The true value of Time’s Person of the Year

2020 was a year dictated by the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, leaving citizens worldwide anxious, fearful, and with the need to adapt to a new normal in society.  This was even more true for healthcare workers, who spent their time on the frontlines of the pandemic, treating those who had fallen ill to the virus, mitigating its risk and helping to find new ways to control its spread.  It is clear that through their never-ending dedication toward the well-being of others, healthcare workers left an immensely positive impact on humanity throughout the course of 2020 and are continuing to do so as society enters 2021.  

It appears, however, that Time magazine thought differently.  Although healthcare workers were nominated, the magazine selected President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as Time’s Person of the Year – a title dedicated to one or more individuals who have had a significant and memorable impact on their nominated year.  This title is given to show gratitude for the honoree’s positive impact on humanity.  Therefore, it seems almost incomprehensible that anyone other than healthcare workers would be chosen in the year 2020.  Even entering the new year, they remain on the frontlines, risking their lives to save others and helping to slow the rapid spread of the virus.  Is it possible for a political campaign to actually leave a larger influence than the one left by frontline healthcare workers?   

In the magazine’s defense, however, healthcare workers were honored as the Guardians of the Year; this specific title, according to Time, is given to “those who put themselves on the line to defend the ideals sacred to democracy.” They shared this title with racial justice organizers.  Was Time’s purpose of acknowledging these groups merely to protect its reputation with the public?  It seems as if these groups were the runner-ups and politicians remained the winners.  Time decided to congratulate Biden and Harris for running a successful campaign, prioritizing politics over healthcare when selecting their main honor of Person of the Year.

In the magazine’s article explaining their choice of Biden and Harris, author Charlotte Alter focused on the campaign’s perseverance.  Alter described Biden’s feat of overcoming critiques that told him “he was too old, too unsteady, too boring” and detailed the surprising forging of the Biden-Harris partnership.  This was an ironic choice of theme; it seems as if Time believes Biden’s perseverance through a presidential campaign was more impressive than healthcare workers’ perseverance through the spread of a deadly virus.  Alter continued, focusing on the duo’s 2020 presidential campaign, which consumed the entirety of their year.  Biden and Harris spent this past year working to gain votes in order to win an election; their time was not spent dedicated toward having a positive impact on society, but instead, persuading Americans to support their campaign.  The only evidence of the campaign attempting to leave a significant impact on humanity was through their policy and opinions- both of which have debatable influences on America.  Throughout their campaign, they shared skeletal plans, progressive proposals, and supported various groups across the nation; however, they displayed no action different than everyday Americans already participating in and supporting these groups.  As an example, Alter points out that “[Biden] knelt alongside activists, proposed substantive reforms to address structural racism and embraced the Black Lives Matter mantra.”  Millions of Americans participated in this movement and followed similar- if not identical- paths of action as the one the President-elect took.  Therefore, what makes the President-elect’s participation more significant or impactful than the other millions of supporters?  Neither the President-elect nor the Vice President-elect acted further upon their voiced support, as such significant action is truly only possible after their 2021 inauguration.  Therefore in 2020, the campaign could not have left and did not leave a concrete and non-debatable impact on humanity.  

Unfortunately, Time bought into the campaign’s game when they used Biden’s and Harris’s progressive policies and their win as a means of justifying the nomination.  Within Time’s article there was no mention of Biden and Harris’s impact on society when describing the duo’s year.  The article concentrated on the campaign’s success.  And while in a normal year, a presidential win may be appropriate for Person of the Year, in 2020- a year of a pandemic- it is just strictly incongruous.  Person of the Year is dedicated to someone who has played an integral role throughout the year, and deeming political candidates who spent their 2020 campaigning as most important is disingenuous to those risking their lives on the frontline.  Supporters of any political party cannot deny the contribution of healthcare workers throughout 2020, but Americans can debate Biden’s policies, proposals, and even his ability to govern.  The two are incomparable.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a fact that healthcare workers worldwide continually risk their lives for the well-being of others; even in Time’s own candidate shortlist descriptions, they described the workers as those who “risked their lives and in doing so, saved countless other lives,” and they remain doing this presently as the virus continues to spread.  Unlike Biden and Harris who were solely focused on increasing voter support, healthcare workers took the lead during the spread of a deadly virus: they increased society’s knowledge of the pandemic, helped outline regulations and protective procedures, treated those infected, and recently have aided in the creation and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.  They continue to act even in times of risk, danger, and with no end goal or reward, and their worldwide impact is incomparable to any progressive policy or political win of Biden and Harris.  It is only right that gratitude is shown to those who place humanity’s health above their own.

All in all, Time choosing to honor Biden and Harris for a “job well-done” in campaigning instead of giving credit to those working to care for society’s well-being just disvalues the title Person of the Year.  Time’s decision was inappropriate and speaks volumes about what the magazine deems important to society.  And more than anything, their decision begs the question if their title Person of the Year really means anything at all.  If risking your life to save others is not enough, then what is?