Syrian Collusion: Trump, Erdoğan & Putin

102319-01 Putin Erdogan.jpg

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?

102319-02 Hailed Disparaged Chart (2)

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.

TwoCheers FrontCover (Blog Resize)

 

 

Two Cheers for Democracy, available now from Amazon.com.

“Why Do All Roads Lead to Putin?”

102119-01 Pelosi Trump Full

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.

102119-02 Pelosi Trump Crop

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.”

102119-03 MLWA Logo

Now’s the Time to Showcase the Uppermost 1%

062419-01 Tubman & Zuckerberg Dollars

Not only are you what you eat and where you eat, you’re also defined by your heroes. And now with Facebook’s recent announcement that it will launch its own global currency, the effort by Barack Obama to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on a new $20 bill looks ever so quaint. Just imagine it! Wanting to honor a former slave and abolitionist, whereas Donald Trump favors Jackson: America’s first populist president, and the guy who forced the Cherokee Indians Trail of Tears removal to Oklahoma.  Too bad Trump fears Silicon Valley’s power. With the Libra cryptocurrency, isn’t it time to retire all the presidents? From the $1 bill through the $100 bill, check out the likes of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, Grant, and Franklin. Hardly a smile among them. Who needs that kind of downer, when it’s already enough to have to surrender cash to buy something? With Mark Zuckerberg’s example leading the way, it’s time to replace the whole lot with the RICHEST living Americans on U.S. bills instead. Should there be any exceptions? Only one: former Treasury secretary Salmon P. Chase graces the $10,000 bill. Why not depose him for current Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, who testified to Congress that a delay of six years in releasing the Tubman bill was for technical reasons. Gotta love a liar, even if Mnuchin isn’t quite as wealthy as Zuckerberg.

Something Sure Stinks (Could It Be Us?)

061219-01 Sanders & Trump

It’s a truism that pets and their owners look alike. So with Alec Baldwin now denouncing Sanders as a “mouthpiece for fascism,” I thought: why not see if there’s an emotional similarity between Sanders and The Donald? The answer: often yes, but with at least one big difference. Yep, they both frown with the best of them. Yep, their lips often contort with disgust (raised or jutting downwards). Yep, they share in common upper chin thrusts that signal disgust, anger and sadness (their signature emotions). Sanders hasn’t held a press conference since March 11th, however, which does point to one difference between her and her insatiably-eager-for-attention boss. Sanders’ eyes will go wide, her eyebrows lift. She’s not always comfortable upholding such a complicated relationship with the truth. The Washington Post’s fact-checker believes Trump has now topped 10,000 lies; Sanders is learning from the best, but to date can’t quite keep up that pace.

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.

030419-02 Trump Kim Flag Background.jpg

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.

030419-03 Michael Cohen Testimony.jpg

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.

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.

011519-01 Julian Castro Double 01

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?

011519-02 Julian Castro 03

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.

010719-01 Elizabeth Warren Double 01

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.

010719-01 Elizabeth Warren Double 02

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

121318-03 John Kelly Exasperated 2

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.

121318-02 St Sebastian

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

George H. W. Bush’s Funeral – The Words and So Much More

With shorter life spans and the absence of airplanes to ease the logistics, having five living U.S. presidents together for an event never happened in American history until the dedication of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in 1991. Then it was Reagan, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, along with Jimmy Carter as the one Democratic president in attendance. Now for George H. W. Bush’s funeral, Donald Trump found himself in the front pew alongside three former Democratic presidents he’s disparaged as illegitimate (Barrack Obama), as guilty of assaulting women (Bill Clinton), and as the supposedly second most worst president ever (Jimmy Carter), behind Obama. Did that make for a fun greeting between them all when Donald and Melania joined the other presidents and their spouses for the service at the Washington National Cathedral?

121018-01 George HW Bush Funeral All Presidents

Hardly, as everyone’s facial expressions made evident then and in the immediate aftermath of Donald joining the group. Barrack Obama managed an aggrieved smile, with an upwardly pushed chin expressing disgust, anger and sadness at least as prominent as the happiness conveyed on enjoying the sitting (truly sitting) president’s presence. After a smile for Melania Trump, Michelle Obama became far grimmer and more subdued, eyes lowered, than before the Trumps crashed the party. Most notable of all, though, was how Bill Clinton only slightly turned his head Donald’s way, with neither man making any attempt to exchange a handshake—while Hillary Clinton stared straight ahead, eyes wide and lips firmly set in anger. As for the Donald, well, he soon crossed his arm and was pouting as usual: a man without friends.

121018-02 George HW Bush Funeral All Presidents

George W. Bush making his way down the cathedral’s main aisle led to still more interesting body language. The Donald (mouth agape with a modicum of surprise) had hardly stood up to greet Bush ’43 before W. had moved on to greeting the Obamas. Michelle and Jimmy Carter gave the grieving son the biggest, most reassuring smiles among those assembled there in the front pew. (Hillary didn’t get the memo to be cordial, and barely managed a smile.)

121018-03 George HW Bush Funeral GW Greeting

Next it was on to the formal remarks. For the first time since LBJ’s funeral when Nixon was in office, the current president wasn’t invited to eulogize a predecessor. That’s probably a good thing given how Donald’s most memorable words as his own dad’s funeral had been to say his father’s greatest achievement in life had been his “fantastic son.” Instead, George W. Bush and family showed us what true grief looks like in remembering the man he called “the best father a son or daughter could have.” Eyes closed, head down, eyebrows knitted together in concentrating on not totally “losing it,” W. nearly crumpled in sorrow. Family members in the opposite front pew from the former presidents weren’t far behind. Want to know what sadness looks like? Note the puffy eyelids, the wince across the cheeks, and the corners of the mouth drooping among the expressions from those assembled there.

121018-04 George HW Bush Funeral GW Tears

Was George H. W. Bush as decent a man as his son recalled him being? Largely so, I’d say.  Sure, there were shortcomings from invoking Willie Horton to nominating Clarence Thomas to joining Reagan in being a slow train in addressing the AIDS epidemic that was the leading killer of young men in America by the time that Bush ’41 left office.  But the sadness George H. W. Bush often showed in life was more in the reflective, pondering mode—a mode that the impulsive Donald Trump isn’t even vaguely familiar with. It’s as if Trump feels sadness in that he wants his greater glory to be more widely, even universally acknowledged. So he feels disappointed when that’s not the case. In contrast, Bush ’41 came as humbly close as someone who achieves the Oval Office could ever most likely come to not wanting any attention bestowed on himself at all.

121018-05 George HW Bush Funeral Bush Family

The Low-Down on the Trump-Acosta News Conference Duel

It’s now been a week since the mid-term elections and, a few recounts aside, the dust has largely settled. What I can’t get out of my mind, however, is the confrontation between the President and CNN’s Jim Acosta during a rare formal East Room news conference the day after the voting. If Rembrandt, that master of depicting emotions, were alive today, what rich material he would have to work from!

Given that Acosta had his press pass to the White House suspended afterwards, the first question has to be: is Acosta really guilty of “placing his hands on” the female intern seeking to take the microphone away from him? That charge is, after all, the basis for press secretary Sarah Huckabee denying Acosta access to doing his job. While video shows Acosta’s outstretched left arm appearing to press down enough on the intern’s own outstretched arm for her arm to momentarily bend and give way, Acosta is at the same time saying “Pardon me, ma’am,” hardly the makings of Huckabee decrying CNN’s “outrageous disregard” for everyone working in the Trump administration.

111318-01 Trump Acosta

Is the young intern angry with Acosta after failing to retrieve the mic from him? Absolutely; notice her taut, lower eyelids and grimacing mouth.

111318-02 Trump Acosta

Is Acosta on edge himself? Absolutely; notice his grimacing gulp as Trump alternatively mocks and lambasts him.

111318-03 Trump Acosta

The fellow reporter who stands up for Acosta isn’t any more at ease himself. Notice his starkly open eyes and raised eyebrows, indicating fear.

111318-04 Trump Acosta

Trump himself winds up jabbing finger at Acosta, berating Acosta for being a “rude, terrible person” and CNN for again being the “enemy of the people” whenever it reports “fake news, which CNN does a lot.”

111318-05 Trump Acosta

But actually, Trump is fearful as well. Notice how his mouth pulls wide just when Acosta starts in with “I’d like to challenge you on one of the statements you made.”

111318-06 Trump Acosta

With the news conference broadcast live worldwide, there’s also the rich emotional theater of how the other media figures in the East Room were reacting. There we’re really in Rembrandt territory. The Dutch artist’s famous Nightwatch painting meets its contemporary rival in scenes like these:

111318-07 Trump Acosta

For Trump, raised on the mantra of “Be a killer, be a winner” by his aggressive real estate kingpin of a father, ugly emotional territory feels like home. But for many others along for the bumpy ride, unease rules the day.