Trump’s Trump Tower Press Conference Tirade

Tuesday’s press conference was meant to be relatively mundane, a matter of talking about the President’s infrastructure re-development initiatives. In the greater scheme of things, important but a yawn all the same. What we got, instead, as citizens of America was a look into Donald Trump’s soul and maybe, just maybe the effective end of his young presidency.

The administrative figures flanking Trump or in the vicinity within Trump Tower weren’t having a good time. Look at this still image of National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, on Trump’s left. And back by a blue curtain set up for the event, there was White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly: the guy brought in to restore some discipline to a radically dysfunctional White House. Reports are that the staffers in attendance and those watching the live footage back in Washington, D.C. reacted with dismay and worry. They were left stunned and numb by what they were witnessing. Some of them apparently doubt that Trump’s presidency can recover. Even more striking, some of them apparently doubt Trump’s capacity to handle his Oval Office duties—an assessment now shared by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) in questioning the President’s “stability.”

Trump Press Conference Cohn & Kelly (resize)

As for Trump himself, however, he left this free-riffing press conference reportedly elated. What a relief, he felt, to be free of the shackles he wore earlier this week. To let his staff force him to give that earlier, teleprompter-chained account of his reaction to the events in Charlottesville, Virginia was by comparison such a drag. What does a freely emoting, raw Trump look like? Here’s his emotional profile, reflecting how often he felt these emotions while answering reporters’ questions after he finished his formal, initial infrastructure remarks at Trump Tower.

Trump Press Conference Emo Profile

What’s noteworthy here?  As I wrote about earlier, happiness hardly exists for the guy. Across the levels of happiness from joy down to mere acceptance, that upbeat emotion was in short supply on Tuesday. The difference is that on this occasion of extreme venting, frustration (anger) clearly won the day, with derisive skepticism and dislike (disgust) next most common. Sadness took a back seat this time around, relatively speaking—though there were plenty of moments when Trump closed his eyes in disappointment regarding how the press treats him.

More interesting still was how the President felt regarding the topics he touched on. Our emotions turn on when something matters to us. So notice which topics Trump was most engaged by, as well as the degree to which his emotions per topic were positive vs. negative (the appeal score). Is senior advisor Steve Bannon at risk of losing his job? You’d have to say so, when only a critic Trump detests, Senator John McCain, gets a bigger emotional thumbs-down from the President. More importantly, was the President, in fact, holding the so-called “alt left” as much to blame as the alt right for the events in Charlottesville? The results here show Trump more negative about the alt left’s role, though the “fake news” press, Trump’s CEO critics, and the prospect of Robert E. Lee’s statue and those of other Confederate leaders being removed are all topics that draw even more ire from this president. In positive terms, only the economy does better than Trump’s favorite topic—himself—which would have got the most positive score if not for Trump’s snorts about not being appreciated enough.

Trump Press Conference Cartesian

When I said a look into Trump’s soul in opening this piece, I meant it. Totally unvarnished Trump is something to behold. Let me wrap it up here with a mini photo album of Trump’s various looks during the Trump Tower press conference on Tuesday:

Trump Press Conference screencap 01

  • There’s the “Cheerio look” as Trump refutes his CEO critics. Note how the President’s upper lip and lower lip simultaneously extend upward and downward in disgust, transforming his mouth into an O-shape.

Trump Press Conference screencap 02

  • There’s Trump feeling venomous anger as he insists he’s more perceptive than the media (“I watched … very closely, much more closely than you people”).

Trump Press Conference screencap 03

  • There’s Trump wincing in sadness because he’s not being given enough credit for having “condemned many different groups.”

Trump Press Conference screencap 04

  • There’s Trump happy to be discussing himself (“Does anyone know I own a house in Charlottesville?”

Trump Press Conference screencap 05

  • And finally, while I’ve long hoped that Trump was no worse for our country than the former, scandal-plagued Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, a businessman himself, there’s Trump aping that country’s former fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, given this smug expression.

Heaven help us all.

I’m Lovin’ It: Donald Trump Jr. & Russian Collusion

When your father often behaves like a child, the enfant terrible of the family, it’s got to do a number on your psyche. Then throw in for extra measure this same father all but publicly lusting after your striking sister (“If I weren’t happily married and, ya know, her father . . . .” being but one of many vulgar examples). Now you’re really in trouble. So it goes with Donald Trump Jr. in what has to be a fruitless attempt to secure the admiration and affection of a father mostly obsessed with himself. On a daily basis, Donald Trump Jr. shares with his father, Donald Trump, and his sister, Ivanka Trump, the family trait of scoring relatively high on disgust. (“It’s disgusting, it’s so phony” Donald Trump Jr. told CNN when asked about allegations that Russia was trying to help his father’s campaign.) But whereas the mostly confident, even cocky Ivanka also scores high on contempt, her older brother Donald Trump Jr. wavers instead in another direction emotionally speaking. Along with disgust, sadness is the other most distinct feeling he displays – though not to the extreme, endlessly-disappointed-in-failing-to-secure-universal-acclaim level of his dad, the president.

Trump Family Blog Photo 071217 (resize)

Father and son often share the chin-raising version of disgust, but Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump are likewise prone to the flared upper lip version of that same emotion.

All of this brings us around to the overshadowed son trying to bring home some sizzling bacon two months before CNN asked him about the Russia allegations. I’m talking of course about the now disclosed email trail that shows Donald Trump Jr.’s eagerness to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer in hopes of getting some compromising dirt on Hillary Clinton back in June 2016.

June 3, 2016, 10:35 a.m. email to Donald Trump Jr. from go-between Rob Goldstone

“[There’s an offer] to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary . . . . This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russian and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

June 3, 2016, 10:53 a.m., email reply from Donald Trump Jr.

“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

I include the timing here for the simple reason that simple isn’t always better, despite McDonald’s augmenting its long-running slogan, I’m Lovin’ It, with the newer The Simpler the Better over the last two years. Sometimes simpler actually isn’t very smart, as is the case here. Being eager to meet with an emissary from a generally hostile foreign government eager to meddle in your country’s most important political contest? Then holding the meeting in your office, one floor below the office of your father in Trump Tower, no less? Neither move strikes me as well thought out. What ever happened to stopping to reflect? Nor is this rapid-fire decision-making either very ethical or patriotic in an old-fashioned, Jimmy Stewart Mr. Smith Goes to Washington sort of way.

First, the longing-to-matter son says the newly disclosed meeting was to discuss resuming the adoption of Russian orphans by Americans. Then by degrees the truth comes out, excluding of course an appearance on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox. There the emoting by Donald Trump Jr. was a blizzard of downward eye-castings suggestive of sad disappointment in himself for getting embroiled in such a mess, along with a mouth tightened and occasionally, fleetingly stretched in expressions of grimacing fear.

Trump Jr Hannity Photo 071217 (resize)

As for the president, he’s applauding his “high-quality” son for his “transparency” in releasing the email trail just ahead of a New York Times deadline for soliciting Donald Trump Jr.’s input on the soon-to-be published, newly more complete story of the Trump Tower meeting. Remember candidate Trump boasting in Iowa in January 2016 that “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Well, Trump Tower is on 5th Avenue in Manhattan and now we have the spectacle of Donald Trump Jr. having in effect shot himself by holding an ill-advised, possibly illegal meeting, followed by a clumsy cover-up. What we won’t do in search of love.

Who’s the Real “Nut Job”: Comey or Trump?

Comey Trump Blog Photo (resize)

“The most outrageous lies that can be invented will find believers if a man only tells them with all his might.”

Mark Twain

If you’re going to tell a lie, tell a big lie. How better to stun your rivals. It’s awfully rich irony to hear Donald Trump accuse the now-fired FBI Director, James B. Comey, of being “a grandstander” and a “showboat.” That anybody, anywhere on earth could qualify as more ego-centric and media-attention hungry than Donald Trump is, frankly, close to impossible to imagine.

But let’s leave those two audacious epitaphs alone in favor of one with more importance to the drama playing out in Washington, D.C.  Was there collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia? Has there now been some degree of obstruction of justice by the Trump administration in seeking to lift “the cloud” of doubt hanging over The White House? In the he-said, he-said battle of credibility between Trump’s and Comey’s  differing accounts of their private interactions, the epitaph of greatest relevancy is Trump calling Comey “crazy” and “a real nut job” (during a meeting with his Russian visitors to the White House, no less).

To those of us who seriously study personality traits, neuroticism equates most closely to being “crazy” and four emotions matter most. Being neurotic equates most readily to large, frequent displays of anger, fear and sadness, while the opposite of being neurotic (being emotionally stable) is aided by being happy instead. Using Comey’s sworn testimony before the U.S. Senate’s Intelligence Committee versus Trump’s daily emotional patterns, who’s most likely to be “crazy”?

Using Comey’s sworn testimony before the U.S. Senate’s Intelligence Committee versus Trump’s daily emotional patterns, who’s most likely to be “crazy”?

Let’s go emotion by emotion. Did Comey show anger last week during his testimony? A muted, purposeful degree of anger (mostly in how Comey’s lower eyelids stayed tight) was evident. Granted, Comey was a man on a mission to air his concerns. But the only three times where Comey’s mouth also tightened in anger involved, first, being asked to call the Hillary email server a “matter” by the former attorney general Loretta Lynch; second, in wondering  aloud “What am I going to do?” after the current attorney general Jeff Sessions, didn’t act on Comey’s request not to ever again be left alone with Trump; and third and very understandably, in trying to be patient during John McCain’s befuddled series of questions for Comey, all of which came down to basically why not keep pursuing the email scandal?

In comparison, Trump is angry every day, more often, and with more vehemence. Who’s the most crazy when it comes to frequent, strong displays of anger? Verdict: Trump.

Fear, yes, Comey showed a little of it in testifying before Congress.  When asked if he had been directly requested to go easy on former national security adviser Mike Flynn, Comey’s eyes went wide with alarm at the prospect that the Senators might not take seriously the import of the President telling Comey in the Oval Office that he hoped Comey might “let Flynn go.” But the strongest instance of fear came when Comey was recalling the moment that Trump was shooing both Sessions and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, out of the Oval Office so he could make his Flynn request in private. Then his mouth went wide in fear and his inner eyebrows shot upwards.

In comparison, Trump almost never shows fear. By his own admission, Comey didn’t manage to be “Captain Courageous” in confronting Trump’s wheedling. So who’s the most “crazy” when it comes to frequent, strong displays of fear? Verdict: Comey.

As to sadness, that emotion was evident more commonly during Comey’s testimony than fear was. Comey visibly winced on being asked why he was fired. Raised inner eyebrows created a puddle of wrinkles across Comey’s forehead when discussing a range of topics, from the “salacious materials” alleging Trump cavorted with Russian prostitutes, to Session’s refusal to intervene to help him avoid Trump’s entreaties, to closing his eyes when asked if he might have also been fired if Hillary Clinton had won the election instead of Trump.

Nevertheless, the verdict here favors Comey over Trump because in Trump’s endless search for affirmation, the president shows more sadness than any major American politicians since Richard Nixon.  Verdict: Trump.

Finally, there’s the matter of happiness as a stabilizing emotion. Not only is Trump frequently sad, he’s also rarely ebullient and hardly ever smiles. From “Lordy, I hope there are tapes” to comparing reporters to “sea gulls at the beach,” Comey managed a wry version of happiness repeatedly amid the tough circumstances of testifying before Congress after being called a “nut job.” While “between opportunities,” as he said of his career, Comey firmly took the opportunity to affirm his own credibility while leaving the president’s credibility shred even more. Who’s more “crazy”? Why, it’s not even a close call.

 

Roger Ailes: The Maestro of Shock & Rage

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Who and what killed Roger Ailes? In a USA Today tribute to his long-time mentor, Bill O’Reilly writes that the “hatred” now “almost celebrated in some quarters” is what “killed him.” Loyal to the end, O’Reilly doesn’t name names. Instead, he writes of Ailes being “convicted of bad behavior in the court of public opinion” and “stunned” by a sudden exile from which Ailes “never really recovered.”

Meanwhile, detractors may vengefully rejoice over the death of Ailes. And in doing so, note the irony that Ailes’ fatal, head-banging fall at home in Palm Beach, Florida, followed on the heels of his fall from power at the Fox News channel he founded with Rupert Murdoch’s money. If so, those detractors will still have to come face-to-face with Ailes’ success and legacy.

The easy way out would be to regard Ailes as more or less the equivalent of Batman’s foe, The Penguin. Certainly, the aging, ever more corpulent Ailes looked the part.  Forget the top hat, the tuxedo, the white gloves, the cigarette holder, and even the umbrella. The key to the Penguin’s hold on our imaginations is that he’s wickedly smart and flush with belief in himself.

Might Ailes really be The Penguin, however? The answer is no, twice over. First, the Penguin is from an aristocratic family and Ailes hailed from blue-collar Warren, Ohio, and even when wealthy still saw himself as a working-class bruiser. Second, Ailes was no comic book character. His impact on America may be as profound as anybody in this country over the past half-century, and for many, many years to come.

The problem with family values is when in practice it means my family, not yours.

Let’s start with family values. Vice President Dan Quayle made the term famous in 1992, seeking votes. But leave it to Roger Ailes to make money from it by launching Fox in 1996. Now I for one have no issues with the term family values in theory. The support of a nurturing family while growing up is as emotionally healthy as enjoying a good, solid marriage or partnership in adulthood. The problem with family values is when in practice it means my family, not yours. When family values devolves into divisiveness – an issue of who is and isn’t worthy of respect and compassion – that’s when darkness descends.

Under Ailes, Fox was diabolically clever. While CNN aimed for the head, Fox went for the heart and the wallet and purse and cleaned up, big-time. In barely half a decade, the upstart Fox surpassed CNN, becoming the most-watched cable news network and staying No. 1 with a simple, grizzly emotional formula: anger compels. Once upon a time psychologists believed that venting enables the rage to pass. Now they know that stoking anger tends instead to keep it burning red hot. Ailes didn’t need professors and scientific research to uncover that fundamental truth about human nature.

Ailes was no fool. Yes, he displayed anger to a degree that exceeds what’s normal. Yes, he apparently once put his fist through a control room wall at Fox. (Somebody put a frame around the hole and wrote, “Don’t mess with Roger Ailes.”) But Ailes’ signature expression was crouched, lowering-the-boom eyebrows: a look of concentration and focus. In short, Ailes had the pulse of how TV can be exploited as a medium and was for the longest time a man on a mission.

In 1968, Ailes was at age 28 the executive producer of “The Mike Douglas Show” when Richard Nixon put in an appearance. In an off-camera conversation, Nixon mocked the medium as a “gimmick,” provoking Ailes to tell the candidate: “Television is not a gimmick and if you think it is, you’ll lose again.”

Soon, Ailes was producing Nixon’s presidential campaign commercials, leading to The White House and Nixon’s own opportunity to invoke family values in an exchange with gonzo-journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Told that Thompson’s mother, son and himself all hated Nixon, and that “this hatred has brought us together,” Nixon laughs and replies, “Don’t worry. I, too, am a family man, and we feel the same way about you.”

While Disney sought to make Disneyland the happiest place on earth, Ailes sought to showcase a version of traditional America under siege.

From Nixon to Donald Trump, Ailes helped to orchestrate Republican campaigns with the knowledge that the twigs of the bonfire you’re stoking are the latest incidences in the daily news cycle. The logs come in two forms: personalities caught or showcased on camera, and the beliefs or value systems of news anchors and especially the audience at home viewing the show.

Ailes once described his audience as TV “for people from 55 to dead,” putting on its ear the conventional wisdom that you strive for a viewership between the ages of 18 and 49 or some such demographic slice of America. A recently deceased aunt of mine fit Ailes’ model perfectly. Everyday my retired aunt would turn on the TV to learn about the latest indignities heaped on her sense of how the world should be and, transfixed by smoldering resentment, she would keep the TV on Fox all the way from breakfast to bedtime. Ailes gave her sunset years structure and meaning: witness more enemies and threats to be indignant about.

Ailes had only a passing resemblance to The Penguin. How about instead Alfred Hitchcock? As the maestro of shock and anger, wasn’t Ailes Fox’s equivalent to the famous director known as the master of suspense? Perhaps, but I prefer to think of Ailes as the antithesis of Walt Disney. While Disney sought to make Disneyland the happiest place on earth, Ailes sought to showcase a version of traditional America under siege. Think in terms of Main Street, U.S.A. with its storefronts figuratively lapped by flames.

O’Reilly was the perfect vehicle for Ailes’ version of current events. As angry as Ailes but more expressive of surprise than the sadness Ailes revealed when not angry, O’Reilly beat the drums for years and was equally, phenomenally successful. Ultimately, sex scandals involving Gretchen Carlson, Megyn Kelly and others would force out both the mentor and his signature on-air talent, exposing the reality that “fair and balanced” didn’t extend to gender issues within the newsroom. It’s a new era now at Fox, and in O’Reilly’s place is Tucker Carlson. He’s the stepson of an heiress and somebody given to the smiles and smirks that put him closer, temperamentally, to The Penguin than to Ailes.

Carlson O'Reilly Ailes Blog Photo (2)(resize)

A new era it may be, but Ailes’ legacy will linger for some time to come. Perhaps it’s because tomorrow I leave on vacation to visit parts of disembodied Yugoslavia that the Balkans, namely the Balkanization, the fragmentation of America into ever fiercer, nonstop partisan bickering, so worries me.

I’ve been reading Robert Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts and re-reading Rebeccca West’s older classic travelogue, The Black Lamb and the Grey Falcon, with its take on the former Ottoman and Hapsburg dynasties: “I hate the corpses of empires, they stink as nothing else.” There, people write memoirs with titles like Land Without Justice. Here at home, those who cast opposing votes now see each new White House administration not as victor but conqueror, without merit. And for that hard-nosed viewpoint, we have to thank Ailes in no small part.

Obamacare Repeal: Callousness as a Pre-existing Condition

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The numbers loom large, and so do the emotions involved.  The numbers first:  America’s annual national health care expenditures have reached $3.2 trillion or 17.8% of our gross domestic product. No wonder Warren Buffett is calling medical costs “the tapeworm of American economic competitiveness.” At the same time, about 25% of Americans have a medical history that means they have a pre-existing condition that has previously and may now again make them vulnerable to higher costs or even potentially no insurance coverage whatsoever.  As for the emotions involved in whether to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) with a Republican plan, they range from alarm, distress and despair to claims of “pride” and cries of “shame.”

What might cause such negative feelings should be obvious enough, even if not to the Idaho Congressman who told protesting constituents that “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” What stands out instead is Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, saying on ABC’s “This Week” program, “We’re proud of this effort.”

Pride is a combination of anger and happiness, and results from a feeling that you’ve taken control of circumstances (anger) and achieved success in doing so (happiness).  For Ryan, overturning Obamacare is a “rescue mission” to save a “collapsing” system. In a world full of half-truths or less, I’ll leave both those characterizations and the who-knew-it-could-be-so-complicated pros and cons of health care policy aside to focus here on one specific question: what if pride is really window dressing for callousness somehow justified?

Ryan is a long-time fan of the novelist Ayn Rand, who wrote: “Selfishness is a virtue.” Ryan has credited Rand as “the reason I got involved in public service” to weigh in on the “fight of individualism versus collectivism.” As both a devotee of Rand and a self-professed “devout, practicing Catholic,” Ryan is in a conflicted position as he helps to decide the fate of health care legislation in America. To go with Rand means self-interest defined as good when it leads to being productive (versus engaging in robbery).  To go with the writings of the apostle Paul in Philippians 2 means to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit.”

what if pride is really window dressing for callousness somehow justified?

How can Ryan reconcile those two opposing perspectives? Rand’s invoking of “robbery” as a point of reference is no coincidence. For her as for Ryan, I believe, the dynamic is between those who are “makers” and those who are “takers” in society.  Barack Obama referred to some countries that benefit from America’s efforts as “free riders” and supported Bill Clinton’s welfare reforms. So note that the maker/taker debate isn’t necessarily a partisan debate. But it’s true that Republicans invoke the debate as to who’s “deserving” of help more often than Democrats typically do.

In Ryan’s case, to hew too closely to Rand would mean endorsing her notion of “rational selfishness,” which rejects making sacrifices for others in favor of productivity, independence, integrity and pride. But what if pride is really contempt, an emotion that blends anger with disgust? The two emotions share anger but otherwise part ways. Pride also involves happiness, an emotion about embracing yourself as well as perhaps others who got you to the success. Disgust is in contrast an empathy-killing emotion about distancing yourself from that which you find poisonous.

What are the odds that Ryan considers himself to be a “maker,” not a “taker”? What are the odds that Ryan considers those who require health care assistance to a degree greater than their means to be “takers” and perhaps even “robbers”? Does seeing the “freeloaders” as robbers free him from the teachings of the apostle Paul to “not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others”? To put it bluntly: does callousness become for Ryan philosophical bedrock, a pre-existing condition that he chooses to take pride in?

Who Really Is Ivanka Trump, Anyway?

Ivanka Trump Blog Photo (Resized)

Well, it’s out – not the latest, 140-character tweet from her dad, but a full-length book from Ivanka instead. In Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success, we learn that after a year and a half spent on the campaign trail, the news from from Ivanka is that “I have grown tremendously as a person.”  Perhaps so, but what’s the personality, the emotional base, that Ivanka is starting from?

There are now photographs of Ivanka Trump sitting beside the Donald in the Oval Office, and of Ivanka as “first daughter” attending a women’s leadership conference in Berlin, to go along with photos stretching back to childhood and a first career as a teenage model. The person who emerges from the photos displays most of all a sense of superiority and distance. Contempt is Ivanka’s signature emotion, the one that distinguishes her from the other celebrities I’ve been studying lately. Contempt conveys a sense that others aren’t worthy of respect, which makes Women Who Work a dodgy exercise. How sincerely can you be empowering those you disdain? That leads to another question: who exactly are these women who work if they’re not to be condescended to, even if inadvertently? As it turns out, this book about self-actualization is first and foremost for the actualization of women like the one Ivanka sees in a mirror: wealthy and powerful, with “your team” at work to support their efforts.

How sincerely can you be empowering those you disdain?

Now, contempt actually isn’t an emotion the Donald shows very much. It’s too reflective an emotion for him. So there’s a father/daughter gap there. But alongside the Donald in emotional terms is the other emotion that most distinguishes Ivanka: disgust. Like contempt, it’s an aversive, rejection emotion – only more visceral than contempt. Something “stinks” or tastes bad. Like contempt, disgust is an intimacy and empathy-killing emotion. Women Who Work not surprisingly therefore works as a plug for glambition fully accessorized with Ivanka Trump jewelry.

In Berlin, the conference moderator served up a minor dizzy of a question for Ivanka: “I’d like to ask you, what is your role, and who are you representing: your father as president of the United States, the American people, or your business?” The poised answer: “Well, certainly not the latter.” Plenty of people are hoping Ivanka proves to be a moderating voice that might, if not advance women’s interests, then at least keep them from getting frayed by the Donald’s policies. Those people might take heart from Ivanka’s current reading of Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography and her reaching out to Mary Barra and Ginni Rometty, the CEO’s of General Motors and IBM respectively.

Roosevelt, however, exceeded the happiness Ivanka feels while feeling only half as much fear as the First Daughter does. Will Ivanka eagerly fight for what she feels is right? Does she have the guts to hang in there when a very grumpy dad won’t change his mind, readily if at all? His amount of anger shown is over one-third greater than her own.  Ivanka’s brand of feminism is less about any sweeping societal changes than individual self-realization. By her own account, Ivanka liked her life in New York City before the election as much as her dad is wistful about his his pre-administration life. What are the odds that if frustrated , she fires herself from her White House role?

North Korea’s Reliably Erratic Kim Jong-un

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Nobody should doubt who killed Kim Jong-nam, the estranged older half-brother of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in Kuala Lumpur’s airport earlier this month. Sure, the immediate culprit were the young women who grabbed the elder brother from behind at the airport and wiped his face with a poisoned cloth. But they were what intelligence officers call “lizard’s tails,” people who can be disposed of after an assignment is over.  The new revelation that the poison involved was VX nerve gas – a substance banned under the international Chemical Weapons Conventions of 1997 and 2005 – changes everything, and nothing.

Kim Jong-nam was harmless, a playboy living in Macau who had gone into exile after being caught trying to enter Japan in 2001 to visit Tokyo Disneyland. That the portly Mr. Kim had used the name Pang Xiong, Chinese for “fat bear,” on a fake Dominican Republic passport establishes his character clearly enough.

In contrast, understated humor isn’t exactly what distinguishes the now 33-year-old man who succeeded his father as North Korea’s ruler in 2011. Follow the timeline. In 2013, Kim Jong-un arranged for the execution of his uncle and closest advisor, Mr. Jang, as part of a blood purge of anybody who might threaten his hold on power. In 2014, how did Sony Pictures fare in the run-up to its release of The Interview, a comedy about an assignation attempt on Kim Jong-un?  Not too well, given a cyberattack, leaked emails, and embarrassed Sony executives initially halting the movie’s release.

It’s just not natural for somebody to be characterized both by eyes glinting with joy and eyes narrowed in cold fury.

Not one to be placated easily, North Korea’s ruler almost monolithically veers between two primary emotions: anger and happiness. When Mr. Kim isn’t cackling with mirth as he inspects military hardware or factory output, he scowls. While the old saying, when momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy, has struck fear in more than one husband, Mr. Kim has put not only his country on edge. In reality, the entire world is watching and wondering what he’ll do next.

It’s just not natural for somebody to be characterized both by eyes glinting with joy and eyes narrowed in cold fury. Ever watchful and on guard is the one consistency. That, and North Korea’s ever expanding nuclear weapons capabilities. The demilitarized zone between the two Koreas is becoming irrelevant as tests prove North Korea can send its missiles in increasingly longer flights. A cloth doused with nerve gas is but a proxy for a nuclear-tipped missile.

Joyful people have a tendency to play fast and loose with the details. Angry people hit out. Reliably erratic, Mr. Kim may have met his match in Donald Trump should America’s new leader choose to diplomatically engage with North Korea. For the world’s sake, we can only hope that their (most likely) indirect contact goes better than it did for Fat Bear. For the elder half-brother who never even once met his homeland’s new feudal leader, the ending was quick and merciless. On the way to the hospital, Fat Bear ’s last words were “Very painful, very painful.”

Kim Jong-nam’s death in Malaysia changes everything by signaling that North Korea’s ruler will carry his grievances across borders and strike in public. But at the same time, the murder changes nothing when it comes to Kim Jong-un’s basic emotional make-up. Note the willingness to hit hard, only to then laugh it off by having a North Korean government organization say the real responsibility for whomever may have been poisoned “rests with the government of Malaysia.” After all, the lucky guy didn’t die in Pyongyang, right, and who can dispute that?

Angry Man Michael Flynn Resigns

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You could say Michael Flynn “enjoyed” a very short (24 day) run serving as Donald Trump’s national security advisor, but you would be wrong. Flynn doesn’t do happiness.  Back when Donald Trump’s intelligence briefings began, stories emerged that Chris Christie had to tell Flynn to “calm down.” Apparently, Flynn was repeatedly interrupting the briefers to challenge their assessments with his own Flynn Facts. Anger management issues became a Flynn anti-fact. Asked about contentious briefings, Flynn denied the stories, calling them “total bullshit” based on people “lying.”

Welcome to denials that reinforce the point being made. Don’t rash hotheads jump into making unfit-for-public-consumption statements like “total bullshit”? Hmm.  For Flynn to deny, in effect, that he suffers from anger when Politico has published an article entitled “How Mike Flynn Became America’s Angriest General” is, shall we say, a curiosity item.

Look at almost any photo of Flynn and tell me this guy’s not angry and in need of some calming down! What do we see? Note the glaring eyes, the lowering (the boom) eyebrows and, ironically, tight lips from a guy who said too much to Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. Five phone calls on an unsecured line by the country’s future security advisor the very day President Obama announces measures against Russia for hacking our election is hardly a sign of discretion.

Flynn’s rise and quick fall is a tale of deception as well as self-deception.

I’m a Marxist, a Groucho Marxist based on Groucho’s saying: “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” Flynn wasn’t honest with Vice President Mike Pence, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer, and others, including quite possibly President Trump, regarding the substance of his calls with Kislyak. When it turned out the FBI had monitored the calls, establishing grounds for Flynn to be guilty of violating the Logan Act that bars private citizens from negotiating with foreign powers in disputes with America, Flynn’s goose was cooked. Flynn’s resignation letter didn’t admit to deception, only that he had “inadvertently” engaged in providing “incomplete information” to senior officials.

Washington, D.C. is no stranger to cautionary tales involving collisions between ambition and truthfulness. Nor is this new ground when it comes to anger, an emotion that when taken to extremes becomes a matter of recklessly wanting to push ahead, make progress, on one’s own terms, e.g., Flynn Facts. Flynn’s rise and quick fall is a tale of deception as well as self-deception. But now in tweeting that he’s a scapegoat, maybe at least Flynn can use the occasion to admit he’s mad as hell.

Trump Is Predominantly Fearful? Fuhgeddaboudit!

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Most times, I find plenty of merit in the viewpoints expressed by David Brooks, The New York Times columnist and PBS and NPR contributor. But I found myself less on-board recently when I read his comparison of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump: If Reagan’s dominant emotional note was optimism, Trump’s is fear.  If Reagan’s optimism was expansive, Trump’s fear propels him to close in. Then after a few of Trump’s foreign policy positions get mentioned, Brooks adds:  It’s not a cowering, timid fear; it’s more a dark, resentful porcupine fear.

Like Brooks, I’ve been watching Trump closely for a while now, partly as concerned citizen, partly as a pundit for CNN and Thompson-Reuters during the bizarre 2016 presidential race. Moreover, I’m finishing up my most recent book. This one has involved facial coding numerous photographs to arrive at the emotional profiles of over 150 famous people, including Trump. So I have a comparative benchmark.  Emotion by emotion I know when Trump’s amount of emoting is at, above or below the average of my 150+-person sample. In other words, which emotions characterize Trump and which don’t stand out in the mix? To keep it simple, let’s go emotion by emotion through what’s essential to understanding Trump’s personality, starting with where I’m in the most agreement with Brooks.

Anger:  If Trump were an animal, resentful porcupine would fit the bill nicely.  Anger is about wanting control, and hitting out to ensure it happens. Trump’s provocative tweets become Exhibit A here. But compared to other 150+ famous people analyzed for my latest book, Trump’s volume of emoting devoted to anger is actually no more than average. That’s because other negative emotions define Trump’s personality even more so. What’s unique about Trump is instead that, when angry, he’s very angry. Watch the way his lower lip bulges when he fumes or starts ranting.

Happiness: Just before the Reagan/Trump comparison, Brooks writes of Trump that he seems to suffer from an angry form of anhedonia, the inability to experience happiness. Bingo. Our new president is, indeed, notably lacking in happiness. Compared to the other 150+ famous people I studied, including past presidents, Trump barely registers on the scale at all. Thomas Jefferson’s phrase, “the pursuit of happiness,” appears to be in the Donald’s case a matter entirely of “pursuit” – with little in the way of “happiness” other than pleasure apparently taken in groping women.

Fear: While Brooks qualifies his statement that fear is Trump’s dominant emotional note by saying Trump’s fear isn’t of a cowering, timid nature, I still take issue with that premise. And here’s why. For starters, Trump exhibits only a very average amount of fear compared to the other 150+ famous people I studied. Second, fear means you sense a threat, to which most people’s natural reaction is to freeze. In Trump’s case, however, he’s compulsive and hyper-active.  Sweeping executive orders and provocative tweets show Trump so opposite to cowering that the notion of him as predominantly fearful becomes a non-starter, a definite no. Or as they say in Trump’s native New York City, fuhgeddaboudit!

Trump may very well be a fear-mongerer to attract support, but he’s not a fearful guy.  You can mock Trump, but a coward he isn’t.

Trump may very well be a fear-mongerer to attract support, but he’s not a fearful guy.

One striking autobiographical detail about Trump is that, as a boy, he would accompany his dad, Fred Trump, when Fred was making the rounds to connect rent from tenants in Brooklyn and Queens. Fred’s advice to the young Donald: always stand to one side of the door, never squarely in the doorway, just in case a bullet comes whistling by. Somebody with a different temperament (perhaps Donald’s own son, Barron), might have responded to Fred’s advice by becoming fearful. But not Trump, who’s notable for showing larger than usual amounts of two other emotions instead: disgust and sadness.

Disgust: Missing from Brooks’ characterization of Trump is another key, negative emotion that brings America’s 45th president into focus. Neither anger, nor fear but, rather, disgust begins to explain Trump better. Trump is both a germaphobe averse to anything “poisonous” (like booze) and “fed up” with most everything in the world. Disgust explains Brooks’ basic misstep here: Trump’s tendency isn’t to close in (fear style); he’s pulling back (disgust style). Trump scores higher than usual for disgust in comparison to the other 150+ famous people I studied. When disgusted, people’s noses wrinkle because they metaphorically can’t stand the smell of, for example, Washington, D.C., and so they want to “drain the swamp.”

Sadness: Finally, to truly understand Trump and his lack of happiness, we need to go to its opposite. Sadness is about the absence or loss of fulfillment, and a Trump specialty way beyond the average amount the 150+ famous people show. Anger has become so common in politics that it’s a commodity. Disgust combined with sadness is unique, and emotionally the combination helps to explain Trump’s victory. Sadness equates to pain, which many despairing citizens feel but they’re fed up with, disgust style, and don’t want to tolerate anymore. Make America Great Again is a cry for hope.

Time in the White House will tell whether Trump’s brand of sadness delivers on a promise of patriotic empathy by lifting the lives of economically-challenged citizens. If so, that goal will have to share air time with what I suspect really most actively drives Trump’s outsized sadness: thin-skinned narcissism involving the disappointment that others don’t applaud you enough.