The Life Of A Year: Part II
(A continuation of The Life of a Year: Part I)
But 2017 also saw death in the abstract—in the metaphysical, rather than in the flesh. Don McLean sang about the day the music died; in 2017, we witnessed the year morality died. It was a sweeping and eclectic death, in which no man—regardless of his business or status—was immune. As a whole, the prurient patriarchy that controls nearly every domain in every industry was exposed. From tech, to media, to entertainment, and to politics, a shadowy culture of sexual misconduct and abuse began tugging at our attention. What we thought was an aberration became a trend, and one that doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon.
Bill O’Reilly was one of the earliest men to be exposed. The revelation that he had settled sexual misconduct claims with at least five women startled us; one wouldn’t expect such behavior from a man so conservative and sanctimonious. Following in the disgraced footsteps of his former boss, Roger Ailes a year before, O’Reilly was tossed out of Fox News. He claimed it a “hit job”, but few people suffered hearing him out. Only later would we learn the value in becoming familiar with his tale. He was to be the tip of an iceberg that would sink all conceptions of chivalry, decency, and of the American gentleman in the current day and age.
It wasn’t long after O’Reilly’s firing that dirt began gathering on other prominent men. As the summer faded away, the floodgates were set to explode. Behind them, bounding was a surge of sexual misconduct allegations that had been accumulating through the years. It seemed as though the time for comeuppance had finally come. Harvey Weinstein was the first of many to receive his. Calling Weinstein a “mogul” in his industry quite underemphasizes things. In Hollywood, he was more than that; he was the dramatist’s demiurge—a master creator between god, man, and thespian. His namesake Weinstein Company has had its hand in more Oscar nominations than you could count. He helped bring to us some of the past decade’s most wildly successful films.
But not even a king of the silver screen can carry on forever the way he did. He was exposed in excruciating detail by fearless women and unsparing reporters. His history of groping, coaxing, denuding, and threatening was finally laid bare for all to see. And like that menace Goliath, Weinstein’s size could only do so much; it wasn’t strong enough to shield him. We were reminded again that he who’s largest is the one who falls hardest. The reverberations from taking down Weinstein only spread from there. Many more would soon follow, including actors like Kevin Spacey and George Takei, comedians like Louis C.K. and T.J. Miller, and politicians like Al Franken and Roy Moore. It’s these final two men that round out our third “moment” of 2017.
Their stories are still rather fresh, having been lived out only recently. Franken, the Democratic Senator from Minnesota, was made to vacate his Congressional seat just weeks ago when multiple women came forward to tell tales of his sexual improprieties. This all came in the aftermath of his now infamous “fondling” photograph, in which he’s seen to be snickering while groping at a sleeping woman’s chest. The picture was as damning as it was indelible (and likely, all the more damning because it is so indelible) and it led his end. In addition to the one in the photograph, other women came forth and described his unwanted and untoward butt-grabs and passes.
Franken tried to bide his time, submitting himself first to an ethics committee investigation. It seemed, though, at least at the beginning, that he had no intention to leave. For its part, the Democratic Party dithered. It would’ve been useful to keep him on board—politically costly to send him away. Like a pendulum, myopic and without a moral compass, the Democrats swayed between these two choices. After initially standing by the entangled senator, the party decided to turn against him. Whether it was less expedient than before to keep him around or it had simply become more inexcusable to do so, Democrats decided Franken had to go. And go he did.
As all of this transpired in Washington, Roy Moore was “happening” further south. I’ll say this about Roy Moore—without bias and without hesitation—his campaign was the worst thing to happen in politics and to politics in 2017. I needn’t recount it all. He was accused, credibly and repeatedly, of a whole slew of sexual misdeeds. Most disgustingly, he was alleged of having tried to date a 14-year-old girl. Like the name Humbert Humbert, in Nabokov’s Lolita, Roy Moore’s will provide pedophilia with a synonym for all time to come.
Undoubtedly, this was the most damning accusation, but more were to follow. Including the girl who was 14 at the time, eight more women—all barely beyond the age of consent—came forth and told similar stories. As a 30-year-old man, Moore would frequent the spots these young girls—and all young girls since—know and love best: diners, malls, and high schools. He would try to pick them up from work, pluck them out of class, and above all, prey on their youthful innocence.
The evidence of him having done so was overwhelming, but nevertheless, he and his campaign tried to impugn his accusers. First aggressively, and then desperately, he launched a PR counter-attack to call into question the women’s motivations and why it had taken them so long to speak out. As the election loomed closer, his attacks gained ground while he rose in the polls. For a moment, it looked well-nigh inevitable that he’d actually win the race. It was becoming painfully clear that his sexual perversions hadn’t been appalling enough to keep away the Republican Party elites. He was able to win the favor of the president and the party, whose tepid support turned full-throated. It was nearly enough to carry him to victory, but not even the most polarizing and energizing president this country has ever seen could get Moore across the finish line.
It was one of many things President Trump was unable to do this year. And it’s to him we now turn our attention to examine his presidency—the fourth and final “moment” of the year. He entered the Oval Office with a country astir. It was bruised from a long and vicious campaign, thrashed by controversies one after another, and stretched to the breaking point across a widening gulf of opinion and tribalism. Astride this growing chasm, Trump told Americans to look inward and to put themselves first. His inauguration was well-attended, though perhaps not historically so, and at being told this, he took umbrage. It wasn’t look before protestors, too innumerable to name, took to the streets. There, in the concrete jungles of L.A. and Seattle and D.C. and Manhattan, they pounded the asphalt and their chests with discontent. They gathered as feminists, scientists, abortionists, and environmentalists; as Muslims, Christians, pagans, and pro-choicers. They wore their various causes on their sleeves but on their placards, the message was the same: Resist President Trump. So, they did…and so they continue to do.
President Trump, for his part, made nothing easy for himself. From the outset, his cabinet simmered in controversy, and this spilled over into the public eye. Interim Attorney General Sally Yates was the first to depart the administration under strained circumstances. We’re told it was because of her insolence (she refused to authorize and implement the president’s “travel ban”), but it looked more like a matter of political convenience. Yates was a part of Obama’s old guard, an unwanted incumbent, and as such, she needed to be removed. Jeff Sessions stepped in and took her place. Since then, his path has been a bumpy one. His erstwhile senate seat now belongs to a Democrat, he’s continuously harangued by his boss, and for having lied to the FBI, he sits on the outside looking in at the biggest presidential investigation in recent memory.
“Collusion” has been the rallying cry, but for now, that’s all it is. Democrats have gone hoarse shouting about it, but Trump has replied with equal verve. They call for impeachment, he calls for vindication. They say it’s real, he says it’s a hoax. They see fire, he sees nothing—not even the amorphous outlines of a plume of smoke. The truth lies, as it always does, somewhere in between, and to find it, a special counselor was brought in. Robert Mueller began his investigation in the spring. So far, he’s netted four culprits, with the latest and most important of them being Michael Flynn.
Flynn, for a very brief while, was the National Security Advisor. His interests, however, and his most generous employers were to be found far beyond America’s borders (the same ones he’d been appointed to protect). He was nabbed for having lied to the FBI about Obama-era sanctions. As for now, he’s cooperating with Special Counselor Robert Mueller’s investigation. It might be that he avoids utter ignominy by the mercy of a plea deal.
Flynn and Yates foreshadowed the tumult to come. FBI Director James Comey was released and in the void he left came rushing endless calls for impeachment. It was the last straw, Democrats thought, that would break the president’s back. But, so far as we can tell, he stands perfectly well upright (although—upon closer inspection—he wears a noticeable slouch). With Comey came testimonies and soon thereafter, other top officials took their leave: Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Anthony Scaramucci, and Steve Bannon fled voluntarily or were forced to resign.
Failures were aplenty, successes few. Healthcare and immigration, both fraught subjects no one wants to touch, were beat back at every turn. Travel bans were stymied as they trudged through the lower courts en route to the Supreme Court. The smuggling of guns and drugs across the Mexican border continued unperturbed. A wall remains a pipe dream, while the pipelines at Keystone were challenged at every turn. But for all the failures, a single victory can cancel out a thousand defeats. This came but a week ago, when the most significant piece of tax legislation passed both the House and the Senate. Not since the days of Reagan has so momentous a tax bill been enacted. Under it, the rich will be more rich, the poor slightly less so, and corporations will thrive like never before. If it works as it should, all boats will rise and a middling presidency can be made great again.
So, at long length, the list is complete. These are the moments that defined life in America in the year 2017. When I try to capture its essence in a single word, only one comes to mind. That word is, tempestuous. It’s an unusual work, granted, but these are unusual times and I think no other word fits the year quite as well. Tempestuous was the stormy weather. It was both of the killers’ violent minds. It was the response to those sexual misconduct claims that ran our politics into the mud. Tempestuous was Donald Trump’s presidency, from its harsh beginning to where it now stands. Through these storms, we’ve seen many things. We’ve seen cities destroyed and families taken. We’ve seen what used to be a modest measure of a man become a high bar. And we’ve seen the early growing pains of a young presidency.
I’m sad to say, but after looking back at it all, I feel a bit more nausea than nostalgia. I suppose it’s all the more reason to look ahead toward the horizon and the new year to come. Here’s to the sun rising, to hope growing, and to joy blossoming in 2018.