Looking back: ‘Disruption, despair and dumpster fires’

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the Sun-Gazette continues its annual review of the past year’s major news stories. We continue today with one of the top national stories of 2017.)

NEW YORK — The news alerts gushed in: An attack on a concert, a church, an ice cream parlor; an assailant wielding a gun or hammer or acid. There’s an earthquake in Mexico, a monsoon in India, a volcanic eruption in Bali, hurricane after hurricane after hurricane. Keep up as your phone vibrates with word of your favorite actor accused of misconduct. Make that anchorman. Or politician. Or radio star.

The volatile year 2017 shook us so much and so often it felt like whiplash or worse, and that’s without even considering Donald Trump, at the center of so much of the turmoil.

“It’s almost like one of those horror rides at the amusement park where every time it heads into the next segment it gets worse,” said noted trendspotter Marian Salzman. “Every time I turn off a device, I feel like I have anxiety because I’m not tracking the news.”

The year, she said, boiled down to “disruption, despair and dumpster fires.”

In retrospect, 2017’s destiny seemed sealed in its opening moments. Just after the new year dawned in Istanbul, a gunman killed 39 people at a nightclub and wounded scores more.

Around the world this year, vehicles were made into weapons, with people plowed down on the Westminster and London bridges in Britain; in Times Square and on a Manhattan bike path; on a major shopping street in the Swedish capital of Stockholm; and on the historic La Rambla in Barcelona.

Terrorism and other violence struck so regularly that many accepted it as a fact of life.

“It can happen anywhere,” said Luis Antonio Bone, a 66-year-old Barcelona retiree.

Still, Bone said the fear of terrorism wouldn’t deter him from living his life, a kind of resilience mustered again and again, even by some of those marked by some of the year’s biggest tragedies.

In Texas, Pastor Frank Pomeroy vowed that good would persevere over evil after 25 parishioners, including his own 14-year-old daughter, were killed at his rural church. “Rather than choose darkness as that young man did that day, we choose life,” he said.

In Las Vegas, too, where 58 people were fatally shot at a music festival, some searched for optimism in the face of savagery. Jay Pleggenkuhle, a 52-year-old landscaper, helped create a memorial garden with a tree for each of the victims. Some 1,000 people volunteered to help.

“People have really been bound together following this tragedy,” he said.

A deadly chemical attack in Syria stirred people around the globe. Missile launches by North Korea brought angst that nuclear war was nearing. Rallies by white supremacists roused uncomfortable memories of the United States’ past.

In Egypt, twin Palm Sunday attacks ambushed Coptic Christians, and a November assault on a crowded mosque killed more than 300. In Britain, 22 people died when a suicide bomber detonated explosives after an Ariana Grande show.

All of it broke with such ferocity, it seemed impossible to focus on any one incident too long.

“Even something like a mass shooting that killed 50 people, the story moves on in just a couple weeks,” said Lauren Wright, a lecturer on politics and public affairs at Princeton University.

Three major storms — Harvey, Irma and Maria — battered Puerto Rico and much of the Caribbean, as well as Texas and Florida. Fires tore through California and Portugal; earthquakes rocked Mexico, Iran and Iraq; flooding and an avalanche covered parts of Italy; mudslides leveled homes in Sierra Leone; and a deadly monsoon pummeled India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

Amnesty International estimated 73,000 refugees took to the Mediterranean in the first half of the year alone, with about 2,000 dying along the way. In Myanmar, the military has been conducting a brutal ethnic cleansing of Rohingya people, killing untold numbers and forcing more than 626,000 to flee into neighboring Bangladesh.

In the U.S., the start of Trump’s presidency brought mass protests around the country, including droves of women who proudly deemed themselves “nasty,” a label placed on Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. When Sen. Elizabeth Warren was silenced through arcane legislative rules, the words of her colleague, Mitch McConnell, became an unlikely rallying cry of feminists: “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

That phrase echoed as a dizzying number of sexual harassment or assault allegations emerged against high-profile men and as thousands of victims of lesser-known men chimed in with two words that made clear the scope of the problem: “Me too.”

There were moments to hail, too. More than 80 schoolgirls, abducted by Boko Haram extremists more than three years ago in Nigeria, were released. In South Sudan, a boy abducted and forced into the army — mourned in a funeral two years ago after word of his gunshot death reached his mother — was alive after all, and returned home.

Jordi Casares, a 71-year-old retired bank employee in Barcelona, lamented the terrorism and radicalism that marred 2017 but said he, for one, is optimistic for a better 2018.

“It can’t be any worse than this year,” he said.

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