30 top takes of 2018

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CNN  — 

In a year dominated by the Trump presidency and the run-up to the midterm elections, readers came to CNN Opinion looking for insight into the ongoing battles raging in Washington and across America. But politicians and policy divides weren’t the only headline makers. Stories of gun violence, celebrity deaths, a royal wedding and a series of horrific natural disasters attracted your attention, too.

Here are excerpts from a selection of some of the most popular opinion pieces of 2018.

Julian Zelizer: Obama’s stern warning for Trump

Julian Zelizer

January 13

To say that Donald Trump is not acting presidential is not to romanticize what we have seen from previous inhabitants of the office. But it is to hold him accountable for going far beyond the proper limits on presidential behavior.

The biggest danger is that by tolerating Trump’s behavior in office, the public will make what he is doing and saying part of our conception of what it means to be presidential.

It is vital that members of both parties admit what they see when these moments happen and avoid normalizing these kinds of reckless departures from presidential history. For if the political class, and the public, starts to brush these moments off as “Trump being Trump” or “nothing worse than what we have seen” we will lower the bar so far it will be impossible to ever repair the presidency.

Read more here.

Lucia Brawley: Let’s be honest about Aziz Ansari

Lucia Brawley

January 17

As a society, we must take this incident – appearing in the public consciousness during our #MeToo moment – as an opportunity to have some painful, nuanced conversations.

For example: Sexual assault and rape are never the victim’s fault. But we cannot indiscriminately start destroying careers over consensual sexual activity, which based on her account is what this case appears to be.

When we do that, we trivialize the brave victims who are coming forward about actual sex crimes.

Read more here.

Simone Biles: I went from foster care to the Olympics

Simone Biles

February 5

Although I was young when my foster care ordeal began, I remember how it felt to be passed off and overlooked. Like nobody knew me or wanted to know me. Like my talents didn’t count, and my voice didn’t matter.

Finding a family made me feel like I mattered. Finding a passion, something I loved and was really good at, made me feel like I mattered. Representing my country and being part of such an amazing Olympic team matters, as does being a role model for those looking to fulfill their own dreams.

Read more here.

Cameron Kasky, Parkland student: My generation won’t stand for this

Cameron Kasky

February 15

We can’t ignore the issues of gun control that this tragedy raises. And so, I’m asking – no, demanding – we take action now.

Why? Because at the end of the day, the students at my school felt one shared experience – our politicians abandoned us by failing to keep guns out of schools.

But this time, my classmates and I are going to hold them to account. This time we are going to pressure them to take action. This time we are going to force them to spend more energy protecting human lives than unborn fetuses.

Read more here.

Peggy Drexler: Why does Melania stay?

Peggy Drexler

February 17

But perhaps most important, although divorcing Trump would surely please the “Free Melania” crowd, the first lady hasn’t really shown that she cares much what other people think of her – or needs to be saved.

She has not tried particularly hard to win public approval: Besides her scant appearances and botched RNC address, she’s become known for wearing the wrong things at the wrong time, like when she donned a pair of Manolos to visit victims of Hurricane Harvey. Which is also why it’s perhaps too hopeful to expect that the pressure of these new revelations (which, let’s be honest, are likely not new to her) will cause her to leave the life she seems comfortable in – one that’s very clearly sponsored by, if not warmly inclusive of, the President.

Read more here.

Gloria Borger: The great unraveling: Trump’s allies are really worried about him

Gloria Borger

March 2

Not since Richard Nixon started talking to the portraits on the walls of the West Wing has a president seemed so alone against the world.

One source – who is a presidential ally – is worried, really worried. …

Even by Trumpian standards, the chaos and the unraveling at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are a stunning – and recurring – problem.

But there’s an up-against-the-wall quality to the past couple of weeks that is striking, and the crescendo is loud, clear, unhealthy, even dangerous.

Read more here.

Paul Callan: The lawyer Trump wants to represent him has been dead for 32 years

Paul Callan

March 24

It’s becoming increasingly clear who President Donald Trump really wants to represent him in the Robert Mueller investigation – and there’s a good reason he can’t have him.

When John Dowd quit this week as lead counsel on Trump’s legal team and the President made an effort to recruit “deep state” conspiracy theorist and conservative legal commentator Joseph diGenova to the team, the conclusion could only be that Trump wants to go to war against Mueller, using the tactics favored by his onetime mentor Roy Cohn.

In effect, the President wants to wage an aggressive, and probably dirty war, on the special counsel. Cohn, having died in 1986, isn’t available. But there may be other lawyers who can fill that role

Read more here.

Jonathan Wackrow, former Secret Service agent: Barbara Bush’s code name was absolutely perfect

Jonathan Wacrkrow

April 19

As a special agent with the United States Secret Service, I had the opportunity to work on many protective assignments with Mrs. Bush. While I was never permanently assigned to her detail, I am thankful for two specific moments with Mrs. Bush, ones I will cherish as defining experiences in my career and testaments to her legacy, her candor and grace.

The first occurred when I was a new agent, assigned to work a midnight shift at the Bush family’s summer residence in Kennebunkport, Maine. I was walking in the front yard at daybreak, preparing to end my shift, when Mrs. Bush suddenly appeared.

In my world, it was better to be unseen, but in this instant, I was in the former first lady’s full view with nowhere to hide. Mrs. Bush gave me the warmest smile and said, “Well, it is good morning for me, but it looks like you have been up all night, so I will wish you a good night’s sleep.” Stunned, I thanked her.

Read more here.

Paul Begala: Sean Hannity is a welfare queen

Paul Begala

April 23

Sean Hannity is a lot of things. Needy isn’t one of them. Greedy, in President Reagan’s framing, seems more like it. Perhaps the program that guarantees Hannity’s investments is a wise one. Perhaps, on the other hand, it is a wasteful welfare program. That’s not the point. It’s the hypocrisy, stupid.

Hannity is a very wealthy man. So is Donald Trump. It appears that part of the way they became rich was by decrying welfare for poor folks, then grabbing it for themselves. They view their voters, their viewers, as saps. Stooges. Suckers. As another great huckster said, there’s one born every minute. And Hannity is laughing all the way to the bank.

Read more here.

Einat Lev: Why Hawaii’s volcano is in danger of going ballistic

Einat Lev

May 10

Everyone has been looking at the Kilauea Volcano’s lava flows. Sure, a wall of molten rock consuming a car is quite the sight. But as we all focus on the damage at Leilani Estates, we shouldn’t forget that volcanoes are complex systems, where everything is connected. New warnings about flying ballistic blocks and sinking lava lakes help us remember!

This event – beautiful, destructive, frightening – also presents a moment for all of us to appreciate the immense power of the forces that never cease shaping our planet. We are reminded by Kilauea to stay humble in the face of nature. And for volcanologists, the eruption is an opportunity to share with the public what we know about how these massive, intricate systems work.

Read more here.

Michael D’Antonio: What Ivanka’s smile can’t hide

Michael D'Antonio

May 14

Ivanka’s smile was undoubtedly offered to calm concerns about him and, perhaps, to distract from the mayhem and death that any thoughtful person could have anticipated as the embassy opened and Trump abandoned America’s claim to honest broker status in the Middle East.

It was the biggest test yet of Ivanka’s ability to cast a benign light on a man who regularly creates a shadow too dark for her to dispel.

Read more here.

Ford Vox: What the $%#@ is wrong with you? Of course it’s Yanny! (or Laurel)

Ford Vox

May 16

But if you’re shocked by the Yanny and Laurel differences in your own household and social networks, by all means use this as a moment to reflect on what else you might perceive differently, in the political messaging swirling around us.

Illusions like this fascinate us because they reveal there is a gap between what we perceive to be true and what actually exists. It’s baked into our biology; we’re equipped with brains that spend far more of their energy and devote far more network activity to processing and changing what we sense. Nothing gets in that isn’t dramatically altered before it reaches our conscious awareness.

All knowledge is a feat of human interpretation. These periodic revelations that we see things differently are one of the all-too-fleeting healthy forces of social media, reminding us that we have to work together if we’re going to get things right.

Read more here.

Isha Sesay: Biracial, American and now a duchess: Meghan leaves mark on monarchy

Isha Sesay

May 19

In a short period, Meghan Markle has ushered in a new sensibility and made the world recalibrate how it thinks about this family we thought we already knew so well.

The Duchess of Sussex chose to make her wedding day a moment where the world tuned in and were made to think about racial equality and gender equality. She made a decision to send the world a message.

It was a decision she made with her husband and with the blessing of the members of her new family. And it was powerful.

Read more here.

Hilary George-Parkin: What Kate Spade modeled for young women – and their moms

Hilary George-Parkin

June 5

There’s a reason Kate Spade’s work appealed just as much to a generation of 12-year-old girls as it did to their moms. At its core, it made the case that femininity, creativity and a sense of playfulness weren’t qualities you needed to give up or hide away in order to be taken seriously in the world – that, in fact, they should be celebrated. It was an idealistic notion, but the woman at the helm, who built what would become a multibillion-dollar brand on boxy handbags and polka-dot prints, was all the proof we needed.

The idea that whimsy should have a place in the workplace, that “sophisticated” doesn’t need to mean “staid,” that prints should be mixed and colors can be clashed, were, in many ways, ahead of their time. In an industry of dark sunglasses and status handbags, she embraced an unapologetically pretty, preppy, East Coast aesthetic, turning it on its head in the process.

Read more here.

S. Nathan Park: US-North Korea friendship would be the perfect bulwark against China

S. Nathan Park

June 6

In short, North Korea is in serious need of a military and economic counterweight against China – and the United States can serve in that capacity. True, it is distasteful to be friends with a regime responsible for massive human rights violations. Yet pragmatism is a longstanding tradition in US foreign relations. Just consider that Mao Zedong was on the short list of history’s greatest monsters, but Richard Nixon shook his hand.

Pragmatists would look beyond the present conditions and examine how a friendly relationship with North Korea would serve the long-term US national interest. With the rise of China, East Asia is far and away the most important region in the world for the United States. If the United States could count North Korea as a friend, it would be adding a friendly state located at the doorstep of China.

Read more here.

Dean Obeidallah: Why Sarah Sanders was asked to leave a restaurant

Dean Obeidallah

June 24

Those shocked by these types of protests simply don’t grasp the level of emotion that many who oppose Trump feel. I hear it nightly on my SiriusXM radio show and see it firsthand on social media. Even Trump, in a rare moment of honesty, told his supporters a few weeks ago that those who oppose him are not just angry, but “really, really angry.” Many view Trump as a true threat to America.

So, it should come as no surprise that some would also look to hold members of Team Trump responsible as well. After all, Trump administration officials who defend Trump’s bigoted policies, his demonization of minority groups and his lies, are complicit. They freely choose to do the work for him and they shouldn’t be shocked if some – not all –Trump opponents lash out at them.

Read more here.

David Axelrod: Annapolis victims worked hard and honorably to serve their community

David Axelrod

June 29

No, the shooter apparently wasn’t motivated by politics. But the victims died because the newspaper faithfully discharged its obligation to cover the news. So this slaughter should give us pause to reflect on the essential role of the journalist in our society.

They work hard to get the straight and unvarnished facts to us, to shine a light in dark corners and make sure we know what is going on in our communities, our country and the world.

It is a mission to which they commit themselves, often for little money and sometimes at great risk – even, as we now know, in the newsrooms of local papers.

Read more here.

LZ Granderson: I forgave my father for walking out on me. I hope he forgave me, too

LZ Granderson

July 7

I’ve been poor and rich. I’ve been another face in the crowd and a face on television. Inside a crack house and a guest at the White House. And at each junction of my life, the demons regarding my father followed. They had an open invitation courtesy of the anger I kept in my heart. It wasn’t until my son asked why hasn’t he ever met his grandfather that I realized how foolish I had been.

I wasn’t trying to protect my kid. I was trying to punish an absentee father, losing sight of the fact that forgiveness isn’t for the offender, but for the offended.

I went to the nursing home hoping to jog his memory, like a scene from “The Notebook.” I took my phone out to Facetime, so my son could see and talk to his grandfather for the first time. And I went to the nursing home to say, “I forgive you.”

Read more here.

Peniel Joseph: France’s World Cup win is a victory for immigrants everywhere

Peniel Joseph

July 15

In short, the World Cup champions remind us all that, in an era of globalization, racial and ethnic diversity represent an enduring strength at all levels of society, ones that build cultural and political bridges within and between countries.

For millions of soccer fans around the world, Africa, in effect, just won the World Cup! This is more than just wishful thinking. The makeup of the French team represents a powerful response against building walls and detention centers to detain and dehumanize immigrant populations.

The global debate over immigration is the human rights issue of our time. How are we to treat the women, men, children and families who risk their lives for opportunities that thrive in Western society?

Read more here.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat: Trump and Putin: the pictures tell the story

Ruth Ben-Ghiat

July 18

The meeting in Helsinki, Finland, between two men expert in the art of spectacle intended to intimidate the world, proclaiming that Trump’s reorientation of America away from liberal democracy is in line with the intentions of his counterpart, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The images tell another story: one that gives credence to the belief that Trump’s allegiance to Putin goes way beyond ideology. We still don’t know the actual reason the summit was held, nor do we know – yet – the nature of the hold Putin has over Trump. Yet photographs suggest this was no meeting of equals but an encounter between a supplicant (Trump) and a master (Putin), starting with Putin arriving late to their public encounter, setting it about 45 minutes back.

Read more here.

Manisha Sinha: What happened the last time a President chose America’s enemies over its friends

Manisha Sinha

July 25

Donald Trump likes to compare himself to Andrew Jackson, but the Andrew he really resembles is Andrew Johnson. What they have in common are delusions of personal grandeur and a tainted ascent to the presidency. Trump was elected by a minority of the American electorate, with help from the vagaries of the Electoral College system and from considerable Russian interference.

Johnson became president thanks to an assassin’s bullet. While Johnson immodestly compared himself to Jesus and Moses, Trump claims he is the best at everything, even boasting recently on Twitter that his popularity among Republicans exceeds that of Abraham Lincoln. …

But the resemblance between the two men goes deeper. Johnson’s white supremacist views were blatant and his policies precipitated a constitutional crisis that put the President at loggerheads with Congress and his own party, the Republicans.

Read more here.

SE Cupp: What Laura Ingraham said was awful. And unsurprising.

SE Cupp

August 9

To many, that sounded racist. That’s because it is. She isn’t complaining that the country’s getting older or younger, richer or poorer, that we’re having more or fewer children or moving to the suburbs. She’s complaining that people who come to America from other countries – even legally – are making this country unrecognizable to her. Indeed, to “us.”

Who “us” means is also clear: Fox News viewers, who are predominantly 65 and older and white. I know many of those viewers, and I’m sad to say that message probably resonated with a lot of them.

Read more here.

Timothy Stanley: What it tells us that John McCain drank vodka with Hillary Clinton

Timothy Stanley

August 25

John McCain once took on Hillary Clinton in a drinking contest. It was at a restaurant in Estonia in 2004, during a congressional tour. Both politicians managed four shots of vodka; the rules were unclear, but Clinton – McCain’s one-time political rival – was declared the winner, according to the restaurant proprietor (though in her own account, Clinton said they “agreed to withdraw in honorable fashion,” rather than name a winner).

That image sums up the humanity and character of the late Sen. McCain, who will be mourned deeply on both sides of the political aisle. He embodied a more moderate brand of conservatism – one that could separate politics and friendship – that now feels distant and very much missed.

He should have been elected President in 2000, when he ran for the Republican nomination and lost, and if he had made it to the White House, America might have forged a new consensus around a smaller state and a cleaner politics.

Today the country is divided in ways that McCain despaired of. But it should be united in grief for a genuine American hero.

Read more here.

Joshua Geltzer: How to prepare for ex-President Trump

Joshua Geltzer

August 30

No one knows how Trump will leave the Oval Office. Maybe he’ll resign. Maybe he’ll be impeached. Maybe he’ll be voted out in November 2020 – or maybe he’ll leave at the end of two terms in January 2025.

But however he becomes an ex-president, it’s impossible to imagine Trump following in Richard Nixon’s post-presidency footsteps – ones that literally traversed empty beaches in a solitary existence. Whether Trump leaves of his own accord after eight years or is abruptly cast out by a vote of the Senate or Electoral College, he is not one to go quietly into the night.

Remember: This is the only presidential candidate in recent memory who refused, even when he appeared to be on the brink of losing the election, to commit to accepting the outcome of the vote. In a career that’s careened from real estate to reality TV to politics, there’s been one constant: a thirst for more attention.

Read more here.

Danielle Campoamor: Ariana Grande reminds us women have no safe place in America

Danielle Campoamor

September 3

After Grande’s performance, the Rev. Charles H. Ellis III wrapped his right arm around Grande, pulled her close to him and touched her breast. He did this on stage, in a church, during a funeral – in front of thousands of attendees. Visibly uncomfortable and tense, Grande forced her way through awkward laughs as to not make a scene at the Queen of Soul’s eight-hour funeral. …

The majority of us have felt what Grande undoubtedly felt on that stage: the undeniable fear that accompanies a violation; the need to keep everyone around you happy while you’re internally screaming; the cultural expectation to keep smiling while your bodily autonomy is wholly dismissed.

To watch it play out at a funeral is not to be shocked by what you’ve witnessed, but to be reminded that women – no matter how powerful or famous – are not granted the same public safety as men.

Read more here.

Marianna Spicer Joslyn: I was Anthony Bourdain’s ‘censor’ at CNN

September 22

Like his viewers, I fell in love with Tony. He was a brilliant writer and storyteller, and you saw his toughness and sensed his vulnerability. His team at ZPZ are the most gifted filmmakers I have seen in a long, long time. His shows were brilliantly shot, directed and edited, always. His writing was poetry, although his friends say he denied being a poet.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate and will miss my small part in this program. And my small connection with one of the most brilliant storytellers of our generation. I will miss his voice. I already miss his voice.

I have no claim to being more distraught over Tony’s passing than any of his fans, and not in the same league as those who knew and worked with him. But like those who did know him well, I am really angry at his loss, and deeply sad. His kind won’t come our way again.

Read more here.

Rebecca Wanzo: These images of women around Kavanaugh evoke a familiar alibi

Rebecca Wanzo

September 26

This choice is an extension of a strategy we have seen even before the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh emerged late in the confirmation process. Kavanaugh stands poised to be the justice who will cement an anti-abortion rights court. With images of him with his wife, daughters, law clerks, and young female basketball players, he is framed as a man who supports women and their futures. (Kavanaugh has vigorously denied the allegations.)

They were front and center in the hearings – a visual counterargument to the idea that women’s lives and bodies are not safe in his hands. Now that some women have accused him of assaulting them, the images are even more important. The happy, shining faces of these teenage girls are meant to inspire trust.

Images sell the idea that these girls have been safe in his hands. How could anyone imagine that this man, trusted and loved, would hurt them? And if he has not hurt them, how could he have hurt any other young woman?

Read more here.

Jennifer Taub: Brett Kavanaugh and I have a lot in common

Jennifer Taub

September 28

We both were raised with conservative politics and attended elite prep schools. We both are religious, with deep faith and a belief in God. We both attended Yale in the mid-1980s. We both, aside from occasional binge drinking, worked hard in school and wrote for the student newspaper. We both studied at Cross Campus Library. We both managed to get into top-tier law schools. He Yale, me Harvard. Although we shared similarities, I do not recall ever meeting him at Yale.

But there is one place where our similarities end, and that has made all the difference in our lives. While Brett Kavanaugh appears to have moved fluidly from his beer-drinking prep school days into his beer-drinking college years, I was not as fortunate.

In early fall of my freshman year at Yale, I was raped by an upperclassman. Until that moment, I had expected to maintain my virginity until I was married, or at least until I fell deeply in love. Some of the details are forever seared into my memory, like they were in Christine Blasey Ford’s.

Read more here.

Nic Robertson: The world’s leaders may regret laughing at Donald Trump