In case you didn’t catch it, the highlight of the latest Democratic presidential debate was definitely the she said / he said dispute between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders over whether Sanders told Warren in 2018 that a female candidate couldn’t win The White House in 2020. Warren insists Sanders said as much; Sanders denies the claim. On stage this week, there was first the topic being raised by one of the debate’s CNN moderators and then the refusal of Warren to shake Sanders’ hand afterwards. Assuming it wasn’t just some “big misunderstanding,” who might be “lying” about their account of what occurred in that 2018 conversation?
For my money, if forced to bet I’d say Warren was the more honest politician and here’s why. Go to the video to see the moments I’m referencing.
During the debate, when the topic gets raised (at second 0:14) not only do Sanders’ eyes flash wide open – as they so often do. Likewise, his eyebrows rise. All told, it’s a display of surprise and fear and yet Sanders couldn’t have been surprised that the topic came up, leaving fear as the likeliest explanation. Then again, at the 1:37 minute mark Sanders gulps and his mouth pulls slightly wide in another display of fear as he tries to extricate himself by citing Hillary Clinton’s vote total in 2016 as proof that he wouldn’t never say something as foolish as dismissing a female candidate’s chances.
What is Warren’s response during all of this? The corner of her mouth dips downward in a sign of sadness (disappointment) on hearing Sanders say: “Well, as a matter of fact I didn’t say it” (second 0:15). And her eyes and head are often downcast (second 0:39 and elsewhere), hardly an indication of somebody looking to leverage the moment. Finally, Warren shows a smirk – signaling distrust and disrespect – in response to Sanders’ words (1:09).
Most telling of all, the hot mics after the debate reveal Warren saying “I think you called me a liar on national TV.”
Warren is indignant; Sanders is left mouth agape. “What?” he says, indicative of Sanders’ propensity to be a better bellower than listener. As always, there’s context to consider here. Back in 2016, female staffers on Sanders’ campaign complained of everything from a culture of sexual harassment to pay disparity as problems Sanders never addressed. If either candidate would seem less truly progressive in this particular exchange, the burden of proof is on Sanders’ side of the ledger. He’s mostly just mad-mad-mad, a typical guy response. Warren isn’t so emotionally monochromatic. Her sad-to-have-to-become-angry mode is emotionally more diverse, on a topic where diversity is, indeed, the underlying, core issue.
Even on his better days, the deposed head of the Nissan-Renault alliance has always reminded me of an ill-humored version of the British sitcom character Mr. Bean. That’s because Carlos Ghosn’s eyebrows live in a state of constant arch-regard for himself (and nobody else). What have been Ghosn’s better days? I imagine he might point, for instance, to holding a Marie Antoinette-style party at Versailles for his second wife’s 50th birthday party. Talk about royal privilege, the kind of excesses that landed Ghosn in trouble in with American regulators, French officials, and finally the authorities in Japan.
All of which brings us to one of Ghosn’s worst days: his first, (two-hour-plus) press conference since skipping bail in Japan by flying to his native Lebanon on the lam. New billboards put up by Ghosn’s supporters in Beirut proclaim: “We are all Carlos Ghosn.” Let’s pray otherwise.
What happened this past Wednesday? Lashing out at former colleagues and Japanese prosecutors alike, Ghosn went on a wild, sweat-induced tirade peppered by occasional swearing. The crime of his being portrayed as a “cold, greedy dictator” incenses Ghosn. The optics at Versailles were cringe-worthy. On Wednesday, they weren’t any better – as the lighting ensured that Ghosn’s shadow was, at times, literally bigger than the man himself (indeed, nearly as big as his ego). In retrospect, it’s kind of amazing that Ghosn’s accomplices could find a box large enough to spirit him out of Toyko.
Politically, the decade began with the Tea Party revolt against taxes, big government (Obamacare) and, yes, our country getting its first African-American president. Racism was part of the undertow. Now the decade has ended with Donald Trump being impeached, and my looking back fondly to the words that punctured Senator Joseph McCarthy’s career in 1954: the lawyer for the U.S. Army, Joseph Welch, saying “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness . . . . Have you no sense of decency?”
Substitute Trump for McCarthy, and you’ve got it in a nutshell: cruelty, recklessness . . . an unhinged mafia boss in The White House. Is it any wonder that the 2010’s also ended with a movie celebrating the epitome of a kind soul: Mister Rogers, the antithesis of twitter-carpet-bombing Trump. Did Tom Hanks fit his latest role well in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood? Not entirely. There’s too much guardedness in Hanks to pull it off entirely. His eyebrows lower more, with a vertical pinch between them. Other tendencies get in the way, too. Hanks’ eyes narrow more (angrily) than was generally true of the real-life Mister Rogers, and Hanks’ upper lip flares with a scorning disgust that, frankly, isn’t very good-neighborly. Contrast Hanks’ look to Mister Roger’s truly joyful smile that includes more relaxation around the eyes.
Nevertheless, Hanks’ version of Mister Rogers is preferable to another look I can’t quite get out of my mind. Toward the end of Fidelity’s recent TV spot called “Straightforward Advice,” the woman in the couple shows a big-time smirk. Yes, the 2010’s have featured a booming stock market, first under Obama and now under Trump. I’m all for prosperity, but wealth a little more equally distributed across society would certainly be nice. To me, it’s as if the woman’s assured glance over at her husband signals: “I’ve got mine.” It’s a very smug look, too befitting of a president whose thought-pattern sadly revolves around I-me-mine as our era’s sense of collectivity withers.
If fireworks during the Impeachment hearings aren’t enough evidence that our nation’s politics are super-heated nowadays, welcome to a pair of unlikely outbursts. The first arose because of Joe Biden being confronted by a MSNBC-watching voter in Iowa at a town hall meeting regarding his son’s role in Ukraine. The second was due to Nancy Pelosi being asked by a conservative journalist after a press conference about whether she “hates” Donald Trump.
Which of the two Democratic leaders got angrier, and what have we learned or confirmed regarding their personalities and political chops? The answer to first question is Pelosi. Twice, she showed a more intense version of anger whereby the lips press together so tightly that a bulge forms below the lower lip. But that’s not all. Whereas Biden’s eyes mostly narrowed in anger, the other really vital emotional “grace note” here is that Pelosi showed disgust repeatedly, with either her upper lip flaring or else her lower lip pulling down and sometimes out as well.
What’s the bottom line here? Who proved more savvy in a moment of ire? Who displayed the best political chops?
Biden lost at least twice over, first by so often showing sadness (eyes closed, head bowed) in response to the voter’s concerns. It was as if he was surrendering to disappointment at being asked a legitimate question as to what kind of expertise his son brought to the board of that Ukrainian gas company that justified his compensation. Second, deriding a voter (who dislikes Trump) is far worse than brushing off a hostile journalist. Biden might be “proud” of his son’s judgment in taking the easy money, but who will second that motion? Did the gas company hope that by hiring Biden’s son the Obama administration might go soft on it in rooting out corruption? That seems like a fair assumption, though it’s hardly a major scandal (especially given how Trump’s kids and Jared Kushner behave).
As to Pelosi, she managed to smile as often as she was angry or disgusted. She showed backbone and fire proportionate to the Constitutional stakes involved. And her disgust was entirely on-emotion, entirely in keeping with invoking her Catholic faith and, hence, revulsion regarding the President’s lack of ethics. Who’s the Democrats’ best street fighter among these two leaders? Hands down, it’s Pelosi, whose eyes go wide (taking in information, ever alert) while Biden often resorts to closing his own.
Two Cheers for Democracy, available now from Amazon.com.
Six of these ten candidates are guaranteed to still be on stage come December’s debate, and of them Amy Klobuchar has done the best job of surviving near political death. If not for her “pipe dream” take on Elizabeth Warren’s medicare-for-all plan last time around, Klobuchar likely wouldn’t be securing a second look from voters. Now the Minnesota Senator’s shaky debate nerves are subsiding, a little, making her curmudgeonly disgust expressions her next big emotional hurdle.
Like Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg had a far better night verbally than he did in terms of his non-verbal, facial expressions. Expecting to be attacked as a newly-minted frontrunner in Iowa, mayor Pete looked downright pensive most of the evening. That all changed, however, when Tulsi Gabbard made her ill-advised attack on Buttigieg. Then viewers saw Buttigieg’s mouth purse tight in anger, a tell-tale bulge forming below his lower lip. Mayor Pete has already dispatched one youthful rival, Beto O’Rourke; now he’s done it again with Gabbard. Anybody who thinks the guy from Indiana lacks the toughness to potentially go all the way isn’t paying enough attention.
What else was visually of note from last night’s debate? Hard to forget the image of a clueless Joe Biden, standing with his mouth open after he forgot that there’s been a second black female Senator: Kamala Harris standing nearby, incredulous, and feigning amusement at being overlooked! Andrew Yang proved he could smile. Tom Steyer again did his best imitation of The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. Eating more salads agrees with Bernie Sanders. Finally, paradoxically the evening had more left-wing Elizabeth Warren still comfortably occupying center-stage while centralist Cory Booker stood marooned on the stage’s far left side.
P.S. After yesterday’s testimony from Gordon Sondland failed to create any Republican impeachment converts in Congress, I had to think again of Upton Sinclair’s comment: “It’s hard for a man to understand something when his job depends on his not understanding it.”
One of Donald Trump’s many (flimsy) defenses is that he “hardly knows” the people working for him, and now testifying in front of Congress. So stumping the Chump-in-Chief is easy. Surely, you can do better at linking these photos to the names, roles, and signature facial expressions of seven major players from week 1 of the public U.S. House of Representatives’ impeachment hearings.
A concerned William Taylor, charge d’affaires in Ukraine
A bemused George Kent, senior State Department official in Ukraine
A saddened Marie Yovanovitch, former ambassador to Ukraine
A terse, on-guard Adam Schiff, Democrat, head of the House Intelligence Committee
A boiling mad Devin Nunes, ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee
A happy-to-fight Jim Jordan, recently added to the Committee’s Republican ranks
An “I’m so shocked” Elise Stefanik, Republican who tried to use Nunes’ allotted time
Bonus round: who’s the man to the right in this photo?
- Roy Cohn, back from the dead
- Richard Nixon’s dieting younger brother
- Republican lawyer Stephen Castor
Having recklessly given Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey the green light to invade Syria, how did Donald Trump fudge his decision? He wrote the Turkish leader a letter that began “Let’s work out a good deal!” and ended by telling Erdoğan: “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” What glorious sophistication from our president, a man who told his biographer, Michael D’Antonio: “When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I’m basically the same.” To which I say, amen.
Yesterday, Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin met to put their seal on Syria and there’s more to come. Russia is going to build Turkey a nuclear reactor for supposedly civilian purposes, as if the nuclear-weapons the U.S. has at its airbase in nominally NATO-allied Turkey isn’t already enough of a risk. As the stakes go up, what kind of man is Erdoğan? Will he answer Trump’s appeal to “get this done the right and humane way” or be the “devil” Trump’s letter also warned him not to be?
The verdict is already known, by actions large and small: those already being enacted on the ground in Syria and in the characteristic facial expressions of Erdoğan. In doing the analysis that went into my book, Two Cheers for Democracy: How Emotions Drive Leadership Style, a clear emotional algorithm emerged. However explicit their “strongman” rule, those inclined more to dictatorship than democracy lacked happiness and were, instead, inclined to displays of anger and disgust. While Trump’s too sad to exemplify the model entirely, Putin comes close, and Erdoğan fits the model perfectly. If you’re one of those Kurds Trump faulted for not fighting alongside us on D-Day in France, don’t lose sleep trying to divine Erdoğan’s nature. The answer is written all over his face.
Two Cheers for Democracy, available now from Amazon.com.
Speaking of events in Syria, this is the question Nancy Pelosi is asking. What’s immediately noticeable here? She’s the only woman at the table, daring to stand and point her finger directly at Donald Trump in questioning his loyalty and seeking an explanation. Her upper lip is raised in disgust and anger and her right (visible) eyebrow is likewise raised, in concern (even fear). As for Trump, he’s mostly angry: his eyebrows are lowered, he’s squinting hard, and his upper lip is likewise raised. The House Speaker and the President are captured on camera holding each other in mutual disdain.
Pity the general seated next to Trump. But he’s not only sad (head lowered, eyes closed), he’s also the angriest person in the room. All of this partisan bickering has left him with tightly pursed lips.
About the only even close to serene person in the photo is Benjamin Franklin, given his bust perched along the back wall. A savvy diplomat, Franklin could be honestly described in the way Trump’s press secretary tried to spin the meeting afterwards. Despite having called Pelosi a “third-grade politician” and former defense secretary Jim Mattis the “world’s most overrated general,” our President supposedly remained “measured, factual and decisive.” Are you kidding me? When has Trump ever been emotionally measured, or factual either? The time is long past due for a new MAGA hat with this slogan: “Make Lying Wrong Again.”
Heart-attack and all, Bernie Sanders survived an at times tedious, at other times raucous three-hour debate by showing both gratitude for others’ concerns for his health and a shark smile: shiny white teeth, and a grimacing smile. Bernie still burns, but I continue to believe his monolithic, angry Old Testament prophet routine won’t get him to The White House.
How about some of the other candidates last night? Here’s who rose to prominence:
- Pete Buttigieg probably “won” the debate. He turned to face whomever he was challenging on stage, showed no fear, and was a passionately (mostly angry, sometimes disgusted) left-of-center moderate. Positioning himself as a millennial, outside the Beltway figure, Buttieg also had the blessing of being at the center of the stage with three candidates all over 70 years of age. “I don’t need lessons on courage from you” was his snarly response to Beto O’Rourke in an exchange on confiscating military-assault-style guns (or not). The man with suddenly sharp elbows, Buttigieg has tons of cash on-hand and stands to gain from Joe Biden’s fade.
- Speaking of Biden, heaven help a guy who can’t help himself. His verbal stumbles caused him to wince as well as often close his eyes: is that the mode of an older man who portrays himself as “wise”? His son, Hunter, did him no favors either in an ABC interview that aired before the debate. Why, at one point Hunter even covered his face with his hands in trying to explain away his credentials for pulling down $50,000 a month for a nothing-role with a Ukraine energy company. Like father, like son, the lack of articulation was significant.
- Elizabeth Warren is now the front-runner and so was under frequent attack on stage last night. All along I’ve been arguing that she needs to take a page from Teddy Roosevelt’s book and be an upbeat, energetic reformer with enough gusto to show she loves America. O’Rourke’s attack on her as “punitive” and her inability to thank Biden for helping to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shows that Warren needs to vary her slightly less heated version of Sander’s monolithic anger. More displays of happiness would help greatly. Attacked, she responded at times with a mouth that hung open in surprise as evidenced by her response to O’Rourke: “So, um, I’m really shocked at the notion that anybody thinks I’m punitive.”
Of all the candidates at risk of not qualifying for the November debate, Amy Klobuchar fought like the one person determined to struggle to live for another day. The other three candidates on the far left or right of the stage averaged eight minutes of speaking time; she got in over 13 minutes. That said, Klobuchar was again full of fear, her voice quaking, her entire upper body quivering at times, and her face grim with a mixture of a mouth pulled wide in fear, lips pressed tight in anger, and disgust flaring her upper lip. Nonetheless, she made her points in favor of moderation (“at least Bernie’s being honest” about the cost of Medicare-for-all, she said to Warren at one point).
Nobody else mattered last night.
Among all the losers was a chance to make the debates better. How about a shorter format? How about letting the candidates each ask a question of another candidate, giving viewers a break from hearing the moderators grind through the same issues yet again? Finally, how about a question or two on Africa? The biggest trend of the past 40 years was the rise of China. The biggest trend of the next 40 years will be the rise of Africa, through the sheer weight of a swelling population if nothing else. America’s leaders have misjudged China’s trajectory badly. Will they do likewise when it comes to Africa’s future?