2021 was supposed to be different.
The year we put our political differences aside, set out to enjoy life again and collectively moved forward into the post-pandemic future.
Instead, it was largely the year of denial.
It started with a group of Trump supporters who refused to believe he lost the election and in response, launched an insurrection to try overturn the results during a riot on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol.
It continued with a wave of denials around COVID – from the very existence of the virus itself to the efficacy of masks and vaccines to the need to take any preventative measures. By early December, more than 75% of Americans over 5 years old had received at least one dose of the vaccine and about 30% of Americans over 18 had received a booster.
It persists as we collectively try to ignore the climate-induced calamities that shape our world almost daily, with an epic southern cold front kicking off the year and springtime-level super cell tornadoes in December.
Here’s a look at some of the stories that riveted, shocked and inspired the country in 2021 and some of USA TODAY’s best investigative work that made an impact around our nation this year.
They all really happened and in the spirit of 2021, we’ve included links in case you want to do your own research.
►Pictures of 2021: See an image from every day in a life-changing year
►Feel-good stories: From daring rescues to medical breakthroughs, here are 12 of the happiest stories of 2021
►Those we lost: Hank Aaron, Bob Dole, Cicely Tyson: Remembering notables who died in 2021
►Long reads: The USA TODAY stories readers spent the most time with in 2021
Federal prosecutors have charged more than 600 people in more than 40 states for their roles in the Jan. 6 riot. See who’s been charged.
As Kamala Harris was set to take the oath of vice president at the U.S. Capitol, the first woman and woman of color in the post, Black women in attendance expressed optimism and hope.
Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes to lock up the fifth Super Bowl MVP of his age-defying career.
Some flood-prone homeowners could see big rate hikes when FEMA launches new flood insurance rates in October, a First Street Foundation study shows.
Extreme energy demand and overloaded frozen utility plants were among the factors that led to the power outages and introduced many to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
The 15-time major champion shattered multiple bones in his right leg in a single-car crash, but by December, Woods had recovered enough to commit to playing in a tournament with his 12-year-old son, Charlie.
Since Seresto pet collars were introduced, the EPA has received more than 75,000 reports related to the collars, including 907 involving human harm.
One of President Joe Biden’s first major initiatives after taking office was passing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which included one-time direct payments of up to $1,400 for many Americans.
Ten people were killed Monday, including a police officer, when a gunman opened fire at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, the second mass shooting in the U.S. in a week.
The skyscraper-size ship blocking the Suez Canal was freed in late March, five days after wedging itself sideways into the banks of one of the world’s busiest waterways.
The Peace Corps is failing to manage the threat of sexual assault, at times placing volunteers in danger and inflicting more trauma on survivors.
Current and former EEOC investigators, others in the Texas office say they have been targeted at the agency designed to enforce employment laws.
Police said a 19-year-old former employee came to a FedEx facility and opened fire killing four people outside the building and four inside the facility; among the victims were four members of the Sikh community.
A jury found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all counts in the May 2020 murder of George Floyd. Chauvin, 45, was found guilty of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The first doses of the vaccine were distributed in late 2020 and by April 19, COVID-19 vaccines are available to every American over 16 who wanted a shot.
One by one, those in charge of protecting students at Louisiana universities ignored or skirted a law designed to rid campuses of sexual predators.
Colonial Pipeline’s systems, which supply about 45% of the Southeastern region’s fuel, including gasoline and jet fuel, began to come back online after several days of being disabled in cyberattack that led to widespread fuel shortages and panic buying.
As the virus appeared to ebb, between the first round of vaccines and the emergence of the delta variant, the CDC in mid-May announced new masking guidelines, telling fully vaccinated Americans they would no longer need to wear masks indoors…for the most part.
Ban supporters say transgender girls dominated in softball, basketball and track. A USA TODAY investigation exposed vague and untrue evidence.
Town records reveal a chronically strapped code compliance division responsible for working with an outdated, unorganized building department.
Southwest’s cancelation of more than 500 weekend flights in late June came a week after the airline canceled or delayed hundreds of flights due to technology issues and a after American Airlines blamed ‘operational woes’ for canceled flights during Father’s Day weekend.
A USA TODAY investigation found Cheer Extreme offers a glaring example of how the sport’s weak child protection policies can put children at risk.
Even before New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned over fallout from sexual harassment claims, allies and adversaries from Rochester to Westchester began taking stock of his legacy.
As U.S. troops prepared to meet an Aug. 31 deadline to end America’s longest war, chaos unfolded in Kabul. More than a dozen service members were killed amid a desperate attempt to get troops and allies out of the Taliban-controlled territory.
Ida, which struck Louisiana with 150 mph winds and more than a foot of rain, deluged every state in its path as it swept northeastward, killing more than 60 people.
The Gabby Petito case captured the nation’s attention after she was reported missing in late August but it also highlighted how many other cases, often with minority victims, are overlooked, sparking a renewed interest in missing-persons coverage nationwide.
In 1961, activists and civil rights groups banded together en masse like never before to end legal segregation and expand voting access.
Shopping for groceries should be an easy task, but scarcity among some products left customers frustrated. Here’s a look at some of the key items in short supply this year.
Actor Alec Baldwin was rehearsing a scene for the movie “Rust” with a revolver that was believed to be unloaded. A timeline of how it happened.
At the Travis Scott concert, a private medical team called ParaDocs worked to treat victims. Amid the chaos, Houston fire officials couldn’t reach them.
Parents of the suspected shooter each face four counts of involuntary manslaughter after prosecutors say their son methodically carried out a shooting rampage at Oxford High School.
A USA TODAY investigation exposes a culture of retaliation against police whistleblowers.
More than 30 tornadoes killed at least 74 people in Kentucky and 16 in Illinois, Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas late Dec. 10 and early Dec. 11 and victims were still being accounted for days later.
‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort