The year in review
In Washington, D.C., beneath a cold drizzle, Donald J. Trump, 70, is sworn in as 45th president of the United States. In his inaugural address, Trump vows always to put “America first” and paints a dark picture of a nation overrun with drugs, crime, and violence. “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he pledges. “That was some weird s--t,” mutters former President George W. Bush as dignitaries file off the dais. In his first briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer lacerates the media for reporting that Trump’s inauguration crowd was far smaller than President Barack Obama’s and insists (falsely) that this was “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period.” The day following the inauguration, an estimated 500,000 marchers descend on Washington to protest the new president. Fearing that it undermines his legitimacy, the new president heatedly disputes the conclusion of U.S. intelligence services that Russia worked to help Trump win the 2016 election over Hillary Clinton, partly by stealing and leaking emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee. Trump says reports of possible collusion between his campaign staff and Russia are “fake news,” adding via Twitter: “I have nothing to do with Russia!”
Trump declares war on the press, tweeting that the mainstream media is “the enemy of the American People.” Undeterred, The Washington Post reports that wiretap evidence shows that Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, had discussed the lifting of sanctions with Russia’s ambassador prior to the inauguration—and lied about it. Flynn submits his resignation. Trump delights conservatives by nominating Neil Gorsuch, 49, to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court; Gorsuch restores the shaky, 5-4 conservative advantage on the court. After a tumultuous first month in office, the president addresses a joint session of Congress, winning praise for his upbeat rhetoric and presidential demeanor. “Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed,” Trump tells lawmakers. “The time for trivial fights is behind us.”
Trump fires off a string of early-morning tweets alleging that his predecessor, President Obama, “had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory...Bad (or sick) guy!” FBI Director James Comey testifies before Congress that there is “no evidence” of improper wiretapping by the Obama administration, but confirms that the FBI is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Meanwhile, lack of support forces Speaker Paul Ryan to withdraw a draft bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which candidate Trump had promised to repeal on “Day One.” The Congressional Budget Office had estimated the House bill would leave 24 million more Americans without health insurance than the current law. “Doing big things is hard,” Ryan concedes.
In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad orders a nerve-gas attack that kills more than 80 civilians, including many children. While having dinner at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida club, President Trump responds by ordering a cruise-missile strike on a Syrian airfield. In Washington, the Senate votes 54-45 to confirm Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. As promised, President Trump withdraws the U.S. from the so-called Paris accord limiting carbon emissions, explaining, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
In Washington, the House passes the latest GOP health-care bill. Even though the Senate has not yet weighed in, Trump marks its passage with a celebration in the White House Rose Garden, telling assembled Republicans, “I’m the president. Can you believe it?” Behind the scenes, Trump fumes over the ongoing Russia probe and decides to fire Comey as FBI director. The White House offers shifting explanations for Comey’s dismissal—with Spicer, at one point, hiding in the bushes in the White House garden to escape reporters. But Trump tells NBC’s Lester Holt that “this Russia thing” motivated his decision, which critics say is an admission that he obstructed justice. In a meeting in the Oval Office, Trump reportedly tells two Russian officials, “I faced great pressure because of Russia,” and by firing “nut job” Comey, “that’s taken off.” The pressure returns when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appoints former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to pick up the investigation. As the political storm clouds gather, Trump departs on a whirlwind tour of the Middle East, where he enjoys a lavish red-carpet reception in Saudi Arabia and joins King Salman in embracing a glowing orb symbolizing unity.
In Virginia, a leftist gunman opens fire on GOP House members practicing for the annual congressional baseball game, wounding five before police shoot him dead. Most seriously injured is Rep. Steve Scalise, House Majority Whip, who is hospitalized in critical condition. In congressional testimony, Comey gives his account of the events that led to his firing, saying that shortly after the inauguration, the president asked for his “loyalty.” At a subsequent meeting in the Oval Office, Comey claims, Trump cleared the room and told Comey, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” The president’s lawyers dispute Comey’s story, and on Twitter Trump declares, “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history.”
The witch hunt gains more traction with the news that Trump’s son, Donald Jr., arranged a meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 between campaign staff and a Russian lawyer who claimed to have damaging information about Clinton. “I love it!” Trump Jr. responded to the offer of dirt. In Iraq, U.S. air power helps Iraqi security forces recapture the city of Mosul, seized by ISIS fighters three years earlier—a major blow to the terrorist group. In Washington, Obamacare wins another reprieve when Sen. John McCain gives a dramatic thumbs-down to the latest Senate repeal bill. Trump hires Anthony Scaramucci, 53, a colorful Wall Street trading legend, as communications director, prompting Sean Spicer to resign. Scaramucci gives an unguarded, expletive-riddled interview to The New Yorker, saying that unlike Steve Bannon, Trump’s self-promoting chief strategist, “I’m not trying to suck my own c--k.” Trump fires Scaramucci and also dismisses embattled White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, a man Scaramucci described as a “f---ing paranoid schizophrenic.”
Trump taps retired Marine Gen. John Kelly to be his new chief of staff, and Bannon—who had encouraged Trump’s nationalist and anti-establishment rhetoric—announces his resignation. Both moves raise hopes of a new stability in the president’s inner circle. North Korea develops a miniaturized nuclear weapon that can fit atop a missile, and Trump vows to unleash a “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” The president ignites a new political firestorm after a “Unite the Right” rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., where a neo-Nazi drives a car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32. Trump blames “both sides” for the violence and says that among the “alt-right” marchers were some “very fine people.” Hurricane Harvey barrels into Texas and Louisiana, unleashing more than 50 inches of rain and submerging much of Houston. More than 50 people are killed and 200,000 homes damaged or destroyed.
The name-calling between Trump and Kim Jong Un escalates. In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Trump refers to Kim as “Little Rocket Man” and threatens to “totally destroy” North Korea. Kim responds by promising to “tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.” In the Caribbean and the south Atlantic, a brutal hurricane season reaches its peak. Hurricane Irma devastates the U.S. Virgin Islands, damaging 95 percent of roads and buildings, then slams into Florida, prompting the largest mass evacuation in state history. A new hurricane, Maria, then devastates Puerto Rico, leaving most of the island without electricity or running water.
In Las Vegas, professional gambler Stephen Paddock, 64, breaks the windows of his suite at the Mandalay Bay hotel and rains gunfire down into the crowd at an open-air country music festival. Before taking his own life, Paddock kills 58 and injures 564 in the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history. In Syria, a U.S.-backed militia group recaptures the city of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital. ISIS now controls only about 10 percent of the territory it held at its peak in 2014. President Trump travels to Puerto Rico, which is still without power, and is criticized for telling locals that the cost of helping the struggling island has “thrown our budget a little out of whack.” Wildfires rip through the winemaking region of Northern California. Special counsel Mueller files the first charges in the Russia probe, indicting former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on money-laundering and conspiracy charges. George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the campaign, pleads guilty to lying to the FBI and reveals he’s cooperating with the investigation. Hollywood is rocked when The New York Times and The New Yorker detail decades of sexual harassment, assault, and rape allegations against powerful Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein. As if a dam has broken, hundreds of women come forward with tales of abuse by powerful men in many industries, using the hashtag #MeToo to share their stories on social media.
The American carnage continues. At a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, shoots dead 25 men, women, and children with a semi-automatic rifle. After an armed civilian fires at him outside the church, Kelley flees and is later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot. Meanwhile, the #MeToo movement gains momentum, as people step forward with stories of harassment and abuse by actor Kevin Spacey, directors Brett Ratner and James Toback, and comedian Louis C.K. In the world of television, CBS fires veteran interviewer Charlie Rose for sexual misconduct, while NBC severs ties with political contributor Mark Halperin and Matt Lauer, longtime host of the Today show. The spreading scandal also reaches into the world of politics. Democratic Sen. Al Franken faces allegations of groping and forcible kissing, while veteran Democrat Rep. John Conyers is revealed to have used taxpayer funds to pay off a staff member who alleged sexual harassment. In Alabama, ahead of a special election to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ vacated Senate seat, Republican candidate Roy Moore denies reports that in his 30s he was a predator of high-school girls; two women say he molested them, one when she was 14. The Republican National Committee initially cuts off funding to Moore’s campaign, but reverses that decision after President Trump endorses Moore. “Roy Moore denies it,” explains Trump. “He totally denies it.”
The White House is rocked by the news that Gen. Flynn is pleading guilty to having lied to the FBI and says he is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation. Amid reports that Mueller is examining team Trump’s financial records, the president’s defenders on Fox News and in other conservative media question Mueller’s integrity and fairness and call for him to be fired. The House and Senate, meanwhile, pass two slightly different tax-cut bills that would mostly benefit corporations and businesses, and race to reconcile them. Democratic Sen. Franken and Rep. Conyers both announce they’re stepping down—as does GOP Rep. Trent Franks, who admits having asked female staffers if they would bear his children as surrogate mothers. In a move that shakes the Middle East, Trump delivers on a campaign promise and formally recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He also makes good on his pledge to wish the nation “Merry Christmas,” rather than “Happy Holidays.” “Christmas is back,” says Trump in Utah, “bigger and better than ever before.” ■