By Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, JD
Founder/President, G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice
Each year, I review the news stories that have made a significant impact on the U.S. and the world. This year was particularly notable in light of a new president, new threats within and outside borders, persistent conflicts, and wide-scale natural disasters. The following is a summary of what I consider to be the “Top 10” most significant news stories of 2017:
10. Inaugural of President Donald Trump
Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States with his inaugural on January 20, 2017. With a populist message of “Make America Great Again,” President Trump connected with men and women in the country who had felt disenfranchised in the previous 8 years of the Obama administration. His inaugural and the significance of his election set the stage for many of the national and international news events that would unfold throughout the year. A year into his presidency, and despite various conflicts and natural disasters, the economy is healthy with lower unemployment and a stronger stock market. Similarly, world economic growth is significantly higher. But national and international conflicts persist and have heightened in this past year. And, the impact of his presidency will continue to reverberate into 2018.
9. Women’s March and #MeToo Movement
In March, more than 500,000 women and men marched in Washington with a message of gender equality and a protest against newly elected President Trump. While this march resonated differently for women of faith than others, the show of unity and the general outlines of the protest opened the way for a number of other significant moments and movements for women throughout 2017.
Less than a year after the Women’s March, a series of major news reports revealed many years of sexual harassment and abuse by film mogul Harvey Weinstein. What followed was a social media movement that included not only Hollywood actresses but many women around the country who had been victims of sexual assault speaking out and sharing their stories online. #MeToo began to represent the many that had experienced these abuses, demonstrating how widespread the problem of sexual harassment and sexual abuse is in America. Thereafter, many other men in power positions in business, entertainment, media, and politics have been publicly facing allegations of sexual misconduct. The impact of this #MeToo movement led Time Magazine to make the “The Silence Breakers” the 2017 “Persons of the Year.”
8. U.S. Withdrawal from Paris Agreement
On June 18, President Trump announced U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change and withdrawal from the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. In addition, he ended participation in negotiations for the Global Compact on Migration. These withdrawal decisions have had a significant impact not only on the U.S. position on these topics but also on the implications for global negotiations on these topics.
7. Russia Investigation
Starting in the 2016 election year, and continuing throughout 2017, the range of concerns related to Russia and particularly investigations into potential interference with the presidential elections, have kept Russia and Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia under scrutiny. FBI Director Robert Mueller continues his investigation as special counsel, including an indictment of Paul Manafor, former Trump campaign manager; as well as guilty pleas from advisor George Papadopulos and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
6. North Korea Tensions
While North Korea has persisted as a major policy and security concern for recent presidents, tensions rose following the inaugural of Donald Trump. North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un responded to his election with claims of nuclear-capable missiles that could threaten the U.S. Tensions rose further when North Korea detained an American student, Otto Warmbier, who later died after being released in an unconscious state. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has had a particularly challenging role in negotiating with potential allies, even China, in security efforts against North Korea.
5. Race Relations in U.S.
The range of racially charged incidents and issues that have occurred in the past few years since the events in Ferguson, have escalated in part in 2017. In particular, debates regarding the removal of statues associated with the Confederate leaders as well as kneeling in protest at football games have deepened a divide around race issues in America.
Former San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick had begun a maelstrom of debate when he chose to kneel during the national anthem in protest of racial inequality in the U.S. But the debate deepened when in 2017, in response to remarks by President Trump, many football players and coaches also knelt in protest. The protests created both conflict among fans and non-fans alike, and the result was a substantial hit to NFL support and viewership.
Similarly, the removal of Confederate statues in Southern states has increased tensions in areas such as South Carolina and Virginia. In particular, on August 12, white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, before a rally to protest the removal of a statue honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. One woman was killed in a counter-protest.
4. Massacres in Las Vegas and Texas
Within a month of each other this fall, the massacres that occurred in Las Vegas and Texas left the country in mourning. In Las Vegas on October 1, Stephan Paddock armed with an automatic assault weapon shot from 32 floors above into a crowd at a concert at Mandalay Bay Resort. The result was 59 people dead and more than 500 wounded – making it the deadliest mass shooting in American history. On Nov. 5, Devin Kelley, dressed in armor, opened fire in a rural Texas church, killing 26 parishioners, including children, and wounding at least 19 others. These massacres, though isolated incidents, continue to raise concerns of security and stoke the debate on gun control which will likely continue in 2018.
3. Terrorism in U.S., Europe, and Middle East
Like in previous years, terrorism has been widespread in 2017 – particularly in destination locations in America, Europe, and the Middle East. Vehicles were used to kill and wound people in London and Westminster Bridges; Stockholm, Sweden; Barcelona, Spain; and New York City. In addition, at the Ariana Grande concert in May in Manchester, 22 people were killed when a gunman opened fire, making it the deadliest terrorist attack in Britain since 2005. Egypt suffered tremendous loss when a suicide bomber attacked a mosque. Despite these myriad terrorist attacks, there has also been progress in the fight against terrorism, particularly again the Islamic State (IS). On December 9, pro-government forces in Syria and Iraq defeated IS in its control zones, resulting in a loss of its stronghold in the Middle East. While IS continues, this past year saw its containment.
2. The Opioid Epidemic
For the first time in decades, the U.S. survival rates have dropped, in part attributable to the opioid epidemic that has taken more than 43,000 lives in the U.S. in the past year. The loss to families and communities has been devastating, and the cost to the country has been substantial – more than $500 billion annually. In August, President Trump declared the epidemic as a national emergency. But substantial funding and other supports and reforms are necessary to curb this increasing problem.
1. Devastating Hurricanes
This year’s hurricane season amassed wide-scale destruction and catastrophe in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean. Hurricane Harvey dumped 1 million gallons of water per person into southeast Texas causing overwhelming flooding and damage. Hurricane Irma followed, wreaking havoc in Florida. In September Hurricane Maria, the strongest of these hurricanes, devastated Puerto Rico leaving the area without electricity for months. The loss of life, communities, and economies resulting from these natural disasters is of a magnitude that will continue to raise concerns for reconstruction and recovery not only in 2018 but years to come.