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This past year has often been surprising, shocking and disorienting. Who would have expected the series of "storms of the century" that drowned Houston, battered Florida and left Puerto Rico without power for months? Or that a country music festival would become the site of America's deadliest modern mass shooting? Or that a Democrat would win a Senate seat from Alabama? But looking back at Outlook's last Year in Preview issue, the broad outlines of 2017 were clear. Washington Post staffers predicted that establishment political parties would hold off most extremist elements, that tensions would arise between federal political appointees and government scientists, and that technology would increasingly try to do our thinking for us. So, once again, we've asked Post beat reporters and columnists to forecast the big stories, themes and questions they think will dominate the year ahead. From the #MeToo movement jolting the sports world to the opioid crisis worsening to big technology companies confronting their dark side, here's what to expect in 2018.
President Trump entered the White House promising unity (in his election night speech) and depicting "American carnage" (in his inaugural address ) — a revealing rhetorical scramble that foreshadowed his first year in office.
His 2018 is practically guaranteed to be as unpredictable. The only certainty: his gleeful (and at times self-sabotaging) use of Twitter.
The president begins his second year in office facing down the momentum of all he could not control and all he failed to accomplish. His lawyers promised him that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's Russia probe would be over by now . The longer it goes, the more it's likely to anger the mercurial president, who has repeatedly denied any collusion and dismissed the investigation as "rigged." Trump, accused by more than a dozen women of unwanted kissing and groping, will also find himself a renewed target of the #MeToo movement toppling powerful men.
The president has a long list of tasks. In Congress, the Republican tax plan squeaked through before the holidays. But there's also infrastructure and immigration — including a solution to the predicament he put "dreamers" into by ending the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which had protected them. The 2018 midterm elections will have him traveling the country to fight for his party's political survival.
But Trump has repeatedly defied political gravity and expectations. In 2018, the president will be gracious and disciplined when even his aides are bracing for an explosion. And he will be brash and erratic when triggered by something as simple as an errant comment on cable news.
With this president, prognosticators would be wise to save their money. Just don't forget to set your @realDonaldTrump Twitter alerts.
In 2016, Donald Trump pledged to "drain the swamp." But many corporate lobbyists — ostensibly Trump's target — have scored wins on policies from the new tax law to changes in labor, environmental and energy rules. Federal employees, though, haven't been winning at all.
President Trump is trying to shrink government more dramatically than anyone since Ronald Reagan — and 2018 could show whether he can continue to translate his rhetoric into reality.
The new administration has been slow to nominate and fill Senate-confirmed posts, and not by accident. Of 624 Senate-confirmed posts, according to The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, 249 have no nominee. In an interview on "Fox and Friends" in February, Trump described this as a deliberate strategy: "Well, a lot of those jobs, I don't want to appoint, because they're unnecessary to have."
Several members of Trump's Cabinet are trying to usher federal employees out the door, even if their proposed budget cuts have not become law. At the Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, several hundred staffers have accepted buyouts, and the EPA is not replacing them or new retirees. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke remarked in September, "I got 30 percent of the crew that's not loyal to the flag," and his reassignments of senior career staffers and proposals to move divisions out of Washington are prompting employees to leave.
But Trump's war on the bureaucracy will hit some limits — it's hard to shrink government and also keep it operating. "Success here is probably measured in the measure of millimeters," said Barry Bennett, a GOP consultant who advised Trump in 2016. "That's just how set in stone the bureaucracy really is."
If you want to see the future, look to Yemen.
The country's government has collapsed. Because of a blockade, its citizens are suffering widespread famine and the largest cholera epidemic in world history. Thousands have been killed in airstrikes.
Yet the war being waged there has little to do with the Yemeni people — and everything to do with the struggle for dominance between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Their rivalry is at the heart of the unrest in Yemen (where Saudi Arabia supports the government and Iran backs the Houthi rebels), as well as in Syria (where Iran supports the government and Saudi Arabia backs the rebels), Lebanon and beyond. In 2018, their tit for tat and battles by proxy are going to get worse.
The BBC has predicted that "the region could be entering a version of the Thirty Years' War, which saw Catholic and Protestant states battle for supremacy in the 17th Century." In the coming year, the conflicts in Syria and Yemen are likely to deepen, leaving the door open for violent extremists to gain ground. In Iraq, the two countries may destabilize the fledgling effort to rebuild after the defeat of the Islamic State. And meddling in Lebanon's spring elections could disrupt the delicate balance among the country's religious groups, leading to major unrest that could ignite the Middle East.
Western allies may be drawn into the conflict, too, especially if it spills into the waters of the Persian Gulf, which the United States and other Western powers count on being able to navigate.
Few experts predict an outright war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Fewer can imagine any path to victory for either side. What is clear, though, is that the cost of the struggle will continue to be borne by the innocent. People will starve and kids will be blown up in places far away from Tehran and Riyadh.
As bad as it is, the U.S. drug crisis is almost certain to get worse before it gets better.
This year ended with a grim announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Drug overdose deaths had soared 21 percent, to 63,632, in 2016 (official statistics lag by a year). That's about equal to the population of Portland, Maine.
Opioids killed more than 42,000 people, a 28 percent increase from 2015.
The drug death toll is so high that it is now primarily responsible for the second straight year of decline in overall U.S. life expectancy — a trend basically unheard of in the developed world.
Brace for worse news in 2018. Bob Anderson, who studies mortality statistics for the CDC, said the data through May 2017 is "at least as bad" as the 2016 numbers. People are still being killed by overdoses of pills and heroin, and in increasing numbers. But the problem now is clearly fentanyl, an illegal synthetic opioid that is smuggled from China and mixed with heroin — creating a stronger high and a greater likelihood of death. Fentanyl and similar synthetic opioids killed 19,413 people in 2016, more than double the number in the previous year. That's an incredible leap in just 12 months. (Because many users die with more than one drug in their bodies, a single death can be attributed to two or more drugs.)
So what are we doing about this? Not enough, according to most authorities. The number of prescriptions for opioids is down a bit in recent years, and some doctors are trying to give each patient fewer pills. That might help patients avoid dependence and keep unused extras off the street. Meanwhile, stopping fentanyl and heroin from entering the country has proved difficult. And although President Trump has declared the drug crisis a national emergency, the government has devoted little money to making treatment more available.
The fashion industry's customer base is overwhelmingly female. But how does Seventh Avenue actually feel about women — black, white, Latina, plump, poor, petite? We may find out in 2018.
Fashion has been reveling in its newfound interest in feminism for more than a year. Maria Grazia Chiuri helped to kick things off in the fall of 2016 when she made her debut at Dior. Her appointment as creative director marked the first time a woman would lead the 71-year-old French house, and Chiuri set the tone with a collection that incorporated the poetic prose of feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The designer inscribed T-shirts with the title of Adichie's famous Ted talk, "We Should All Be Feminists." A year later, Chiuri found inspiration in the late Linda Nochlin's 1971 feminist critique of art history: "Why Have There Been No Great Female Artists?"
Other members of the fashion community have added to the conversation. Missoni, the Italian knitwear firm, filled its runway with models wearing pink "pussy hats." New York designer Mara Hoffman put the organizers of the Women's March on her runway. The Council of Fashion Designers of America honored Planned Parenthood's Cecile Richards and activist Gloria Steinem. And in September, fashion's most influential luxury conglomerates wrote corporate guidelines aimed at institutionalizing a simple fact: Models are not simply clothes hangers; they're human beings who should be treated with dignity.
Fashion is waking up to the realization that it should work on behalf of women, in service to them and alongside them — respectfully.
The next year promises to be a test of whether fashion can put the slogans on its runway into practice.
Now that the country is waking up to the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault, sex is going to change. Not overnight. But the conversations that had been happening on college campuses — about how to get consent before getting physical, about what's okay and what's not — are spreading well beyond the ivory tower. Sex in 2018 will be more deliberative, cautious and confusing.
Women and men are relearning how to interact with each other. In my interviews with singles, women talk about how each new revelation of sexual assault or harassment erodes their trust in men and makes them less likely to want to take a chance in their dating lives. "I have no desire to be romantic with someone, or even put myself in a romantic situation, because all the news is so disheartening," said Claire Meneer, a 25-year-old in Washington. And regular guys — not just misbehaving politicians, filmmakers, sports figures, chefs — are confused about how to let women know they're interested. Many of them aren't sure what crosses the line in courtship.
As people get more thoughtful and cautious about sex, we will probably have less of it. According to studies of sexual frequency, Americans were already trending in this direction — with married people showing the steepest decline. Even singles, commonly thought to be promiscuous, are falling out of love with casual encounters. Laurie Watson, a sex therapist in North Carolina, thinks the hookup is dead. "In order to ask permission in a way that is sexy, you actually have to know somebody before you want to have sex with them — or ask to have sex with them," Watson says. "I think it's going to change the culture back to where people get to know each other. It turns out that listening is sexy."
Hopefully that means sex in 2018 will be more consensual and collaborative, too.
For years, it seemed the technology industry could do no wrong. It was celebrated for innovations from cutting prices (e-commerce) to democratizing communication (Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp) to building products that will take us into the future (artificial intelligence, self-driving cars). Social media platforms have been credited with helping to usher in political and social transformations, including the Arab Spring and the #MeToo movement.
But these technologies have become so powerful that their flaws have global consequences. People worry that social media can be manipulated by foreign governments, poisoning democracy and tilting the outcomes of elections. They fear that software algorithms are fueling disinformation, censorship and hate speech. And they are concerned that tech giants have become powerful gatekeepers.
In 2018, there will be more calls for Silicon Valley to confront its dark side. Facebook made a start this month, conceding, for the first time, what researchers have found: that scrolling endlessly on your social media feed has negative effects on your psychological well-being. Google and Facebook also have plans to hire thousands more workers to police unwanted content.
The question is whether tech companies can actually fix these problems. It is not clear, for example, that it is possible to teach software — or humans — to detect every racist social media post or live-streamed violent act, or whether a bot is posting a fake political screed.
If they don't do enough, tech giants will probably face greater regulation in the United States and Europe. Some Democrats and Republicans are already calling for it. The regulatory free ride that enabled these companies to grow so quickly, with so few checks and balances, may soon be ending.
As the calendar flips to 2018, Hollywood is beginning a long, painful journey in the post-Weinstein era. The leaders of the entertainment world have to figure out how to handle the disturbing topics of sexual harassment and assault in an industry that focuses on, well, entertainment.
We have yet to see how movies or scripted TV handles the cultural shift, although "Law & Order: SVU" has confirmed it's working on a Weinstein-inspired episode for 2018. For now, the response is being led by late-night talk show hosts — they have the easiest access to A-listers, who are contractually obligated to promote their projects. When Ben Affleck was on his publicity tour for "Justice League," Stephen Colbert asked him about Weinstein and about Affleck's apology for groping a host on MTV. Dustin Hoffman, expecting a lighthearted back-and-forth about the 20th anniversary of "Wag the Dog," didn't take kindly to John Oliver's questions about allegations of sexual harassment.
In 2018, this situation will be inescapable as more celebrities face public questioning about sexual harassment — particularly if they have to promote projects whose stars have been removed after allegations of misconduct: Kevin Spacey on "House of Cards," Danny Masterson on "The Ranch," Mario Batali on "The Chew." (Jeffrey Tambor said he was leaving "Transparent," though now that's in question.)
In 2017, late-show hosts grappled with how to handle President Trump's administration — Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Meyers got serious on issues from health care to gun control. Jimmy Fallon pointedly stayed away from politics; he sees his role as helping people escape the daily news. Yet as this new era begins, it will be increasingly impossible for television to ignore the cultural reckoning.
It was only a matter of time before the brave and overdue national pushback against sexual harassment and assault rocked the male-dominated confines of athletics. Now that the #MeToo movement seems to be at full throttle, 2018 could be a troubling year for misogynistic sports figures.
In December, the focus on misconduct started to include sports, alongside Hollywood, music, comedy and politics. Former USA Gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in prison on federal child pornography charges. He still must be punished for the sexual assaults to which he also pleaded guilty. Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson said he will sell his NFL team after Sports Illustrated exposed a history of reprehensible behavior that resulted in at least four monetary settlements with former employees. A former wardrobe stylist at the NFL Network filed a lawsuit accusing executives and commentators of sexual harassment. And the executive assistant for Warren Moon's marketing firm sued the Hall of Fame quarterback, alleging that he made her wear lingerie and sleep in his bed during road trips, watched her take showers and drugged her.
Can it get worse? Sadly, yes. Most of the sports world has operated in a bubble where men often have skewed perceptions of decency. That applies to athletes, coaches, staffers, team executives, league officials — even media outlets. At every level, men greatly outnumber women. The environment makes the industry susceptible to chauvinism. At the very worst, it can foster a culture of misogyny and assault.
Now that women won't be immediately called liars or gold diggers for coming forward, dirty men — even those celebrated for flaunting their masculinity on a field of play — can't rely on silence to protect them.
Just as white evangelical Christians — the heirs to the Reagan-era "religious right" — have been a dominant force in U.S. politics in recent years, the loosely organized "religious left" will assert its place in 2018.
This coalition is fired up. Progressive clergy members, from mainline Protestant pastors to black ministers to rabbis, have been on the front lines of 2017 protests and will become leading voices in the new year: on immigration, climate change and the social safety net.
Meanwhile, communities are girding for more neo-Nazi marchers, with their chant of "Jews will not replace us." Churchgoers worry that their houses of worship could be the next First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Tex., where a gunman massacred believers in their pews. Their fears and frustrations will resound in sermons and voting booths in 2018.
The Muslim community, too, has been dragged into politics — by President Trump's rhetoric about "radical Islamic terror," his orders banning travelers from Muslim-majority countries and his retweeting of videos meant to slur Muslims. Hate crimes against Muslims are not likely to let up in 2018. Expect a strong Muslim response. We might even see the first Muslim governor, as Abdul El-Sayed mounts an impressive campaign in Michigan.
Most conservative Christians who have supported Trump will stick with him. They are especially pleased with his appointment of Neil Gorsuch and other conservative judges. In 2018, we'll start to see the impact of those judges. Watch the Supreme Court as it decides whether a religious baker who opposes same-sex marriage should have to make a cake for a gay wedding — a case with wide-ranging implications for the role of faith in the public sphere.