Adolf Hitler Was ‘Time’ Person Of The Year, Rightfully — And Donald Trump Should Be, Too
Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Vladimir Putin are hardly universally beloved. The latter, perhaps, even less so following accusations that he helped elect Donald Trump — another man who will join these influential people as Time‘s Person of the Year for 2016.
As has often been the case with the magazine’s POTY choices, Trump’s critics are outraged that he has taken the title — but that’s nothing new. Whether it was Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Richard Nixon, or any other president-elect of the last 20 years, Time‘s selection has rarely been met with unanimous acclaim. When Obama won the distinction for the second time in 2012, the reaction mirrored the lack of enthusiasm for his Nobel Peace Prize. His predecessor’s second victory, much the same.
Yet few can deny the raw power behind a shift in the ideology ruling the main office of the world’s most powerful nation. Obama as America’s first black president will undoubtedly be the most enduring symbol of 2008. Much like Obama, Trump’s campaign was felt around the world — before he was even a real contender. His shock win marks a major shift in domestic and global policy. No other choice makes sense.
Additionally, it’s worth looking back at the time period when people like Adolf and Joseph were chosen. Hitler was the Time POTY in 1938, a year before World War 2 kicked off.
Yet the accompanying article could have easily been written at the war’s end: Adolf is depicted just like the bloodthirsty, dangerous dictator that history remembers him as. In fact, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain, Premier Edouard Daladier of France, and even his ally Dictator Benito Mussolini of Italy are written about as weakened background players in the year of 1938 — hardly surprising in hindsight considering what was about to unfold.
“Herr Hitler reaped on that day at Munich the harvest of an audacious, defiant, ruthless foreign policy he had pursued for five and a half years. He had torn the Treaty of Versailles to shreds. He had rearmed Germany to the teeth— or as close to the teeth as he was able. He had stolen Austria before the eyes of a horrified and apparently impotent world… When without loss of blood he reduced Czechoslovakia to a German puppet state, forced a drastic revision of Europe’s defensive alliances, and won a free hand for himself in Eastern Europe by getting a “hands-off” promise from powerful Britain (and later France), Adolf Hitler without doubt became 1938’s Man of the Year.”
In a post-election season where the media has scrambled to figure out how they managed to underestimate Trump, such articles from the past about Adolf have widely circulated. Many Trump opponents have wondered aloud if the same mistakes are being made. Few of them list overstating Hitler’s power is among them.
With the selection of Iranian Revolution leader Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, Time unleashed a public backlash that it didn’t want to suffer again. The magazine promised to shy away from evil picks in the future. Even following the 9/11 attacks, it didn’t choose Osama Bin Laden for the cover, instead going with Rudy Giuliani. Yet fast-forward 15 years and the U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion battling Al-Qaeda. Instability in the Middle East has led to a global refugee crisis. In hindsight, it seems preposterous to name anyone but Osama Bin Laden as 2001’s most influential individual.
The same can be said of Donald Trump. For good or apocalypse, he has shaped this year of U.S. history. As protests continue to rage in the streets of American cities, as outrage boils over for every new detail that emerges about his cabinet, as think pieces flood our feeds asking whether or not Donald Trump could very well be the next Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin or Vladimir Putin — who else but our president-elect belongs on that cover?
As much as we may prefer to live in a world where these people can be scrubbed from our memories, history cannot be documented in the context of which details we approve of the most. Massively influential events, destructive or otherwise, belong on the front page, especially on the cover of a magazine that serves as a historical document like Time. Selecting the icons of our era is not a task that should be relegated to virtue, even when it means putting Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin in the same category as Gandhi.
[Featured Image by Sara D. Davis and Heinrich Hoffmann/Getty Images]