Biden Semi-Apologizes for Invading Women’s Personal Space

This past Wednesday, former Vice President Joe Biden tweeted out a video. It’s in response to, by now, four women expressing various degrees of discomfort regarding his proclivity for touching, nuzzling and otherwise invading women’s personal space—typically, at or near the podium during public events. It’s a brief, 2-and-a-half-minute video in which Biden tries to informally lay to rest concerns that in the era of the #MeToo movement he’s a dinosaur, out-of-touch about his being inappropriately too much in touch with various female members of the Democratic party in particular.

How well did Biden do non-verbally in delivering his message?

First, there’s no doubt he’s uneasy and no longer trying to glide by the matter as he essentially did in suggesting the handling of Anita Hill’s testimony in 1991 was somehow a matter beyond his control as chair of the U.S. Senate’s judiciary committee. On camera, Bid’s eyebrows rise and the eyebrows knit together: all reliable signs of fear. This look ironically occurs as he admits to having made these four women (and probably others) “uncomfortable.” Now, he’s the one who’s uncomfortable.

040519-05 Joe Biden sadness

That brings us to point #2. What exactly is Biden most uncomfortable about? Is it for what he’s done in the past? Or is it about his political future instead? The video leaves little doubt that Biden plans to run for the presidency. “I will be more mindful” going forward, he says, adding a smile to what was previously pretty much pure fear.

040519-04 Joe Biden multi-emo smirk

In this video, Biden lives up to his reputation for being a retail politician who truly believes that “life is about connecting.” That’s point #3. There are two primary approach emotions: happiness (to hug) and anger (to hit). In delivering his semi-apology, Biden exhibits both frequently. This trait also goes beyond his facial expressions to body language in general. He incongruously says “I hug people” while showing a fist. Later, his hands are outstretched in a more kindly manner.

          040519-03 Joe Biden body language

Any rival of Biden’s for the Democratic party nomination in 2020 will want to take special note of one moment especially. When Biden says “the idea that I can’t adjust” is “unthinkable,” I think he’s signaling first and foremost to the party faithful that he won’t be elbowed aside over this matter. Knitted eyebrows (fear), tightened lips (anger), and a smile (happiness) are all evident at that moment. But so is a smirk (contempt): Biden is signaling—point #4—that he disrespects anybody disrespecting him after all his years of public service.

040519-02 Joe Biden social smile

Point #5 must be, of course, the question of whether Biden comes across as credible in this video. If the video is successful (and it has already received over 160,000 likes online), then it will be for adding in the third approach emotion: sadness (a longing to hug or be hugged). That emotion is about feeling forlorn, disappointed, abandoned, unsure of yourself. Biden claims that’s why he’s invaded these women’s personal space: on behalf of delivering the message that “you can do this,” run for office, be empowered.

In simplest terms in regards to others, sadness expressed denotes often a capacity for empathy for others. From the death of his first wife and a daughter in a traffic accident to the death from brain cancer of his son Beau, Biden has had his share of tragedy. So when he says “knowing what I’ve been through” in this video, that his eyes momentarily shut conveys a sadness that’s been earned the hard way.

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The interesting part for Biden now is that for him the prospect of running and perhaps losing, for a third time, the Democratic party nomination becomes one more possible brush with disaster. He’s way beyond being old enough to retire. He doesn’t have to throw his hat into the ring. Donald Trump shows sadness, too, but it’s mostly related to wanting more acclaim and rarely about America or others in his life. Some candidates smile. Lots of candidates do anger. If Biden is going to prevail, it’s because he might be unique in public life right now for his ability to incorporate both happiness and sadness, without making it seem like he’s merely vacillating, pointlessly, between those two emotions.

It’s All Coming Apart at the Seams

What a split-screen day this past Wednesday was for TV viewers! Over in Hanoi, Vietnam, you had our Man of Perpetual Sorrow, Donald Trump, meeting the often strangely radiant Kim Jung-on of North Korea. “We fell in love,” Trump said of their first meeting in Singapore. I guess this once special bromance wasn’t meant to last. What immediately caught my eye in this photograph was the frightened look of the woman sitting to Jung-on’s right. Her eyebrows are slightly raised in a sign of fear and surprise, her eyes a little wide, and her mouth pulled a bit wide, too.

Come to think of it—by which I mean, come to look at it—that same expression populates the face of the man to her right, and the Great Supremely Merciless One seated to the woman’s left. Things aren’t going well.

030419-01 Trump Kim Vietnam Meeting

Now as we all wait to see what may happen next after the Failed Summit, what are the odds Jung-On isn’t wondering what the Great Impulsive Scowler, our Man of Perpetual Sorrow might do next? While Trump stares straight ahead, Jung-On is the wiser one: looking to his right, eyes wide, looking to see what he might learn just by keeping his eyes open and his wits about him.

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Closer to home, what was simultaneously on the other half of people’s split-image TV screens? None other than Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, former henchmen, former trusted confidante was in tell-all mode about his former Mafia boss known as the President. Forget for the moment, everything Cohen was saying . . . Our president is a racist, a con man and a cheat . . . telling us almost nothing we didn’t already know, at least in that respect.

Emotionally, how was Cohen holding up? Was he scared? Was he lying? Was he choking at his leash, eager to sink his teeth into some juicy revenge?

Actually, in truth Cohen was remarkably at ease for a guy spilling his guts before Trump can do it for him. Notice all the big, horizontal wrinkles across the former Enforcer’s forehead (how could you not!). Well, as often as not those weren’t a sign of fear and surprise so much as they were what’s known in the facial coding trade as “speech emphasis” grace notes, instances where you lift your eyebrows in emphasizing in dramatic fashion a point you’re making. And Cohen was making lots of them, meaning lots of wrinkles and lots of time that those wrinkles held in place far too long to be a matter of surprise. That’s because real surprise happens in about 1/10th of a second, or less.

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Frankly my dear, Cohen is way, way beyond being surprised about anything Trump concocts.

Is there a bigger story, emotionally, to tell than speech emphasis grace notes when it comes to Cohen’s testimony? Not especially. Yes, he had to wipe away a tear when recounting the stress all of this mess has put on his family. And, yes, there was a little curl of the upper lip when Cohen referenced the district attorney’s office in Manhattan investigating other bad smells emanating from the Trump Tower. (A curled upper lip is a sign of disgust, i.e. something smells really foul).

But really those touches aside, it was a pretty straightforward drama being enacted. Trump has provided all the curves, and now Cohen was trying—at long last in life—to throw the ball right straight down the middle of the plate so Congress and the American public could, ideally, swing hard at the truth about Trump instead of at his former Chief Enabler.

Credibility Gaps – and One Key Exception

It’s been a rough week in some quarters. Take Facebook, for example. The latest news is that the Federal Trade Commission is in negotiations with Facebook regarding a possible multi-billion—that’s BILLION—dollar fine regarding the company’s privacy practices. Should you have any doubts that this has been a long standing problem for Facebook, go to this link of Mark Zuckerberg trying to answer questions on this very topic at a Wall Street Journal D8 conference in 2010. The face of Facebook’s founder says it all.

The video shows a sweaty, ill at ease Zuckerberg doing a great impersonation of Richard Nixon’s disastrous first debate with John F. Kennedy in 1960. Here’s the blow-by-blow account, in facial coding terms. Look for resentment about the topic of privacy being raised at second 9 (tightened lips); followed by an (avoidance) glance downward at second 20; furrowed eyebrows at second 47; Zuckerberg starting to dissolve into sweat by or before the 1:47 mark; then outright fear (mouth pulling wide) just before the 2-minute mark; and finally Zuckerberg being helped to strip down to his T-shirt because he’s having such a sweaty “Nixon moment” by the 3-minute mark.

How about Mike Pence? Did he have a good time at this past week’s Munich Security Conference? I’d say not based on the deafening silence that followed his telling the audience: “I bring greetings from . . . Donald Trump.” After about five seconds of waiting for applause that never came—not from a single attendee—Pence resumed his remarks. (Later, the White House added a fake-news applause annotation to that part of the official U.S. transcript of the event.)

Besides Zuckerberg’s faux commitment to consumer privacy and the Trump administration’s faux commitment to diplomatic cordiality (except when Kim Jong-un is involved), another credibility gap emerged this past week in Chicago. Yes, the saga of Jussie Smollett being allegedly attacked by two men late at night continues to mystify. When Smollett was being interviewed by ABC’s Robin Roberts, the “Empire” actor repeatedly pinched his eyebrows together in a show of being indignant about having his account of events be doubted. Well, that expression signals fear as much as it does anger, fear . . . as in possibly fear I’ll be found out. The latest word is that odds are Smollett staged the attack. His motive: gain more attention because a racist letter sent to the show’s studio hadn’t gotten a very big, supportive reaction from executives on-site. As the saying goes, stay tuned for more.

Finally, where did credibility endure? On 60 Minutes, Andrew McCabe didn’t come across as “deranged” (despite Trump’s tweet to the contrary). Only in recounting Trump calling his wife a “loser” did McCabe show a strong response: an upper lip flaring in disgust and anger. Otherwise, McCabe was emotionally buttoned-down and all business. No leisurely, “executive time” for this guy! Now that the cabinet is reduced entirely to lackeys, even the 25th amendment can’t shortcut the constitutional crisis likely to unfold in the months ahead.

 

The Intricacies of Smiling

When it comes to political and emotional opposites, you can’t do much better than the Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi sideshow as they sat behind Donald Trump during the recent State of the Union speech. Pence has long ago mastered a look of supposed discernment as he takes in the wonders of Trump’s rhetoric. There are head-nods, yes, and smiles. But most of all there’s how a vertical crease forms between the Vice President’s eyebrows as he lowers and pinches them together as if trying to scoop up every pearl of wisdom. In contrast, the Speaker of the House looked like she was sucking on a lemon anytime she wasn’t instead rifling through the pages of the speech. Here, she’s giving the President a mock burst of applause.

021219-01 Pelosi Clapback

Did Pelosi do her level best to distract TV viewers from Trump’s words by handling the speech’s text as she did? Maybe she was just bored (the speech and Trump’s Mussolini-like thrusts of his defiant chin went on seemingly forever).  Trump’s almost never happy. At least he made some of the female Democrats in attendance pleased by mentioning the new jobs he’s created, namely, like theirs!

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As you can tell from the President’s displeased smiles, he wasn’t so happy to be upstaged. Happiness no longer seems to be what it once was. You can’t seemingly count on anything anymore.

Or maybe things were always like that. The two newly unearthed instances of Virginia politicians having gone the route of blackface should remind us that happiness isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Here is Al Jolson in the move Mammy (1930), inhabiting a fabled land where black folks are supposedly too dumb to be anything but happy all the time.

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While Jeff Bezos was busy pushing back against an apparent blackmail attempt by The National Inquirer, what else went on this past week? Well, for one thing we had Amy Klobuchar managing to do a great job imitating somebody happy to be declaring her candidacy for president amid a snow storm.

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Meanwhile, off in Europe her fellow Minnesotan, Lindsey Vonn, was managing to win the bronze medal in the world championship downhill in her final race ever. How remarkable was her success after a fabled career? Five days earlier she had fallen in another race, ending up with a bruised rib and a black eye. And three months earlier she had torn a ligament in her left knee, the one operated on something like a gazillion times.

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At least every now and again, a smile is still really a smile: the embracing of life!

On a Mission or Simply Under Duress

Let’s start with the good news, especially for those who live in New England or have become admirers of the Belichick-Brady dynasty. Akin to getting a smile out of Chuck Norris in a movie role, it’s downright odd—almost creepy—to see a smile from Belichick. There were some afterwards, but much more in character is Belichick here gripping the victory trophy, eyebrow cocked in wary appraisal of the world around him while his eyes and mouth are tightly gripped in a look of determination. Maybe when Brady turns 50, Belichick will tire of winning. Meanwhile, . . . the victories and trophies accumulate.

Who also won this soporific Super Bowl? Many think it was the Bud Light / Game of Throne mash-up. What’s the Bud Light Knight’s facial expression? In his everyman role, beer-drinker as knight saving himself from sobriety, Budweiser doesn’t want us to know. We should be projecting ourselves into the role. Is he happily soused and sporting a smile, or brandishing the equivalent of Belichick’s scowl? The great mystery lingers.

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If there are winners, there must be losers, too, and there were this past Sunday. One was the Rams’ coach, Sean McVay, who admitted to having been “outcoached” by Belichick.  Both coaches have their chins pulled up in a sign of anger, disgust and sadness. The difference between them: notice also how the corners of McVay’s mouth are turned downwards, tilting the emotions displayed more in the direction of sadness for the moment. (Don’t worry, Rams’ fans: there’s determination being expressed as well, a determination to win again and often.) Besides the Rams, I think Burger King lost the Super Bowl. I’m sure some clever ad agency guy thought pulling out the old footage of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger showed his artiness, but mostly it revealed a lack of emotional intelligence. Time and again while eating the burger, Andy smirks—a sign of disrespect (for the product). It’s hard for the company’s offer to be the hero when it’s actually the goat (and I don’t mean GOAT as in Roger Federer being the Greatest Of All Time).

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Meanwhile, everyone’s running for president, inspired by Donald Trump’s example. If blatant incompetency and dishonesty can get you to the White House, why not give it a shot? Cory Booker has joined the Democratic field (looking delighted but not at ease), and maybe Howard Schultz is going to run an independent campaign. Fiscally conservative, socially liberal is Schultz’s promise. Whether a tepid smile and a lip turned down in disgust, as shown here, is an emotional formula for winning I doubt it.

020519-03 Booker & Schultz

Who’s definitely going to lose? That’s easier to say. Playing a losing hand is an apt description of the ultimate fate of both Virginia governor Ralph Northam (looking mighty uneasy given the raised inner eyebrow, a sign of sadness and fear) and Venezuela’s leader Nicholas Maduro (trying his best to imitate Belichick, but the eyebrows pinched together give away Maduro’s existential fear of being shot by rebels within his own military). In Northam’s case, he held the most insane of press conferences last Saturday. Among the highlights, denying he was one of the men dressed up as a Klansman or in blackface in a medical school yearbook picture (after admitting the night before that, in fact, yes, that was him in the photo). A safe prediction: he won’t join the others running for the Democratic presidential nomination. In Maduro’s case, inflation is running at something like 10 million percent and there’s no food left . . . except at his residence. When people are literally starving to death en masse, rubber bullets won’t matter. Next stop, Moscow, Mr. Maduro, if only you’re so lucky.

020519-05 Northam & Maduro

 

Week 4, 2019: From Indifference to Mendacity

Sometimes a muted emotional response is commendable. When called for a foot fault on match point during her quarterfinal at the Australian Open this past week, Serena Williams hardly “batted an eyelid.” What a contrast to the ruckus that ensued during last fall’s U.S. Open. On the other hand, a lack of emoting can and usually does signal indifference. Cue Wilbur Ross, the billionaire in charge of the Commerce Department. “I know they are, and I don’t really quite understand why,” Ross said on national TV in response to being asked about furloughed federal workers going to food banks to make ends meet. Quite honestly, a dead man would have shown more compassion than Ross did as he then suggested those same workers might apply instead for emergency, “low interest” loans. Did he mean like the almost 9% loans his department’s federal credit union was offering during the crisis?

Here is Ross as dead man walking during the federal shut-down on CNBC.

And here is Ross earlier this year telling Congress (in effect): “Yes, I’m not only tone deaf I’m literally deaf, too.”

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The good news is that we’re not yet Russia, though Ross’s cabinet colleague, Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, is trying to help bring America and the former “Evil Empire” together by ending sanctions on Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska. Study this next photo and ask yourself: does this guy have the look of a nice man? Most of Deripaska’s smiles could be mistaken for snarling, and his eyes are typically narrowed in an angry expression I refer to as “snake eyes.” Then there are Deripaska’s cocked eyebrows. There I don’t blame in. The further East you travel in Europe, the less people genuinely smile as a rule of thumb in the belief that if you’re happy you’re a fool. As in, don’t you realize the true nature of the socio-political environment you inhabit?

012919-02 Oleg Deripaska

I’d say this woman does. She’s Anastasia Vashukevich, a Belaursian escort and blogger who was just returned—against her wishes—to Russia, where as she noted strange things happen. Among her clients is none other than Deripaska, Putin’s buddy, of whom Vashukevich claims she has evidence of Russian collusion. How long she stays alive now that she’s back in Russia from Thailand is anybody’s guess, Putin aside (as he no doubt knows exactly how long he’ll go before “intervening”).

012919-03 Anastasia Vashukevich

Notice a visual theme (hint: cocked eyebrows, the sign of those who are wary in a lawless land).

Speaking of festering sore spots around the world, there’s little chance of Zimbabwe improving anytime soon. Yes, Robert Mugabe is gone—replaced by his former, loyal lieutenant, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Here is the man known as “the crocodile” returning to Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare this past week after making a pit-stop at the Davos Conference. Why was Mnangagwa there? To insist he’s a great guy, eager for foreign investment. Notice in this case how not only the Crocodile’s upper lip is raised in a sign of disgust, but also how emotionally in synch his aides are. The three men to Mnangagwa’s right in this photo are all spotting the same look. As a spurning emotion, a sign of something “stinks” or tastes bad, disgust hardly suggests openness.

012919-04 Emmerson Mnangagwa

One final note here among the photographs that caught my eye this week. Let’s admit that being “open” (as in “open for business”) doesn’t necessarily provide a safety net when it comes to ensuring good governance. Roger Stone has been mugging for the TV cameras during the past few days, doing his best to imitate Richard Nixon’s “victory salute”: the very same one Nixon gave even on boarding the helicopter that took him away from the White House after resigning his presidency. I could be showing Stone’s imitation of Nixon’s victory salute or even the Nixon tattoo he’s got on his upper back.

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But somehow this photo of an eyes-wide-open, eager to cash-in Stone flanked by his fellow swamp mates Paul Manafort and Lee Atwater on the occasion of opening their K-Street lobbying firm back in the 1980’s was just too sweetly bitter for me to pass up. Among their clients were foreign dictators, overseas political parties with likely ties to drug trafficking and, of course, also some guy named Donald Trump.

From Incompetent Officials to Something’s Great (But It’s Not Trump)

Welcome to a very different version of “Faces of the Week.” Focusing on a single story per posting is, frankly, too limiting. There’s always so much of interest going on. So while the occasional posting may focus on a single specific story, by and large I’m going to move to a potpourri of stories, going with whatever catches my eye (and engages my heart).

Let’s start with incompetency and Brexit.

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Pity the British prime minister, Teresa May, as she struggles with plans B-Z now that Plan A was sounded defeated in Parliament. All the while, where, oh where is Boris Johnson, the man who helped lead the charge in favor of leaving the E.U. because the world would be coming up roses if England went its own way? As usual, he’s lost somewhere in his own mix of bluster and bafflement as to what it was he actually was thinking. “I said what?” seems to be the caption to many a moment of lip curling, mouth ajar Johnson caught on camera.

As pointed out in Pankaj Mishra’s article for The New York Times, however, a mediocre “chumocracy” has often ruled England. Case in point is Lord Mountbatten, whose hurried declaration of independence for India led to an estimated one million deaths as the country unraveled. The article came complete with this photo:

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From left seated at the table, Jawaharlal Nehru, vice president of India’s interim government; Earl Mountbatten, viceroy of India; and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, president of the Muslim League, discuss Britain’s plan for India, June 2, 1947. 

As a facial coder, what struck me immediately was the anger on Jinnah’s face. Could anybody have imagined independence was going to be a cake-walk? More specifically, did Mountbatten even really notice the emotions roiling around him? He himself admitted the transfer of power he chose was a “ludicrously early date.” Then he gave the task of drawing the new boundaries to a British lawyer who had never visited India. Like Brexit, a mess was certain and that’s putting it mildly.

Speaking of incompetent officials, the stakes were a wee bit lower when the NFL official failed to call pass interference on this play late in the NFC championship game. Would you say that New Orleans Saints’ coach Sean Peyton was stunned by the no-call?

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Seeking to move from U.S. Senator (D-CA) to the White House, Kamela Harris joined the ranks of contenders for the Democratic nomination this past week. With Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) already declared, how can Harris distinguish herself? For starters, she has the best smile of the three women. But a wide-eyed, on alert look is her other signature expression. Warmth and concern: it’s a great combination. My hunch is that of the three, she might prove the most effective on the campaign trail (time and the voters and the money raised will tell; remember what a 20th century Republican party boss said: Only two things matter in politics . . . money and I can’t remember the other thing.” Well, actually emotion is the other currency!)

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What was great in the past few days was this man, the rising Greek tennis star Stefanos Tsitsipas, managing to beat his idol, Roger Federer, in a thrilling match at the Australian Open. “I’m the happiest man on earth” Tsitsipas said afterwards and it wasn’t hard to believe him. Just look at the elation on his face.

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Maybe the question of the week, however, was what was on the face (and in the heart) of the student from Covington Catholic High School in Washington, D.C. to join an anti-abortion protest. Nick Sandmann said he stood this close to a Native American activist trying to step in between two opposing groups. No disrespect was intended, Sandmann said. But in wearing a Make America Great Again (MAGA) red hat, linked to Donald Trump and his disparaging reference to senator Warren as “Pocahontas” (among many other racist or all but racist remarks, over time), one is left wondering.

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The Native American shown here to the right, Nathan Phillips, sure felt uneasy about Sandmann being so in his face. There’s a slight smirk to the right on Sandmann’s face, and an upper lip curled in disgust. Despite the accompanying smile, it’s hard to reconcile Sandmann’s expression with the notion that no disrespect was intended.

What’s easier to judge for sure than Sandmann’s expression? That would be the look on the face of the Confederate soldier emblazoned on the digital sign outside his school back in Kentucky. Note the eyes tight with anger, and for that matter the street on which the school sits. I rest my case, even if Sandmann is still protesting his innocence.

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Mr. Sunshine, Julian Castro, Declares Presidential Bid

Memo to Joe Biden, should you decide to enter the race. When it comes to big, flashing, electric smiles, you’ve now got some competition. Meet Julian Castro: formerly the mayor of San Antonio as well as a Housing and Urban Development secretary in Barack Obama’s administration. Is Castro really the second coming of Biden, however? I don’t think so. Easy laughter isn’t part of the package. And many of Castro’s smiles—no matter how joyous—contain a whiff of some additional emotion, too.

For starters, there are only two emotions where Castro stands out. He shows above average amounts of happiness (especially the strongest two flavors of it—sparkling-eyed joy, and minus that look the pleasure signaled by large grins). And the same is true of contempt. What does that combination of happiness and contempt suggest? In a word, it would be confidence. As for where the smirks emerge, look for the tension that appears along the left corner of Castro’s mouth in the photo on the left here, and next at how his upper lip raises and curls a bit in the photo to its right.

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Now, joyful smirking is already a little odd.  Tom Brady and Vladimir Putin both smirk when they smile, but rarely while offering a big, glowing smile. Happiness is about, in effect, hugging others and embracing opportunity. Contempt is laced with scorn and dismissal.  Contempt could be thought of as the equivalent of strong-arming somebody trying to tackle you in a football game.

That fairly uneasy, even unnatural combination plays out in this next smile of Castro’s. The happiness is more subdued here, but again the upper lip flares with contempt (and disgust). Is there some chance that another side of Castro exists beyond being Mr. Sunshine? Could he be vaguely imperial, a little aloof, with some modicum of darkness creeping in after all?

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I think that could be true, but we’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out on the campaign trail. For now, Castro is presenting himself as the Hispanic Obama, a quick learner who represents the next generation in an ever more multicultural society. Education is his big issue, something that helped propel him to Stanford and Harvard. And as for rising fast, well, his mother ran (unsuccessfully) for a seat on San Antonio’s City Council when she was 23, and he got there by the age of 26. If elected to the White House, Castro would become our country’s third youngest president ever.

Youth is at the heart of Castro’s sunshine appeal. His grandmother, orphaned by the Mexican Revolution, crossed the border at a young age. Relatives in San Antonio took in her and a sister. Castro has called his recently released autobiography An Unlikely Journey: Waking Up from My American Dream.  Noting how details like his grandmother’s diabetes, depression and even a suicide attempt get passed over as quickly as his mother’s alcoholism and his parents’ separation, a reviewer in The New York Times characterized An Unlikely Journey as offering “little in the way of introspection.”

What exactly is Castro waking up from? Can he beat Donald Trump, as promised, by not making the error of trying to “out-gutter” him? Who knows for sure.

Castro’s expansive, frequent smijuliale limits evidence of sadness, anger and fear to levels well below what’s customary in the famous people I’ve analyzed over the years. So time will have to tell which version voters perceive. Might whatever is in the shadows of Castro’s personality fortify him, helping him demonstrate empathy and emotional depth? Or might everything except “sunshine” (happiness) get treated instead as merely a nuisance to be kept out of view (even from himself) as much as humanly possible?

Elizabeth Warren Heads to Iowa to Begin 2020 Presidential Race Campaigning

Imagine the horses going around the track at the Kentucky Derby not once, but 40 or 50 times, and you begin to approach the exhausting insanity known as the “horse race” for the White House. The earliest incumbent to file for re-election ever is Donald Trump: five hours after taking office. But on the Democratic side, first in this time around is Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Iowa doesn’t hold its caucuses for a year still, and the initial Democratic presidential debate isn’t until June in California. But as January promises to be a crowded month for Democratic candidates to enter the race, I figured I might as well already start emotionally handicapping the race now. In other words, what do Warren’s non-verbal body language (facial expressions especially) suggest about her personality and how she might fare on the campaign trail?

I expected fist-pumping and finger-pointing from Warren, and saw it. As a strong, (to some) even strident liberal, Warren could be expected to be eager to rally against, and identify, situations in which citizens-as-consumers aren’t being treated fairly.

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I also expected to find plenty of disgust as well as contempt. As a reformer, Warren not surprisingly scores above average for those two emotions. There are corporations she doesn’t trust or respect, and as far as she’s concerned unethical actions being undertaken that simply “stink.” Note the raised upper lip that accompanies her smile. But an upside-down smile, an expression signaling disgust, sadness and anger, won’t to my mind earn her supporters or helpful media coverage for her “brand.”  Being a passionate advocate for broad change is a plus for Warren; coming across as a sour-puss isn’t.

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What I didn’t expect from Warren, however, and got was plenty of surprise and an above average amount of fear. Eyebrows raised in alarm and a mouth pulling slightly wide in fear play well only to the extent they signal the danger the country is in, as opposed to a shaky messenger.

010719-01 Elizabeth Warren Double 03

Frankly, Warren looks less confident than other notable people I’ve analyzed. Maybe the gaffe about being baited by Donald Trump into taking an ancestry DNA test to verify that she’s part Native American will prove to be a one-time misstep. But with a huge Democratic field of candidates likely, including as many as three other prominent female Senators, there won’t be much room for making errors over the next, nearly two-year stretch.

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.

121318-01 Trump Staff 1

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?

121318-03 John Kelly Exasperated 1