The Most Surprising Political Moments of 2017

President Donald Trump didn’t stop tweeting. He didn’t stop his attacks on the media. Many times during 2017, he boasted and berated.

It’s a lot of the same behavior he displayed doing the 2016 presidential campaign.

So it is no surprise that Trump is unlike any other president in U.S. history, certainly in celebrity and in persona. That said, many of the most surprising and shocking things about 2017 can be traced to Trump, whether by his own initiative or his reaction to events. It’s hard to believe that events would have transpired quite the way they did had, say, Jeb Bush been in the Oval Office, and certainly Hillary Clinton.

So here are 10 moments from the past 12 months that were worthy of a jaw drop.

1. Charlottesville: Aug. 11-12 — The death of Heather Heyer in the melee of the Charlottesville protests was the most tragic part of the weekend, as white supremacists and white nationalists convened in the historic Virginia city to protest the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from a public park. President Trump’s refusal to call out white nationalist groups by name — equating their actions with that of counter protesters — drew condemnation even from members of his own party and an array of corporate CEOs who resigned from several White House advisory boards. The images that stand out the most, unfortunately, are those of white supremacists who openly marched with torches to chants of “blood and soil,” a Nazi slogan. The pictures were chilling and shocking, an indication of the state of hate in the U.S. Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, made a call for action in the wake of her daughter’s death. “I’d rather have my child, but by golly, if I’ve got to give her up, we’re going to make it count.”
2. Women’s March: Jan. 21 — There are few better ways to draw media attention and amazement than to exceed expectations, which is what a series of Women’s Marches around the country did on the day after the inauguration. Nearly 500,000 marched in Washington, and FiveThirtyEight estimated that 3.2 million took part in hundreds of events across the country. While the marches weren’t specifically anti-Trump, they were clearly a response to the new administration. The marches may have signaled a cultural shift when it comes to equality and dignity, but what remains to be seen is if the movement translates into lasting political gains for women in 2018.
3. Me Too movement: Oct. 5 — In the initial political reaction to the Harvey Weinstein scandal, Democrats rushed to distance themselves from one of their darling donors, sending his contributions to charities of their choice. But in the weeks that followed, the impact was much greater, inspiring women to come forward publicly with their own stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Some of the most famous names in media — Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Mark Halperin — were forced out, while the attention by year’s end eventually came to Capitol Hill. John Conyers and Al Franken resigned, and the expectation is that there are more shoes to drop. Meanwhile, a lawsuit against Trump is pending. While there may be some debate as to the level of indiscretion and the level of scorn, it’s hard to see America’s workplaces going back to the way they were.
4. “American carnage”: Jan. 20 — Trump promised in his inaugural address that “the forgotten men and woman of our country will be forgotten no longer.” The midterms are sure to focus on the extent to which he has held to that statement. But what was different about his inaugural address was how dark it was perceived in the media, perhaps because it was such a broadside against the D.C. elite. It may forever be known not as the speech about the overlooked Trump voter, but for two words, “American carnage.” “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he said, referring to the violence in inner cities. It was a signal that Trump would spend so much of his year playing up themes of nationalism with amped up rhetorical flourish, and continue to stage campaign-like rallies as if 2017 was still a lot like 2016. He may have slipped in the polls, but there are ample signs that he has a base of Republicans and rural voters that are sticking with him.
5. Comey fired: May 9 — FBI Director James Comey was addressing agents in the FBI’s Los Angeles field office when he got word, from news coverage playing on TVs behind him, that Trump had fired him. The reason given was the way that Comey handled the Clinton email investigation — but that rationale very quickly dissipated after Trump himself told NBC News’ Lester Holt that the Russia investigation was on his mind when he decided to ax him. The events had the effect of triggering the appointment of a special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, who himself has come under attack by Trump supporters even though he was initially praised for having sterling credentials. Trump’s decision to drop Comey gave the Russia story a new strand, putting the president’s critics on a kind of high alert for a Saturday Night Massacre, Part II.
6. McCain’s thumbs down. July 28. It’s rare that any legislation reaches the floor of the Senate without a degree of assurance of the outcome, but the Republicans determination to repeal Obamacare before a summer recess ended with the surprise “No” vote from Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona). After returning from his home state following a grim cancer diagnosis, McCain at first appeared to support what the Senate’s GOP majority was doing, as he initially voted to advance the legislation. But he also gave a well-remembered floor speech in which he decried political divisions and gamesmanship and urged a return to regular order, in which the Senate is known as the world’s greatest deliberative body. In an early morning vote, captured by C-SPAN cameras, McCain gave a thumbs down, to cheers from Democrats. His later vote in favor of tax reform tempered some of the enthusiasm Democrats had for McCain as a political maverick, but this was a moment worthy of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
7. The transgender tweets: July 26 — The first tweet read, “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow…” Nine long minutes later came the next tweet, “transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” It was military policy via Twitter, an edict that reportedly came as a surprise to the Defense Department, which was reviewing an Obama-era decision to end the ban on transgender service members. The way that it was handled created some confusion, and recent court ruling have set aside Trump’s ban, one of a number of executive orders that has faced court challenges. Barring another court ruling, transgender service members could start openly enlisting next week.
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8. The stock market: Jan. 1-Dec. 31 — The stock market boomed, with the Dow up 25% and the NASDAQ jumping 30%. It reflected not just a good economy, but the anticipation that Republicans would pass a tax reform bill with a steep cut in the corporate rate. They did, as companies now will face a rate of 21%, from 35%, putting the U.S. on a greater competitive footing. That the legislation was passed is a bit of a surprise, as the drama and tumult in the White House and on Capitol Hill raised doubts that such a major piece of legislation would see its way through. Congress passed it, in a process that had Democrats crying foul and will likely leave some middle class taxpayers actually shelling out more to Uncle Sam despite the promise of across-the-board tax cuts. But the drop in the corporate rate is bigger than many corporate lobbyists expected, and could once again send the markets to new heights in 2018.
9. Doug Jones’ win: Dec. 12 — Even after all of the wild statements and the allegations of sexual misconduct against Roy Moore, the wisdom was that Alabama would still send him to the Senate, creating a new headache for the Republican establishment. But former federal prosecutor Doug Jones won in a come-from-behind campaign in which he rallied liberals and suburban moderates. He is the first Democrat from Alabama elected to the Senate in 25 years, and while his victory may not signal a realignment in the deep South, it did show the limits of extremism even in the reddest of red states.
10. Spicer speaks: Jan. 21 — As the unexpected turnout at the Women’s March was drawing all the media attention, the White House press shop suddenly scheduled an impromptu announcement, the first of the day-old Trump administration. Reporters were left wondering, until photos of the National Mall were placed near the lectern. “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period,” Spicer said emphatically, a line that was immediately picked apart by the media. His opening appearance as press secretary may have been an effort to prove to his boss that he would challenge the media and their facts, but it also made him a punchline in late night. “Saturday Night Live” skewered him, casting Melissa McCarthy in the part, and Spicer himself made light of the moment at the Emmys. As it turned out, it was only the start of many Trump administration attacks on the press and “fake news,” which the president called the “enemy of the American people.”
And the least surprising…
Response to Las Vegas shooting massacre: Oct. 1 — Fifty eight people died and more than 500 were injured when a man opened fire on an outdoor concert being staged in Las Vegas. It was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, and in the week that followed, there was some rumbling on Capitol Hill that at least something had to be done, even if it was to ban the use of “bump stocks” that elevate the lethal nature of firearms to that of automatic weapons. But there also was plenty of cynicism that once again, no meaningful action would be quickly taken at the federal level following a gun massacre. The Justice Department has launched a rule making process to regulate the use of bump stocks, after some bipartisan consensus on the use of the devices, but it’s unlikely that Congress will go further with long-proposed legislation to expand background checks.

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