Donald Trump was recently named Time’s Person of the Year for 2016. This has understandably caused outrage, as Trump’s electoral campaign was based around ostracising minorities in an attempt to win the support of mainly white, heterosexual Americans, who have struggled to acclimatise to the World’s changing climate. Trump’s success is intertwined with regressive attitudes as demonstrated by the rise in hate crime since his election. With this fraught political context, is it justifiable to call him ‘The Person of the Year?’
Time defines this award as an indicator of the person who has had ‘the greatest influence, for better or worse, on the events of the year.’ Previous winners include Adolf Hitler in 1938, Joseph Stalin in 1939 and 1942 and Vladmir Putin in 2007, all of whom the magazine took pains to clarify they did not support. On defending Putin’s win, the magazine stated that the title was ‘not an honour…not an endorsement’ but rather a simple reflection of the person who instigated the most change that year. From that viewpoint, the title is fairly deserved as it is undeniable that Trump has shaped 2016. Even the most politically uninterested have an opinion on Trump and his antics. He has sparked debate about what it means to be part of the ‘political elite’, shocked many through his rise from joke candidate to President-elect, and uncovered the true levels of bigotry within modern America. Trump, although an overwhelmingly negative force, has revealed much about our society and caused discussion and if that is truly all what is at stake at here, then he is a worthy winner.
However, whilst that may be what the magazine intends to say, the reality of choosing such a divisive and offensive figure is much more intimidating. The deeply impersonal argument used to justify the choice fails to recognise the impact decisions like this will have on minorities. Many do not have the privilege of remaining so blissfully distant from the very real repercussions of Donald Trump’s influence. Whilst Trump has launched attacks against numerous groups of people, POC, Muslims and LGBTQ+ members are at particular risk from what this new political landscape represents. The promises Trump made in his campaign include forcing the Mexican Government to build a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants, barring Muslims from entering the United States and punishing women who choose to have an abortion. In his Government he has chosen Steve Bannon, a white supremacist and anti-Semite, as his campaign leader. Meanwhile, his Vice President is opposed to both same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination laws and even supports conversion therapy, a practice aiming to ‘cure’ homosexuality.
For the marginalised people affected by Trump’s words and decisions, seeing him on the cover of an extremely popular magazine does not represent an accurate depiction of the most influential person in 2016, but rather a society which increasingly seeks to ostracise them. Whilst Trump complained about parts of his depiction in Time’s article, he called the title ‘a great honour’ which demonstrates how, in the eyes of many, this title is not just a neutral indicator of someone who sparked conversation, but rather something complimentary. When Martin Luther King won in 1963, he called it a victory not just for himself, but for the whole Civil Rights movement. It does not seem a stretch, therefore, to assume that the same rhetoric would apply to Trump’s supporters on reflecting upon this title. Time may not intend for this to act as endorsement, but they should be aware that in the eyes of the public, that is exactly what it is.
Ultimately, giving this title to Trump and making him a focus of a photo shoot and article works to initiate him slowly into the foreground of liberal media. The award may, to people acquainted with it and its history, purely represent influence, but it is dangerous of Time to make a decision which can be so misinterpreted, by both supporters of Trump and those he attacks. Media works to shape the way we view society and regardless of the intentions behind the decision, Trump becoming Person of the Year represents a normalisation of Trump’s radical politics and the attitude it encourages. In an increasingly hostile and divisive political climate, the liberal media should be aligning themselves with the marginalised rather than giving more attention to those who are ostracising them, and as such, Time’s decision is a disgrace.