Ever wonder how much a mask hides in terms of your possible facial expressions? The answer is a lot: almost 75% of the variety of ways in which you might emote. For instance, the area around the eyes is great for picking up surprise and fear, but without the nose, cheeks, mouth, and chin, the possible presence of contempt and disgust won’t get revealed at all.
“To be, or not to be” . . . that’s the famous question asked in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Our version today in America . . . whether to follow the stay-at-home approach advocated by medical experts, or ignore their guidance. The photo above captures the two opposing perspectives. A Denver protester is snarling in outrage: “This is the land of the free. Go to China!” A calm medical worker blocks her path. This is not an isolated incident. Across America, gun-toting, MAGA-hat wearing, anti-lockdown protestors are agitating for the economy to be opened immediately . . . or else. Most Americans agree it’s a false choice. We need both our health and our jobs, but in that order – lives ahead of livelihoods. So what is really going on here?
The answer is emotional manipulation rooted in getting supporters to deflect blame and anger. People are hurting, hence the need to turn their anger away from The White House to scapegoats like China, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Democratic governors, or reporters for asking why Donald Trump has been so slow and inept at handling this crisis. Such manipulation is a survival tactic meant to protect just one person: the President and his re-election prospects. Trump is gambling, as usual. In this case, not with creditors’ money on behalf of his casinos and hotels but with our lives, by taking any chance he can to get the economy rolling again. And why not? That’s Trump’s modus operandi. The situation brings to mind this anecdote about risk taking. As Adolf Hitler was preparing to invade Russia in 1941, his henchmen Hermann Goering begged the Fuhrer not to take such a big, foolish gamble, to which Hitler abruptly replied: “I always gamble.”
Trump has called the protesters “very responsible people.” A White House economic advisor, Stephen Moore, has compared them to civil-rights champion Rosa Parks. Never mind that some of the protestors come to these shoulder-to-shoulder, social-distancing-flouting rallies waving Confederate flags. In politics, anger and disgust have their own internal, intuitive logic. Anger means you hit out (verbally or otherwise) at opponents, the “vermin” you’re disgusted with. Will the driver of the aptly-named RAM 1500 vehicle slam into this scrub-clad medical worker, as happened to counter-protestors in Charlottesville? No, no violence occurred this time around, thank god. But if virus history repeats itself, then forget the anger and disgust that divides us as a country. Those emotions are distractions. What we need to feel is fear given what happened in 1918, when the second wave of the influenza pandemic was deadlier than the first.
Last spring, Donald Trump launched his “Cherry Blossom Collection” available online at his Trump Store, complete with images of The White House appearing below the branding: Trump Hotels. Now for his encore performance, Trump has delayed the release of the Covid-19 economic stimulus checks so that his name can be added to the checks’ memo section. This break in protocol led me to imagine he might want a currency bill of his own. Which national leaders featured on U.S. paper bills would most compete with the highly-emotive Trump? There are two.
First, Trump’s favorite president, Andrew Jackson ($20) wins the sadness sweepstakes with eyebrows both raised and pinched together, creating waves of wrinkles across his forehead. Jackson’s mouth also shows sadness with left corner of his puckered mouth drooping. Second, Benjamin Franklin ($100) wins the defiantly on-guard award. His eyebrows are arched, his eyes wide, and his drawn-up chin collides with firmly pressed lips that hint at a smile while a smirk crowns the left corner of his mouth. It’s quite the feat: surprise in Franklin’s upper face, while his lower faces mixes together anger, disgust, and a hint of a smile overshadowed by contempt (i.e., the smirk).
Let’s imagine Trump really, really, really wants to win re-election. What might that take? My suggestion is that he substitute his characteristically angry, sad and disgust-ridden face for Woodrow Wilson’s tight-lipped look, and re-release the $100,000 gold certificate that was briefly in circulation amid the Great Depression. As unemployment skyrockets, I can’t think of more apt symbolism than that right now.
This is a photo of Donald Trump leaving the lectern at the end of Sunday’s White House press briefing. The surge of reported coronavirus cases is surely only beginning to take its toll, but here was the President assuring us that the virus is “something that we have tremendous control over.” Talk about a guy who suffers from a slow learning curve. Trump’s first public comments about the pandemic came on January 22nd on CNBC: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s—going to be just fine.” (For other misleading statements, check out the video of the comments here.)
Does everyone on the stage behind the lectern on Sunday look “fine” to you? Hardly. The crew of The Titanic probably looked happier. Two people have their eyes totally closed, as if they can’t bear to watch the carnage about to unfold. Almost everyone’s eyes are cast downward in despair. The man over Trump’s shoulder looks downright stunned. As for the president, he looks angry as if the virus is mostly just a dastardly nuisance impeding his re-election.
When else have I seen words and looks in total contradiction during a disaster? Forlorn-looking and yet reassuring U.S. generals testifying to Congress that the Iraq War was going well. Japanese officials showing fear as they urged “calm” in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daicchi nuclear disaster, initially telling local residents that staying indoors would suffice. I would feel better, actually, if Trump did show a little sadness (empathy) or fear (realism). A man so given to anger is instead showing deep-seated resistance to the news that something terrible is happening under his watch. Why, truth be told Trump isn’t even in “control” of his own brooding anger, let alone anything else. What a hoax this situation has become. A businessman adept at financial chicanery is now a president cheating us all of even a half-hearted degree of responsible leadership.