Time magazine will announce its Person of the Year on NBC’s Today Show on Wednesday, and this year what’s often called a tired publicity stunt for Time Inc. may really matter. Donald Trump would seem destined for the POTY title, but even if he doesn’t get it, he wins.
The editors are choosing from a short list—Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, Black Lives Matter activists, Caitlyn Jenner, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, and, of course, Trump. As usual, the choice is not based on the year’s most popular or “best” person—Hitler and Stalin were each a Man of the Year, as it was then called—but on “the person TIME believes most influenced the news this year for better or worse.” By this standard, Trump seems a shoo-in.
If he does take the title, he’ll crow: I’m the most influential person in the world! Even if Time draws a tiny mustache on a Trump cover photo to show that they don’t approve of the proto-fascist bigot, he’ll declare it the greatest poll ever taken, he’ll cite it to validate his lies, and he’ll turn the ensuing circus into a mini-election, as if POTY’s the inevitable next step to POTUS. He’ll be like the president of the world!
If, however, Trump “loses” the contest, he’ll scream—just as he will if he loses the GOP nomination—that he was robbed, and with some justification. Trump has already anticipated this. “I say there’s no way they give it to me,” he said last month. “Because, mentally, they can’t. They just can’t. They can’t do it. Even if I deserve it, they can’t do it.” He could then squawk that Time, along with the “70 to 75 percent” of the press that he says are “scum,” is imprisoned by political correctness—which will only boost him higher among his base.
And Donald Trump will insult the “winner,” calling him, her, or them fifth-rate losers, etc., etc. He might be particularly disgusted but secretly delighted if Time gives the honor to BLM activists, who’ve been heckling him to distraction at rallies: choosing activists who challenge the bias of the justice system would be a perfect example to Trump supporters of the bias of the elite mainstream media.
But it’s hard to see how Time doesn’t crown him. Not just because he’s the biggest story in the media (arguably Al-Baghdadi is as or more influential, but Americans don’t know him), but because of his mind-bending impact on the media. If nothing else, the self-financing billionaire has usurped the very foundation of presidential campaign fundraising by spending next to nothing on advertising. While TV may miss those ad dollars, they’re loving the ratings his every appearance generates. Trump is of and about the media, and the media has always favored stories about itself.