My picks and Trump and Greta Thunberg, in that order, as explained in my latest Bloomberg column. Excerpt:
My choice for second place is Greta Thunberg. In little more than a year, Thunberg has moved from being an unheard-of 16-year-old Swedish girl to Time’s Person of the Year. While she is now a social media phenomenon, her initial ascent was driven by her public speaking. Communication is quite simply what she does.
As a public speaker, Thunberg is memorable. The unusual prosody of autistic voices is sometimes considered a disadvantage, but she has turned her voice and her extreme directness into an unforgettably bracing style. She communicates urgency and moral seriousness on climate change at a time when the world is not taking decisive action. She mixes anger and condemnation with the look of a quite innocent young girl. Her Swedish version of a British accent is immediately recognizable. There is usually no one else in the room who looks or acts like her.
Her core speech she can give in about five minutes, perfect for an age of limited attention spans. She speaks in short, clipped phrases, each one perfect word-for-word. It is easy to excerpt discrete sentences on social media or on television.
As for memorable phrases, how about these: “I don’t want your hope.” “Did you hear what I just said?” “I want you to panic.” And of course: “How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”
These days, you can simply say the name “Greta” in many parts of the world, and people will know who you are referring to.
You will note that under the formal DSM definition of autism, deficits in communication are a fundamental feature of the condition — perhaps that should be changed? Greta uses the term “selective mutism” in describing herself, but clearly the actual reality is more than just a simple deficit, rather an uneven pattern with very high peaks. As I wrote in the column, communicating is what she does.
One other point — I frequently hear or read people charge that Greta is being manipulated by her parents. I have no real knowledge of the Thunberg family, but in the research literature on prodigies it is clear that virtually all of those who have achieved something early had quite extreme self-motivation, a common feature of autism I might add.