When I was a girl, glossy-covered copies of Time magazine would land in our mailbox each week — bringing the world to our family home in an all-American suburb.
These days, most people who read Time do so online, where it competes for attention in a crowded digital media field.
But each December, Time not only covers the news, it IS the news.
This is when Time announces its “Person of the Year” — an individual, group, movement or idea that has had a profound impact on the world, for good or ill, in the year that is drawing to a close.
Donald Trump won the accolade for his 2016 presidential campaign… last year, the editors of Time gave the title to a group of journalists who had been targeted, assaulted or even (in the case of Jamal Khashoggi) murdered for their work.
This year, the “Person of the Year” Time magazine cover features a teen-age girl with a determined face, standing alone on a rocky shoreline.
It is the face of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg. The caption beneath her name says, simply, “The Power of Youth.”
“For sounding the alarm about humanity’s predatory relationship with the only home we have, for bringing to a fragmented world a voice that transcends backgrounds and borders, for showing us all what it might look like when a new generation leads, Greta Thunberg is Time’s 2019 Person of the Year,” said an essay on Time.com.
At 16, Thunberg is the youngest individual to earn the title in the 90-plus-year history of Time magazine.
In an interview with a Time reporter, conducted as she recently traveled by catamaran from the east coast of the United States to an international climate meeting in Europe, she summed up her crusade in one sentence: “We can’t just continue living as if there is no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow.”
Greta Thunberg began a global movement in August 2018 by skipping school and standing outside the Swedish parliament with a hand-written sign that said “School Strike for Climate.” Since then, she has addressed the U.N., met with world leaders and incurred the wrath of the President of the United States.
As Time put it:
“She has succeeded in creating a global attitudinal shift, transforming millions of vague, middle-of-the-night anxieties into a worldwide movement calling for urgent change. She has offered a moral clarion call to those who are willing to act, and hurled shame on those that have not.”
She speaks directly, bluntly, with flashes of anger that some adults — including Donald Trump — find unseemly in a teenage girl. She comes by her “style” naturally. Thunberg has Asperger’s syndrome, which means she doesn’t operate on the same emotional level as most of us. She calls it “her secret power.”
“I see the world in black and white, and I don’t like compromising,” she told Time, adding “If I were like everyone else, I would have continued on and not seen this crisis.”
Some welcome her tough talk… others find it somewhat harsh and threatening. But there is no doubt she has touched a nerve. Few in the UN General Assembly chamber when she addressed a special climate summit in September will forget her fiery words:
“We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” she warned. “How dare you!”
Her speech was mocked by President Trump, who responded with a mean-spirited tweet dripping in sarcasm: “She seems like a very happy girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see.”
As for the Time honor, Trump — a climate change denier — called the choice of Thunberg “ridiculous.” Perhaps incensed that he was not chosen for a repeat award from Time, he tweeted:
“Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!”
Yes, the President of the United States — facing impeachment and with plenty of important issues on his plate — was spending his time making fun of a teenage girl online.
It did not go unnoticed. Former first lady Michelle Obama soon sent her own message of support to Thunberg.
“Don’t let anyone dim your light,” she wrote on Twitter, “Like the girls I’ve met in Vietnam and all over the world, you have so much to offer us all.”
Michelle Obama did not mention Trump by name, but her meaning was clear: “Ignore the doubters and know that millions of people are cheering you on.”
Former Vice-President Joe Biden — who hopes to take on Donald Trump in next year’s presidential election — also weighed in on Twitter, saying “What kind of president bullies a teenager?”
A lot was said and written about it. But one prominent voice remained silent.
Melania Trump — who has made made anti-bullying her cause as first lady — hasn’t said a word.
The White House tried to downplay the whole thing, saying there was nothing hypocritical about it.
But still you have to wonder how the first lady — who is very protective of her 13-year-old-son — really feels about the fact her husband is mocking a 16-year-old online.
After all, she is the one whose “Be Best” initiative urges kids to be kind to each other.
“Be Best is the first lady’s initiative, and she will continue to use it to do all she can to help children,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement, “It is no secret that the president and the first lady often communicate differently — as married couples do.”
As for the Trump campaign, well, let’s just say it didn’t take the high road. It tweeted a doctored image of the Time magazine cover with the president’s head superimposed on Greta Thunberg’s body.
Maybe the president and his followers should go back and read a pamphlet Melania Trump’s White House office put out last year called “Talking With Kids About Being Online.”
One of the tips: “Remind them that real people with real feelings are behind profiles, screen names and avatars.”
Read it, Mr. President, and learn.