This post’s alternate title: “GovMatt’s Person of the Year or : How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Trump.”
(Before anyone goes off the deep end here, no, this isn’t an endorsement of the luxurious New York real estate mogul, it’s just an article). The criteria used for selecting the Person of the Year is the same as that employed by TIME: the person who has made the most impact, for good or for ill, on the world in the given year.
I wanted to lead this post off with the immortal words of fictional butler Alfred Pennyworth (played by the amazing Michael Caine) in The Dark Knight: “some men just want to watch the world burn.”
Whether Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy is the product of eight years of increasingly partisan rhetoric, a growing distrust by the American people in the institutions of leadership and authority in the nation, or a dark sorcerer’s bringing a Youtube video’s comments section to life, we are living in a world where Mr. Trump is, and has been for over six months, the GOP Presidential frontrunner.
In our “Person of the Year” article last year, we used quotes from Machiavelli’s “The Prince” to illustrate the reasons why Vladimir Putin was the clear choice to be the selection. This year, we will be less nuanced and use quotes from “Trump: The Art of the Deal” (Donald Trump’s 1987 bestseller).
I. Sound, Sound the Trump of Fame
The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.
Donald Trump has considered running for President for a while. Each time”The Donald” decided that a run for the nation’s top job was not in the cards. However, as early as January of 2015, it looked like this year might be different. Despite press speculation to the contrary, the New York billionaire officially took the plunge and joined the Presidential horse race on June 16, 2015.
Now, as we pointed out yesterday, there were other very prominent people who were considered for the distinction of being named Person of the Year (including TIME’s selection, Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, who was selected here last year). Why should Donald Trump who, while likely the loudest person considered, has never held elected office before (and still does not) beat out powerful world leaders brokering deals at the highest levels of world affairs and sending men and women into harm’s way to fight terrorists? It’s actually quite simple: because Donald Trump is the influencing force that has, for good or for ill, shaped and molded the American cultural and political dialogue over the course of the last year. More than that, because news at the highest levels is now constantly filtered through either Trump, or his influence, the American mind is saturated with the heavy branding that has been Trump’s near-perfect marketing campaign.
As we have noted here before, if the Trump Campaign has shown anything, it is that the “business school” ethos is beating “liberal arts and philosophy” in the realm of political campaigns. At least before the retrospectively cringeworthy “Jeb Can Fix It!,” we hold to the contention that you probably didn’t know that Jeb! Bush’s slogan was “All In for Jeb!” Similarly, you probably were unaware of the myriad of other campaign slogans bouncing around the American political landscape. However, there is one you know: “Make America Great Again.” Trump’s likely calculated decision to speak at a conversational level, constantly repeat tropes, and conjure up heated emotions isn’t the bad politicking we all believed months ago, it’s definite and objective branding. The Nike swoosh, the Coke bottle, and Make America Great Again are all part of the American cultural mindset of 2015.
II. Media Dominance
[T]he benefits of being written about have far outweighed the drawbacks.
So, how much has Donald Trump actually dominated the media this year? Quite a bit. So much in fact that there is an entire meta-genre of news devoted to covering how much news coverage Donald Trump is getting.
To consolidate a few big points if you’re not interested in clicking through those articles: Trump is getting about 25x as much coverage as any of the other GOP candidates running for President. He’s also picking up more coverage than the entire Democratic nomination fight. On the three nightly news programs (ABC, NBC, and CBS), Trump has gotten over 200 minutes of coverage while his closest time rival, Jeb Bush, has barely 50. Those numbers date all the way back to the beginning of the year when Trump was merely a joke in the eyes of the Republican establishment while Bush looked to be the easy nominee.
Trump keeps an active (and at times either whimsical or bullying) social media presence. With over 5.5 Million Twitter followers, the billionaire (who by all accounts is the one actually Tweeting) can communicate directly with followers. Often, Trump will go on a several Tweet long, stream of consciousness rant/discussion of a news program he is watching as the program takes place. While this has led to some of the most heated controversies surrounding Trump’s campaign, the candidate shows no sign of relenting in his criticism of journalists who he finds distasteful.
III. Power Over Popular Opinion
I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.
It is not merely influence or coverage that puts an individual in the position of being the most influential person of the year. Rather, it is also an effective use of that influential ability. Even the most casual observer of the political horse race can list at least a few of Donald Trump’s “greatest hits” that would have effectively ended the political career of anyone else (such as: in his first speech insinuating that some immigrants were rapists, criticizing John McCain for being captured in Vietnam, giving out Lindsey Graham’s personal cell hone number on national television, mocking a disabled journalist, proposing a temporary ban on Muslim immigration, calling for the surveillance of mosques, noting that there were thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrating after 9/11, tweeting out patently false and racially charged crime statistics, insulting Carly Fiorina’s appearance, implying FoxNews host Megyn Kelly was being hard on him because she was menstruating, mentioning that he didn’t know if Putin had actually killed any journalists, or that time he suggested his supporters could rough up a protester).
Now, Trump supporters will either just shrug and say “yeah, that’s my guy. Trump’s gonna be Trump.” They may defend some or all of the statements or they may just say something to the effect of “well, he’s better than another establishment buffoon.”
To Trump’s supporters, Trump is a champion of “telling it like it is.” Trump has vowed not to take big money donations and has sworn off special interests. Striking a “xenophobic” (or pro-American, depending on who you talk to) tone with regard to immigration and foreign affairs while also declining to defend Wall Street salaries and interventionism have made his candidacy extremely palatable to generally disaffected GOP voters. In fact, most polling on the matter has suggested that Trump’s support is, contrary to reporting, not being drawn from hard-core evangelical social conservatives, but rather from moderates and conservatives who have flocked to the populism and economic moderation of Trump’s message (to be predictive for a moment, this is the reason why Trump has a better chance in New Hampshire than he does in Iowa next year).
But the 30% of Trump supporters of the 50% of Americans who are Republicans isn’t exactly “Person of the Year” material, you might say. We disagree. Trump’s influence stretches beyond his boisterous and fervent supporters. As noted above, media sources have shown over the past year that, not only is Trump the biggest story of the year, but he is also the most profitable.
IV. Potential of Power
As far as I’m concerned, if [losers] had any real ability they wouldn’t be fighting me, they’d be doing something constructive themselves.
An important consideration in reaching the “Trump as Person of the Year” decision was the potential of lasting impact from Trump on future years. Like Vladimir Putin last year, whose 2014 Russian resurgence shaped the myriad of Russian power plays in 2015 (and likely continuing well into the future), Trump, regardless of what happens with the GOP nomination next year, will have had a disproportionate impact on the way American elections are conducted.
Certainly the scenario exists, despite the protestations of establishment journalists, where Donald Trump is the GOP nominee for President. While, at the time of writing this article, it would seem that a Trump Presidency is less-likely in a match-up against Hillary Clinton, certainly the duly chosen nominee of a major political party should be afforded some credibility in the national race. Thus, just merely in the chance that he becomes the leader of the free world next year, Trump’s “potential of influence” certainly does not stop as the clock strikes midnight to end 2015.
Trump’s political future notwithstanding, he has raised several critical issues to the forefront of the American mind that will remain with the electorate for at least several years to come. This influence will be critically important in both the way we choose our leaders and the relative survival of parts of the political process.
To start, Mr. Trump has proven, as we have seen, that a national campaign can be forged out of spending almost no money as long as one is content with being the center of the earned media coverage 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. Trump’s pre-Presidential celebrity certainly raised him to a level where he could enter the race with near-universal name recognition. As it has been speculated in numerous forums (especially during the rise of Obama in 2008), are we at a point where the making of the American Presidency is more a reality show than a substantial discussion of issues? For instance, Democrats may soon find themselves asking, would Oprah be a stronger candidate than a governor? While that may make some folks chuckle, the sheer media onslaught that Trump has brought to bear has exposed an issue with the media: popularity brings ratings. (Of course, this is a modification of the age-old “if it bleeds, it ledes” jibe at the media, but, in this context, we are talking about a 24-hour news cycle rather than the headlines of the evening news/morning paper).
Another undoubted influence of the Trump candidacy that will persist even if the billionaire should evaporate into the clouds of political history will be the very public war over the soul of the Republican Party. While other candidates have attempted to capture the essence of the disillusionment in the GOP base, Trump has brought the anti-establishment sentiment front-and-center in the Party’s discourse. Now, at least in the eyes of other GOP Presidential candidates (see Cruz, Ted), criticism of the Republican elite is a path to victory rather than a path to irrelevance.
Consequently, regardless of the outcome of the Trump Narrative, the billionaire has been a catalyst for political campaign change, media reflection, and the need for Republican reform or introspection.
And if it can’t be fun, what’s the point?
The combination of media dominance, clear impact on the American political discourse, and future influence over the direction and development of important national institutions and policies puts Donald Trump squarely in the position of being the person who has had the most impact, for good or for ill, on the world in the past year.
This impact, whether it was his cultivation of legions of supporters and detractors, influencing the perception of America abroad, or his preventing other news stories from breaking into the international media mainstream, was felt by every American and by people around the world. Some of the impact, while certainly the majority can be attributable to Trump himself, can be seen as an outgrowth of the 24-hour media and social media cycles.
It’s fair to say that Donald Trump is the Person of the Year because we all made him the person of the year.
Disclaimer: Matt McDaniel, the author of this piece is a candidate for the First District City Council Seat in Baltimore City. While this rankings list does not touch or concern Mr. McDaniel’s race, in the interest of disclosure, Mr. McDaniel has made no endorsements of any candidates and has received no money or funding from any of the candidates on this list. His campaign website can be found here.