This summer, in reaction to the latest news cycle that had been packed with news of President Trump, CNN aired a segment that attempted to summarize the administration’s recent—and many—doings. “Trump, in the last four weeks,” the anchor Brooke Baldwin said—at this point she took a big breath to prepare for all the things she was about to list for her viewers—“fires his chief strategist, fires his chief of staff, hires a new one, hires a new communications director, fires him, hires a new one, his fourth in seven months … ” The segment continued on like that for more than two minutes, update after update, reminder after reminder, the list of it all scrolling next to Baldwin on a split screen as she read: not a contextualization of presidential activities so much as an indictment of them. At one point Baldwin paused, dramatically, to take a drink of water, as off-camera producers laughed at her joke. Tragedy, comedy, and farce, all rolled into one.
That segment aired in August, or—according to the very specific form of time-dilation that has occurred in 2017—approximately 15.2 months ago. I’ve thought back to it many times this month, though, while reading through all the lists and rankings and collections that are such a traditional element of this time of year—works of journalism that try in their own way to do what CNN was endeavoring, ostensibly, to do this summer: to summarize. To contextualize. To take a messy world and make some sense of it. CNN was attempting to take a month and put it in relief; the end-of-year articles—all those Mosts and Worsts and Favorites and Tops and Bests and Bests of the Bests and People of the Year—are aiming to do the same with the year that has been.