Sadly, for the first time, we really have to explain our title. It used to be rather self-evident, but then it's been more than a year since The McLaughlin Group went off the air, after the death of host John McLaughlin.
The show was a political chatfest and ran for decades. Regulars such as Clarence Page and Pat Buchanan used to face off every week on all sorts of subjects, but at the end of the year they put on two special awards shows.
Long ago, we decide to write our own suggestions in an homage (which is so much nicer than "in a blatant ripoff of their bit," don't you think?). We've done so for over a decade now (there's a list of links to all of these at the end of this article, for anyone interested in past awards given).
This year, we continue the tradition, because we truly believe the categories that McLaughlin came up with are worth preserving. It forces us to re-examine the entire year, which always leads to tons of stuff we had completely forgotten about. This is a two-part column, which will also run next Friday. Without further ado, let's don our tuxedo and approach the podium for our first award of 2017....
Biggest Winner Of 2017
We considered taking a global view of this category, in which case we would have given the Biggest Winner Of 2017 to either China (who is winning more and more on the world stage, as America retreats from global politics in a big way), or Angela Merkel (for her rather impressive re-election), or -- the most obvious -- Vladimir Putin. But we decided to look closer to home.
The runner up in this category might be a bit surprising, but the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) was a real winner this year. Not only did an incredible public outcry face the Republicans who were trying to dismantle it (with their failed repeal-and-replace effort, which consumed an inordinate amount of time in Congress), but the Republicans managed to achieve something that even Barack Obama didn't. Obamacare is now more popular than ever, and for the first time a clear majority of Americans approve of it. The old Joni Mitchell lyrics were almost proven true: "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." The threat of losing all the "patient protection" parts of Obamacare and the threat of 24 million people losing their health insurance pushed Obamacare polling higher than it had ever previously been. President Trump tried to undermine it at every turn, but even cutting the signup period in half and slashing the advertising for the signup period didn't work -- millions of Americans still used the exchanges to obtain health insurance for their families.
But there was a bigger winner than that this year, even if it does show a wee bit of bias on the part of the award judging committee. Because, to us, the Biggest Winner Of 2017 was clearly Senator-Elect Doug Jones. Winning a special election in Alabama -- in one of (if not "the") reddest states in the country -- was more than just impressive, it was downright astonishing. Sure, Roy Moore was the most flawed candidate to roll down the pike since Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin, but right up to the election itself Moore was still favored to win. This was, after all, Alabama we're talking about.
Doug Jones winning a Senate seat in the Deep South gave tens of millions of Democrats hope for the future -- specifically, the midterm elections next year. His victory even gave millions of Republicans the chance to breathe an enormous sigh of relief, when they realized they wouldn't have Moore tied around their necks like a two-ton millstone for the next three years, always having to answer for whatever crazy thing he just said. They've already got that in President Trump, after all, so many Republicans (especially those up for re-election next year) are profoundly glad that Jones won (whether they'll admit it or not in public).
In 2009, during Barack Obama's first year in office, there was a special election to replace the deceased Teddy Kennedy. Republican Scott Brown won, and in 2010 the GOP picked up 63 House seats and control of the chamber. Here's hoping history repeats itself, after Doug Jones swiped a ruby-red seat away for Democrats. To us, Doug Jones is clearly the Biggest Winner Of 2017.
Biggest Loser Of 2017
The Republican Party's credibility, maybe? Donald Trump, for only getting one major piece of legislation through Congress during his entire first year in office -- and for not having the traditional "honeymoon" period with the public after assuming office? Al Franken?
Again, we could have gone big here, and said that America was the Biggest Loser of 2017 (for all sorts of reasons, really, but mostly for our diminished presence on the world stage). Or we could have gone generic and given it to "blue-collar Trump voters" who not only got shafted in the tax bill but would also have borne the brunt of the pain had Obamacare been repealed -- Trump conveniently forgot the forgotten in just about everything he did or proposed during the year, in fact. Or we could have bookended Doug Jones's award by giving this one to Roy Moore.
Instead, however, we're going to show our bias once again and award the Biggest Loser Of 2017 to Jon Ossoff. The special election for a House seat in Georgia's Sixth District raised Democratic hopes incredibly high. Ossoff almost won the seat outright (by getting over 50 percent in the first round of voting), but fell short by a few percentage points. An absolutely astounding amount of money was poured into this race, as both sides spent tens of millions of dollars. Not only did it wind up being the most expensive House race in American history, it cost more than many Senate races do.
But for all the money and energy spent by Ossoff and the Democratic Party and all the lefty super PACs, Ossoff came up short. He got pretty much the same share of the vote in the runoff as he did in the first round, and again fell short of 50 percent. Of the four special House elections in which Democrats had hoped for an upset, this was supposed to be the one with the best chance of winning. Plus, the district is Newt Gingrich's old district, so that would have been enjoyable as well.
Alas, it didn't come to pass. Ossoff's loss was the biggest, both emotionally and financially, for the Democrats for the whole year. Which makes him our Biggest Loser Of 2017.
Kim Jong Un of North Korea certainly proved adept at manipulating American politics and the American president this year. In a different way, Vladimir Putin also showed real mastery at such manipulation as well. Or, seen another way, the Best Politician on the world stage (due to Trump's abdication of America's traditional role) was California Governor Jerry Brown, who stepped up to reassure the world that while Trump was quite obviously in a "Make America Small Again" mood, not everyone in the U.S. had given up on ideas like combating climate change, or even just providing American leadership in general.
Back home, we cynically considered Bob Corker for Best Politician, since his Corker Kickback was such a breathtaking display of self-serving -- flat-out selling his vote and abandoning his stated lofty principles for some cold, hard cash in his own pocket. It really was such a masterful bit of political hypocrisy that it deserves some sort of award, that's for sure.
Our runner-up for the award is Paul Ryan, who has emerged as the real driver of Republican legislation. Donald Trump doesn't do details, to put it mildly. He lied to the public that he had his own "big, beautiful plans" to solve all sorts of problems, but never followed through since he never had any clue what to do. All he wanted was a bill to sign, whether it was on tax cuts or repeal-and-replace Obamacare, or whatever. Into this policy vacuum stepped Ryan, who has been dreaming of screwing over the middle class and the little guy for decades.
But, happily, we have to give the Best Politician to none other than Bernie Sanders. All year long, Bernie has topped the list of "most popular politician" with the American public. His approval ratings are consistently north of 60 percent, far greater than Trump's dismal polling, and outdistancing every other politician polled. Sanders introduced a "Medicare For All" single-payer bill in the Senate, and he's been tirelessly traveling all over the country whipping up his supporters to dream big. Whatever he's doing, he seems to be doing it right, if public opinion is any measure. He's even topping the lists of pundits predicting which Democrats will run for the presidency in 2020. What it all adds up to is Senator Bernie Sanders was -- surprisingly -- the Best Politician of 2017.
OK, there's really no doubt in this category. There really was only one other possible nominee -- Roy Moore, for being such a bad politician that a Democrat won a Senate seat in Alabama. That's pretty bad, we have to admit.
But the Worst Politician was painfully obvious this year: Donald Trump. All year long, people fruitlessly waited for the "pivot," where Trump would magically transform himself into a president America didn't have to be continually embarrassed about. It never happened. Trump just can't seem to manage even the smallest and easiest of presidential duties -- even so simple a thing as shaking another world leader's hand. Rex Tillerson spoke for many Americans when he reportedly called his own boss a "fucking moron."
Trump spent much of the year picking fights with people in Congress from his own party. That right there should qualify him for Worst Politician, but there's plenty of other reasons he owns this category. Pretty much anything that came out of his mouth (or off his Twitter fingers) would have qualified him, all year long.
Here are just a few of Trump's gaffes during the year, by way of example.
You know what uranium is, right? It's this thing called nuclear weapons. And other things. Like lots of things are done with uranium. Including some bad things.
To excuse his woefully inadequate response to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria:
This is an island surrounded by water -- big water, ocean water.
Not content to call white supremacists "very fine people," Trump shared his thoughts on American history:
People don't realize, you know, the Civil War -- if you think about it, why?
On why his border wall with Mexico had to be transparent (you just can't make this stuff up, folks):
When they throw large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don't see them -- they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It's over. As crazy as that sounds, you need transparency through that wall.
When he visited Puerto Rico to assess hurricane damage, he told one family he met: "Have a good time!" and then later said he "enjoyed very much" making the trip, showing a monumental lack of empathy with everyone who had lost everything in the storm.
And -- our personal favorite -- when doing a photo op with four astronauts, Buzz Aldrin made a Buzz Lightyear/Toy Story reference by quoting the famous line: "To infinity -- and beyond!" Trump responded, incoherently:
This is infinity here. It could be infinity. We don't really don't know. But it could be. It has to be something -- but it could be infinity, right?
And that's just a small sample of Trump's idiocy, folks. By just about any measure, Trump is simply incapable of learning how politics actually works. Maybe that's why he plays far more golf than any modern president -- way more than Barack Obama or George W. Bush ever played, despite promising while campaigning that he simply wouldn't have time for golf if elected.
Donald Trump has charted the worst poll numbers of any president since public opinion polling began (during F.D.R.'s time in office). His poll numbers went underwater (where his disapproval rate is more than the approval rate) faster than any other president. Eisenhower and Kennedy never saw this happen at all. For Richard Nixon, it took 53 months of his presidency before it happened. L.B.J., George H. W. Bush, Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan all went well over a year before it happened. Gerald Ford saw it happen in only five months (after pardoning Nixon). Bill Clinton saw it happen the fastest -- until now -- at only four months. Donald Trump reached this milestone on his second day in office. By early February he was four points below water, and he's only gotten worse and worse since then. Last week, Trump's polling was over 21 points underwater.
All year long, Trump has posted the worst poll numbers ever seen, in fact. The public never gave him the traditional honeymoon in the polls, and while he is holding on to at least 37 percent of the public as a hardcore base, even this has eroded down from 40 percent (his hard floor earlier in the year).
Donald Trump has not learned how to be a politician, plain and simple. He may be incapable of learning how to do the basic duties of his office. Instead of consoling Gold Star parents, he either lies to them or picks fights with them. Instead of empathizing with hurricane victims, he treats his trip there as a vacation and tosses paper towels to the crowd with glee. He tweets easily-disprovable lies on a daily basis. His White House is plagued with leaks and scandals -- he was also the fastest president to ever have a special counsel investigation launched against him. He refuses to give press conferences -- he has only held a single formal solo press conference all year long, in fact. He's given two others that almost qualify, but he is either terrified of speaking to the press or his handlers know what a disaster it always turns out to be and keep him from doing them.
Just about any way you look at it, Donald Trump is miles beyond any other possible candidate for Worst Politician of the year.
Most Defining Political Moment
This was a tough one to choose, because we had several good candidates. The defeat of the Republican repeal-and-replace effort was perhaps the biggest turning point of the year, since Republicans wasted so much time and energy on it only to fall short in the end. The protesters who descended on the halls of Congress certainly were a definitional moment for how public opinion can halt bad legislation.
The firing of James Comey was also rather definitional for the Trump white House, or perhaps those cabinet meeting lovefests. Nothing defined the Trump era more than sycophants vying with each other to see who could praise the Dear Leader more, making Trump look like some tinpot dictator. Banana republics blushed with shame at Trump's demand for public ass-kissing, in fact. Even Kim Jong Un must have been impressed.
On a grimmer note, what happened in Charlottesville was also a stark defining moment. Not only the white supremacist rallies and the lack of police response, not only the death of a woman murdered by a car, but by the president's jaw-dropping response to it all.
What came to be called the Resistance was kicked off by the Women's March on Washington, one day after Trump took office, and either one could plausibly have been the Most Defining Political Moment of the year.
But instead, we have to give the award to the #MeToo movement. Never before has such a movement changed things so fast. From Bill O'Reilly's exit from Fox News to the precipitating takedown of Harvey Weinstein, to the Roy Moore campaign, women stood up and told their horrific stories and the country reacted. Many celebrities saw the effective end of their careers. Journalism was also hard-hit, especially notable in the firing of Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer, both icons of morning broadcast news. Politicians from Al Franken on down also paid a heavy price (with the obvious exception of our "grab 'em by the pussy" president, so far at least). In fact, there were so many flameouts that we aren't even going to attempt to list them all, because we know we'd forget to mention so many of them.
Social movements can grind along for years at a glacial pace, but on occasion they leap forward and command center stage in American politics. That's what happened with sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other forms of sexual misconduct. From Anthony Weiner finally going to prison right up to Al Franken's last speech on the Senate floor, it was an extraordinary year for women being believed over the denials of their abusers. Which is why the Most Defining Political Moment was the entire #MeToo movement, hands down. Or, more properly, we suppose: "Hands OFF!"
Turncoat Of The Year
If Donald Trump were judging these awards, we are sure he'd pick Jeff Sessions for Turncoat Of The Year, for his recusal from the Russia investigation. Or perhaps Jeff Flake, who has spent the entire year ripping into Trump whenever he can.
Thankfully, though, Trump is not judging these awards.
Turncoat Of The Year goes to three senators -- the first two more than the third, really. Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and (to a lesser extent, even though he hogged all the press for it) John McCain of Arizona easily win Turncoat Of The Year for voting against the repeal-and-replace Senate bill, which effectively killed the effort (at least for 2017). McCain did so in the most dramatic fashion, with his thumbs-down gesture on the Senate floor, but Murkowski and Collins were the two who consistently voted against every iteration of the bill and every process vote leading up to the final vote -- something McCain can't claim.
Turncoat Of The Year can be seen positively or negatively, depending always on your own political leanings. For Democrats, they were incredibly thankful to these three GOP senators for saving Obama's namesake legislation. Republicans, on the other hand, were incensed. The depth of feelings on both sides is why it's an easy call to award Collins, McCain, and Murkowski the Turncoat Of The Year this time around.
This category always kind of puts us to sleep....
But then, that's by design, right?
As always, Mitch McConnell is a strong contender for "less interesting than watching paint dry."
Rex Tillerson seems to be trying to win this category every time he opens his mouth, too.
But this year, we're going to hand out the award (possibly for the first time, we'd have to check) in a positive light. Because, from all reports, Doug Jones was an incredibly boring candidate.
The moral of the story (if the reports are true) is that sometimes boring wins. Sometimes boring is better than heart-palpitating excitement, when the excitement is of a negative type.
Jones very smartly did not allow the Democratic Party to co-opt his entire campaign (the way, it might be argued, that Jon Ossoff did). It wasn't until the final weekend that Jones even allowed big-name Democrats to come into Alabama to campaign for him. And even then he resisted the urge to invite Barack Obama to a rally. He wanted to keep things boring. As it turns out, he was right.
Alabama was simply not going to elect a flaming liberal. Wasn't going to happen. If Jones had been some fire-breathing progressive, he quite likely would have lost -- even to the accused child molester. Sometimes, being boring is the best thing possible. Not always, though, and not even always in the South. Jon Ossoff was actually criticized for losing his race in Georgia by being too boring. So sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
For Doug Jones, it worked like a charm. And for proving it, we hereby award him Most Boring of the year -- in the nicest way possible.
This is another category that we prefer to see in a neutral light. Many people define "charisma" in a purely positive sense, but to us it can be either positive or negative. Our classic example to prove this is Rodney Dangerfield's character in Caddyshack. Annoying as all get-out, but whenever he walked on screen he absolutely dominated the scene. You simply had to pay attention to him. That's charisma, although of the negative variety.
So while we could have had some fun with this category, deciding whether Alec Baldwin's Donald Trump or Melissa McCarthy's Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live was more charismatic, we're going to have to pass on such amusement.
Because, like him or not, Donald Trump is easily the Most Charismatic. Think about it -- Trump fires off a tweet, and the media world explodes. The obsession with the tiniest thing Trump says or does has all but consumed politics from the moment he rode down the Trump Tower escalator to announce his candidacy (and bash Mexicans).
Trump knows how to use this charisma to distract the entire political universe from whatever subject he doesn't want to see on his television screen. He knows one crazy tweet from him will deflect bad news, and his base supporters love him for it -- no matter how outrageous or offensive the tweet turns out to be. He has, to put it as simple as possible, entertainment value.
Or, to put it another way, charisma. He is the center of attention. He loves kicking the hornet's nest, because he knows he'll see his own face (or his own tweet) on screen for the next 48 hours, no matter what else is going on. So, like it or not, Donald Trump is easily the Most Charismatic character around.
We received many nominations for Al Franken in this category, but we're going to take a pass on him. Bob Mueller is getting a pretty bum rap right now from Republicans, who are not-so-subtly laying the groundwork for Trump to justify firing him, but we think Mueller can take care of his own reputation just fine.
Instead, the Bummest Rap of the year was Trump calling every single news story he did not personally like "fake news." The term has lost all meaning, both to him and to everyone else, other than "news stories that don't praise Donald J. Trump." Facts be damned, if Trump doesn't like it, it's fake news. Period.
Kellyanne Conway gets a special mention in this award category for her Orwellian take on this (while complaining that the networks weren't giving enough coverage to the entirely fictional "Bowling Green massacre"), when she insisted that Trump was using "alternative facts." So fake news is reporting news that isn't Trump's "alternative facts" (or, what might be called "fake reality")? Sorry, but our heads are spinning even contemplating the idea.
There used to be a real definition of "fake news." It was news stories entirely made up out of whole cloth and inserted into the national conversation for nefarious purposes. Russia, for instance, created lots of fake news during the 2016 election. Taking this label and slapping it on "anything a journalist says that Trump doesn't like" was the Bummest Rap of all. We don't have fake news, people, we have a fake president.
There was a lot to choose from here, this year. Harvey Weinstein. The whole #MeToo movement. The "Corker Kickback" which lined Bob Corker's pockets in exchange for his vote. Kansas being economically destroyed by trickle-down tax-cutting idiocy. The Trump Inauguration photo, showing a pathetically tiny crowd and acres and acres of empty ground. Roy Moore's accusers.
But the Fairest Rap of the year is quite simple: Trump lies. Trump lies all the time. Trump lies about stuff that is so easily debunked it's not even funny. Trump lies about himself, about what he's said in the past, about the political situation, about his family, about his agenda, about why he's firing people, about how the public perceives him, about his enemies (both personal and political), and probably about whether the sky is blue or not.
News organizations and fact-checkers have been hard-pressed to keep up. Depending on what criteria is used for what constitutes an actual lie, Trump has lied either hundreds and hundreds of times, or well over a thousand times since taking office. The Washington Post even has a tracking page for all of Trump's lies that showed he uttered over 1,600 lies in his first 300 days in office. That works out to over five a day, or really more when you consider how many days he spends on the golf course. We've never played golf with him, but we have to assume that he lies about his golf game as well.
Trump lies like a rug. He's been lying his face off all year long, beginning with his outrageously false claims about his Inauguration crowd and President Obama personally ordering Trump Tower wiretapped. He lied about the size of his victory, and he lied about "voter fraud" so much he had to create a presidential commission in an attempt to save face. He promises things constantly ("you'll hear about this very shortly") and then never follows through.
Trump is, in a word, pathological in his lying. He lies even when there is no reason to. He just claimed that he personally came up with the political label "tax cuts" and that Republicans hadn't been able to pass any since Reagan because they insisted on calling it "tax reform" instead. This is a whopper of epic proportions which is just simply not true on several levels, but by now it's just another day in the constant and unending stream of Trump falsehoods.
So choosing the Fairest Rap was pretty easy. Trump lies. Like a rug.
For some reason, we included in our nominations list an amusing Washington Post headline: "State Department Writes Anti-Leak Memo Which Promptly Leaks." Now maybe that doesn't entirely fit the criteria for Best Comeback, but it certainly got a laugh out of us.
In politics, Obamacare made quite a comeback this year. From the brink of disaster it came back, and is more popular than it ever was even under Barack Obama. From the other side of the political aisle, you could make a case for trickle-down theory, which made a spectacular comeback in the year-end tax bill, even though it has been proven to be a fantasy pretty much every time it's been tried (see, most recently: Kansas).
An even better case could be made for the Woman's March on Washington -- one day after Trump's dismal Inauguration crowd, hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets in protest. That's an impressive comeback indeed. Or even, more broadly, the Resistance movement (or the Indivisible movement or the Anti-Trump movement -- call it what you will...), which is energizing the Democratic base no end these days.
But we have to look beyond the political world and instead turn to the world of sports. The Houston Astros won the World Series this year, roughly two months after the city of Houston was devastated by Hurricane Harvey. The Astros went from having to play games at another city's field (because their city was underwater at the time) to winning their first World Series ever.
It was impossible not to feel solidarity with Houston, because the comeback was so emotional. Going from being literally underwater to being on top of the sports world in two months was the Best Comeback all year long, even though it had nothing to do with politics.
Most Original Thinker
We're also going to take a rather lighthearted approach to this one, just to warn everyone.
Arnold Schwarzenegger took over from Donald Trump on the NBC show The Apprentice. His ratings weren't as good as Trump's, but this merely continued a years-long slide in the ratings, really. But Trump had to needle Arnie about it (of course), which led to the funniest tweet we saw all year long. In early February, when Trump had been in office only a few weeks, Arnie won the Most Original Thinker for posting a video in response to Trump:
Hey Donald, I have a great idea. Why don't we switch jobs? You take over TV, because you're such an expert in ratings, and I take over your job -- and then people can finally sleep comfortably again.
If Trump had taken him up on this offer (and, for the time being, ignoring that whole "natural-born" constitutional criterion for the presidency), we all would indeed have slept a lot more comfortably all year long.
So, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, we award Most Original Thinker to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Because we'd easily rather see the Terminator in the Oval Office than the clown from It.
Most Stagnant Thinker
This one is a lot more serious, or at least it will be if he gets his way. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who always evokes Dopey the dwarf, in our eyes at least) is easily the Most Stagnant Thinker for wanting to ramp up the federal government's War On Weed once again.
Not unlike King Canute, Sessions wants to turn back the tide of growing acceptance and legalization that has been sweeping the country for the past decade or two. While public opinion polling regularly hits new highs (pun intended) for support for full recreational legalization (the last poll we saw had it at an astounding 64 percent approval, nationwide), Sessions wants us all to return to the Nancy Reagan "Just Say No!" days.
While intelligent politicians from both sides of the aisle are exploring ways to dismantle the legal framework around the War On Weed, Sessions wants instead to intensify the losing battle that has been waged for decades without any discernable impact. This is not just stagnant thinking, it's positively antediluvian, at this point. The genie is simply not going back in the bottle, but Sessions seems determined to make the attempt.
Thankfully, so far he hasn't been very successful. Congress has passed laws restricting the Justice Department from spending any money going after federal marijuana violations in states that have modernized their laws, which has effectively tied his hands. But we're on the brink of another budget battle, and this law has to be reauthorized every year. If Congress ever does slip the leash off Sessions, you can bet your bottom dollar he'll wage the War On Weed with all the ferocity he can bring to bear. Which is why he easily is our Most Stagnant Thinker of the year.
Best Photo Op
We could get really snarky and say the video of Melania Trump swatting Donald's hand away at a public event in Saudi Arabia wins Best Photo Op of the year.
Or we could get really, really snarky and give it to that Inauguration photo which proved the very first lie told from the White House briefing room podium of Trump's time in office.
But instead, we're not going to get snarky at all. Because the biggest and most spectacular photo op of the year was -- without question -- the total eclipse of the sun.
Hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of Americans made a special trip (sometimes, to the middle of nowhere) just to see this cosmic phenomenon. We've spoken to a few people who did make the effort, and they universally called it one of the most stunning moments of their lives.
Nothing else really came close. The Best Photo Op of the year was the one that so many people interrupted their lives to experience. The sun and the moon beat out every cheesy political staged event of the entire year, and did so (pun again intended) quite blindingly. Even the photo of Trump staring directly into it (while many screamed at him not to do so) didn't even come close.
Worst Photo Op
To be fair, we're going to hand out two awards in this category, because we're not sure (even by our own rules) if one of them technically qualifies. It all depends on how you define "photo op." But before we get to splitting hairs, let's take a look at the runners-up, because there were a lot of them this year.
Chris Christie, looking like a beached whale, had an early nomination for Worst Photo Op, as he lounged on a beach chair at a state beach that was closed down due to a government shutdown showdown he was in -- and then blatantly lied that he "hadn't gotten any sun." That was one bad photo, and Christie was roundly (pun intended) mocked for it online.
Speaking of beaches, all the hurricane devastation photos, from all three major hurricanes of the season (Harvey, Irma, and Maria) were pretty bad photo ops, broadly defined.
Which also brings to mind Donald Trump tossing paper towel rolls as if playing basketball to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico (while telling them they didn't need flashlights any more, unaware that the entire island was still quite literally in the dark each night).
Steven Mnuchin's wife set a new crass standard when she sent out a photo of herself and bragged about the high-priced labels she was wearing. Then, later in the year, Mnuchin and wife posed grinning like idiots holding a sheet of newly-printed dollar bills, in what was possibly the worst photo op of any Treasury Secretary of all time.
Each time Kim Jong Un decided to stick his thumb in Trump's eye with another ballistic missile launch, there were plenty of photos provided to the press. That was pretty bad, we have to admit.
But two photo ops stood out above (below?) the rest of the field. The first wasn't technically just a photo op, because a still photo wouldn't have caught the badness of the scene. You needed the audio to go along with it. This is why we're unsure if it really even technically qualifies. But Donald Trump holding a ceremony at the White House to honor Navajo Code Talkers from World War II -- and then making a disparaging "Pocahontas" reference -- was easily the most cringe-worthy scene Trump managed all year long. Seriously, dude, you're standing in front of Native Americans and you can't resist making that bad joke? Wow.
Whether that one qualifies or not, there was a lefty who went too far this year as well. Kathy Griffin posed (again, the video is even creepier than the still photo) silently and grimly lifting a (prop) bloody severed Donald Trump head, for some unfathomable reason. Even in the world of comedy, this went way too far. To be blunt, this is nothing short of jihadist imagery (or, if your prefer, Jacobin imagery), and it should be roundly condemned by all. So, along with Trump's Pocahontas photo op, we have to jointly award Worst Photo Op to Kathy Griffin, in the spirit of fairness.
This is a catchall category, as always. So let's just let them fly....
Hurricanes and wildfires -- Enough already!
Mass shootings -- Enough already!
Men abusing their power to abuse women -- Enough already!
James Comey -- Enough already!
Confederate statues -- Enough already!
Jeff Sessions -- Enough already!
Hillary Clinton (and What Happened) -- Enough already!
Roy Moore -- Enough already!
Dianne Feinstein -- Enough already!
Fake news -- Enough already!
Trump cabinet members spending millions on private flights -- Enough already!
Donald Trump -- Enough already!
Donald Trump's lies -- Enough already!
Donald Trump's tweets -- Enough already!
Let's see... how about a sweeping general statement: "The Republican Party cares about lowering the deficit and national debt." That's now a pretty big lie, after their vote on the tax bill proved otherwise.
Actually, with Donald Trump in the news, specific nominees for this category are almost endless. Here are just a few memorable bad lies from Trump this year:
Mexico will pay for the wall. Trump has a healthcare plan that will cover everyone, cut deductibles, and lower premiums -- for everyone! His Electoral College victory was the biggest ever. His Inaugural crowd was the biggest ever. Three million votes were fraudulent, therefore he won the popular vote. Barack Obama personally ordered a wiretap on Trump. Trump has "tapes" of what James Comey said in the Oval Office. He has gotten more done than any president, ever. He can be more presidential than any president -- except Abraham Lincoln. There was no collusion with Russia. The tax cut bill will actually raise Trump's taxes. Or how about: "I would not be a president who took vacations. I would not be a president that takes time off."
There are so many Trump lies that you'd have to actually consult a database of them to see them all (1,600 and counting...). The way to tell if Trump is lying? Is his mouth moving?
Sure, there were other big fat lies told in Washington this year. Jeff Sessions lied about having no contact with Russians -- under oath -- to Al Franken. John Kelly told a vicious lie (and then refused to apologize even after video footage proved him to be a liar) about a congresswoman from Florida, over all the lies Trump was telling about how he had contacted every Gold Star parent (he hadn't, of course, because he was lying).
But the sin of the Worst Lie this year was another one told to a Gold Star parent, which was uncovered in the fallout to Trump telling lies about another Gold Star mother (the one which also provoked the Kelly lie). Here is the whole sordid story:
President Trump, in a personal phone call to a grieving military father, offered him $25,000 and said he would direct his staff to establish an online fundraiser for the family, but neither happened, the father said.
Chris Baldridge, the father of Army Sgt. Dillon Baldridge, said that Trump called him at his home in Zebulon, N.C., a few weeks after his 22-year-old son and two fellow soldiers were gunned down by an Afghan police officer on June 10. Their phone conversation lasted about 15 minutes, Baldridge said, and centered for a time on the father's struggle with the manner in which his son was killed -- shot by someone he was training.
"I said, 'Me and my wife would rather our son died in trench warfare,'" Baldridge said. "I feel like he got murdered over there."
. . .
In his call with Trump, Baldridge, a construction worker, expressed frustration with the military's survivor benefits program. Because his ex-wife was listed as their son's beneficiary, she was expected to receive the Pentagon's $100,000 death gratuity -- even though "I can barely rub two nickels together," he told Trump.
The president's response shocked him.
"He said, 'I'm going to write you a check out of my personal account for $25,000,' and I was just floored," Baldridge said. "I could not believe he was saying that, and I wish I had it recorded because the man did say this. He said, 'No other president has ever done something like this,' but he said, 'I'm going to do it.'"
This check never arrived, even after the guy got a Trump condolence letter:
"I opened it up and read it, and I was hoping to see a check in there, to be honest," the father said. "I know it was kind of far-fetched thinking. But I was like, 'Damn, no check.' Just a letter saying 'I'm sorry.'"
Mere hours after this story was reported by the Washington Post, the White House hastily cut a check for the $25,000 and sent it out. Note that key word: after.
Trump lied to a Gold Star father. He promised him a personal check. He never intended to make good on his promise, but the media eventually shamed him into doing so.
How can any Republican who has ever uttered the phrase "support our troops" defend such a man, or such a cruel lie?
Lying to a grieving father of a dead U.S. soldier over a large sum of money is one of the most despicable lies we have ever heard in the world of politics. If a Democratic president had done so, the impeachment hearings would have begun the next day. Although this lie had no effect on national policy or the Trump administration in general, we still have to award it Worst Lie of 2017. For shame, Mister Trump. For shame.
Capitalist Of The Year
The best suggestion, no doubt influenced by the recent tax giveaway, we got in this category was: "All of them."
Then there was "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli, who is now (thankfully) serving time behind bars.
Or the entire Trump family. "Emoluments clause? What emoluments clause?!?"
We almost gave the award to the Washington Post and the New York Times for engaging in an old-fashioned newspaper war -- over who could expose more scandals from the Trump White House. They scooped each other time and time again, only to be outscooped in return. This was heartening for anyone who cares about the future of journalism, to put it mildly.
But in the end, we had to give the Capitalist Of The Year to Tom Steyer. Steyer made a pile of money as a hedge fund manager, and has ever since been considering entering politics directly (he's still thinking about possibly challenging Dianne Feinstein for her Senate seat in next year's primaries, in fact).
This year, to build his own name recognition (no doubt), Steyer put his money where his mouth was. Or, more accurately, he used his money to get his mouth on television screens across the country. His message was simple: "We must impeach Donald Trump, period." He spent millions of dollars of his own money to bring this message to America, which is more than most liberal multimillionaires or billionaires can say.
We have no idea what his future will be in Democratic politics, but he certainly showed how one man can -- if he's got the money to burn -- speak directly to the public even if Democrats in Washington want to sweep the subject under the rug. For putting up his own millions to beg Congress to impeach President Trump, Tom Steyer is our Capitalist Of The Year.
Remember "covfefe"? Heh.
Funniest headline we saw all year: "Miami Lawyer's Pants Erupt In Flames During Arsonist Trial In Court." Hoo boy, the "pants on fire" jokes just write themselves!
Jeff Merkley launched the eighth-longest filibuster in Senate history, during the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, which deserves at least an Honorable Mention.
Republican incompetence has certainly saved us all from a wide range of idiocy -- I mean, just imagine where we'd be if they really had their act together, at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue!
Barack Obama retweeted Nelson Mandela in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy, and even though Donald Trump is without doubt the Tweeter-In-Chief, Obama's tweet quickly became the most popular tweet of all time.
Jimmy Kimmel -- not normally all that political of a late-night comic -- deserves an Honorable Mention for his efforts to defeat the repeal-and-replace nonsense in Congress. He's now even given birth to a political term, because healthcare legislation now has to pass "the Jimmy Kimmel test."
Protestantism turned 500 years old this year, with the anniversary of Martin Luther's theses.
But our favorite this year came from the Russian embassy, on April Fool's Day. They posted this "transcript" of their in-house answering machine's message, just for laughs:
You have reached the Russian Embassy. Your call is very important to us. To arrange a call from a Russian diplomat to your political opponents, press 1. To use the services of Russian hackers, press 2. To request election interference, press 3 and wait until the next election campaign. Please note that all calls are recorded for quality improvement and training purposes.
Who knew the Rooskies could be so funny?
Person Of The Year
We got only four nominees for this category, and three of them were foreign leaders. Shows how diminished America has become, after less than a year of President Trump, we suppose.
Xi Jinping of China has very quietly been stepping in to all the places where America has abandoned its world leadership, and he's done so in a way that few here have even noticed.
Kim Jong Un certainly has been playing Trump like a fiddle all year long, because he knows that there is no viable military solution for the U.S. that doesn't involve the deaths of millions in South Korea (at a bare minimum).
Vladimir Putin has also played Trump like his own personal fiddle, but then that's no real surprise given what we now know about the Trump campaign.
But what we now know about the Trump campaign (and what we're doubtlessly going to find out next year, as well) is due to the efforts of one man: Special Counsel Bob Mueller. Mueller has been ignoring Donald Trump's tirades, he has been ignoring the media, he has been ignoring the slings and arrows launched at him from Republicans, he has been ignoring pretty much everything in Washington except the task he has set about to accomplish -- a thorough and complete investigation of President Trump.
The Mueller cloud has been hanging over the White House all year long. It is inescapable. The more Trump convinces himself he's been exonerated (or is about to be), the more delusional he gets about the Russia probe. Mueller's office doesn't leak much (if at all), which has meant every time they make a public move (like indictments or guilty plea deals), it comes as a total surprise to everyone.
Trump is reportedly being told by his legal team that Mueller is going to wrap up his investigation in the next month or so. This is delusional. They told Trump that Mueller would be done by the summer, and then by Thanksgiving, and then by the end of the year. All of that was delusional as well. Mueller is not going to stop until he gets to the absolute bottom. Meaning the cloud is only going to get darker and bigger over the White House for the foreseeable future.
So while he has shunned the public spotlight all year long and refuses to feed the media beast by selectively leaking, Bob Mueller has turned out to be the most influential person in Washington all year long. For that, we award him Person Of The Year.
[See you next Friday, for the conclusion of our 2016 awards!]
If you're interested in traveling down Memory Lane, here are all the previous years of this awards column:
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant