Donald Trump has been declared Time’s Person of the Year for 2016, after narrowly losing the title to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015. Depending on your perspective, this choice is deeply cynical, dangerously encouraging, or perfectly fitting.
Maybe you support Trump and are pleased he’s getting this kind of recognition; maybe you don’t, and are pleased to see him get the exact same kind of recognition Adolf Hitler did in 1938.
Whatever you think, though, the choice does make a basic kind of sense.
In 2015, I wrote that choosing Trump as Person of the Year would be perfectly fitting given Time’s own definition of what that title means: "the person who most affected the events of the year, for better or for worse." Looking at his campaign — then just creeping past its nascent stages — I wrote that Trump was a neat encapsulation of the roiling tensions that have been steadily chopping up the country:
This year, Trump rebuffed traditional politics, swapping the hemming and hawing of his fellow GOP candidates for unapologetic proclamations that still lacked any basis. He favored bold (and forcefully racist) rhetoric that overshadowed an unprecedented number of rivals. Most importantly, he tapped into a small but loud current of raging dissatisfaction in the United States. And whether his businesses have floundered or thrived, Trump is a showman who knows the value of good ratings — and that it takes a steady stream of outsize, deliberately provocative statements to get them.
Now Trump is leaning even harder into purposeful hate-mongering, following up on his early campaign declaration that Mexican immigrants are mostly "rapists" with a firm pledge to prioritize banning Muslims from entering the country. It's a disgusting, actively harmful statement that in no way deserves encouragement or praise. But "for better or for worse," Trump has eagerly sunk his teeth into Islamophobia with aims to elicit strong reactions no matter the cost, and that unfortunate truth neatly encapsulates the inflammatory speech, racial tensions, constant news cycle, and turbulent politics that have defined so much of 2015.
In 2016, Trump propelled himself into the White House off that same current of strategic falsehoods and racist dog whistles. He and his staff found a way to channel a deep anger pulsing across the country into a victory. It’s only been a month since he was elected, and he’s already thrown the future of America’s institutions into terrifying question.
So it’s (eerily) like I said in 2015:
Not wanting Trump to be Person of the Year is one thing. Arguing that he wouldn't, couldn't, absolutely shouldn't be Person of the Year is another — and in the context of Time’s history, that argument doesn't make any sense.
...  is a year in which he laid a solid foundation by playing to some of America's worst instincts. As far as someone who "affected the news and our lives, for good or for ill," Trump and his campaign — which feed on paranoia and partisan politics — absolutely fit the bill.
To be clear: I’m not disappointed that Time didn’t pick Trump, because he’s odious and opportunistic and would’ve loved nothing more than to see his own face on the cover. But as a figurehead for a lot of ugly issues colliding all at once, he wouldn’t have been so ridiculous a choice for Time to highlight as representative of this year.
And if all that applied to 2015 ... well, it’s at least doubled in 2016, the year Donald Trump went ahead and won the presidency.