The 'TIME' Donald Trump Cover Is A Chilling & Dark Reminder Of 2016

The "Person of the Year" issue of TIME magazine dates back to 1927. Every year since, the staff at TIME has chosen as their highlighted cover face someone who "influenced the world, for better or worse." So the fact that Donald Trump is their pick for 2016 should come as a surprise to exactly no one. Trump has decidedly "influenced the world," some would say "for better," many would argue for "worse." Yet TIME's cover itself is aesthetically foreboding, featuring Trump set against a dark and empty background, looking at the camera with his signature expression of "toughness:" squinted eyes, pursed lips, all but glaring at the viewer.

All evidence points to the tone of the Trump photo shoot as being entirely intentional. Trump and his team used vilifying the opposition as a strategic tactic during the primary and general election, from lumping all Mexican immigrants into one big gang of "rapists" to claiming President Obama and Secretary Clinton were somehow responsible for creating ISIS. In TIME's layout, this message of Trump as some kind of firm and stolid leader emerges, a wholly new era of American-style propaganda that is frankly ominous. As Michael Scherer points out in the cover story, "This is the presidency as improv, as performance art, with good guys, bad guys, and suspense." Reince Priebus, Trump's new Chief of Staff, told his boss that such an approach "worked for you last time."

In perusing the photos throughout the piece, one gets the sense of Trump presenting himself as a vintage figure as well, black and white photos hearkening back to previous eras. Trump's core team – Vice President-elect Mike Pence, Reince Priebus, Kellyanne Conway, Steve Bannon – are all featured alone, in a spectrum of grey tones. Conway is the only one even hinting at a smile, and Bannon looks preposterously brutish, gazing just past the camera with a look that says "revenge" better than Hollywood itself could produce.

Those who cry foul on TIME for giving Trump more media will likely find solace in past choice for "Person of the Year." Winners include such global fiends as Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, not to mention current Trump bro-mance bud, Vladimir Putin. TIME is looking for the most influential human, and it would be foolish to argue that any one figure made a greater impact on the 2016 world than Trump. His political rise decimated both the Republican party dynasty of the Bush family, but also erased the Clinton machine for the Democrats. His populism marked a titanic shift in American politics, away from policy and seriousness, and towards personality and theater. These types of upheavals are (thankfully) rare.

The paradox of Trump is made clear throughout TIME's article. Here is a person who claimed to champion the common man, and yet lives in a three-story penthouse, where his staff must don "cloth slipcovers" over shoes, lest they mar his marble floors and expensive carpets. Here is a man who promised to "drain the swamp," and he instead stacked his administration with Wall Street regulars and lifelong pols. Here is the future president, who promised to bring greatness back to America, and yet will not recognize that technological and societal progress are the real driving forces that could usher in a new and more inclusive "greatness" for all.

TIME's cover and photo shoot are dark in tone, because the story of Trump is a foreboding one. The aesthetic choices here are fitting, something this writer acknowledges with a heavy heart.