(CNN)In a year dominated by the beginning of the Trump presidency, readers came to CNN Opinion looking for insight into the man occupying the highest office in the land. But Donald Trump's many actions and tweets weren't the only subjects of interest. Stories of racism and white supremacist groups, workplace sexual harassment, freedom of the press and a series of horrific natural disasters attracted your attention, too.
30 top takes of 2017
Here are excerpts from a selection of some of the most popular opinion pieces of 2017.
I woke up this morning as an alternative fact.
In justifying the appointment of Steve Bannon, the President's chief strategist, to the National Security Council, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer cited my role in the Obama White House as a precedent. Spicer said press secretary Robert Gibbs and I attended classified National Security Council meetings "all the time."
That is simply not true.
As a senior adviser to President Obama in 2009, I had the opportunity to witness the fateful deliberations of his National Security Council Principals committee over the strategy the United States would pursue in the war with al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
I was not a member of the committee. I did not speak or participate. I sat on the sidelines as a silent observer with Gibbs because we would be called upon to publicly discuss the President's decision on that critical matter and the process by which he arrived at it.
Here is Trump's truly jaw-dropping tweet from Saturday morning: "The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!"
Why is this so concerning? It's OK to argue about whether the judge should or shouldn't have issued this order. But Trump is apparently attempting to delegitimize our federal judiciary by calling Judge James Robart, a George W. Bush-appointed judge, a "so-called" judge while arguing that his decision is "ridiculous."
Let's be blunt, because the stakes demand it: An independent federal judiciary is our last, best hope at preventing Trump from violating the US Constitution and illegally grabbing power. And Trump has to understand that, hence his attempt to undermine it.
I was just a child of 5 when soldiers marched up our driveway in a Los Angeles residential neighborhood, bayonets in hand, and pounded on our front door, ordering us out. We were permitted only what we could carry, no bedding, no pets.
I remember my mother's tears as she and our father gathered us up, with our precious few belongings in hand. She was determined to bring a sewing machine, fearful that we would need to make or mend clothes where we were headed. She wasn't sure the authorities would allow her to take that Singer machine, so she kept it a secret, even from us. She managed, however, to pack a few treats for us children for the long journey ahead.
That was in 1942. Earlier that year, on February 19, 75 years ago yesterday, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order, No. 9066, which set the internment into motion.
The dropping of a "mother of all bombs" Thursday by the United States on an ISIS cave and bunker complex in Achin district in eastern Afghanistan should be understood as part of an effort to reverse a war that is not going well for the Afghan government and, by extension, the United States.
The non-nuclear 21,600-pound GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) "targeted a system of tunnels and caves that ISIS fighters use to move around freely," White House press secretary Sean Spicer said.
Thursday's bombing had a feeling of deja vu. A decade and a half ago the US Air Force dropped massive 15,000 pound "Daisy Cutter" bombs on the Tora Bora complex where Osama bin Laden was hiding in December 2001. Achin district is only a dozen or so miles from the Tora Bora region.
The Syrian war is just one example of how human rights violations can become a vicious cycle of violence and instability that quickly spirals into all-out war. What began as an act of free expression of the kind Americans take for granted has become a conflict responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of desperate refugees. Nations thousands of miles away have been impacted.
As the US ambassador to the United Nations, I've looked at how we can do more to respond to human rights violations before they reach the level of conflict. Traditionally, the United Nations Security Council has been considered the place where peace and security are debated, not human rights. But Tuesday, at the insistence of the United States, for the first time the Security Council took up the connection between human rights and conflict. We debated how widespread human rights violations are a warning sign -- a loud, blaring siren -- that a breakdown in peace and security is coming.
It was a year ago when a young woman stopped me in a neighborhood shop. She gazed at my stroller and started crying. She told me how lucky I was to be married with kids.
My heart dropped. She didn't know me at all.
I am a single mother by choice. Yet I was raised in a Christian, conservative home, where I grew up believing in the traditional family unit. And I was taught that there was an order to achieving it. First, fall in love. Second, marry a man. Third, start a family.
Now in my fifth decade, only one has proven true for me -- and it isn't the first.
When President Donald Trump revealed that he doesn't know why the Civil War was fought, or at least figures it could have been averted by the kind of deal-making he supposedly excels at, it was revealing in ways beyond the ones easy to glean.
The ignorance is, as usual, stunning for someone in the public spotlight. "People don't ask that question, but why was there the Civil War?" Trump asks rhetorically, which is like saying no one has bothered to study anatomy or physics.
Yet this sort of thing should no longer surprise us from this man. He doesn't read and lacks curiosity, but that's hardly rare among human beings. A college teacher friend of mine the other day noted that no one in his class could name who was president in the 1980s, nor, upon being told who it was, could they name his political party. People like this don't mysteriously develop an interest in civics after college. Sometimes they become president.
Like most little boys, Donald Trump can be disarmingly honest, as when he once said, "When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I'm basically the same. The temperament is not that different." The trouble is that the first grader is now President of the United States, and his temperament is on display for the world to see.
Unpredictable, impulsive and immature, Trump acts in a way that would be expected of a 6-year-old boy, but is terrifying in a man whose moods dictate decisions carried out by adults on behalf of the most powerful nation in the world.
Trump's dismissal of FBI Director James Comey offers a sterling example of the childish -- and reckless -- Trump style. When Comey broke with bureau tradition and spoke negatively about Trump's rival in the election, though initially he was criticized by candidate Trump, he was later praised -- and effusively. Over and over again, the soon-to-be-president described how Comey had done the right thing in criticizing Hillary Clinton. Comey remained in Trump's good graces after he was inaugurated, and Trump's team expressed confidence in him up until last week.
Donald Trump's first major trip overseas may be fraught with diplomatic land mines for the President, but the Trump administration can at least comfort itself with the clear hit that Melania Trump has been with the Saudi press.
The fact that Melania is communicating with the media and the public in Saudi Arabia -- mainly through what Saudi news reports have deemed her "classy and conservative" fashion choices -- works well in the notoriously anti-woman kingdom. Her intense appeal makes sense, considering the first lady represents so much that Saudi citizens find familiar and can relate to, especially visually. Melania walks behind her husband, is quiet and reserved, does not make obvious demands (at least not ones we can hear), and most importantly, she looks beautiful and polished...
In Melania, the Saudi press and the Saudi government found the perfect spokeswoman, who projects a glamorous image that glosses over one of world's most autocratic and oppressive regimes.
So Trump returns to the White House this week just as he left -- lonely, angry and not happy with much of anyone. The presidency, Donald Trump is discovering, is not an easy or natural fit.
"He now lives within himself, which is a dangerous place for Donald Trump to be," says someone who speaks with the President. "I see him emotionally withdrawing. He's gained weight. He doesn't have anybody whom he trusts."
The question, he adds, is whether Trump will understand the enormity of what he faces or will instead "be back to being arrogant and stubborn." He will have to realize that "all this trip really did was hit the pause button."
Politics is a business with a lot of tough talk where contrasts and distinctions are constantly drawn. Negative ads have become an art form. But what we've seen in recent years is different. Increasingly, we question not just the judgment of those we disagree with, but each others' motives and legitimacy.
On the far ends of the political spectrum, invective and hate -- or a blind "us versus them" tribal mentality -- stand above reason and debate. Those voices gain prominence and followers as the media incentivize them to go further by giving them airtime and clicks.
Our nation faces many challenges, but healing our divisions may be our biggest one. More than Obamacare, tax reform, ISIS or our national debt, this rhetoric, and the divisions it causes, directly constrains our ability to tackle other issues.
We know what we will do today. We will pray and we will come together. But what we do tomorrow is even more important.
First, we know the crew fought heroically to save their ship and the lives of their shipmates. We know that from early reports by Navy officials but also from the images that flashed across our screens, our tablets and our phones after the incident happened early Saturday.
One look at the crushed, twisted starboard side, the hoses flaked about, the water being discharged, the frantic work being done tells you all you need to know about the stuff you can't see in those same images: a fiercely brave crew working together to staunch the flooding, to rescue their shipmates and to save their ship.
You can be certain they ended up drenched, exhausted, scraped and bruised -- but not broken. They kept that ship from foundering for 16 brutal hours. And they brought her back into port.
The Russians just played the President. It was predictable. And he let it happen.
On paper, Vladimir Putin should not have had the upper hand going into the meeting.
To start with, Russia has been living with sanctions put in place more than three years ago because of its annexation of Crimea.
And most Americans, save a few people including the President of the United States, are confident that Putin led the Russian intervention into the American election and into many other elections around the world.
President Obama booted out nearly three dozen spies in December and closed two compounds, and there are many, from both parties, calling for an additional round of sanctions on Russia.
We should have had some leverage. So what happened?
The white supremacists in Charlottesville said they wanted to "defend history" by protesting efforts to take down Confederate monuments. They say they feel threatened. They fear the removal of "white stories" from our culture.
I used to teach African-American literature and cultural history. I wish I could tell them what real erasure looks like. I'd ask them to think about the memorials that never existed in public spaces in the South -- noting Richmond's past as a slave market, or the communities of free blacks who were terrorized by the installation of these Confederate monuments in the first place. To take down Charlottesville's statue of Robert E. Lee will not change the fact that all Virginia schoolchildren know his name, while the names of those who lived in the lost Charlottesville neighborhood of Vinegar Hill are forgotten.
I keep returning to the question: How can people who claim to love history get the meaning of history so very, very wrong?
But the silence emanating from Jared and Ivanka was exponentially more powerful than any I'd heard before. To me, as a Jew, seeing nothing but two tweets from Ivanka brought the kind of pain I'm sure is echoed by African-Americans anytime Ben Carson defends the President, and Asian-Americans in the wake of Elaine Chao's and Nikki Haley's equivocations: condemning hate in general terms while carefully avoiding criticizing the very administration they're part of.
No press conference was forthcoming, no rejection of Donald Trump's words; there was no statement from Jared about the horror his grandparents had survived; nothing from Ivanka, who had spoken about standing up for mothers on the campaign trail, about defending today's Jewish children -- her children; indeed all children -- from intimidation and violence. There was nothing, but the sound of steady clicking on Ivanka's electronic device as she wrote two tweets.
It was like listening to the fabric of Judaism tear at itself.
Fifty-four years later, King's legacy offers concrete ways of dealing with a contemporary racial landscape that has produced a sense of vertigo in large swaths of the American public. King's words remain a singular anchor for all those who believe in freedom; by speaking truth to power in a political climate more racially toxic than our own, King did more than dream about racial justice.
He challenged all of us to embrace a vision of a liberated future capable of touching individual hearts and minds as it traversed through the blood and veins of the body politic, on the way to creating a nation as good as the best of its citizens.
Hurricane Harvey is historic, not just in its size and scope, but in its significance as Donald Trump's first natural disaster test as President. His "darned if you do, darned if you don't" decision to visit South Texas on Tuesday, away from the rescue efforts, was the right call. Trump is demonstrating he has the compassion and commitment to meet the needs of victims of the deadly storm.
Critics blasted Trump for not meeting with victims directly to offer his personal condolences. Look, there's plenty of time for the powerful photos showing comfort, but now is the time for action -- not optics. These people are in the rescue and recovery mode, which can only be hampered by the distraction of a presidential visit. They need homes, not hugs; they need structure, not selfies, and they need funds, not a presidential flyover.
Unfortunately, every president has been forced to lead this country through natural or man-made disasters and faced the challenges of serving as consoler in chief: President Barack Obama had the Charleston, South Carolina, shootings; President George W. Bush had 9/11; President Bill Clinton met the challenge after the Oklahoma City bombing. All rose to the occasion.
Likewise, Trump is stepping up to the challenge, reassuring storm victims that resources are on the way.
I woke up Friday morning and looked outside at a deceptively beautiful day. Beautiful because my two sons, Bry and Ryan, two dogs and I are safe and dry and the sun is shining again after days of endless rain. Deceptive because our entire life as we know it is submerged in 4 feet of water less than 20 minutes away.
To experience devastation like that brought by Hurricane Harvey feels very different from what you've probably seen on television. I was lucky enough to make it out of my house in Katy with my kids, my dogs, our cars and at least some of our belongings and memories. My neighbors' harrowing evacuations make me feel even luckier to have made it out safely, but I can't help but be concerned about what comes next for us.
The newsroom around me fell silent. I was staring into the camera trying to make sense of what was unfolding on live television. I even caught my cameraman Jay's eyes in disbelief. I thought again: "It is 2017, and this grown man is on my show talking with me -- a female host -- about boobs. Is this seriously happening?"
And then I did something I've done only a handful of times in my career. I told the control room to kill his mic and said "bye." I invite a variety of people on my show with wide-ranging opinions -- sometimes even my jaw hits the floor, too -- but I let them speak. Whether it's left, right or center -- I want to expose my viewers to other perspectives. Agree with them or not, the nation needs to listen.
But this ... was different.
Fast forward several months later to when I graduated and asked for an informational meeting. I reached out to Mr. Halperin and he asked me to come see him. I was thrilled that someone from ABC News was willing to meet with me -- perhaps that was my way in the door. It was my first official meeting; I even had to buy a suit for the occasion.
I don't quite remember what we talked about, but I do remember him asking me to sit down next to him on the couch. I thought it was awkward to sit on the couch when I was perfectly comfortable sitting in the chair across from his desk. But I complied, and I also remember him sitting a little too close to me...
I'm telling my story publicly now because I hope that when this happens again to another young woman, and it will, she will not be so courteous and apologetic. I'm hoping women today will finally speak out in real time -- when this behavior happens. Women cannot stay silent for fear it will damage their careers, because that only allows the aggressor to continue his behavior with other women.
I spent 10 years playing in the NFL, won a Super Bowl and have been blessed beyond imagination -- in no small part because of the best fans in professional sports -- fans of multiple races, genders, religions and political persuasions.
I'm not confused about the role the fans played in my success and neither are the current players in the league. I understand that many NFL fans on both sides feel strongly about the National Anthem protests and the issues of race that underlie them -- so do I and so do the current players. I am an African-American who grew up in the 1960s and the vitriol that surged two Fridays ago, stoked by a speech delivered in Alabama no less, is eerily reminiscent for me of that dark time in our history.
Some players had been engaging in periodic protest long before President Donald Trump's fateful rally, but it's also fair to say this wasn't top of mind for most people before that rally. Trump suggested (mostly white) owners should fire any of the (mostly black) players on their teams who engaged in protest during the National Anthem, and he called them a profane name.
The protests, begun by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and now being carried on by current players, are not about patriotism -- they are about systemic racial inequality in the criminal justice system. They are about how communities of color are policed -- problems that experts on both sides agree on.
8. Don't use gendered or misogynist insults. Words like bitch, cunt, or slut only target women. Sissy, fairy and cuck demean feminine traits as lesser, weak and undesirable in men. Avoid those words. If you must insult someone, focus on their actions, not their body or their gender.
9. Free kids from rigid gender roles. For boys and young men, you can role-model that activities and traits traditionally coded as "feminine" are valuable. Challenge dismissive ideas around what counts as "girl stuff." Delight in stories with strong female characters. Give a toddler boy a baby doll and praise his gentleness. Race trucks with a little girl. Give kids the tools and confidence to challenge and defy gender stereotypes.
10. Don't focus on little girls' looks. Many people's first interaction with a young girl is to compliment her cuteness, prettiness or clothing. But this tells her -- and any boys nearby -- that beauty is her most interesting trait. Instead, ask little girls engaging, gender-neutral questions, like "What kind of toy is that? What subjects do you like in school? What's your favorite animal? Hey, what are you reading?" There are so many things to talk about.
The last few days the news has been dominated by a controversy over Trump's call to Myeshia Johnson, a Gold Star widow. She is just 24 years old and pregnant with her third child, mourning her husband, Army Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in an ISIS ambush in Niger. ...
Moments of dignity and solemnity have been interrupted over and over by politics and vitriol and today, it seems, is no different.
I turn the television off and retweet the President's tweet, commenting, "As I'm watching 'Taking Chance' this tweet alerts on my phone. And that about sums up this week for me."
A few minutes later a man tweets at me: "It's telling that you are only now watching this. Been out for years. More evidence U and other media R in a bubble & don't know real people."
I just can't let it go.
"My husband is on his sixth deployment right now. You don't know anything about me," I reply.
Mr. Trump, please stop it. Please stop!
Think of what Sgt. Johnson would want. You are putting his widow in the terrible position of having to fight for her dignity when she should be concentrating on taking care of herself, her health, her two children, and the one on the way.
Listen to what Myeshia Johnson said this morning in an interview on ABC.
"The President said that he knew what he signed up for but it hurts anyways and I was -- it made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said it. He couldn't remember my husband's name. The only way he remembered my husband's name because he told me he had my husband's report in front of him and that's when he actually said La David."
I know you have children -- and two daughters.
Can you imagine Ivanka or Tiffany in Myeshia's shoes?
One month ago, the worst mass shooting in US history took place at a country music concert in Las Vegas. Fifty-eight people were killed and more than 500 people injured. Bill O'Reilly boiled the massacre down to six words: "This is the price of freedom."
I hate to say it, but he is right. Sunday, just 34 days after Vegas, 26 people were gunned down and about 20 others were wounded during a church service in Texas. And here's what is really sick -- we won't be surprised when there's another mass shooting next month. Maybe it'll be your church, your mall, your concert or your movie theater. That's the price of freedom.
In America, we are free to stockpile weapons. We are free to order ammo online. We are free to outfit our guns with bump stocks, like the Vegas shooter did. This is the price we pay for freedom, alright. The freedom to not give a damn.
It has taken me a few days to process the sudden explosion of allegations of sexual harassment, abuse and assault made against Harvey Weinstein. Each woman who steps forward leaves me with a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, I feel an overwhelming sense of relief and pride when I see women joining together to share their stories. On the other, I experience a sense of horror over the staggering number of accusers. Women stripped of their power, silenced and shamed.
I was one of them and recounted my own experience publicly last week.
In my own experiences with sexual harassment and assault, I have been made to feel as if I had to compromise my own convictions for the advancement of my career. I was made to believe that my talent and experience should take a back seat to my physical appearance. I was manipulated into believing I had "asked for it." And I was made to feel that if I spoke out or fought back, the repercussions would make me regret it.
When he got the "Partridge" gig, David was barely 20, and had very little life experience. He also had little or no support system when he became an overnight sensation. I watched it all happen, and later saw it all unravel, as I spent several days a week on the Partridge set, covering David and his co-stars, real-life stepmom Shirley Jones and Susan Dey.
At first, David was giddy to be appearing on a prime-time television series. He was cheerful and cooperative, which made my job easier as I worked every angle to come up with stories about this shiny-haired young man. ...
A few months later, the nice young man who'd kissed my mom on the cheek in thanks for looking after his puppies was pretty much gone. Whenever I appeared on set, David began to disappear between scenes -- during the times he had once joined me for interviews. I couldn't write about David's favorite snack food (dry-roasted peanuts) or his favorite color ("It depends on my mood") or how he felt about his neat new sports car if he was hiding from me all the time.
In other words, we are witness to a war between Trump and the press, playing out every day in newspapers and television. Each morning brings a new revelation; each evening touches off a shouting match. It is difficult to remember any press secretary since Nixon's Ron Ziegler who has faced so much suspicion from the Fourth Estate.
Yet what is equally surprising is how oblivious this White House is to what has gone wrong and how to fix it. His team is as disdainful of history as it is of time-honored traditions about press-government relations. Either they suffer from massive incompetence or extraordinary arrogance.
History has been quite clear: The presidents who have built the best relationships with the press are those who respect its place in American life, have enjoyed a give and take with reporters and care about the truth. From Democrats like Franklin Roosevelt and Jack Kennedy to Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, press coverage has been much more favorable because those leaders in the Oval Office were not only good copy but men of character in their public lives.
This is the real battle going on in D.C. today: not Democrats vs. Republicans but President Donald Trump vs. establishment Republicans. Trump is trampling upon every taboo and sensitivity that liberalism has erected in the last 50 years, and Republican leaders have learned to get by in that uptight habitat. ...
And now, the needle seems to tilt Trump's way.
This correction is not that hard to understand. You see, Trump has an invincible ally at the far end of the ideological spectrum. I don't mean the extreme right, the nationalists, paleoconservatives, and fringe groups that the media relentlessly tie to the President. He has better friends at the other pole, people on the far left who see the world only through the lens of race, gender, sexuality and victimhood.
Now that the "Access Hollywood" tape is back in the news after reports that Donald Trump questions its authenticity, I am puzzled for this reason: Just from experience, anyone who has ever been on television before, with a microphone pinned to them, should always assume that someone is listening. And when you get caught speaking poorly about someone, at least own up to it.
People ask me whether I need or want an individual apology from either now-President Trump or Billy Bush. Well, apologizing to me would be the appropriate thing to do. Am I losing sleep over it waiting for one? Absolutely not.
I refuse to let a situation such as this one take away my emotional power. You are who you allow yourself to be and I did not and will not let this event or any of its aftermath affect who I am as a woman, mother, daughter, friend and partner to a great man.