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Person of the Year: Biden and Harris share Time’s title in historic first

Elected pair picked over finalist contender Trump


Winners: US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris appear on Time Magazine’s 2020 cover. Photo: Reuters

Winners: US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris appear on Time Magazine’s 2020 cover. Photo: Reuters

Winners: US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris appear on Time Magazine’s 2020 cover. Photo: Reuters

Nearly every president elected since the 1930s has been named Time magazine’s Person of the Year, often just weeks after they won a race for the White House.

The publication announced that President-elect Joe Biden continues the trend – with a twist. He is the first to receive the title alongside his running-mate, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

“The Biden-Harris ticket represents something historic,” the magazine’s editor in chief, Edward Felsenthal, said in a video announcing the pick. “Person of the Year is not just about the year that was but about where we’re headed.”

The recognition marks another ‘first’ for Ms Harris, who will become the first woman, first Black person and first Asian American to serve in the nation’s second-highest office.

Citing the many challenges ahead of them, the pair was chosen over a list of finalists that included President Donald Trump, racial justice protesters, front-line health-care workers and Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease specialist.

“The next four years are going to be an enormous test of them and all of us to see whether they can bring about the unity they’ve promised,” Mr Felsenthal said.

Mr Biden and Ms Harris are set to enter the White House after a turbulent year that has upended the US, marked by an economic recession, a reckoning over racial injustice and the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 291,000 people nationwide. And with Mr Trump still refusing to concede the election, they will also assume leadership of a polarised country.

Asked by Mr Felsenthal if the US is at a “do-or-die moment for democracy”, Mr Biden replied that the country had just passed such a juncture.

“Had Trump won, I think we would have changed the nature of who we are as a country for a long time,” he said. Time magazine laid out the case for the former vice president as Person of the Year by presenting him as an antithesis to Mr Trump.

“I said we had to unite America, that we weren’t going to respond to hate with hate, we had to restore the soul of America,” Mr Biden said. “I never came off that message.”

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Bruce Springsteen, who narrated one of the former vice president’s campaign ads, announced the selection on NBC on Thursday night. Mr Biden and Ms Harris will appear on the cover of the magazine’s December 21 issue.

Starting with Franklin D Roosevelt in 1932, every US president has been named Person of the Year at some point, except Gerald Ford. Seven presidents, including Mr Trump, were chosen before they were inaugurated, and his three immediate predecessors – Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama – were all named Person of the Year twice during their time in office.

Without evidence, Mr Trump claimed on Twitter in 2017 that he would “probably” have been chosen for a second time but had turned down the title. (Time disputed that claim.) The magazine has noted the Person of the Year is not meant as a sign of approval or popularity. As Time wrote in 2014, the title is granted to “the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill”.

Broad categories of people have been chosen in recent years, such as 2018’ s title for The Guardians who faced persecution, arrest or murder while working as journalists.

In its announcement, the magazine emphasised both Mr Biden’s decision to select Ms Harris as his running mate – making the California senator only the third woman and the first woman of colour to appear on a major-party presidential ticket – as well as the historic nature of her election.

“Joe understands that we have different life experiences, but we also have an incredible amount of shared values,” Ms Harris said during the video, “and that’s what makes our’s a full and very robust partnership.”

And as Mr Felsenthal noted, it is one that will be put to the test. “I don’t think there’s ever been a president and vice president to take office in a moment like this, where we don’t just disagree on issues,” he said. “We disagree on basic facts.” (© Washington Post)

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