Protesters in Hong Kong clashed with police, fire consumed an 850-year-old cathedral in Paris, the U.S. women’s soccer team won the World Cup and President Donald Trump became the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. These are only a few of the most prominent events of 2019.
Robert Mueller submitted his report: In March, U.S. Attorney General William Barr published a summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year-long investigation, which found that President Donald Trump’s campaign did not collude or conspire with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. While the full 448-page Mueller Report, released in redacted form in April, laid out 10 episodes of potential obstruction of justice on the president’s part, it stated that Mueller could not conclusively determine that Trump had or had not committed a crime. Testifying before Congress in July, Mueller denied that the investigation was a “witch hunt” (as Trump and his allies claimed) and said he believed a president could be charged with a crime after leaving office.
Trump was impeached: In August, an anonymous whistleblower in the Trump administration first revealed a July phone conversation in which President Trump urged Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, to investigate alleged corruption on the part of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. As Joe Biden was a leading Democratic presidential candidate for 2020, Congressional Democrats claimed Trump broke the law by soliciting help from a foreign government in digging up dirt on his political rival. The call with Zelensky also occurred days after Trump blocked nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, leading to speculation that the president may have made release of the aid conditional on Ukraine’s investigation of the Bidens.
In September, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the start of a formal impeachment inquiry, and the first public hearings began in the House of Representatives in mid-November. Trump was only the fourth U.S. president in history—after Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton—to face formal impeachment hearings, the first stage in the two-stage process necessary for Congress to remove a president from office. In early December, Democratic leaders announced they were drafting two articles of impeachment against Trump, charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. On December 18, the House of Representatives voted to pass both articles and Trump became the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. (After a Senate trial in January 2020, Trump was acquitted of both charges on February 5, 2020.)
Japan’s emperor abdicated: In April, Emperor Akihito formally stepped down after a 30-year reign, becoming the first Japanese monarch in some 200 years to abdicate. A rare public speech in 2016 by the popular monarch was widely seen as an appeal to Japanese lawmakers to change the law to allow him to step aside; they did so last year. Akihito’s son Naruhito succeeded him on the Chrysanthemum Throne, marking the start of a new imperial era, the Reiwa.
The U.K. prime minister resigned over Brexit: Amid the failure of negotiations over the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (a.k.a. Brexit), Prime Minister Theresa May formally resigned in June after nearly three years in office. As head of the Conservative Party, May survived no-confidence votes from her party and Parliament by early 2019, but resigned after failing three times to get a Brexit agreement passed. Boris Johnson, the controversial former mayor of London, succeeded May as Conservative leader and prime minister in July.
Hong Kong protests: Months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong began in June, when more than 1 million people marched to protest a bill that would allow the extradition of people to mainland China to stand trial. Hong Kong, a British colony until 1997, allows more autonomy to its citizens than mainland China, and protesters feared the bill could undermine this independence and endanger journalists and political activists. Though the bill was withdrawn in September, the unrest continued, including increasingly violent clashes between protesters and police.
College admissions cheating scandal: Some 50 people were charged in March by the U.S. Justice Department in connection with Operation Varsity Blues, a massive investigation into a large-scale criminal conspiracy to influence college admissions at elite universities. Wealthy parents, including actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were charged with paying tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer, the man at the center of the scheme, to help get their kids into college—by bribing coaches to falsely recruit them as athletes, faking standardized test scores and various other methods.
Fire at Notre-Dame: On April 15, much of the world watched in horror as fire raged at Notre-Dame de Paris in France, destroying the spire and most of the roof of the beloved 850-year-old cathedral. A subsequent investigation found no evidence that the fire was a deliberate act and suggested that it may have been the result of ongoing renovation work at the cathedral. While President Emmanuel Macron initially called for Notre-Dame to be rebuilt within five years, experts say its reconstruction could take decades.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle had a baby: On May 6, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex welcomed their first child, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, who is currently seventh in line to the British throne.
U.S. women’s soccer triumph: In July, the U.S. women’s national soccer team won its second consecutive championship—and fourth overall—in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, held in France. Spurred by goals from team captain Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle, the team capped an impressive undefeated tournament performance with a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands. Many saw the U.S. team’s dominant win as strengthening a gender discrimination lawsuit they had filed against U.S. Soccer, the nation’s governing body for the sport, demanding pay equal to that of their male counterparts.
Toni Morrison died: The author of 11 novels that explored black identity in America and put the lives of black women in the spotlight, Morrison died in August at the age of 88. Born Chloe Wofford in 1931, she published her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970, while working full-time as a book editor and raising two young sons on her own. A longtime professor at Princeton University, Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Beloved (1987) and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993 for her body of work; she was the first black woman to win that prestigious honor. Among the other notable people who died in 2019 were Karl Lagerfeld, Gloria Vanderbilt and Ross Perot.
Gun violence at home and abroad: A gunman opened fire at a mosque and Islamic center in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March, killing 51 people and wounding 49. Six days after the attack, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced a nationwide ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles. In the United States, another horrific chapter in the continuing struggle with gun violence unfolded in August, when two mass shootings—in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio—within less than 13 hours claimed the lives of at least 29 people and wounded more than 50. By mid-November, according to data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive (GVA), 2019 had seen 369 mass shootings in the United States, including 28 mass murders.
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Science & Technology
China landed on the dark side of the moon: China’s fast-growing space program, founded in 2003, achieved its first historic milestone in January, when the robotic space probe Chang’e 4 became the first spacecraft in history to touch down in the South Pole-Aitken Basin region, known as the “far side” or “dark side” of the moon. Though Soviet and U.S. spacecraft had previously orbited the moon and taken pictures of its far side, all previous missions to the moon had stayed on the Earth-facing side.
Regulation of big tech: In July, Facebook agreed to pay a $5 billion fine to settle allegations by the Federal Trade Commission that it had mishandled user privacy practices. The record fine was part of a wave of new efforts this year to regulate big tech companies on issues like privacy and potential antitrust violations. That same month, the Justice Department announced that it was opening an investigation to determine whether certain “market-leading online platforms” (understood as referring to companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon.com and Apple Inc.) violate antitrust law.
Wildfires destroyed much of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest: Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest reached the highest rate in more than a decade, thanks largely to the record number of fires that raged there in August. Environmental groups blamed the policies of the country’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has encouraged industrial development over rainforest conservation. Many of the fires were deliberately set to clear forest for large-scale agriculture. Covering more than 2 million square miles, in nine South American countries, the Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest, and is considered vital in the fight against climate change. It produces more than 20 percent of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere, and has been called the planet’s lungs.
First all-woman spacewalk: In October, NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir exited the International Space Station to replace a power controller, becoming the first to complete an all-female spacewalk. Women were first admitted to the U.S. astronaut program in 1978, and the Soviet Union had put two female astronauts in space before Sally Ride, a member of that first astronaut class, achieved that milestone in 1983. Both Koch and Meir were among the 2013 class of NASA astronauts, the first with an equal number of men and women.
“The Hong Kong protests explained in 100 and 500 words.” BBC News, November 12, 2019
Anthony Zurcher, “Mueller report: Trump cleared of conspiring with Russia.” BBC News, March 25, 2019.
Mark Sherman, “The 10 instances of of possible obstruction in Mueller report.” Associated Press, April 18, 2019.
William Cummings, “'It is not a witch hunt': Top moments from Robert Mueller's testimony before Congress.” USA Today, July 24, 2019.
Julia Hollingsworth, Emiko Jozuka, Will Ripley and Yoko Wakatsuki, “Emperor Akihito becomes first Japanese monarch to abdicate in 200 years.” CNN, April 30, 2019.
“Trump impeachment inquiry: The short, medium and long story.” BBC News, October 24, 2019.
Stephen Collinson, “Impeachment inquiry enters most crucial stage with top witnesses on deck.” CNN, November 19, 2019.
Ryan W. Miller, Doyle Rice and Kristin Lam. “Why Notre Dame didn't completely crumble in the blaze. And why it could take decades to repair.” USA Today, April 16, 2019.
Tom Goldman, “Equal Pay For Equal Play; The U.S. Women's Soccer Team Tackles Its Next Quest.” NPR, July 9, 2019.
Tony Romm, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg, “Justice Department announces broad antitrust review of big tech.” Washington Post, July 23, 2019.
Alanna Durkin Richer and Collin Binkley, “TV stars and coaches charged in college bribery scheme.” Associated Press, March 12, 2019.
Margalit Fox, “Toni Morrison, Towering Novelist of the Black Experience, Dies at 88.” New York Times, August 6, 2019.
“PM Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand will ban all military-style semi-automatic weapons and all assault rifles.” Radio New Zealand, March 21, 2019.
Doha Madani, “2 mass shootings in less than a day leave at least 29 dead and 53 injured.” NBC News, August 4, 2019.
Jason Silverstein, “There have been more mass shootings than days this year.” CBS News, November 15, 2019.
Christopher Brito, “Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is highest since 2008.” CBS News, November 18, 2019.
Karen Zraick, “NASA Astronauts Complete the First All-Female Spacewalk.” New York Times, October 19, 2019.