President Donald Trump
In 2010, billionaire Donald Trump, who was 62 at the start of the year, saw the ninth season of his hit reality TV show “The Apprentice” air on NBC, with celebrities such as Cyndi Lauper, Sinbad and Rod Blagojevich competing for a donation to a charity of their choice.
It was also the year in which Trump took a political turn, stopping donations to Democratic candidates and floating the idea that he himself should run for president. “I’m totally being serious because I can’t stand what’s happening to the country,” he told Fox News in October 2010. In the end, Trump decided against running in the 2012 election – but his political ambitions were only deferred.
Vladimir Putin, who is now 67, was midway through his first term as prime minister in 2010. In many ways, it may have looked as if he was taking a back seat after two terms as president. He had been succeeded in office by protege Dmitry Medvedev, a younger leader who appeared to have a more pragmatic view of Russian power than Putin, a former KGB agent.
There were signs, however, that Putin still called the shots behind the scenes. U.S. diplomatic cables leaked in 2010 suggested that Putin had deliberately installed a weak successor when he stepped down, afraid that his illicit personal wealth could be targeted. Putin returned to the presidency in 2012.
Xi Jinping was being groomed to succeed Hu Jintao as China’s leader in 2010, when he was 66. That year, he was awarded the top spot in the powerful Central Military Commission; he had already been Hu’s vice president since 2008 and had entered the Politburo Standing Committee in 2007.
Though he was considered a powerful “princeling” as the son of party veteran Xi Zhongxun, few were sure what direction Xi might take China. “We are not sure exactly what Xi stands for or against,” Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing-based political analyst, told the Guardian in 2010. Xi would go on to take China’s top job two years later.
In 2010, Narendra Modi was 59 and the chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat, a position he had already held for almost a decade. But on the global stage, he was probably best known as a leader who many allege turned a blind eye to violence against Muslims during riots in his state in 2002. During a 2010 appearance at an inquiry into deaths during the riots, Modi was grilled for 10 hours.
The Guardian, reporting on the court appearance, noted that Modi’s colleagues in India’s Bharatiya Janata Party had kept quiet during proceedings, with some analysts noting that the high profile of the popular but controversial Modi had been a factor in the party’s 2009 electoral defeat. But Modi would go on to become prime minister in 2014, eventually pursuing policies that critics said targeted Muslims.
Boris Johnson, then 45, announced in 2010 that he would run for re-election as London mayor, seeking a second term as leader of Britain’s largest city. But perhaps more momentous for Johnson was what happened that year in Westminster, where his old friend (and future foe) David Cameron formed a coalition government, putting the Conservative Party back in power for the first time in 12 years.
There were already signs of a rift between Johnson and Cameron, despite their Eton and Oxford ties, with the London mayor undermining his party leader in public statements. The issue wasn’t yet Brexit and the European Union, however, but Johnson’s surprisingly liberal comments about housing benefits and immigration.
Emmanuel Macron was only 32 in 2010, but it was in many ways the year that his political ambitions became clear. That year, he had joined the entourage of Socialist Party leader François Hollande, only two years before Hollande would be promoted to the Élysée Palace and serve his first and only term as French president.
Macron’s differences with Hollande would later widen, though he served in a variety of roles in the Hollande administration, including as economy minister (he would eventually break with Hollande and form his own political movement). His pro-business outlook was made clear in 2010: It was the year that he was appointed partner at the Rothschild & Co. bank.
The then-55-year-old Angela Merkel was five years into her term as Germany’s chancellor in 2010, only just establishing herself as one of the country’s most important and long-standing leaders. While she would eventually become defined by her relatively open stance to refugees and migrants, the center-right leader was still straddling a line in 2010.
“This approach has failed, utterly failed,” Merkel said of multiculturalism in a public appearance in 2010, stepping into a national debate about immigration and Islam at a time when many felt the country was failing to integrate Muslims.
Before he became president of Ukraine, deeply involved in the impeachment of President Trump – indeed, before he even became nationally known for his portrayal of a fictional Ukrainian president – Volodymyr Zelensky was just another working comedian, at that point best known for his work with the comedy troupe Kvartal 95.
In 2010, his big work of the year was “Love in the Big City 2,” a romantic comedy sequel that charts a group of friends’ trip to Thailand. The film was banned in Ukraine in 2018 under a law that prohibited Russian productions.
Kim Jong Un
Kim Jong Un, who was 25 at the time, was scarcely known to the world on Jan 1, 2010. Indeed, few even knew what the future North Korean leader looked like: His first official portrait was released only in September that year, increasing speculation that he was being groomed to take over for his father, the aging Kim Jong Il.
Kim Jong Un, his father’s youngest son, had been kept away from the limelight. But in 2010, state media announced that he had been appointed a four-star general and published a photograph of him sitting next to his father. The following year, his father died and he was later named leader of North Korea.
Though he was well into his political career in 2010, the then-54-year-old Jair Bolsonaro was not exactly a leading figure in Brazilian politics that year, better known for his incendiary comments than electoral success. That year, he was elected for the sixth time to the Chamber of Deputies with 120,646 votes – making him the 11th most popular politician in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
Four years later, Bolsonaro was re-elected with four times the number of votes and began touring the country to promote his pro-military politics. His crude, often embarrassing manner had hardly changed – that year, he told a female colleague that he would not sexually assault her as she is “not worthy” of it – but his path to the nation’s top political office had begun.
Benjamin Netanyahu, then 60, had returned to the Israeli prime minister’s office just one year before 2010. He was just beginning his second period as prime minister, hoping to get past the failures that led him to leave politics after three years as prime minister, from 1996 to 1999.
However, Israel was hit with international controversy in 2010 after an Israeli military raid on an aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead. At the same time, his relations with the Obama administration were under strain. Netanyahu survived these hurdles to eventually become Israel’s longest-serving leader, even though a cloud of legal and political problems hangs over his head.
Bashar Assad, the dentist-turned-dictator who had led Syria since his father’s death in 2000, was 44 in 2010. Some still hoped that 10 years into his reign, he might take the country in a new direction. In April 2010, then-Sen. John Kerry met with Assad in Damascus, hoping to persuade him to re-engage with Middle East peace talks.
But domestically, Assad’s grip was as tight as ever and far from re-engaging with the West. He ended up at odds with it as his brutal response to the Arab Spring led to a bloody civil war that killed hundreds of thousands. A decade later, Assad may have won that war, but at an unimaginable cost.
Mohammed bin Salman
Just 24 in 2010, Mohammed bin Salman gave little sign he would go on to become the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia and a divisive figure who represents reform to his supporters and repression to his critics. Though he is now known for his brashness, he was barely known 10 years ago.
Karen Elliott House of the Wall Street Journal interviewed Mohammed’s father in 2010 and recalled a “tall, lanky son” who silently observed his father. Nearly a decade later, House recalled that he had spoken only once: to agree with his father that Saudi Arabia’s tribal tensions made democracy impossible for the country.
In power since 1982, Cameroonian President Paul Biya was already one of the longest-serving leaders in the world in 2010 at age 76. The excesses of his rule were highlighted that year when a journalist who had published a book critical of Biya’s wife, Chantal, was arrested and later sentenced to two years in jail (he was eventually released following international outcry).
Ten years later, Biya still clings to power, one of a number of African leaders who have circumvented electoral politics, term limits and natural decline to maintain their position. But his position has become fraught, with an escalating crisis involving the country’s Anglophone areas and widespread despondency over the 60th anniversary of independence.