Wednesday could have been so different for the 66-year-old Merkel. Without the pandemic, she might have held a speech in which she touted the black zero, as Germans call their balanced-budget program, and the increased investments in the country that are thanks to her time in office since 2005. She might have given a positive review of Germany's presidency of the European Council. But this year belonged to the coronavirus pandemic....
That this year belonged to the coronavirus pandemic seems so obvious to be almost a throwaway line. However, it's bolder than it appears.
TIME has held its annual "Person of the Year" contest ("Man of the Year" until 1999) since 1927. In the last 19 years, the winner has been neither a man nor a woman on seven occasions, the last in 2018, in which the winner was The Guardians, "journalists who faced persecution, arrest or murder for their reporting." If TIME is not to limit its Person of the Year to an actual human being, that was a splendid choice, especially in the age of Donald Trump.
On Thursday, TIME chose Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris, marking the sixth time in the last 20 years that the individual elected to the (American) presidency was given the nod. It thus was a selection as creative as it was wise. For those keeping score at home: each time a man has been elected president in the 21st century, he has been given the honor of becoming Person of the Year. The selection becomes no less odious because a woman got to be a "Person" along with the man, the first time a running-mate has been picked.
If a person were to have won the prize, my preference would have been the individual who made Joe Biden- who had not won a Democratic presidential primary or caucus in two previous attempts- the Democratic nominee for President. That was Representative James Clyburn, whose full-throated and moving (and unwise in my opinion, but that's off-topic) endorsement of the former vice-president led the latter to a dramatic and definitive victory in the South Carolina primary. Almost left for dead politically, Biden rode that win to first place in 46 of the 54 jurisdictions which had votes thereafter, and to the nomination.
Merkel's speech, however, persuaded me that there was at least one other individual worthy of TIME's honor.
Dr. Li Wenliang, 1986-2020. Tried to sound the alarm on seeing early COVID-19 infections in Wuhan.— Hillel Neuer (@HillelNeuer) December 11, 2020
Police summoned him for middle-of-the-night interrogation & under threat of prosecution made him sign a promise not to “publish untrue statements.“
Dr. Li died of COVID on Feb. 7. https://t.co/R1Y8dKIyIa
This year did in fact belong to the coronavirus epidemic, globally as well as in the USA. And if TIME were open (as it has increasingly been) to honoring a group rather than an individual, 2020 may have presented the perfect opportunity- and certainly an obvious opportunity.
As in numerous nations across the world, one group of individuals stood out in the USA as worthy of recognition. There was one class of workers which sacrificed more than any other in the past ten months.
"Thank you for your service," we are implored to tell active-duty and retired members of the armed services, many of whom have faced great danger, some who have not. But this year, in this country in which a President has been intent on fomenting death, health care workers have stood out.
Their valiant and unusually risky labors have been described endlessly and justifiably, often emotionally, by cable news networks, politicians, and others for the duration of this pandemic. Yet, when it came time for this honor, they did not carry the day.
This year did belong to the pandemic, including the 300,000 human beings in our nation and the 1,600,000 worldwide who have died. They could have been remembered by honoring both those who are risking their lives treating the victims, and the health care workers who assumed additional duties, stepping into the breach for the ones assigned to individuals stricken with Covid-19.
Ultimately, though, health care workers were shunned. They were rejected because of one individual who was elected president, as occurs quadrennially, and another because of the sex hormones and pigmentation passed on to her because of her parents.
Wide acceptance of this decision might say something about ourselves. It surely says something about TIME, and that something is "hideous."