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.

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

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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:

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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.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (“MbS”) Becomes Mr. Bone Saw

Brazenly trying to play the entire world for suckers, the government of Saudi Arabia now insists that Washington Post journalist-in-exile Jamal Khashoggi died in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey  after “discussions” there “led to a brawl” resulting in Khashoggi’s death. Could there be any, hmm . . . problems with this story? For one thing, how likely was Khashoggi to fight the 15 men newly flown in from Saudi Arabia on two private jets to meet him upon arriving to get papers so he could marry his Turkish fiancée? Isn’t 15-to-1 pretty bad odds? Especially when one man allegedly present is the desert kingdom’s top forensic doctor, carrying along for the occasion a bone saw.

Torture. Death. Dismemberment. Followed by over two weeks of evasion. That’s the far more plausible narrative. Who is Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, who routinely goes by his initials?

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Two-faced would be an apt description. Sure, there’s the big smile. This same guy has been lauded from Washington, D.C. to Silicon Valley as the modernizer our biggest Arab ally desperately needs. Saudi women finally allowed to drive. The country’s oil wealth to be shrewdly leveraged through a series of investments overseas. But along with that smile, note the asymmetrically raised left upper lip (a sign of contempt) and how often this young, power-behind-the-throne narrows his eyes in anger, as in to “hit out” or order a “hit” on a journalist criticizing his native government.  That’s the BMS who had an uncooperative Lebanese prime minister “kidnapped” until he resigned from office, and who plunged into the ghastly civil war in Yemen.

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Now the “preliminary results” of the Saudi investigation into what happened in Istanbul have resulted in 18 arrests and some fairly senior-level firings. Who else but BMS is of course best to lead the investigation from this point onward? At least the Saudi crown prince will be in good company. “I want to find out what happened” our president, Donald Trump, avowed early on in this saga. Never mind that the left corner of Trump’s mouth edged sideways, betraying fear, as he made this avowal, only to also shut his eyes from the spectacle of seeing anything.

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An otherwise beaming-for-the-prince, Mike Pompeo, has in his duties as our Secretary of State asserted that extraterritorial murders like Khashoggi’s apparent fate are “not consistent” with American values. The concern expressed by Pompeo’s knitted eyebrows was oh-so reassuring. Likewise, that same expression from Trump in previously suggesting the murder could have been carried out by “rogue killers” who just happened to choose the consulate instead of a dive bar in which to take part in a brawl. One thing is for certain: life sure become interesting when people insist their left hand doesn’t know what their right hand is doing.

Trump Administration Jeopardy

Trump Jeopardy Logo

Donald Trump promised to “hire the best people” for his administration, while he would also “drain the swamp.” How’s that working out? Some of his associates are solid and plenty of others are questionable or worse—even at times by Trump’s own admission. Tensions within the White House have already been documented by books like Wolf’s Fire and Fury, Omarosa’s Unhinged and now Bob Woodward’s Fear. To give you the round-up, let’s play Trump Administration Jeopardy.

Donald’s Family for 100

2597Ivanka Trump

Dual Front Covers (800)

A two-year, labor-of-love effort is finally ready to launch. Famous Faces Decoded: A Guidebook for Reading Others and its shorter supplement, Decoding Faces: Applications in Your Life, went live as of September 12, 2018. Available via Amazon, Famous Faces Decoded covers seven emotions how they get expressed, what they mean, and top 10 lists of the celebrities who show them most often, including illustrative stories. There’s also a vital epilogue about what people may show if lying. Decoding Faces provides advice on how to best handle situations where these emotions arise on the job or in your personal life.

Trump Administration Jeopardy

Trump Jeopardy Logo

Donald Trump promised to “hire the best people” for his administration, while he would also “drain the swamp.” How’s that working out? Some of his associates are solid and plenty of others are questionable or worse—even at times by Trump’s own admission. Tensions within the White House have already been documented by books like Wolf’s Fire and Fury, Omarosa’s Unhinged and now Bob Woodward’s Fear. To give you the round-up, let’s play Trump Administration Jeopardy.

Donald’s Emotions for 300

2594Trump Anger.jpg

Dual Front Covers (800).jpg

A two-year, labor-of-love effort is finally ready to launch. Famous Faces Decoded: A Guidebook for Reading Others and its shorter supplement, Decoding Faces: Applications in Your Life, went live as of September 12, 2018. Available via Amazon, Famous Faces Decoded covers seven emotions how they get expressed, what they mean, and top 10 lists of the celebrities who show them most often, including illustrative stories. There’s also a vital epilogue about what people may show if lying. Decoding Faces provides advice on how to best handle situations where these emotions arise on the job or in your personal life.

Trump Administration Jeopardy

Trump Jeopardy Logo

Donald Trump promised to “hire the best people” for his administration, while he would also “drain the swamp.” How’s that working out? Some of his associates are solid and plenty of others are questionable or worse—even at times by Trump’s own admission. Tensions within the White House have already been documented by books like Wolf’s Fire and Fury, Omarosa’s Unhinged and now Bob Woodward’s Fear. To give you the round-up, let’s play Trump Administration Jeopardy.

Family for 400

2595Melania Trump

A two-year, labor-of-love effort is finally ready to launch. Famous Faces Decoded: A Guidebook for Reading Others and its shorter supplement, Decoding Faces: Applications in Your Life, went live as of September 12, 2018. Available via Amazon, Famous Faces Decoded covers seven emotions how they get expressed, what they mean, and top 10 lists of the celebrities who show them most often, including illustrative stories. There’s also a vital epilogue about what people may show if lying. Decoding Faces provides advice on how to best handle situations where these emotions arise on the job or in your personal life.

Trump Administration Jeopardy

Trump Jeopardy Logo

Donald Trump promised to “hire the best people” for his administration, while he would also “drain the swamp.” How’s that working out? Some of his associates are solid and plenty of others are questionable or worse—even at times by Trump’s own admission. Tensions within the White House have already been documented by books like Wolf’s Fire and Fury, Omarosa’s Unhinged and now Bob Woodward’s Fear. To give you the round-up, let’s play Trump Administration Jeopardy.

Donald’s Emotions for 200

2593Trump Disgust.jpg

Dual Front Covers (800).jpg

A two-year, labor-of-love effort is finally ready to launch. Famous Faces Decoded: A Guidebook for Reading Others and its shorter supplement, Decoding Faces: Applications in Your Life, went live as of September 12, 2018. Available via Amazon, Famous Faces Decoded covers seven emotions how they get expressed, what they mean, and top 10 lists of the celebrities who show them most often, including illustrative stories. There’s also a vital epilogue about what people may show if lying. Decoding Faces provides advice on how to best handle situations where these emotions arise on the job or in your personal life.

Trump Administration Jeopardy

Trump Jeopardy Logo

Donald Trump promised to “hire the best people” for his administration, while he would also “drain the swamp.” How’s that working out? Some of his associates are solid and plenty of others are questionable or worse—even at times by Trump’s own admission. Tensions within the White House have already been documented by books like Wolf’s Fire and Fury, Omarosa’s Unhinged and now Bob Woodward’s Fear. To give you the round-up, let’s play Trump Administration Jeopardy.

Cabinet for 300

2605Sessions

Dual Front Covers (800).jpg

A two-year, labor-of-love effort is finally ready to launch. Famous Faces Decoded: A Guidebook for Reading Others and its shorter supplement, Decoding Faces: Applications in Your Life, went live as of September 12, 2018. Available via Amazon, Famous Faces Decoded covers seven emotions how they get expressed, what they mean, and top 10 lists of the celebrities who show them most often, including illustrative stories. There’s also a vital epilogue about what people may show if lying. Decoding Faces provides advice on how to best handle situations where these emotions arise on the job or in your personal life.

Trump Administration Jeopardy

Trump Jeopardy Logo

Donald Trump promised to “hire the best people” for his administration, while he would also “drain the swamp.” How’s that working out? Some of his associates are solid (James Mattis) and plenty of others are questionable or worse—even at times by Trump’s own admission. Tensions within the White House have already been documented by books like Wolf’s Fire and Fury, Omarosa’s Unhinged and now Bob Woodward’s Fear. To give you the round-up, let’s play Trump Administration Jeopardy.

Cabinet for 200

2603Mattis

2603Mattis - Anger

2603Mattis - Sadness & Surprise

A two-year, labor-of-love effort is finally ready to launch. Famous Faces Decoded: A Guidebook for Reading Others and its shorter supplement, Decoding Faces: Applications in Your Life, went live as of September 12, 2018. Available via Amazon, Famous Faces Decoded covers seven emotions how they get expressed, what they mean, and top 10 lists of the celebrities who show them most often, including illustrative stories. There’s also a vital epilogue about what people may show if lying. Decoding Faces provides advice on how to best handle situations where these emotions arise on the job or in your personal life.

Unhinged: Omarosa Manigault Newman Takes on Trump

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If Turkey’s financial crisis proves to be the “canary in the coal mine” that an economist is warning about, then there might be a bigger story this week than former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman releasing her insider exposé Unhinged. But for sheer personal drama, Newman versus Trump takes the cake. For a decade plus, from The Apprentice to The Celebrity Apprentice to the campaign, and then The White House, she was somebody he reportedly admired for her being conniving—and now she’s a “crazed, crying lowlife” and a “dog” if Trump’s twitter tirade is to be accepted at face value.

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Speaking of faces, what does Newman’s show as she makes the media rounds, promoting her book? Yes, there’s often a raised upper lip and narrowed eyes. Newman’s as capable of showing disgust and anger as her former boss, as when she asserts that Trump “doesn’t even know what’s happening in his White House.” Trump as Chief of Staff John Kelly’s puppet is hard to believe. Less hard to believe is Newman’s related claim that Kelly as puppeteer is possible because the president has a severe attention deficit disorder and declining mental health.

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It’s not disgust and anger, however, that’s most noteworthy in observing Newman on the air this past week. It’s the fear she shows. Time and again her mouth pulls wide. Maybe the former communications director for the Office of Public Liaison is, ironically enough, simply uneasy appearing on television. But she has manhandled the people interviewing her. So it seems it’s more likely she’s weighing book sales versus legal bills, knowing things will get “ugly” for her now, as Kelly allegedly warned Newman while keeping her confined for up to two hours in the Situation Room at The White House on firing her this past December.

Trump’s a misogynist and racist? Really? What a revelation. But seriously, Newman has recordings to back up her allegations.

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When will the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences give a lifetime achievement award to Steven Soderbergh for his prescient movie Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989)? Michael Cohen. Stormy Daniels. Newman. Everyone is recording Trump’s behavior one way or another, knowing that this White House is a House of Mirrors. It’s got to be so stressful working there that naturally I feel sorry for Sarah Huckabee Sanders being reduced to sadness and fear in telling reporters she “can’t guarantee” that Trump has never used the N-word. Well, actually I’m lying, too.

Intelligence Chief Dan Coats Given Shock Treatment

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You’ve got to hand it to Donald Trump: there’s nothing like leaving dumbfounded on stage the man supposed to be the country’s Director of National Intelligence. I’m referring of course to the latest twist to the Helsinki summit and its aftermath, insofar as it involves Dan Coats. During a session with Andrea Mitchell at a national security conference in Aspen, Colorado, Coats got the breaking news right along with everyone else in the world that Vladimir Putin is being invited to the White House sometime this fall.

Sure, Coats offered an expression of mock surprise on hearing the White House’s tweet. Maybe that look is what The New York Times, for instance, was referring to when it said Coats “expressed surprise” and “appeared genuinely astonished.” But in non-verbal terms, that was the least of Coats’s actual emotional response to the Twitter announcement.

First, Coats’s mock surprise already contained a hint of more than mere surprise (as noteworthy as surprise is in this case). When a person’s mouth drops open while simultaneously pulling wider, fear is as much a part of the equation as surprise. Coats diplomatically surrendered to laughter and a series of big smiles that began with replying: “Say that again.” But Coats’s first, camouflaging look of mock surprise already contained within it the seeds of Coats’s actual, more enduring and substantive reaction to having Trump invite into the White House the man who metaphorically speaking has been busy burglarizing it.

A playful version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream was, after all, just the start of Coats’s emoting. “Okay. That’s going to be special,” Coats added, his mouth pulled slightly wide in unadorned fear after saying “okay” —though feeling exactly the opposite.

Then Mitchell pressed the point by mentioning that Trump and Putin were alone for over two hours in Helsinki. Coats gulped at that idea, and again his mouth pulled wide in fear. “How do you have any idea what happened in that meeting?” was Mitchell’s follow-up. In replying, “Well, you’re right. I don’t know,” Coats now brought anger into play with a look of eyes flashing wide open (a sign of fear, anger and, yes, surprise). And it was anger that Coats most felt by the end of this particular exchange with Mitchell. “So, um, it is what it is,” the Director of National Intelligence concluded, those conciliatory words offset by the way Coats’s eyes had narrowed and his lips had grown taut.

You could say Coats graduated to anger in recognizing that being so left out of the loop is, in effect, a measure of Trump’s disrespect for, and humiliation of, all or nearly all of the people who work for him in this administration. Coats no doubt resents Trump’s behavior, as much as Trump will surely punish Coats for honesty, independence and patriotism instead of unquestioned loyalty to him.

The bigger picture here is that Trump relishes indulging in surprises that leave much of the universe dumbfounded.  The E.U. is America’s leading “foe,” NATO is “obsolete,” and the press is supposedly the true “enemy of the people.” Putin and his idol, Joseph Stalin, couldn’t say it better. As emotions, surprise and fear are fellow travelers. Many of the facial expressions that reveal surprise also reveal fear, which makes sense because human beings don’t generally welcome surprises. Something new can be threatening, and certainly it is in the case of Trump. What’s next? Who knows—certainly not Coats. Why stop with inviting Putin the arch-burglar into The White House? Forget about the G-7. Why shouldn’t Trump convene a gathering of the world’s greatest dictators instead? Here’s a suggestion: he can dub this new group the D-7 and thereby champion the rise of strongmen everywhere.