Whatever it is, you feel it in your shoulder muscles, in your gut. It’s not the usual anxiety, the strain we’ve absorbed into our DNA since Sept. 11. (Since Watergate? Since Antietam?) Hit from all sides by surreality — swamped by outrage and mystery and irony and hypocrisy — we have moved on to fatalism.
Nuclear war with North Korea? The chances are “increasing every day,” says the president’s national security adviser. Conflict and climax are the only options in a reality-TV world in which the president of the United States reportedly watches four hours of cable news a day, at least. In that kind of routine, everything is always BREAKING.
2017 was a year of both resignation and resistance, of special counsels and witch hunts, of flint striking steel. You thought America was either restored or remanded. It was a year that, in hindsight, will mark either the start of something or the end of something. Eventually we’ll look back and say, “We should’ve seen it coming then.”
The year went off like a shot. In January, the Dow Jones industrial average hit 20,000, and citizens staged the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history, in pink-hatted protest of the White House’s new occupant, who was insecure about his own crowd sizes. A week later, the president banned immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries, none of which had been a source of deadly terrorism in the United States since 2001. This act, blocked by the courts, briefly turned lawyers into heroes. And suddenly up was down.
The wrong best picture was announced at the Oscars.
In the span of one quarter, and a bit of overtime, the New England Patriots came back from a 25-point deficit to win the Super Bowl.
The New Yorker published a piece about the philosophical notion that we’re living in a computer simulation beset by glitches.
“We seem to be living within a kind of adolescent rebellion on the part of the controllers of the video game we’re trapped in,” wrote Adam Gopnik.
A commensurate plea echoed in movie theaters in February, then in our heads for the rest of the year.
Get out. GET. OUT.
President Trump did more in his first week in office “than Roosevelt did in 100 days,” Rudolph W. Giuliani said on Fox News. It certainly felt like that, all year: The president was constantly doing things, and we were constantly talking about the things he had done. He was tweeting at dawn, setting the day’s frantic tone with capital letters and hysterical punctuation. He was throwing himself campaign rallies in Harrisburg and Pensacola and at the jamboree of Boy Scouts, who got to hear about his election victory (“. . . You remember that incredible night with the maps . . .”).
When he was not doing these things, he was probably golfing at one of his properties. Or dismissing the Paris climate accord, firing high-ranking officials, installing an arch-conservative on the Supreme Court, withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and trying to ban transgender service members from the military.
The Dow hit 21,000 in March.
The Islamic State’s caliphate is on the verge of oblivion; terrorism thrives anyway. Mass quantities of people were killed at an Ariana Grande concert in England (improvised explosive device), at a Baptist church in South Texas (Ruger AR-556 rifle), in the Sinai Peninsula (suicide bomb and a small army with guns), in downtown Mogadishu (truck bomb).
In August, the Dow hit 22,000, Hurricane Harvey drowned Houston, and white nationalists marched in broad daylight in Charlottesville, where a 32-year-old counterprotester named Heather Heyer was killed by a 20-year-old neo-Nazi.
Confederate statues came down all over the country. In the predawn hours of Aug. 16, the mayor of Baltimore, a black woman named Catherine Pugh, watched with arms crossed as her orders were carried out: the removal, by crane, of both Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, and the bronze horses they rode in on.
The year burned rubber as it rounded the final turn. In October, the Dow hit 23,000 and a high-stakes gambler killed 58 and injured 546 from his perch on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay. It was the worst mass shooting by a lone gunman in American history. Four days later, reports of Harvey Weinstein’s serial sexual violence triggered an avalanche of similar revelations, as well as a movement among victims of assault and harassment.
“Me too” became a cultural echo of “Get out” and “Black lives matter.” Football players began to kneel during the national anthem; the country’s chief TV watcher sputtered at the ingratitude. The year’s top three highest-grossing movies had female heroes at their centers: “Beauty and the Beast,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Wonder Woman.” Trailing them were Thor, Wolverine, Spider-Man and the lugheads of “The Fast and Furious” franchise. The No. 1 song of the year was “Despacito,” by Puerto Rican Luis Fonsi.
Meanwhile a majority in Congress — 90 percent white and male — voted for a big tax cut that would mostly benefit the wealthiest Americans.
The unemployment rate kept sliding down; so did the American life expectancy, corroded by opioids.
Dead: Gregg Allman, Glen Campbell, David Cassidy, Barbara Cook, Chris Cornell, Fats Domino, Dick Gregory, Hugh Hefner, Martin Landau, Jerry Lewis, Charles Manson, Mary Tyler Moore, Roger Moore, Jeanne Moreau, Tom Petty, Don Rickles, Sam Shepard, Harry Dean Stanton, Adam West.
As good as dead: Mario Batali, Louis C.K., John Conyers Jr., Mark Halperin, Dustin Hoffman, Al Franken, Matt Lauer, Bill O’Reilly, Roy Price, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, Weinstein, Leon Wieseltier and TBD.
Born: Twins to Amal and George Clooney, a son to Jimmy Kimmel, who used the occasion to decry the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which a cancer-stricken John McCain sunk with a flip of his thumb in the early hours of July 28.
Shot: another member of Congress, more than 3,500 people in Chicago.
In November, the Dow hit 24,000. Americans are happy about the economy but miserable about the country, according to polls.
Yemen is terminal, afflicted by the largest cholera epidemic in recorded history. Stephen K. Bannon wants to build a wall around his rowhouse on Capitol Hill. California is still on fire; Puerto Rico is still without power. The trolls are readying for 2018 and 2020. A congressman has called for a “purge” of the FBI. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee compared Trump to Winston Churchill.
There was a total solar eclipse.
The Winter Olympics begin in two months 180 miles from Rocket Man. Trump’s approval rating slunk to the 30s; the Dow is inching toward 25,000.
Up, up, up as everything else seems down or sideways.
You can feel the friction.
You can feel the heat build.