Two weeks before Time’s annual announcement of its Person of the Year award, Donald Trump took to Twitter with a characteristically outrageous claim. “Time Magazine called to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named ‘Man (Person) of the Year,’ like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot,” he wrote on Nov. 24. “I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!”
The tweet was met with widespread mockery of the “cool story, bro” variety—the general consensus being that Trump’s phone call from Time magazine came from the same realm as your high school buddy’s girlfriend, the model from Canada, who couldn’t come to prom because she was doing a photo shoot inside a volcano.
But while many people marveled at this moment as just another display of the president’s seemingly endless capacity for pettiness, the tone and timing of this obvious lie (which Time itself disputed) were also strangely familiar. Just over a year ago, as America readied itself to elect a new commander in chief, Trump raged repeatedly that the upcoming contest was “rigged” in favor of his opponent. In a representative tweet, he wrote, “The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary—but also at many polling places—SAD.”
Those comments seem like the ultimate irony in hindsight, especially in light of the recent indictments of Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and other Trump campaign operatives who appear to have had uncouth (if not outright illegal) dealings with Russia. But at the time, the president’s attempt to delegitimize the process that ultimately put him in the White House had a much simpler explanation:
This is what Donald Trump looks like when he’s about to lose.
In a roller coaster of a political year, it’s easy to forget that Trump was as surprised as anyone when he eked out an electoral college victory; everyone from former biographers to longtime friends agree that he didn’t expect to win the presidency (or that he even wanted to). Calling the election “rigged” was pure PR, an attempt to get out in front of an embarrassing, inevitable defeat. And while the American people had other ideas in that case, Trump’s more recent premonition proved correct on Wednesday: Time announced that The Silence Breakers—the actresses, the activists and the #MeToo participants who collectively spurred our current national conversation about sexual assault and harassment—are the most influential persons of 2017.
It’s hard to overstate the symbolic impact of honoring these women, rather than the polarizing former reality-TV star in the Oval Office. This moment doesn’t just deny Trump the attention he evidently craves. It elevates a movement that arose in direct opposition to everything he represents.
Trump’s name appears eight times in the extensively reported story, not as a person but as a precipitating factor. He’s the pussy-grabber in chief, the poison of which society needs to purge itself and of course, an accused harasser himself, a fact that nobody is likely to forget as #MeToo morphs from a moment into a reckoning where heads will roll. But after so many months of seeing Trump’s name splashed across headlines the world over, the Silence Breakers accomplish something remarkable: It deftly shoves him to the sidelines and into a crowd of banal sleazebags, public masturbators and opportunistic bathrobe-openers. In the year’s most important story, the president of the United States is just one more old pervert who’s groped his last.
And for women who’ve spent this year looking for reason not to despair, it’s a significant win—the kind that doesn’t just elevate them but hits their opponent where it hurts. Despite his “No, I dumped you!” bloviating about Person of the Year, Donald Trump cares a lot about things like magazine covers (recall the revelation from this past summer that many of Trump’s golf clubs—reportedly the ones he frequents most—have a display phony Time covers on their walls). It’s why his presidency has seemed so often like a hollow victory; despite his surprise sweep into the White House on a wave of white working-class anxiety, the president has always been a man for whom popularity contests matter more.
And in those, he is roundly and consistently beaten by the same women he desperately tries to demean. Yes, he won the presidency, but Hillary Clinton, one of the most disliked candidates in history, is beloved by the American people to the tune of more than three million votes. The day after Trump’s sparsely attended inauguration, the Women’s March in Washington drew three times that many in a mass, furious show of defiance.
In a year when President Trump has proven to be not just a deeply unpopular politician but also a wholly ineffective one, Time’s Silence Breakers get the distinction of having made a bigger impact. It’s not hard to imagine that this moment might just be a preview of Trump’s eventual legacy: an old man yelling impotently into the abyss of the internet, while everywhere, women’s voices rise up to drown him out.