Looking back at what made news in 2017

Published 6:46 pm Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Storms, shootings, sexual harassment, protests and populists were the top political newsmaking stories of 2017, while hotspots ranging from Syria to North Korea were also among the events with the most media coverage.  Look for elections, terrorism and the internet rules to continue their headline-grabbing roles from this year well into 2018.

1) Hurricanes: Several storms slammed into the United States, devastating Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.  As it stands, Hurricane Harvey is poised to be the most damaging storm to ever strike the United States (topping Hurricane Katrina), with Hurricane Maria getting past Hurricane Sandy from 2012 in the damage rankings.  Even though it was downgraded, Hurricane Irma is expected to top the damage from Hurricane Andrew. These three storms alone will now be the first, third, and fifth most damaging storms in American history, with another seven storms generating more than a billion dollars in damages.

Such devastation put more scrutiny on America’s decision to unsign the Paris Climate Accords, one of the only countries in the world to do so.  It also called into question hurricane response and rebuilding, as a third of the island remains without power, and thousands of Houston and Florida residents remain homeless.

2) Populists: Nearly every major country found itself dealing with new faces, new policies, new parties, and a number of leaders with a cult of personality shaking up traditional political parties and party systems. First, there was Jeremy Corbyn, the Bernie Sanders of British politics, who took enough seats to force UK Prime Minister Theresa May and her Tories back into a coalition.  Then there was France, where the traditional socialists and nationalist parties didn’t even make it into a runoff.  Those spots were occupies by the French far-right “National Front” and a party (En Marche) formed by economic wunderkind Emmanuel Macron, earlier this year.  Macron prevailed as President and En Marche won a majority of the French National Assembly in 2017.  Similarly, Austria, the Czech Republic, and other countries saw populists, or those who pretended to be populists, declare victory in their contests.

Even when populists didn’t win, they shook up traditional politics.  Witness the hard-right AfD in Germany, winning double-digit votes in the Bundestag elections, enough to win representation for the first time ever.  And in Japan, the country seemed poised to choose a brand-new party led by media sensation Yuriko Koike, before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pulled out all the stops to pull out a victory at the end.

3) Accountability for Sexual Assault: Hollywood, the media and both political parties had members hit with strong sexual assault allegations.  The careers of Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Charley Rose were ended, along with those of Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore, Michigan Congressman John Conyers and Minnesota Senator Al Franken. It’s not that such events hadn’t occurred in prior years or decades. The news is that those who commit such events may finally face punishment.

4) Mass Shootings: Much like hurricanes, the shootings this year are some of the worst ever in U.S. history. Many were slaughtered at a Country Western outdoor concert in Las Vegas, the deadliest shooting in American history. Most of a church congregation was gunned down in Sutherland Springs, Texas, also among the worst ever shootings in the U.S. Those don’t count the Congressional baseball shootings of a Republican legislative leader and several others, as well as a killer of five who sprayed the outside of a school with bullets. Despite the news and demands for reform that were generated, no bump stocks were outlawed and no changes to background checks were made, despite strong support in surveys for more gun control.  There were attempts to loosen gun restrictions, canceled because of a shooting.  Even the president can’t keep up with condolences so easily. It is hard to deny that mass shootings are on the rise, and are getting deadlier. Taking action should be a priority for the president and Congress in 2018.

5) Marches: Whether it was the attendees for President Trump’s Inauguration or the march for women the following day, demonstrations for a cause were in the news for 2017. Additional marches occurred for science, for DACA recipients, and even for gun rights. But white supremacist marches against the removal of Confederate statues in Charlottesville, Virginia led to a terror attack by white supremacist in a car, killing one and injuring dozens (two police officers in a helicopter monitoring the situation died in a crash).  Every speaker the following day at a Chamber of Commerce Congressional meeting in Georgia spoke about the events, condemning the attack, which was seen as a symbol of extremist politics going too far.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia.  He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.