganism.” In Syria, where war has been raging all year between government forces and opponents of dictator Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian army massacres hundreds of civilians in the suburbs of Damascus and in the city of Hama. At the Olympics, sprinter Usain Bolt wins his second consecutive gold in both the 100 and 200 meters, a feat unprecedented in Olympic history. U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong, the winner of a record seven Tours de France, announces he won’t contest charges by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that he used banned substances throughout his cycling career. Mitt Romney chooses Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate. At the Republican Party convention in Tampa, Ryan delivers a widely praised speech, as does Romney’s wife, Ann. Stealing the show, however, is film legend Clint Eastwood, 82, who uses his keynote address to deliver his complaints to an imaginary President Obama in an empty wooden chair.

SEPTEMBERAt the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., Bill Clinton rouses delegates and a national TV audience with a forceful defense of President Obama’s record in digging the country out of a deep economic hole, and a withering attack on what he calls Romney’s “winner-take-all” philosophy. Obama’s post-convention “bounce” leaves him with a lead of 5 to 7 points. In violent demonstrations across the Arab world, angry crowds protest Innocence of Muslims, an anti-Islamic YouTube video by a Christian Egyptian immigrant in California. More than 40 die in the protests. In Benghazi, Libya, a local terrorist group attacks the U.S. Consulate with rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. A European magazine publishes topless photos of Kate Middleton, wife of Britain’s Prince William, sunbathing on vacation. Romney’s campaign suffers a major blow with the release of a video, secretly recorded at a fundraising dinner, in which he tells wealthy donors that no matter how hard he campaigns, “there are 47 percent of people who will vote for the president no matter what” because they rely on government handouts and “see themselves as victims.” Romney adds, “My job is not to worry about those people.” 

OCTOBEREntering the first presidential debate, Romney desperately needs a game-changing performance—and he delivers one. Speaking with passion and authority, Romney portrays himself as a moderate who will not cut taxes on the rich, and will defend the middle class and work with Democrats. Obama seems tired, distracted, and aloof, and spends much of the evening on the defensive, looking down at his lectern. Even liberal pundits call it one of the worst debate performances in presidential history. Within days, Obama’s lead in the polls evaporates. Syrian warplanes and artillery begin a brutal bombardment of the city of Homs. A massive superstorm, Hurricane Sandy, makes a direct hit on the New York metropolitan area, and the storm surge and fierce winds devastate coastal areas of New York and New Jersey. More than 110 people die, most of them by drowning, and much of the region is left without power—in some communities, for weeks. 

NOVEMBERAs Americans go to the polls to choose a president, conservative pundits insist that polls showing Obama with a decisive advantage in swing states are wrong and that the momentum is with Romney. The pollsters, however, turn out to be correct, and Obama is elected to a second term, winning 332 electoral votes and 51 percent of the popular vote, while Mitt Romney ends up with only 206 electoral votes and 47 percent of the vote. In a post-election call to donors, Romney blames his defeat on what he calls generous “gifts” Obama handed out to voters, “especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community, and young people.” In Maine, Maryland, and Washington state, voters legalize same-sex marriage. CIA Director David Petraeus steps down after admitting to an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, acknowledging “extremely poor judgment.” The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, who is under consideration to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, comes under fire by Republicans for initially describing the Benghazi attack as a “spontaneous” response by “extremists” to an anti-Islam video, not a planned attack by al Qaida–affiliated terrorists. Sen. John McCain calls Rice “not very bright.”

DECEMBERPrince William and Kate Middleton confirm that they are expecting their first child, after Kate is admitted to the hospital suffering from severe morning sickness. In a prank that turns tragic, a pair of Australian disc jockeys pretending to be Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles call the hospital asking for an update on Kate’s condition; the nurse who accepts their call later commits suicide. In Oregon, 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts charges into a mall jammed with 10,000 Christmas shoppers and opens fire with an AR-15 assault rifle, killing two and gravely injuring one before killing himself. As “Gangnam Style” closes in on its billionth viewing, a video surfaces of Psy at a 2004 South Korean anti-war demonstration, exhorting fans to “Kill those f---ing Yankees.’’ Psy apologizes, saying he was very upset by civilian deaths in Iraq. In Washington, President Obama and House Republicans enter tense negotiations on a plan to avoid the “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts due to take effect on Jan. 1. Another mass shooting, this one in Connecticut, horrifies the nation: Troubled loner Adam Lanza, 20, uses his mother’s semiautomatic assault rifle to massacre 20 elementary school children and six adults. Even some congressmen with pro-gun records, such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, talk of the need for “commonsense’’ gun-control laws. The mass murder of “babies,’’ Manchin says, has “changed me, and it’s changed most Americans I would think.” 

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