Thinking back, this almost seems like fake news: For one day in 2017, many Americans were more united than they’ve been in a long while.
And Kansas City was in the middle of it, remember?
“An Apollo moment,” said University of Missouri astrophysicist Angela Speck, recalling the total solar eclipse.
Starting in Oregon and ending in South Carolina — two states on opposite political sides — more than 200 million spectators on Aug. 21 delighted in the celestial show streaking over the nation.
The eclipse briefly interrupted a debate about Confederate monuments, among many divisive issues that seemed to flare every few days in 2017. In fact, an 83-year-old memorial on Ward Parkway honoring the “Loyal Women of the Old South” was disassembled by its caretakers and carted away on the week of the eclipse.
It’s easy to recall all that cleaved Americans in President Donald Trump’s first year in office: immigration, transgender rights, allegations of Russia meddling in last year’s election, mass shootings, sexual misconduct, a tax overhaul and practically everything Trump tweeted.
But for many the memories most lasting are apt to be what occurred in our own lives.
Like watching a total eclipse with the kids.
“Not since the moon landings have we had anything to get children super excited about science,” Speck said. “I’m hoping that day will inspire some kids to pursue scientific fields.”
OK. It was only one day.
As for the 364 others, The Star earlier this month tapped social media to pose the question: “What will you most remember about 2017?”
Dominating the responses were comments for or against Trump (as well as news coverage of him: “Dishonest media,” two wrote). Still, many Facebook and Twitter users weary of all that cited events that didn’t divide —personal stories, often positive.
“Becoming an uncle for the second time,” tweeted Matt Freije.
“Great new job!” posted Tammy Lowery.
“I’ll miss Tom Petty,” said Mark Ballard.
“Bought my first home with my future wife,” Bret Kennedy wrote.
These are the ways we’ve always remembered a year gone by.
“If you ask most people about the biggest thing that happened over a year, it’s going to be what affects their families, their friends, their loved ones, their jobs,” said Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.
“The top 10 news events aren’t their concerns.”
Yet headlines do matter: Perhaps the biggest 2017 story in Kansas City was voters’ passage of a billion-dollar plan to modernize KCI, slimming it down from three terminals to one.
Three-quarters of the city approved. How often does that large of any electorate agree anymore?
Then again, only 20 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Even now plans for KCI twist and turn (who will develop the project is back in question) — like the year itself.
How different were things were on that first week of 2017 compared to the last?
Trump had not yet spent a day in public office. The Dow Jones Stock Exchange had never hit the 20,000 mark.
A U.S. Supreme Court seat had been cold for 11 months.
Tweeting wasn’t a presidential priority. The still-perplexing word “covfefe” hadn’t been conjured up, nor had the dictator of North Korea been labeled “Rocket Man.”
The most re-tweeted of Trump’s tweets was a video of him wrestling someone whose head was superimposed with CNN’s logo.
The president and the news media — together they produced controversial revelations with every 24-hour cycle, or so it seemed.
“That’s the story of modern life in general,” said Thompson of Syracuse. “We’re constantly setting the refresh button on news events of the century.”
Some of those events couldn’t be blamed on the president: Opioid overdoses killed about 90 Americans daily. Wildfires set records in the West. In a Fourth of July “gift” to the U.S., North Korea’s Kim Jong Un celebrated the test of an intercontinental missile that appeared capable of reaching North America.
Harvey, a name from a distant time, came roaring back in the form of a hurricane that proved Texas’ largest city to be “Houston Strong.” Then everyone was talking up another Harvey Weinstein — among a procession of powerful men accused of sexual misconduct, Trump among them.
So the close of 2017 saw the rise of the hashtag #MeToo, allowing millions of sexual assault victims to share stories dating back decades.
Horribly, the U.S. record body count of a lone shooter — set in Orlando in 2016 — was topped when a gunman killed 58 and injured more than 500 in Las Vegas this fall.
Months earlier, an alleged hate crime put Olathe on the world stage in the worst of ways.
Time now to note the positive.
▪ That Feb. 22 shooting in Olathe claimed a brilliant engineer named Srinivas Kuchibhotla, slain by someone who allegedly shouted “get out of my country” before firing. But a bystander at Austins Bar and Grill wouldn’t take any of it sitting down.
Ian Grillot, 24, was injured by gunfire as he tried to stop the assailant. “I just did what anybody would do,” he said in Time magazine, which included Grillot in a short list of “Heroes Who Gave Us Hope in 2017.”
▪ In March, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art unveiled the renovated Bloch Galleries, featuring more than two dozen impressionist masterpieces collected by Marion and Henry Bloch.
And, yes, admission at the Nelson still is free.
▪ By belting 38 home runs, Mike Moustakas broke a Royals single-season record held since 1985 by Steve Balboni. (Good for Moose; not so good for fans who watched his free-agent value soar.)
▪ On Dec. 8, Independence Police Officer Tom Wagstaff returned home to a hero’s welcome after eight months of rehabilitation from a gunshot wound to the head while responding to a home burglary.
Doctors told Wagstaff’s family his outlook was bleak. Prepare for the end, they said. Wife Stacy Wagstaff replied, “You don’t know my Tom.”
Such fortitude would serve all of us well heading into 2018.