Sean Newhouse’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2018

For years, esteemed television journalist Barbara Walters selected 10 individuals annually who she deemed were the year’s “most fascinating.”

Well, Walters retired years ago. So I, the news editor of my college newspaper, feel it is necessary for me to continue the tradition.

My criteria for selection was based on the following: 1. Is this person going to make an impact for years to come? 2. Will their notoriety be associated with the year 2018?

Here are my top 10 most fascinating people:

Putin and MBS

Russian President Vladimir Putin was re-elected in March. While I was studying abroad in China, term limits were removed for President Xi Jinping, effectively granting him lifetime rule. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is not upholding his end of the nuclear agreement he made with President Donald Trump in June. Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, received virtually no punishment for killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October. And Brazil elected far-right Jair Bolsonaro as president two months ago.

In my international politics class this semester, I said the decline of democracy worldwide was the most concerning trend in international studies. This phenomenon is not helped by the U.S. president.

Trump and his team are being investigated for alleged coordination with Russia during the 2016 election. In reaction to Xi’s power grab, Trump said at a fundraiser, “Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.” Obviously, he made the deal with North Korea, and Trump has openly disagreed with his own intelligence officials who said MBS was behind Khashoggi’s death. Furthermore, Bolsonaro is described as the “Trump of the Tropics,” and the U.S. president expressed excitement about working with the South American leader who described the dictatorship that ruled his country from the mid-60s to the mid-80s as a “very good” period.

Front page of my campus newspaper on Oct. 16

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s first accuser, gave compelling congressional testimony that Trump’s second nominee to the Supreme Court attempted to sexually assault her in high school. In contrast, Kavanaugh did so poorly during his testimony that he wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal apologizing, without actually apologizing, for his performance.

The respective testimonies were must-see TV. In fact, we spent the entirety of our journalism ethics class on Sept. 27 watching live coverage.

My favorite moment was when Kavanaugh said, “I got into Yale Law School. That’s the number one law school in the country. I had no connections there. I got there by busting my tail in college.” Color me skeptical, but I think his busted tail may have benefitted from the fact that his mother was a judge, he went to one of the top boarding schools in the country and Kavanaugh completed his undergraduate degree at Yale.

This was one of many “non-answers” provided by the man who now sits on the highest court in the land. This graphic from Vox visualizes the number of times Kavanaugh skirted a question.

We may never know for sure if Kavanaugh did the things he was accused of, but he did lie throughout his controversial confirmation.

From my perspective, Kavanaugh’s confirmation represented the first major backlash against the #MeToo movement. I’d strongly encourage you to listen to this episode from The New York Times’ podcast series The Daily titled “Who Is Believed and Who Is Blamed?” From it, I realized my assumption that most Americans supported the #MeToo movement was grossly wrong. Many in this country still place blame on the victim instead of on the perpetrator. And some still confuse the two.

3. Parkland Student Activists

These individuals, who are younger than me, flipped the script on what it means to be a victim.

Before them, the narrative created by the media was that the survivors of a mass shooting would be spotlighted for a few news cycles. The press then leaves when a more interesting event comes along, conveniently missing stories about PTSD and the systemic nature of gun violence. Every year or so, attention would return briefly for an anniversary remembrance of the shooting.

The Parkland students took back the narrative.

Two hundred thousand people attended the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. In March, students walked out of their classrooms, including some from my university, to protest the lack of action taken against gun violence.

And the Parkland students aren’t done. We’re going to see more of David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, I have no doubt. Because gun violence is an issue the U.S. government can solve, contrary to what overpaid talking heads on cable news erroneously claim.

4. Migrant Caravan

Inequality between the Global North and the Global South is the greatest injustice in the modern world, in my opinion. The issue is exacerbated when considering the historical context of imperialism and social context of racism behind the gap between developed and developing countries.

Based on this, it should not be surprising that mass numbers of people from the Global South want to migrate north. Of course, I’m not talking about these millions of people, but rather the thousands of Central Americans who are trying to enter the U.S. and who Trump exploited politically in an attempt to turn out his base to vote in the midterm elections.

The reason the caravan is on this list is because migration, to any country, cannot truly be stopped. An executive can do all he or she wants to restrict asylum, but there is always a way in. This caravan figuratively, if not literally, challenges the concept of borders, upending the collective belief that government has absolute power.

5. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

The youngest woman ever elected to congress is perhaps the best symbol of the “blue wave,” the name ascribed to the unsurprising Democratic take back of the House of Representatives this year.

A Democratic Socialist, Ocasio-Cortez defeated the fourth highest-ranking House Democrat in a June primary, catapulting her to national stardom and Fox News’ public enemies list.

When the Tea Party gained seats in the U.S. House after the 2010 midterms, disaster happened. I’m curious to see if there will be a Democratic equivalent after 2018. And what role, because she will have a role, this woman who is only eight years older than me will play.

6. Michael Cohen

The first time I heard about this man, who surprisingly is an actual person and not an 80s movie character come to life, was back in August 2016 when he cast doubt on all the polls that said Hillary Clinton was going to win the election.

In hindsight, this actually makes Trump’s former personal lawyer, “fixer” might be a more appropriate term, seem less crazy. But this doesn’t make up for the fact that last week he was sentenced to three years in prison.

The big picture is that Cohen committed his crimes for Trump during the 2016 campaign.

Specifically, prosecutors said he broke campaign finance laws for payments he made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, both women with whom Trump had affairs.

Worth noting that the press breezed over the fact that the president went from saying he didn’t know about the payments to admitting that he did know, but I digress.

Cohen also lied to Congress about the extent of meetings over the possibility of a Trump Tower Moscow.

This represents, in my opinion, the first major success of Robert Mueller’s investigation, which has charged a lot of other people by the way.

7. Cardi B

I’m still not sure who exactly she is or why I should be interested in her life, but I’m told she’s “great.”

Also, she inspired a meme.

8. Pete Davidson

Crenshaw (right) making fun of Davidson on SNL

Let me give you a brief timeline of Davidson’s year, who used to just be one of the better Saturday Night Live cast members.

In May, he broke up with his girlfriend (who was Larry David’s daughter, I just found out). The same month it was reported Davidson and pop star Ariana Grande were dating.

In June, it’s confirmed they’re engaged. About this time Davidson’s supposed “Big Dick Energy” became a mainstream topic of conversation. By September, the couple got a pet baby pig. On Oct. 15, the couple split up. According to Cosmopolitan, Grande got the pig.

If you were curious about my thoughts on the matter:

Since the breakup, Davidson has remained in the headlines. In November, the comedian apologized for making fun of veteran and representative-elect Dan Crenshaw’s appearance. Crenshaw then went on SNL and made fun of Davidson (above).

Davidson also inspired Ariana Grande’s song “thank you, next,” which a record-breaking 800,000 people watched on YouTube the second it was released.

With all this sudden newfound fame came major backlash. There was a concern Davidson was suicidal after he posted a worrying message last Saturday.

Davidson has spoken openly about living with borderline personality disorder and the hateful messages he’s received this year.

9. Donald Glover

Glover probably thought he’d be most famous this year for playing young Lando Calrissian in Solo, which flopped at the box office.

Instead, the actor, comedian, writer and rapper’s culturally significant music video for “This Is America” was viewed nearly half a billion times on YouTube, which spurred dozens of articles that attempted to analyze the symbols within it. His television show Atlanta received a slew of award nominations this year. Plus, he got an Emmy nod for hosting SNL.

The artist’s emergence as a cultural powerhouse will undoubtedly continue, as he is the voice of Simba for the 2019 live-action version of The Lion King and has a still unclear role in Marvel’s Spider-Man universe.

10. Meghan Markle

With all the drama this year, it’s easy to forget there was a royal wedding. But not just any royal wedding. The sixth person in line for the British throne, Prince Harry, married a divorced biracial American actress.

Imagine if King George III heard that sentence.

I was lucky enough to be in London for the wedding, where my friends and I watched it live from a pub. When we left, it looked like any ordinary Saturday in the global city.

The line for drinks at a pub watch party of the royal wedding

This lack of reaction to the Duchess of Sussex is significant in its own right. It represents a significant change in the British monarchy, which would not have accepted Markle in the 1940s. (Anyone who has watched The Crown or The King’s Speech should have gotten that reference.)

Also, the fact that more attention is being spent questioning whether Harry and Meghan’s first child due next spring might be a ginger, instead of on his or her racial makeup, represents remarkable progress especially under the context of the British Empire. (This isn’t to say that racism has been eradicated from the island country.)

By her very presence, Markle is reforming one of the last vestiges of Old World power, symbolizing the social changes that have occurred in what was one of the strictest hierarchies in the world’s history.

Runners-up: Sean Hannity, Kanye West, Michael Avenatti, Taylor Swift, Jamal Khashoggi, QAnon, Thai cave boys, the Black Panther, Adam Rippon, Whoever wrote the anonymous Op-Ed in the New York Times

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Leslie Knope but sassier. I watch a lot of C-SPAN.

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