One Year Ago, Donald Trump Said He'd Never Be Person Of The Year, Proving That 2016 Has Surprised All Of Us
2016 has been a lot of things: a sad, confusing year for people who prefer real news to fake news; a depressing year for folks who were psyched to get some forward momentum going on this whole "liberty and justice for all" thing; a year that seemed to zero in on whatever it was you truly cared about — whether that thing was a few more years with David Bowie, or a president who didn't run on a platform that questioned which Americans counted as "real" Americans — and snatch it away. But more than anything else, it has been a year full of things that would have seemed impossible a year ago.
And TIME's Person of the Year pick of Donald Trump rounds out that trend. It was a pick that few saw coming in 2015 — including Trump himself, who tweeted at the time that TIME "would never pick me as person of the year." Yeah, we all thought a lot of things would never happen this time last year, huh, buddy?
Trump's tweet is noteworthy today for a number of reasons. Not just because it feels like further proof that he may be just as surprised as any of us that he is president-elect right now. And not just because it's a reminder that Trump's illusion of being the underdog is a major part of what seems to endear him to many. But for me, the disconnect between this tweet from a year ago and reality today is a reminder to not get complacent.
For me, the main lesson of 2016 is "it can happen here." Whatever "it" is — a potential rollback of rights for immigrants, Muslims, or LGBTQ people; threats to core personal liberties like free speech; a world in which a guy who played the villain in a series of pro wrestling matches can sit in the same office once occupied by Lincoln — it can happen here. We can't assume history, or past precedent, or what we think are the shared beliefs of our fellow Americans, or any other passive thing like that, will be enough alone to protect our rights or other human beings. I supported Clinton in the election, and I thought polls and precedent would keep Trump from winning. I thought that things could not happen because they felt impossible. But, as I learned on election night, feelings mean little in the face of action.
We can't assume that someone else will vote for the candidate that we prefer, that someone else will become active in supporting the local political issues that we care about, or that someone else will speak up for a person we see being harassed on the street. We have to be that person who is constantly, peacefully making their values known. We have to stop being afraid to speak up.
Of course, taking steps to actively support the things we believe in was a good idea the whole time. But if you had been hesitant, or waiting for something "big" to happen before you'd do something — like make that call to your senator to talk about why you think a certain law will unnecessarily hurt people; like talk to your family about prejudices; like speak up for that person you see at school getting bullied for who they are — consider this that big thing. In the course of one year, Trump as Person of the Year went from a seeming impossibility to a reality. Imagine all the things that seem impossible right now. And if you want to make sure that they don't become a reality a year from now, consider doing everything you can to support the causes you believe in, let vulnerable people know that they are not alone, and speak up.