The Biggest News Stories Of 2023

The world definitely seemed upside-down in 2023 and had the headlines to prove it. The United States experienced never-before-seen political turmoil, with scandals and legal action facing two presidents and the seemingly never-ending partisanship rocking the halls of government. The culture wars in the U.S. continued apace alongside the political developments. Abroad, Russia, the Middle East, China, and Africa all raised alarm, with, of course, America's role in these conflicts always a question or demand.

But 2023 hasn't been all bad. Among some brighter spots were Tom Brady's retirement after an illustrious, 23-year NFL career and the coronation of King Charles III of the United Kingdom — a welcome reminder for fans of the monarchy that this symbol of stability and tradition is something they can trust to stay around even as the world rapidly changes. And then, of course, there was Taylor Swift's love life — an internet favorite.

Donald Trump's historic indictments

Donald Trump made history in 2023 by becoming the first president to face criminal charges, indicted with 91 state and federal felony counts. In the District of Columbia, Trump stands accused of obstructing official proceedings related to the electoral certification of the 2020 election on January 6. The New York indictment says the former president falsified business records to conceal an alleged hush money payment to former porn star Stormy Daniels. In Florida, he faces charges of obstruction and mishandling classified information.

The most serious is the 41-count Georgia indictment, where Trump and 18 co-defendants face charges ranging from perjury and false statements to impersonation, conspiracy, and allegedly conspiring to illegally overturn the 2020 election. All trials are scheduled for 2024.

In Georgia, four of Trump's co-defendants have pleaded guilty, including Sidney Powell and lawyer Jenna Ellis. Ellis' lawyer said in an exclusive statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she took the deal to avoid jail time and potential disbarment.

Trump has called the indictments a concerted effort to remove him from the 2024 election. In a June Truth Social post, he accused President Joe Biden's Justice Department of hypocrisy, since Biden had also been accused of illegally keeping classified documents in his garage and at the University of Pennsylvania Biden Center. Trump has declared that even if convicted, he will run in 2024 and serve if elected. He is the Republican frontrunner and likely nominee, holding a double-digit lead over his rivals.

Hunter Biden got indicted too

President Joe Biden had plenty of his own legal problems in 2023, thanks to allegations of bribery through his son Hunter Biden, who also faced illegal gun possession and tax evasion charges. The House Oversight Committee alleged the Biden family received approximately $14.5 million through Hunter's foreign contacts in China, Romania, and Russia, and $1 million a year from Ukraine. Two IRS whistleblowers told the committee that the Justice Department had given the Bidens special treatment in subsequent investigations, including potentially destroying or manipulating evidence. The president, who has been accused of involvement in the alleged corruption, dismissed the allegations, denying any knowledge of, or involvement in, his son's business dealings.

In September 2023, Hunter was also indicted on three federal gun charges for allegedly lying about past drug use on the background check form all gun buyers must fill out. He had been expecting to avoid prison with a plea deal that would have sent him to diversion, but Judge Maryellen Noreika voided it, arguing Hunter could then potentially avoid prosecution for crimes he may have committed regarding his business dealings. 

Hunter has pleaded not guilty to all charges and will face trial in 2024. Democrats have worried the scandals could affect President Biden's chances of re-election and have tried to cast the problems as exclusively related to his son. The younger Biden responded to the charges in a USA Today op-ed, calling them an "all-out annihilation of his reputation" to attack his father politically.

Wildfires destroyed Hawaii's old capital

Among the most tragic stories of 2023 America was the destruction of the historic Hawaiian town of Lahaina, former capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Nearly 100 people were killed. Aside from the human toll, the cultural loss was immense and irreplaceable. Most of Lahaina's historic and tourist district, including the Waiola Church, went up in flames. The church was established in 1853 by Hawaiian Queen Keopuolani, who eventually became Christian. Only Maria Lanakila Catholic Church survived, unscathed.

The official response to the fires caused outrage across Maui. The Maui Emergency Management Agency failed to use the island's warning system to issue an evacuation order, claiming the system was for issuing tsunami warnings. Many residents, however, were without power and failed to receive any warning. The police were also criticized for barricading roads leading out of Lahaina. Maui's Police Chief John Pelletier told Hawaii News Now they were to stop people from driving over downed power lines. A local family, however, told the Associated Press the barriers had stopped people from escaping. The family survived by driving around emergency crews that ordered them to go back into Lahaina.

President Joe Biden and the federal government were also slammed, especially after the president seemed to compare the destruction to a small 1967 kitchen fire in his house. Residents such as Mike Cicchino told NewsNation that federal aid was not reaching Maui, including the $700 checks Washington had promised to cover immediate costs.

Hamas attacks Israel

On October 7, 2023, Palestinian terrorist group Hamas launched a multi-pronged attack against Israel from the Gaza Strip, with Israel's Iron Dome defense system failing to stop the initial rocket barrage.

Hamas then attacked Israeli towns and military bases, killing civilians regardless of sex or age. They took survivors back to Gaza as hostages, including 30 children. Hamas' own videos, which among other things, showed their militants shooting children and blowing up a family with a grenade, confirmed the carnage. Finally, Hamas fighters attacked an Israeli music festival. 

Israelis were shocked at the state's failure to anticipate the attack. Republican Congressman Michael McCaul told reporters that Egypt had warned Israel about something coming from Gaza, as per AFP (via the BBC), despite denials from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On October 29, however, Netanyahu blamed the country's security apparatus, which in turn accused him of deflecting responsibility. According to a Dialog Center poll, 86% of Israelis have partly blamed the government, reported The Jerusalem Post.

Israel has since invaded Gaza amid fears the war could expand to neighboring Syria and Lebanon, and as of November 7,  there have been more than 1,400 deaths in Israel and more than 10,000 deaths in Gaza, as per CNN.

The 2023 Niger military coup

On July 26, 2023, the military of the West African country of Niger overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum, who was elected in 2021 with around 56% of the vote in a contested election. The coup's exact reasons are unclear, although the Nigerien military accused the former president of treason and undermining national security. 

A look at a similar coup in neighboring Burkina Faso in October 2022 offers some explanations. At the time, observers noticed supporters of the new military government were flying Russian flags. The head of the mercenary Wagner Group congratulated the new government, or in the case of Russian official Sergei Markov, explicitly said Russia had provided help. The coup in Niger was likely a similar power play, as countries such as Russia and China seek to push NATO out of resource-rich Africa for their own benefit.

Tensions escalated after the Economic Community of West African States threatened to invade Niger and reinstate Bazoum. The two holdouts that supported Niger's new military government were Burkina Faso and Mali — governments that have aligned themselves with Moscow. The threat to invade has triggered concerns of a wider West African conflict that could further destabilize a region already plagued by Islamist insurgencies.

China, a key economic player in the region, has adopted a wait-and-see posture. The Asian giant has strengthened relations with Niger's military government to protect its business interests while calling for a peaceful resolution to the problem.

Spanish soccer chief accused of sexual assault

In sports, Spain is best known for the success of its men's national soccer team. In 2023, however, its women's team made FIFA Women's World Cup history beating England 1-0 for its maiden title. As the team celebrated, Spanish federation official Luis Rubiales had a night of misconduct. He celebrated Spain's win by grabbing his genitals in front of Queen Letizia and inappropriately carried forward Athenea del Castillo over his shoulder. To top off the night, he kissed forward Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the trophy ceremony, causing an uproar.

Rubiales apologized in a statement (via Sky Sports) but said the kiss was consensual and accused his detractors of using feminism against him. Hermoso, however, shot down Rubiales' explanation on Twitter. The kiss was not consensual, and she was "a victim of an impulse-driven, sexist, out of place act without any consent on [her] part." She also alleged that Spanish soccer authorities had tried to cajole her and her family into supporting Rubiales' version of events, which she said was a lie.

On October 30, 2023, FIFA banned Rubiales from all soccer-related activities for three years for conduct violations of the FIFA disciplinary code. Rubiales, who plans to appeal the decision, also faces a criminal sexual assault complaint, which Hermoso filed on September 6.

Tom Brady retires for real

Tom Brady's first "retirement" lasted 40 days. He returned to the NFL in 2022 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In February 2023, he retired for real at age 45 after a 23-year career. Among his achievements were seven Super Bowl titles and five Super Bowl MVP wins. His detractors might also recall the infamous "Deflategate" scandal in 2015, in which he was accused of deflating balls. Two years and $22 million later, all he got was a four-game suspension.

Brady's retirement triggered an outpouring of tributes. His former New England Patriots coach, Bill Belichek, said he " was the ultimate winner. He entered the NFL with little to no fanfare and leaves as the most successful player in league history" (via ESPN). Patriots owner Robert Kraft considered him the best quarterback in a century.

Despite his star-studded resume, Brady's final year with the Buccaneers was a bit of a downer. The team went 8-9 and lost its playoff series to the Dallas Cowboys. Coach Bruce Arians blamed Brady's turbulent personal life and his divorce from Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen for the poor performance. 

Brady and Bündchen divorced in 2022, amid rumors Brady's decision to return to the NFL after his 40-day retirement had been the final straw. Bündchen, however, denied in an interview with Vanity Fair that his decision to return to football was the sole cause — although it was one. Brady will join Fox Sports as an analyst in 2024 under a $375 million contract over 10 years.

Prince Charles finally becomes king

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom passed away on September 8, 2022, at the age of 96. Her son, Prince Charles, ascended to the throne as King Charles III. He technically became king in 2022 but was not crowned officially until May 6, 2023, to give him and the family a chance to mourn the queen's passing and organize a proper coronation ceremony.

In the weeks leading up to the coronation ceremony, everyone wanted to know whether Prince Harry would attend, given his problems with the royal family over his marriage to Meghan Markle and accusations of leaking family secrets. He attended alone, staying for a little over a day before flying back to Los Angeles. He was also not allowed with the family on the balcony or during the post-ceremonial procession. Prince Andrew, who lost his royal status over his relationship with convicted sex trafficker and pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, also attended the ceremony in the same capacity.

Ultimately, the coronation proceeded without a hitch, despite rain. The new king was crowned in Westminster Abbey by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, as is traditional. He sat on the 700-year-old coronation chair, which is considered to be Europe's oldest piece of furniture. The ceremony was notable in that the king swore to defend the Anglican Church and all other faiths of the U.K. He even changed the traditional title of "Defender of the Faith" to just "Defender of Faith."

COVID-19 is declared over

The COVID-19 crisis divided Americans over masking, social distancing, business closures, and vaccine mandates. On May 11, 2023, President Joe Biden declared it all over. The White House said health precautions weren't necessary due to mass vaccine uptake.

The declaration had several important implications. It ended all federal vaccine mandates, which had been tied up in court thanks to an injunction. The Health and Human Services Department announced that insurance plans would no longer be required to cover testing, while labs would no longer be mandated to report COVID numbers for calculating the prevalence of infections.

The biggest change involved Medicaid. During COVID, Sec. 6008 of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act forbade states from cutting beneficiaries for one month after the emergency ended, unless they consented, or moved to another state. After Biden's declaration, states cut at least 10 million from the rolls as of November 2023, according to a study by independent health watchdog KFF. The reasons were either procedural issues or ineligibility, depending on the state.

Biden's declaration was a formality. In late 2022, an Ipsos poll found that most Americans were not worried about the virus, while restrictions had been dropping across the country. The administration had seen signature restrictions struck down in court. A Florida federal judge voided air travel mask mandates in April 2022, while the Supreme Court struck down Biden's vaccine-or-test rule for large companies in January of the same year.

The Supreme Court overturns affirmative action

Affirmative action in college admissions allowed universities to factor in applicants' race into the admissions process. The Supreme Court upheld it in the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger, as long as race was not the sole admissions criterion. The organization Students for Fair Admissions argued racial preferences were unconstitutional on 14th Amendment equal protection grounds and sued the University of North Carolina and Harvard in 2023.

In Students For Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, SCOTUS ruled 6-3 to strike down affirmative action. Justice Sonia Sotomayor led the dissent, arguing that affirmative action was permitted under the 14th Amendment because its promise in the context of the 1860s was to correct discrimination against African-American citizens. If affirmative action resulted in greater equality, it was legal — even if college admissions were race-conscious.

Justice Clarence Thomas' concurring opinion was a rebuttal to Sotomayor, adopting a "race-blind" reading of the 14th Amendment, requiring universities to prove "a compelling reason to racially discriminate." In other words, they needed to prove with hard data that affirmative action benefitted all students, or the 14th Amendment's equal protection would be lacking.

The court ruled the universities had failed to demonstrate the benefits of affirmative action. Thus, Thomas wrote if affirmative action only benefitted some students at the expense of others, there was no equal protection under the law. Instead, it "yield[ed] a quota- and caste-ridden society steeped in race-based discrimination."

The Supreme Court ethics controversy

In August 2023, ProPublica reported that Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito had accepted luxury trips from billionaires, including people involved in cases before the court. Above the partisan rhetoric, cooler heads noted that virtually all the justices had engaged in similar behavior. Stephen Breyer took a handful of trips funded by the billionaire Pritzker family, which counts the governor of Illinois among its members. Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor did not recuse themselves from cases involving book publisher Penguin-Random House, from which they received royalties.

Thus, the real problem was not any one justice's behavior, but whether the justices should be allowed to accept such gifts in the first place. Federal employees, for instance, are strictly prohibited from accepting any gifts over $20 given by virtue of their offices. Anything over that threshold has to be reported and surrendered.

The Supreme Court, however, is not subject to these ethics codes, including the judicial code of conduct for federal judges. So by the letter, none of the justices acted unethically. The Senate Judiciary Panel voted along party lines in July to force the court to adopt an ethics code, but this raised constitutional issues. Republicans have argued the court, as part of the judicial branch, must solve its ethics issues internally –- congressional attempts to do so would undermine its independence.

Silvio Berlusconi died

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was world famous for his gaffes, off-color comments, and legal issues more than for his actual governing of Italy. He died June 12, 2023, at the age of 86, having made careers in politics, the world of soccer team ownership, and television.

Berlusconi had many moments of bad behavior. In 2002, he made a cuckold gesture at Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique. In 2011, he was caught on camera checking out Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt's behind. In 2023, shortly before his death, he promised the players of AC Monza — a soccer team he owned — visits by sex workers for every victory against a big-name team. He later said on Twitter it was a "locker room joke."

His legal troubles were far more serious. His most serious rap involved accusations of holding "bunga bunga" sex parties at his Sardinian villa, where he allegedly paid then-17-year-old Moroccan Karima el-Mahroug for sexual favors. He was acquitted on all charges, including witness tampering, in February 2023. He was convicted separately of tax fraud in 2012 but never served time.

Despite his controversial persona, Berlusconi's death elicited tributes calling him a history-maker, while even his political enemies praised his personal charm. But it was his old ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who outdid the rest. Putin praised Berlusconi, saying, "Without a doubt, he was a politician European, you could even say world-class. There are very few people like that now on the international stage. He was a great friend of our nation" (via The Times).

The battles for House speaker

The divide between the Republican old-guard establishment and the GOP populist wing, represented by the Freedom Caucus and representatives such as Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, and Chip Roy, was laid bare with two nasty elections for speaker of the House.

Following the 2022 midterms, California Rep. Kevin McCarthy was the favored candidate for speaker. But the populist Republicans refused to back him without some concessions — chief among them, reviving the "motion to vacate the chair." This rule allowed one representative to force a vote to remove the speaker. After ballot 14, McCarthy needed one vote — either from Gaetz or Boebert — to win. After a near-fistfight, McCarthy won on the 15th ballot in January 2023. Democrats sat back and watched, with Rep. Ted Lieu trolling the GOP with a Twitter picture of himself eating popcorn.

McCarthy probably regretted allowing the "vacate" rule, since Matt Gaetz used it against him on October 3, 2023, citing McCarthy's willingness to continue aiding Ukraine despite earlier promises of no more financial support. In the ensuing 216-210 vote, McCarthy became the only speaker to be ousted.

After McCarthy's ouster, another chaotic election took place, with the relatively unknown, Trump-endorsed Louisiana Congressman Mike Johnson coming out on top of a crowded field. Johnson is considered one of Trump's biggest "America First" supporters, having voted against certifying the contested 2020 election. His first legislative actions as speaker concerned aid to Israel and Ukraine, tying the latter package to funding for border security.

The Titan sub implosion

For several days in June, the harrowing tale of the Titan submersible carrying a handful of tourists to the wreck of the RMS Titanic made the news after it lost contact with the surface shortly after it launched on June 18. Over the course of four days, the world watched as the U.S. Coast Guard began search and rescue efforts. On June 22, the USCG discovered a debris field in their search area close to the Titanic, indicating the sub had imploded under water pressure, collapsing on top of its passengers, who died instantly. The U.S. Navy also confirmed the sub imploded shortly after it lost contact.

OceanGate, the company that built the sub and ran the tours, was accused of cutting corners on safety, as the carbon-fiber hull could not withstand the crushing pressures of the deep North Atlantic. Mechanical engineer Bart Kemper confirmed to NBC that the material's use was experimental and tried to warn OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, who refused to listen. On that detail alone, the sub should never have been allowed to make the dives, let alone carry paying passengers.

OceanGate even admitted on its website in 2019 that its sub was so new, it could not be classed for which voyages it could safely undertake. This statement came despite a report -– revealed during a 2018 lawsuit against OceanGate -– by former employee David Lochridge, who had warned OceanGate that the sub was a potential death trap. OceanGate has since suspended all operations.

George Santos' questionable resume

After Congressman George Santos was elected in 2022 to represent New York's Third Congressional District, he was immediately accused of lying about basically everything. For instance, he claimed his mother survived 9/11. However, immigration records given to The Forward documented she had left the U.S. in 1999 and applied for re-entry in 2003 — without entering the country in the intervening period. The Congressman has nevertheless defended the claim.

Santos claimed his grandparents fled the Holocaust. His mother, Fatima DeVolder, however, wrote on her green card application that her parents were born in Brazil. Santos then said his grandparents changed their names to survive. He then backpedaled, saying he never claimed to be Jewish, but "Jew-ish." His current position is that he can prove it, but the war in Ukraine is preventing him from getting the documentation. The question of his paternal grandparents is unclear.

Santos admitted to many more, including claiming to work for Goldman Sachs, attending college, and earning $750,000 before being elected. In an interview with Newsmax's Greg Kelly, Santos dodged questions about his alleged lies. Kelly voiced concerns about Santos' capacity to serve in Congress, noting that if he was willing to lie about small stuff, he would be willing to lie about bigger matters. Santos now faces a raft of federal charges relating to fraud, false statements, and identity theft. He refused to resign, despite GOP calls to expel him. However, after a House Ethics Committee report found multiple instances of misconduct, Santos was expelled on December 1, 2023, making him only the sixth member of the House in U.S. history to be removed from office.

Bud Light's financial meltdown

The latest episode of America's culture wars and the decline of Bud Light began in April 2023, when transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney appeared in a video holding a personalized Bud Light beer can. The video sparked a boycott among conservative customers that went viral after Kid Rock posted a video of himself shooting at Bud Light cans while disparaging the brand.

The boycott cost parent company Anheuser-Busch (AB) nearly $400 million. Bud Light dropped out of America's top-10 beer brands, bars pulled it from their shelves, and other AB brands tanked. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened to sue AB, accusing the company of placing a social agenda over shareholders, including Florida pension funds. The company attempted a comeback with a more traditional beer ad campaign centered around women, beaches, and football, but it failed to assuage conservatives.

Since then, billionaire Bill Gates scooped up $95 million in devalued AB stock, suggesting he is betting on it becoming profitable again. As for Kid Rock, he appeared to be enjoying a Bud Light in August 2023. But instead of a boycott, he got a bunch of new social media followers.

Financier and "Shark Tank" star Kevin O'Leary told Fox News that Bud Light's collapse is a business school case study about the power of social media to break company profits — especially with political messaging unrelated to a product that could alienate their core customer base.

Taylor Swift starts dating Travis Kelce (allegedly)

Pop star Taylor Swift's personal life is frequent internet meme material. She has had 12 boyfriends, and many of her top songs are about her breakups with them. In 2023, Swift appeared to find love for real this time with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.

Kelce told the Pat McAfee Show that he opened matters by "throwing the ball in her court," inviting her to the KC Arrowhead Stadium after implying he had seen her perform there during her "Eras" tour. She then attended a bunch of KC games. In October, the pair were photographed holding hands multiple times, suggesting they were pretty much an item. Kelce's father, who met the pop star and spoke with her at several games, skirted around their relationship with Entertainment Tonight but acknowledged and supported their friendship and spending time together.

However, there are the doubters who believe the relationship is a PR stunt. Regardless, Kelce has profited massively from the publicity, seeing a 400% spike in sales of his jersey after Taylor Swift attended her first game. Swift has not commented on their relationship.

Sandra Day O'Connor, first female SCOTUS justice, died

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor died on December 1, 2023, due to complications from dementia. O'Connor was the first female Supreme Court justice, appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 after serving in the Arizona court system.

O'Connor became the court's swing vote, amassing a mixed record that is hard to fit into a partisan box. In 1992, she voted to uphold abortion as a constitutional right — in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, forbidding states from imposing "undue burden" on women seeking abortion. She did, however, uphold parental notification requirements for minors and waiting periods. In 2003, she upheld affirmative action in Grutter v. Bollinger. O'Connor, who delivered the majority opinion, stated that "the narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body is not prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause." In 2000, however, she voted in favor of President George W. Bush during Al Gore's lawsuit over Florida's electoral votes in that year's presidential election.

After she retired in 2006, she remained active serving on the board of several educational and cultural institutions. In 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.