Chief of Staff John Kelly Joins Those Cast Aside

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Our Commander in Chief of insults, Donald Trump, might as well have called them Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb for the way their fates have converged. After all, at the very same time John Kelly decided/agreed/was forced to resign by year’s end, the ghost of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson re-emerged to criticize Trump and be called, in turn, “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell.” Such is life in the orbit of Trump, who can reduce even a retired U.S. Marine Corps general like Kelly to expressions of anguish not so far removed from Mantegna’s painting of St. Sebastian.

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Let me turn autobiographical for a moment, and recall my working (briefly) in a P.R. shop aiding real estate magnets in mid-town Manhattan. (Trump wasn’t among its clients.) Turn-over there was horrendous (exceeding 200%), and the stress great enough that my neck soon became so stiff I had to kneel and face my alarm clock, straight on, in the mornings to turn it off because I couldn’t bend or move my head sideways one iota. When I mentioned my predicament to a colleague at work, her reply: “Oh, everyone gets sick their second week here.” Welcome to hell.

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Now back to Trump: whatever the ultimate attrition rate proves to be among his senior-level aides, it’s sure to be of historic proportions. Already at an earlier point in his administration, the Donald was shedding cabinet level officials at a rate 20% higher than Bill Clinton’s chaotic White House and on pace to have, across all White House staff regardless of level, the greatest turn-over rate of any president ever. Why is Trump’s White House (in Kelly’s words) such a “miserable place” to work? A new article in The Wall Street Journal, “The Dark Triad and the Evolution of Jerks,” might shed some light. Here’s what psychology professor Glenn Geher wrote, with the linkage to Trump just waiting to be made (or so it seems to me).

Apparently, about 10% of the population scores high on what’s been dubbed the Dark Triad: narcissism, Machiavellian manipulation (of others for one’s own gain), and psychopathic disregard of everybody else. Stressful, harsh or unstable child-parent relationships are thought to be the root cause of the Dark Triad, which could point the finger for Trump’s behavior back to moments like learning not to stand in front of the door of a tenant’s apartment—just in case a bullet came flying his way. That was back in the day when the Donald would join his real estate magnet father, Fred, in going around trying to collect rent monies in Queens.

How do Dark Triad folks tend to behave? For one thing, they incessantly cut people out of their lives. (See the photo below of a White House gathering, of which only Vice President Mike Pence remains in place.) For another, even the slightest “transgression” against them leads to their enacting revenge. Does that sound like anyone we know living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Add in habits like aggression and deceit, and a Dark Triad person becomes a truly dark star. Finally, as to Michael Cohen’s payments to Stormy Daniels, on Trump’s behalf, a Dark Triad type also tends to specialize in pursuing brief sexual encounters. As I said, does that sound like the victim of a “witch hunt” to you?

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George H. W. Bush’s Funeral – The Words and So Much More

With shorter life spans and the absence of airplanes to ease the logistics, having five living U.S. presidents together for an event never happened in American history until the dedication of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in 1991. Then it was Reagan, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, along with Jimmy Carter as the one Democratic president in attendance. Now for George H. W. Bush’s funeral, Donald Trump found himself in the front pew alongside three former Democratic presidents he’s disparaged as illegitimate (Barrack Obama), as guilty of assaulting women (Bill Clinton), and as the supposedly second most worst president ever (Jimmy Carter), behind Obama. Did that make for a fun greeting between them all when Donald and Melania joined the other presidents and their spouses for the service at the Washington National Cathedral?

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Hardly, as everyone’s facial expressions made evident then and in the immediate aftermath of Donald joining the group. Barrack Obama managed an aggrieved smile, with an upwardly pushed chin expressing disgust, anger and sadness at least as prominent as the happiness conveyed on enjoying the sitting (truly sitting) president’s presence. After a smile for Melania Trump, Michelle Obama became far grimmer and more subdued, eyes lowered, than before the Trumps crashed the party. Most notable of all, though, was how Bill Clinton only slightly turned his head Donald’s way, with neither man making any attempt to exchange a handshake—while Hillary Clinton stared straight ahead, eyes wide and lips firmly set in anger. As for the Donald, well, he soon crossed his arm and was pouting as usual: a man without friends.

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George W. Bush making his way down the cathedral’s main aisle led to still more interesting body language. The Donald (mouth agape with a modicum of surprise) had hardly stood up to greet Bush ’43 before W. had moved on to greeting the Obamas. Michelle and Jimmy Carter gave the grieving son the biggest, most reassuring smiles among those assembled there in the front pew. (Hillary didn’t get the memo to be cordial, and barely managed a smile.)

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Next it was on to the formal remarks. For the first time since LBJ’s funeral when Nixon was in office, the current president wasn’t invited to eulogize a predecessor. That’s probably a good thing given how Donald’s most memorable words as his own dad’s funeral had been to say his father’s greatest achievement in life had been his “fantastic son.” Instead, George W. Bush and family showed us what true grief looks like in remembering the man he called “the best father a son or daughter could have.” Eyes closed, head down, eyebrows knitted together in concentrating on not totally “losing it,” W. nearly crumpled in sorrow. Family members in the opposite front pew from the former presidents weren’t far behind. Want to know what sadness looks like? Note the puffy eyelids, the wince across the cheeks, and the corners of the mouth drooping among the expressions from those assembled there.

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Was George H. W. Bush as decent a man as his son recalled him being? Largely so, I’d say.  Sure, there were shortcomings from invoking Willie Horton to nominating Clarence Thomas to joining Reagan in being a slow train in addressing the AIDS epidemic that was the leading killer of young men in America by the time that Bush ’41 left office.  But the sadness George H. W. Bush often showed in life was more in the reflective, pondering mode—a mode that the impulsive Donald Trump isn’t even vaguely familiar with. It’s as if Trump feels sadness in that he wants his greater glory to be more widely, even universally acknowledged. So he feels disappointed when that’s not the case. In contrast, Bush ’41 came as humbly close as someone who achieves the Oval Office could ever most likely come to not wanting any attention bestowed on himself at all.

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All in Favor of a “Public Hanging,” Vote Cindy Hyde-Smith

Remember the U.S. Supreme Court five years ago rolling back the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Back then, Chief Justice John Roberts was claiming “things have changed dramatically” in favor of no longer needing electoral safeguards in states with a history of racial bias. Well, Roberts’ rationale is looking more ludicrous by the day. For one thing, isn’t it odd how most conservatives didn’t object to that ruling as another case of “activist judges” mandating from the bench? I guess re-activist, reactionary judges are okay.

For another, consider the U.S. Senate race just concluded in Mississippi. First, the Republican candidate, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, espoused the view that it’s a “great idea” to make it harder for “liberal folks” to vote. Then she was photographed wearing a Confederate hat and brandishing a rifle before being filmed at a campaign event lauding a campaign supporter with the words, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be in the front row.” Who might be victimized? (Hyde-Smith’s opponent is, by the way, Mike Espy: the first African-American elected to Congress from the state since the Reconstruction era.)

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Welcome to Mississippi, a place where over 600 lynchings of black people took place between 1877 and 1950 (more than any other state). With the election next Tuesday, the one and only debate was held earlier this week at an event where an always-nervous looking Hyde-Smith came to the lectern with a massive pile of notes to guide her through the evening. Now at last the Senator was ready to make an apology for her “public hanging” remarks by seeming to read her apology verbatim from her pre-assembled notes.

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“For anybody that was offended by my comments” (in other words, anybody not part of my base), “I certainly apologize,” Hyde-Smith began. “There was no ill-will, no intent whatsoever in my statements.” How fortunate it is that the Senator didn’t, at least, say she was sincerely apologizing. Nothing would have been farther from the truth. From her apology, note the flared upper lip (indicative of contempt for feeling forced to issue an apology); followed by closed-eyes (I can’t believe I’m saying this) and a lip pushed downward in disgust while affirming there “was no ill-will.”

112818-03 Cindy Hyde-Smith Apology

Let nobody be fooled—not even you, Judge Roberts. Notice a pattern? Disenfranchised voters may have made the difference in Georgia’s governor’s race, and in Florida the Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob DeSantis issued a warning during the campaign for voters not to “monkey it up” by supporting his African-American opponent Andrew Gillum.

In her excellent, penetrating book, Democracy in Chains, Duke University professor Nancy MacLean unearths how the billionaire Koch brothers game plan for re-imposing robber baron capitalism in America took its legal impetus from the writings of an obscure economist, James McGill Buchanan. What got Buchanan’s goat? Why, it was the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 that called for the dismantling of segregation in public schools. A way of life was threatened. For the rest of his career, Buchanan looked for ways to neuter the federal government’s power and thereby limit equality and fairness. Long live Dixie? I certainly hope otherwise.

The Low-Down on the Trump-Acosta News Conference Duel

It’s now been a week since the mid-term elections and, a few recounts aside, the dust has largely settled. What I can’t get out of my mind, however, is the confrontation between the President and CNN’s Jim Acosta during a rare formal East Room news conference the day after the voting. If Rembrandt, that master of depicting emotions, were alive today, what rich material he would have to work from!

Given that Acosta had his press pass to the White House suspended afterwards, the first question has to be: is Acosta really guilty of “placing his hands on” the female intern seeking to take the microphone away from him? That charge is, after all, the basis for press secretary Sarah Huckabee denying Acosta access to doing his job. While video shows Acosta’s outstretched left arm appearing to press down enough on the intern’s own outstretched arm for her arm to momentarily bend and give way, Acosta is at the same time saying “Pardon me, ma’am,” hardly the makings of Huckabee decrying CNN’s “outrageous disregard” for everyone working in the Trump administration.

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Is the young intern angry with Acosta after failing to retrieve the mic from him? Absolutely; notice her taut, lower eyelids and grimacing mouth.

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Is Acosta on edge himself? Absolutely; notice his grimacing gulp as Trump alternatively mocks and lambasts him.

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The fellow reporter who stands up for Acosta isn’t any more at ease himself. Notice his starkly open eyes and raised eyebrows, indicating fear.

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Trump himself winds up jabbing finger at Acosta, berating Acosta for being a “rude, terrible person” and CNN for again being the “enemy of the people” whenever it reports “fake news, which CNN does a lot.”

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But actually, Trump is fearful as well. Notice how his mouth pulls wide just when Acosta starts in with “I’d like to challenge you on one of the statements you made.”

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With the news conference broadcast live worldwide, there’s also the rich emotional theater of how the other media figures in the East Room were reacting. There we’re really in Rembrandt territory. The Dutch artist’s famous Nightwatch painting meets its contemporary rival in scenes like these:

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For Trump, raised on the mantra of “Be a killer, be a winner” by his aggressive real estate kingpin of a father, ugly emotional territory feels like home. But for many others along for the bumpy ride, unease rules the day.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (“MbS”) Becomes Mr. Bone Saw

Brazenly trying to play the entire world for suckers, the government of Saudi Arabia now insists that Washington Post journalist-in-exile Jamal Khashoggi died in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey  after “discussions” there “led to a brawl” resulting in Khashoggi’s death. Could there be any, hmm . . . problems with this story? For one thing, how likely was Khashoggi to fight the 15 men newly flown in from Saudi Arabia on two private jets to meet him upon arriving to get papers so he could marry his Turkish fiancée? Isn’t 15-to-1 pretty bad odds? Especially when one man allegedly present is the desert kingdom’s top forensic doctor, carrying along for the occasion a bone saw.

Torture. Death. Dismemberment. Followed by over two weeks of evasion. That’s the far more plausible narrative. Who is Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, who routinely goes by his initials?

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Two-faced would be an apt description. Sure, there’s the big smile. This same guy has been lauded from Washington, D.C. to Silicon Valley as the modernizer our biggest Arab ally desperately needs. Saudi women finally allowed to drive. The country’s oil wealth to be shrewdly leveraged through a series of investments overseas. But along with that smile, note the asymmetrically raised left upper lip (a sign of contempt) and how often this young, power-behind-the-throne narrows his eyes in anger, as in to “hit out” or order a “hit” on a journalist criticizing his native government.  That’s the BMS who had an uncooperative Lebanese prime minister “kidnapped” until he resigned from office, and who plunged into the ghastly civil war in Yemen.

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Now the “preliminary results” of the Saudi investigation into what happened in Istanbul have resulted in 18 arrests and some fairly senior-level firings. Who else but BMS is of course best to lead the investigation from this point onward? At least the Saudi crown prince will be in good company. “I want to find out what happened” our president, Donald Trump, avowed early on in this saga. Never mind that the left corner of Trump’s mouth edged sideways, betraying fear, as he made this avowal, only to also shut his eyes from the spectacle of seeing anything.

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An otherwise beaming-for-the-prince, Mike Pompeo, has in his duties as our Secretary of State asserted that extraterritorial murders like Khashoggi’s apparent fate are “not consistent” with American values. The concern expressed by Pompeo’s knitted eyebrows was oh-so reassuring. Likewise, that same expression from Trump in previously suggesting the murder could have been carried out by “rogue killers” who just happened to choose the consulate instead of a dive bar in which to take part in a brawl. One thing is for certain: life sure become interesting when people insist their left hand doesn’t know what their right hand is doing.

Trump Administration Jeopardy

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Donald Trump promised to “hire the best people” for his administration, while he would also “drain the swamp.” How’s that working out? Some of his associates are solid and plenty of others are questionable or worse—even at times by Trump’s own admission. Tensions within the White House have already been documented by books like Wolf’s Fire and Fury, Omarosa’s Unhinged and now Bob Woodward’s Fear. To give you the round-up, let’s play Trump Administration Jeopardy.

Donald’s Family for 100

2597Ivanka Trump

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A two-year, labor-of-love effort is finally ready to launch. Famous Faces Decoded: A Guidebook for Reading Others and its shorter supplement, Decoding Faces: Applications in Your Life, went live as of September 12, 2018. Available via Amazon, Famous Faces Decoded covers seven emotions how they get expressed, what they mean, and top 10 lists of the celebrities who show them most often, including illustrative stories. There’s also a vital epilogue about what people may show if lying. Decoding Faces provides advice on how to best handle situations where these emotions arise on the job or in your personal life.

Trump Administration Jeopardy

Trump Jeopardy Logo

Donald Trump promised to “hire the best people” for his administration, while he would also “drain the swamp.” How’s that working out? Some of his associates are solid and plenty of others are questionable or worse—even at times by Trump’s own admission. Tensions within the White House have already been documented by books like Wolf’s Fire and Fury, Omarosa’s Unhinged and now Bob Woodward’s Fear. To give you the round-up, let’s play Trump Administration Jeopardy.

Donald’s Emotions for 300

2594Trump Anger.jpg

Dual Front Covers (800).jpg

A two-year, labor-of-love effort is finally ready to launch. Famous Faces Decoded: A Guidebook for Reading Others and its shorter supplement, Decoding Faces: Applications in Your Life, went live as of September 12, 2018. Available via Amazon, Famous Faces Decoded covers seven emotions how they get expressed, what they mean, and top 10 lists of the celebrities who show them most often, including illustrative stories. There’s also a vital epilogue about what people may show if lying. Decoding Faces provides advice on how to best handle situations where these emotions arise on the job or in your personal life.

Who to believe: Ford or Kavanaugh?

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Yesterday’s riveting testimony pitted Christine Blasey Ford’s “100%” certainty that it was Judge Brett Kavanaugh who sexually assaulted her 36 years ago versus his persistent denials. Who to believe in a hearing where no other testimony got scheduled? Ford said she felt “terrified” and was testifying only because she believed it was her “civic duty” to do so. Given her shaky voice and the frequency with which her raised eyebrows created wrinkles across her forehead, it’s easy to say, yes, she felt fear. Death threats and the memory of Anita Hill’s experience in testifying against Justice Clarence Thomas could be cause enough for ford to have felt fear yesterday. But in the moment, recounting the trauma of the attack was fully cause enough to show fear that came across as genuine and unrehearsed.

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It’s harder to give credence to Kavanaugh’s “100” certainty, however. There is no lying muscle or facial expression that reveals dishonesty. Caught in a lie, Richard Nixon showed fear, Dwight Eisenhower sadness, Bernie Madoff contempt, and Lance Armstrong as well as Bill Clinton anger. Indignation is a frequent recourse for a liar, as in: how dare you question my character and veracity! Clarence Thomas raged against a “high-tech lynching” and Democratic senators were cowed. Yesterday, Kavanaugh (and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham) raged and again the Democratic senators on the judiciary committee didn’t meet fury with fury. For Kavanaugh, yesterday’s hearing constituted a “national disgrace” and Ford’s accusations and those of Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick were important only as part of a process that has destroyed “my good name.”

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Kavanaugh choked back tears in recalling his daughter’s advice to pray on behalf of professor Ford. Was he momentarily sharing his daughter’s empathetic compassion for Ford? Or focused mostly on his own and his family’s pain because of public embarrassment?  Who knows for sure. But a nose wrinkled in disgust and a mouth taut with fury were far more common displays for Kavanaugh during the hearing than dwelling on an alleged incident that Ford says “drastically altered my life.”

Were the judge’s displays of disgust and anger genuine? Absolutely, but they were also a diversion. The key here emotionally might actually be happiness in Kavanaugh’s case. Ford recalled Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge both laughing uproariously as the future judge groped her and stifled her calls for help in a locked room at a suburban high school party. They were “having fun at my expense.” That account squares with Ramirez’s memory of a drunken Kavanaugh waving his penis in front of her face at Yale University as if a funny prank.

Memories are tricky and far from reliable but certain patterns are known. Intense experiences can create hyper attention to crucial details while other details blur. That fits Ford’s specificity in recounting the assault. Other truths regarding how memory work, in contrast, against Kavanaugh. Novelty and meaningfulness are central to what we recall.  Were sexual “pranks” a repeated and therefore not novel experience for Kavanaugh? Quite possibly. Did a drunken, laughing Kavanaugh see the assault as meaningful? Even now, it doesn’t seem so. Add Kavanaugh’s ambition to the mix and his unwillingness to answer specific questions squarely and his angry, disgusted denials look much self-serving than does Ford’s plaintive fear.

Trump Administration Jeopardy

Trump Jeopardy Logo

Donald Trump promised to “hire the best people” for his administration, while he would also “drain the swamp.” How’s that working out? Some of his associates are solid and plenty of others are questionable or worse—even at times by Trump’s own admission. Tensions within the White House have already been documented by books like Wolf’s Fire and Fury, Omarosa’s Unhinged and now Bob Woodward’s Fear. To give you the round-up, let’s play Trump Administration Jeopardy.

Family for 400

2595Melania Trump

A two-year, labor-of-love effort is finally ready to launch. Famous Faces Decoded: A Guidebook for Reading Others and its shorter supplement, Decoding Faces: Applications in Your Life, went live as of September 12, 2018. Available via Amazon, Famous Faces Decoded covers seven emotions how they get expressed, what they mean, and top 10 lists of the celebrities who show them most often, including illustrative stories. There’s also a vital epilogue about what people may show if lying. Decoding Faces provides advice on how to best handle situations where these emotions arise on the job or in your personal life.

Trump Administration Jeopardy

Trump Jeopardy Logo

Donald Trump promised to “hire the best people” for his administration, while he would also “drain the swamp.” How’s that working out? Some of his associates are solid and plenty of others are questionable or worse—even at times by Trump’s own admission. Tensions within the White House have already been documented by books like Wolf’s Fire and Fury, Omarosa’s Unhinged and now Bob Woodward’s Fear. To give you the round-up, let’s play Trump Administration Jeopardy.

Donald’s Emotions for 200

2593Trump Disgust.jpg

Dual Front Covers (800).jpg

A two-year, labor-of-love effort is finally ready to launch. Famous Faces Decoded: A Guidebook for Reading Others and its shorter supplement, Decoding Faces: Applications in Your Life, went live as of September 12, 2018. Available via Amazon, Famous Faces Decoded covers seven emotions how they get expressed, what they mean, and top 10 lists of the celebrities who show them most often, including illustrative stories. There’s also a vital epilogue about what people may show if lying. Decoding Faces provides advice on how to best handle situations where these emotions arise on the job or in your personal life.