“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 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 Trump, racial justice protesters, front-line health-care workers and Anthony S. 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,” Felsenthal said.
Biden and Harris are set to enter the White House after a turbulent year that has upended the United States, 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 Trump continuing to pressure states and courts to overturn Biden’s victory, they will also assume leadership of a deeply polarized country.
Asked by Felsenthal whether the United States is at a “do-or-die moment for democracy,” 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 laid out the case for the former vice president as Person of the Year by presenting him as an antithesis to 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,” Biden said. “I never came off that message.”
Rock star Bruce Springsteen, who narrated one of the former vice president’s campaign ads, announced the selection on NBC on Thursday night. Biden and Harris will appear on the cover of the magazine’s Dec. 21 issue.
Starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, every U.S. president has been named Person of the Year at some point, except Gerald Ford. Seven presidents, including 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, 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 increasingly been chosen in recent years, such as 2018′s title for “The Guardians” who faced persecution, arrest or death while working as journalists.
In its announcement Thursday, the magazine emphasized both Biden’s decision to select Harris as his running mate — making the California senator only the fourth woman and the first woman of color to appear on a major-party presidential ticket — as well as the historic nature of her election, separate from the president-elect.
“Joe understands that we have different life experiences, but we also have an incredible amount of shared values,” Harris said in the video, “and that’s what makes ours a full and very robust partnership.”
And as 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.”