Growing up, as an end-of-year tradition around our family dinner table, each family member would guess who would be named TIME’s Person of the Year along with reasons for our picks. (Back then, the issue was still called “Man of the Year,” which didn’t change until 1999). The first one I can remember clearly was back in 1979. I was eight years old, and my pick was Obi-Wan Kenobi, who somehow lost out to the Ayatollah Khomeini though there was a striking physical resemblance.
My father was a senior executive at TIME for 40 years and eventually served as chairman & CEO of its parent company, Time Inc. So, we were always privy to the shortlist for Person of The Year, but I don’t think even Dad knew the final pick until the magazine went to the printing press. Back then, the imaginary line between the editorial and business sides of the publication was so strong that the divide was called “Church” (for editorial) and “State” (for business) — a concept all but forgotten in today’s media business model.
Today, Donald Trump was named TIME’s Person of the Year for 2016. I am not a Trump supporter, but in my opinion, he was the obvious, only choice. And that’s the point. TIME’s definition is “the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year, for better or for worse.”
This morning, Donald Trump called the selection a “tremendous honor.” And of course he did. But he shouldn’t have. TIME’s “Man of the Year” in 1938 was Adolf Hitler. 1939 and 1942 saw Joseph Stalin given the same “honor.” And then there was the choice of the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, beating out my pick of Obi-Wan.
Who else would have been reasonable picks for this tumultuous year? Putin would be logical (he already had the “honor” in 2007). Mark Zuckerberg perhaps, given Facebook’s massive role in shaping public opinion globally. Or how about “Brexit,” as a representation of the populist wave now moving across the globe? There have been a handful of “ideas,” rather than people, selected as cover stories for TIME’s special issue — such as “The Computer” in 1982. I simply cannot see a choice as obvious as Donald Trump.
Whether or not Trump’s election to the presidency affects our lives for good or for ill remains a question — and as Nancy Gibbs writes in TIME, “the challenge for Donald Trump is how profoundly the country disagrees about the answer.”