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

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 Family for 100

2597Ivanka Trump

Dual Front Covers (800)

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

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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

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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.

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.

Cabinet for 300

2605Sessions

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.

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 (James Mattis) 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.

Cabinet for 200

2603Mattis

2603Mattis - Anger

2603Mattis - Sadness & Surprise

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.

Harvey Weinstein: Hollywood’s One-Man Battering Ram

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Long before the #MeToo movement justifiably roared into existence, these lyrics caught the essence of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Sung on the 1987 Trio album by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, they portray a man (any man potentially) who doesn’t hear “no” from his victim. Only his own “yes” matters to him.

It’s hard not to believe that such a man is the media mogul who co-founded Miramax and became a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood over the past 30 years.

More than 80 women have accused Weinstein of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse. Yet it wasn’t until The New York Times and The New Yorker broke the story in October 2017, leading to first the creation of #MeToo movement and ultimately to Weinstein’s arrest and pending trial in September in New York City, that the mogul’s power in Hollywood finally dissipated.

What kind of man engages in repeated alleged rapes, at least three of them involving bullying or barging into an actress’s hotel room or apartment? You might be tempted to conclude that excessive anger accounts for Weinstein’s alleged behavior. But I’m a professional facial coder, somebody whose expertise is studying facial muscle activity for the emotions it reveals, and that’s not what I see in Weinstein’s case.

For my latest book, “Famous Faces Decoded,” I analyzed the expressive patterns of 173 celebrities (powerful, highly successful people just like Weinstein), 70 percent of them guys. The amount of anger Weinstein shows is greater than what female celebrities show on average, but not higher than what the typical male celebrity reveals. The same is true of contempt, an emotion typically defined as a combination of anger and disgust, which reveals a lack of trust and respect for others.

So what does Weinstein’s face distinctly show compared to those male celebrities I studied? Far more joy, alongside far less sadness and surprise.

Of course, there is no emotional template that reveals who among us might be prone to sexual misconduct. It’s not that easy to predict behavior. That said, what might be emotionally notable about Weinstein?

First, compared to other famous men Weinstein feels only half as much sadness. While sadness is usually thought of as a “negative” emotion, sadness can also play a constructive, positive role in terms of inspiring empathy for others. Furthermore, sadness tends to slow us down and make us reflect on what’s gone wrong (so we don’t repeat past mistakes). In Weinstein’s case, it would seem the mogul doesn’t naturally slow down – nor does he learn from past mistakes. He repeats them, which would help to explain how over 80 women have accused the guy of sexual misconduct.

On a second, related note, Weinstein shows far more joy than his fellow male celebrities. What’s wrong with exhibiting intense happiness? Nothing, except that elation can make you oblivious to details, not all of them minor matters, like the suffering you might be imposing on others.

Finally, there’s another crucial emotional clue that could be derived from Weinstein’s signature facial expressions: his lack of surprise. As an emotion, surprise means you’re looking around (eyes wide open, for instance), noticing the feelings of others you’re with. Compared to other famous men I’ve studied, Weinstein shows almost no surprise at all. Instead of Weinstein’s eyes being wide open, taking in information, his right eye often remains tight and narrow, a sign of somebody suffering from “tunnel vision.”

A lawyer named Lisa Bloom who has consulted for Weinstein describes him as “an old dinosaur learning new ways.” But given the hotel and apartment doors Weinstein has forced his way through over the years, I might favor a different comparison.

How about a battering ram: the heavy beam used to breach fortifications in ancient times? To me, that better describes Weinstein, a man who didn’t create the “casting couch” but who might have been only too happy to enact a more violent version of it while maintaining to this day that he hasn’t ever engaged in any “non-consensual sex.”