Once upon a time, Time Magazine was a thriving weekly publication with enormous clout. It charted, without overbearing bias, the state of the American union. It had a consensus-building impact. Today, Time is still around but it is largely irrelevant. It’s as skinny as an envelope. In an ideologically segmented country, there’s little market for what it used to do.
Only one thing keeps the magazine in the conversation, it being the Person of the Year issue. Since 1927 when Calvin Coolidge was president, it has been naming a person or persons “for better or for worse” who have “done the most to influence the events of the year.” For the vile year of 2020, the recipient, to be announced Thursday night, is not an obvious choice.
As many as eight million Americans answered a questionnaire for nominees and the most endorsements any individual could muster numbered 5 per cent of the total votes. That was for infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci. But in a country with one of the worst records for fighting the coronavirus and where it is still raging, he would be an odd pick.
The failure hasn’t been Dr. Fauci’s doing. He was harassed and muzzled by Donald Trump, whose politically driven lurches compromised his efforts. But while a source of trust for Americans, Dr. Fauci, who was initially hesitant on the importance of face masks, might have pushed harder and rang more alarm bells in confronting the President’s demagoguery.
Traditionally in an election year, a newly elected president gets Time’s nod. That’s a tougher choice this year because Joe Biden had both his party’s nomination and the presidency handed to him.
One win in South Carolina after three straight opening primary defeats was enough for Democrats to come running to him. It’s doubtful he then would have won the race for the White House if not for the arrival of the killer virus that doomed the dithering Donald. Even with that stroke of political fortune, his win was razor-thin. As Barack Obama’s former adviser David Axelrod points out, “Biden captured the presidency by a combined 43,692 votes across three battleground states. Without his narrow wins in Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin, the race for electoral votes would have been tied.”
If the criteria for Time’s recognition is really for better “or worse,” then it should be Mr. Trump who is named person of the year. He’s done what no American has ever done. He’s created an alternative reality, a new ecosystem wherein truth and fact no longer matter. Of the countless examples there is none better than his having tens of millions of Americans believing he actually won the election despite audits, certifications, recounts, dismissed lawsuits and even Mr. Trump’s own lapdog Attorney-General William Barr testifying to the contrary.
The country faces what Mr. Obama recently termed an “epistemological crisis.” There is a credibility vacuum. The American consensus as once set by products such as Time Magazine has been shredded.
This being a year of racial upheaval after the abhorrent police killing of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement is a contender for the magazine’s designation. The movement against systemic racism in policing and everyday life took on formidable proportions this year and will have enduring impact. Athletes never get the person of the year honour, but they became leaders in this movement. Time’s polling rightfully showed some support for LeBron James, the ageless basketball phenom who led his third different team to a national championship this year but whose off-court influence in the social justice realm extends far beyond his on-court magnificence.
Because the virus was the story of 2020, the person or persons of the year will likely be from that domain. Worthy of consideration, however politically incorrect it may be, are the vaccine-producing corporations. Among politicians who’ve been upstanding is Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who was the target of a terrifying kidnap plot. She responded to that and to Mr. Trump and Michiganders who tried to dethrone her for imposing stringent anti-pandemic measures with poise, grace and courage.
But I’ve left out the most inspirational women and men of this saddest of times.
If there’s anyone who merits persons of the year distinction it is the countless number of health care workers, not just in the U.S. but the world over, who risked their lives and in many cases have given their lives in caring for the COVID-afflicted.
They are the gallant. They are the lion-hearted. They are the heroes of 2020.
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