Today is one of the days each year that marks out a reckoning in American culture: it's the debut of TIME's annual 100 Most Influential list, which has been a part of the landscape for 13 years since its debut in 2004. And comparing the first list with the latest reveals quite a lot about what's happened since: the formerly untouchable figures now laid low by scandal, the people whose stars have unexpectedly faded, and those men and women whose hold on power has never really dimmed.
How we define "influence," and what has been deemed influential, has changed a lot in the ensuing almost decade-and-a-half. The first list, and many of its descendants, would focus on business, politics and the arts; the 2017 list is much richer in social pioneers, from transgender teen activist Gavin Grimm to the women behind the Women's March and Ru Paul, who have broken down barriers and made activism a part of their agenda. While this may reflect the headspace of America itself in 2017, it also seems to indicate a shift in the idea of "influence" itself and what it means: the traditional routes to power (start-up billions, election to rule a country, power-playing behind closed doors) are combined with the figures whose capital is based in their ability to transform the way we understand others. Beyond that, though, there have been a lot of changes from 2004 to now. Let's track how the TIME 100 has reflected influence and what it means (and, yes, we'll also examine how Trump's role on the list has changed).
Who Stuck Around From The 2004 List
The figures who've stuck around from the 2004 list to the 2017 one have retained their level of influence either through belonging to a hugely powerful structure that resists time, or through various actions of their own. The two Popes of the time period — Francis now and John Paul II in 2004 — both made the list because the papacy, while less relevant than at other points in its long history, remains a touchstone for a faith held by billions, and both men made their own distinct mark on it.
On the flip side, Kim John Il's own position on the 2004 list is mirrored by his son's 2017 appearance; the dynasty of North Korea's totalitarian regime remains strong, and is still playing many of the same games it was back in the Dubya years.
Other mainstays are testimony to a stranglehold on political power; Vladimir Putin's reign in Russia remains unchallenged (though more in the spotlight thanks to alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, perhaps), while Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan has just declared himself winner of a referendum giving him huge extra powers that was widely believed to be fraudulently done.
Some, however, are just about tenacity; Sandra Day O'Connor was two years out from retiring as a Supreme Court Justice in 2004, and made the list in 2017 as a continuing titan of the American legal establishment.
And one family made the list in both eras for its phenomenal philanthropic power, but TIME has chosen to report it rather differently each time. In 2004, the heading was Bill Gates; in 2017, his wife Melinda took the spotlight, with an essay from Sheryl Sandberg about her specific and hugely influential impact on the world.
Who's Dropped Off The Radar
Politics shifts, tastes change, and what was hot and brilliant then is no longer on the tip of the tongue now — that's just the nature of the world. So the obvious rotation of world leaders from the 2004 list to the present often simply reflects the electoral cycle and successes of the time. (Hence George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden have been replaced by Trump and Bannon, for instance.)
A few shifts, though, are telling. One is that Rupert Murdoch, the media titan behind FOX News, no longer appears front and center on the list; the influencers who've taken his place, like private (and very powerful) Republican donor Rebekah Mercer, demonstrate that the ways in which power is determined and shared in the American landscape may be changing.
The ones that hurt, of course, are the Clintons. In the midst of the Dubya years in 2004, they were still regarded as a huge power couple, with political capital to spare; inevitably, perhaps, they've vanished from the 2017 list without a trace. Influence is a fickle thing.
Who's Been Taken Down By Scandal
The names that were riding enormously high in 2004 have, in some cases, crashed spectacularly to the bottom. 2004 list member Mel Gibson would go through horrendous scandals regarding alleged spousal abuse and racial invective in 2006 and 2010; John Galliano would be found guilty of antisemitic abuse in a Paris court in 2011; Lance Armstrong, whose training for the 2004 Tour De France (which he would later win) was detailed in the TIME article, was revealed in 2012 to have used performance-enhancing drugs in his cycling career; Tiger Woods would collapse into a personal scandal of sex addiction and cars beaten up with golf clubs in 2009. It's reflective of the nature of power, and how idols can so often and so brutally disappoint us, perhaps something to keep in mind with the 2017 list.
It's also worth noting that the 2017 TIME assembly doesn't contain many scientists, perhaps because of TIME's experience with one of the luminaries of their 2004 Scientists & Thinkers section, Woo Suk Hwang. At the time riding high on the declaration that he and another Korean scientist had cloned human embryos for the first time, Hwang's career was completely derailed by scandal in 2006 when it was revealed that some of his most prominent publications had involved fraud and ethics violations. The head of Hwang's own university called it “an unwashable blemish on the whole scientific community as well as our country,” and he's only slowly been able to rebuild his scientific credibility.
Was Donald Trump On The 2004 List?
And then there's the biggest surprise of all. Donald J Trump is in fact in the 2004 list — but not as a figure himself. No, he's the author of the article praising Mark Burnett, the brain behind The Apprentice. "He convinced me by promising that it would require no more than three hours per week of my time," Trump wrote at the time. "It turned out to be more than 30. But I'm not complaining." Now Trump's got a place of his very own on the list. Are we better off for it? I'm pretty sure people looking at the TIME list in another 13 years will have a perspective on that question.