A Glut of Disgust in the 2020 Race

Joe Biden on stage in Cleveland with Donald Trump who shows lots of disgust on his face during the 1st presidential debate of 2020

Oscar Wilde’s most famous play is The Importance of Being Earnest. But I’m here today to talk about the importance of disgust. Like contempt, disgust is an aversive, rejection emotion. But the two emotions are cousins, not twins. Contempt is an intellectual or attitudinal emotion—signaling distrust and disrespect. In contrast, disgust is the single most visceral emotion—signaling that something is poisonous: literally, physically, something stinks or tastes bad, and/or is morally repugnant.

In Tuesday night’s first—and I pray only—2020 presidential debate, Donald Trump oozed disgust—showing that emotion 10 times more often than Joe Biden. So what, you might say. Well, research shows that conservative people have greater disgust sensitivity. In other words, given their tried-and-true, less experimental nature, conservatives are far more likely to reject what’s new and unfamiliar. That conservative, disgust-sensitivity bias would seem to suggest that Trump was on-track by showing a glut of disgust on Tuesday. When, though, is lots of disgust too much of a bad thing?

Here are Tuesday’s emotional results:

A chart showing the percentage of facially coded emotion Joe Biden and Donald Trump showed during the 1st Presidential debate of 2020. Disgust is dominant and threatening

In short, Trump went emotionally overboard and likely repelled undecided voters, who tend to be less interested in and, hence, more emotionally low-key about politics. Take the President’s constant interruptions of Biden and even the moderator, Chris Wallace, then add that lack of decorum to Trump’s massive showing of disgust and now you’ve got someone whose bully-dominance is telling voters intuitively, emotionally—beyond words alone—that he’s prepared to blow everything up to get re-elected. Right-wing militia types like the Proud Boys might be delighted. Largely apolitical voters as well as female suburban voters are, however, likely to be left both appalled and profoundly uneasy, tilting them in Biden’s favor.

…he’s prepared to blow everything up to get re-elected.

Does It Smell Right?

The sense of smell is the oldest, most powerful sense we have. Its even the origins of the brain, meaning it should be I smell, therefore I think – not I think, therefore I am.

Why Has Hatred Become So Prevalent Today?

Released today: episode #21 of “Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight” podcast series, featuring Berit Brogaard, the author of Hatred: Understanding Our Most Dangerous Emotion(Oxford University Press 2020). Listen to the audioclip below and click on the image to get to the new episode.

Photo of Author Berit Brogaard and the cover of her book "Hatred" featured on Dan Hill's EQ Spotlight podcast episode 21
What is it that makes hatred so addicting?

What is it that makes hatred so addicting?

Berit is a Professor of Philosophy and a Cooper Fellow at the University of Miami. Her areas of research include the topics of perception, emotions, and language. She’s published five books, four with Oxford University Press over the past decade, plus The Superhuman Mind, published by Penguin in 2015.

Topics covered in this episode include:

  • The two-fold nature of hatred, which has both a personal dimension and a group dimension to it. Hatred runs hotter and longer than anger, having more intensity and an attitudinal element.
  • How a 6th trait, honesty-humility, is a contender to supplement to the usual Big 5 personality model because it brings into the equation the role of narcissism, and its likely relationship to contempt.
  • How it is that some relatively privileged white men could be so prone to hatred toward women and minorities, with that hatred growing in times of greater economic inequality.

Dan Hill, PhD, is the president of Sensory Logic, Inc.

Clues to What You Might Detect on Stage

Photographs of Joe Biden and Donald Trump with arrows pointing to emotional expressions of anger, sadness, happiness and disgust to help TV viewers of the debates make sense of their emotions.

The fantasy is that citizens carefully, rationally, sift through political messages and information, making consciously informed decisions about which candidate to support based on the issues of the day. The reality is that 75% of Americans can’t name all three branches of government, 20% believe the right to own a pet is enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and 10% of our country’s college graduates think Judge Judy is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

So don’t think for a moment that emotions and intuitive, gut-reactions and biases don’t drive election results. How best to spot what a candidate is feeling?

Bear in mind that in ambiguous situations—think presidential debates—how we assess what’s being communicated is 55% from the face, 38% from the voice, and merely 7% from the words. Yes, facial expressions matter. So here is my cheat-sheet guide for you to use while watching the first debate on September 29th when the 7% of Americans who have supposedly not made up their minds may instead make up their hearts.

Chart of emotional expressions to look for in the first 2020 Presidential debate of Joe Biden and Donal Trump

Special Upcoming Roundtable Edition of Podcast

Airing on October 2nd will be a special, one-hour edition of my “Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight” podcast. It features a pair of political scientists, John Hibbing and Jonathan Weiler, who specialize in the emerging field of biopolitics: how our emotions, personality traits and even, perhaps, our DNA can predispose us to a liberal or conservative political orientation. This special edition will focus on how swing-voters in play may have responded to what they saw and heard during the 1st presidential debate.

Images of the book Predisposed by John R. Hibbing and the book Prius and the Pick up by Johnathan Weiler for Dan Hill's EQ Spotlight

Is It Expensive To Be Yourself?

Released today: episode #20 of my “Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight” podcast, featuring Timothy R. Clark, the author of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2020). Listen to the clip below and click on the image to get to the new episode.

Image of the Author Timothy R. Clark and his Book The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety

How does any organization invite the true, full participation of its members?

Clark is the founder and CEO of LeaderFactor, and ranks as a global authority on senior executive development, strategy acceleration and organizational change. He’s the author of five book, and over 150 articles. Clark earned a doctorate degree in Social Science from Oxford University.

Topics covered in this episode include:

  • Why showing respect and granting permission are the keys to unlocking potential.
  • What lies beneath stunning statics like, only 36% of business professional believe their companies foster an inclusive company culture, and only one-third of workers believe their opinions count; whereas, 50% of workers report being treated rudely at work at least once a week.
  • How a leader’s “tell-to-ask” ratio relates to whether that person suffers from the narcissism that limits the effectiveness of so many leaders.

Dan Hill, PhD, is the president of Sensory Logic, Inc.

Adverse Circumstances, and a Bad Boss

Now blissfully many years ago, I survived two bad bosses in a row. The first was so capriciously mean-spirited that one day on the job our department secretary, a sweet, devout older woman, called me over with glee to tell me the latest joke making the rounds. “Why is Linda going on vacation?” The punchline was so she could write a new introduction to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Half a dozen lawsuits against the company for being subjected to “mental cruelty” would soon be filed by my colleagues. 

As to the other boss, well, that person ran a public relations operation with New York City real estate moguls as clients (Donald Trump wasn’t among them). By my second week at that firm, my neck was iron-tight and incapable of turning even a quarter-inch either direction with ease due to the stress of working there. When I confided my condition to a coworker, she breezily remarked: “Oh, everybody gets sick here by their second week on the job.”

Many of us have had bad bosses, but the two men I’m highlighting this week have it worse than most everyone. They’re stuck in dire circumstances. The first is obviously Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has to deal with the coronavirus and Trump’s back-biting. The other is Bill Stepien, Trump’s new manager of a campaign dealing with both Trump’s self-induced chaos and a double-digit deficit in the presidential race against Joe Biden. Fauci is certainly the kinder spirit of the two men. Stepien’s biggest claim to fame is being fired by former New Jersey governor Chris Christie for exhibiting “callous indifference” amid Christie’s Bridgegate scandal. Come to think of it that makes for a third, bad boss. That’s because I had taken on being manager of Christie’s first, brief foray into politics. The lure? Christie was challenging a fellow Republican who had claimed women were incapable of being good judges given their menstrual cycles.

What do Fauci and Stepien have to do now? Engage in what I call “reverse innovation”: whereby the situation is so dire that you have to practice creativity and triage both aggressively at the same time in order to have any chance of success. I’ll be elaborating on what “reverse innovation” means in a business context in my video below.

Reverse Innovation: Creativity & Triage

Creativity & Innovation, Demystified

Released today: episode #11 of Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight podcast series, featuring Nir Bashan, author of The Creator Mindset: 92 Tools to Unlock the Secrets to Innovation, Growth, and Sustainability. Listen to the clip below and click on the image to get to the new episode, hosted on the New Books Network (NBn).

Dan Hill's EQ Spotlight Podcast features a photo of Nir Bashan and his book's cover, The Creator Mindset

Why is the corporate fallback being “analytical” (as opposed to nurturing creativity)?

Bashan is a creativity expert who has spent the past two decades devising a formula for sustained creativity. Besides his blue-chip corporate clients, Bashan has also worked on album, movies and advertisements for people like Rod Stewart and Woody Harrelson, won a Clio and been nominated for an Emmy. This is his first book.

Topics covered in this episode include:

  • Creativity’s three unlikely personal traits (hint: courage is one of them).
  • Why self-doubt and complacency are both threats to successful innovation, and how to overcome each in turn.
  • Design obstacles Bashan has witnessed, plus five more from my book Emotionomics.

Dan Hill, PhD is the President of Sensory Logic, Inc.

Biden Sinks Beneath the Waves in Iowa

In 2008, I knew Hillary Clinton had lost to both Barrack Obama and John Edwards the morning of the Iowa caucuses. I was in a motel room breakfast nook watching Clinton being interviewed on national TV and her smile kept retreating moment by moment during the interview, like an elevator descending floor by floor. Despite trying to put a “brave face” on things, the super-disciplined candidate couldn’t hide the truth about to emerge and that her staff was probably already warning her about.

Dance ahead to 2020, and it was the same thing last night. As I write this piece, the final results from Iowa haven’t yet been announced. But the outline is clear: Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders are all bunched toward the top, with the second tier amounting to a food fight for 4th-place “bragging rights” between Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar.

020420-01 Jackie Biden Fear Smile

In short, for Biden – whose candidacy is based on his electability argument – it was a disaster. On stage, ever the pro he tried to smile big but it was the fearful, grimacing and despondent looks of his loyal wife, Jill, that told the real story. “We feel good about where we are,” said Biden. Yeah, right. “We are punching above our weight,” said Klobuchar. She might end up landing the V.P. slot on a ticket headed by Buttigieg or Mike Bloomberg, but she’s not yet (or ever) in the heavyweight class of boxers. A woman has to be on the ticket for the Democrats to win, I and others believe. In what slot, first or second, president or vice president, will a female appear? And who will get the nod (Warren, Klobuchar, or . . . somebody not named Jill and better at feigning a smile)?

020420-02 Jackie Biden Fear (2)

Who Just Got Angrier: Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi?

If fireworks during the Impeachment hearings aren’t enough evidence that our nation’s politics are super-heated nowadays, welcome to a pair of unlikely outbursts. The first arose because of Joe Biden being confronted by a MSNBC-watching voter in Iowa at a town hall meeting regarding his son’s role in Ukraine. The second was due to Nancy Pelosi being asked by a conservative journalist after a press conference about whether she “hates” Donald Trump.

120919-03 Joe Biden Head Down120919-01 Nancy Pelosi Anger

Which of the two Democratic leaders got angrier, and what have we learned or confirmed regarding their personalities and political chops? The answer to first question is Pelosi. Twice, she showed a more intense version of anger whereby the lips press together so tightly that a bulge forms below the lower lip. But that’s not all. Whereas Biden’s eyes mostly narrowed in anger, the other really vital emotional “grace note” here is that Pelosi showed disgust repeatedly, with either her upper lip flaring or else her lower lip pulling down and sometimes out as well.

120919-02 Nancy Pelosi Disgust

What’s the bottom line here?  Who proved more savvy in a moment of ire? Who displayed the best political chops?

Biden lost at least twice over, first by so often showing sadness (eyes closed, head bowed) in response to the voter’s concerns. It was as if he was surrendering to disappointment at being asked a legitimate question as to what kind of expertise his son brought to the board of that Ukrainian gas company that justified his compensation. Second, deriding a voter (who dislikes Trump) is far worse than brushing off a hostile journalist. Biden might be “proud” of his son’s judgment in taking the easy money, but who will second that motion? Did the gas company hope that by hiring Biden’s son the Obama administration might go soft on it in rooting out corruption?  That seems like a fair assumption, though it’s hardly a major scandal (especially given how Trump’s kids and Jared Kushner behave).

120919-03 Joe Biden Head Down

As to Pelosi, she managed to smile as often as she was angry or disgusted. She showed backbone and fire proportionate to the Constitutional stakes involved. And her disgust was entirely on-emotion, entirely in keeping with invoking her Catholic faith and, hence, revulsion regarding the President’s lack of ethics. Who’s the Democrats’ best street fighter among these two leaders?  Hands down, it’s Pelosi, whose eyes go wide (taking in information, ever alert) while Biden often resorts to closing his own.

120919-04 Nancy Pelosi Eyes Wide

Klobuchar Rising: The 5th Democratic Debate of 2020 Race

Six of these ten candidates are guaranteed to still be on stage come December’s debate, and of them Amy Klobuchar has done the best job of surviving near political death. If not for her “pipe dream” take on Elizabeth Warren’s medicare-for-all plan last time around, Klobuchar likely wouldn’t be securing a second look from voters. Now the Minnesota Senator’s shaky debate nerves are subsiding, a little, making her curmudgeonly disgust expressions her next big emotional hurdle.

Like Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg had a far better night verbally than he did in terms of his non-verbal, facial expressions. Expecting to be attacked as a newly-minted frontrunner in Iowa, mayor Pete looked downright pensive most of the evening. That all changed, however, when Tulsi Gabbard made her ill-advised attack on Buttigieg. Then viewers saw Buttigieg’s mouth purse tight in anger, a tell-tale bulge forming below his lower lip. Mayor Pete has already dispatched one youthful rival, Beto O’Rourke; now he’s done it again with Gabbard. Anybody who thinks the guy from Indiana lacks the toughness to potentially go all the way isn’t paying enough attention.

What else was visually of note from last night’s debate? Hard to forget the image of a clueless Joe Biden, standing with his mouth open after he forgot that there’s been a second black female Senator: Kamala Harris standing nearby, incredulous, and feigning amusement at being overlooked! Andrew Yang proved he could smile. Tom Steyer again did his best imitation of The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. Eating more salads agrees with Bernie Sanders. Finally, paradoxically the evening had more left-wing Elizabeth Warren still comfortably occupying center-stage while centralist Cory Booker stood marooned on the stage’s far left side.

P.S. After yesterday’s testimony from Gordon Sondland failed to create any Republican impeachment converts in Congress, I had to think again of Upton Sinclair’s comment: “It’s hard for a man to understand something when his job depends on his not understanding it.”

Biden Snoozes, Warren Loses (Her Grip a Little): The October Debate

Heart-attack and all, Bernie Sanders survived an at times tedious, at other times raucous three-hour debate by showing both gratitude for others’ concerns for his health and a shark smile: shiny white teeth, and a grimacing smile. Bernie still burns, but I continue to believe his monolithic, angry Old Testament prophet routine won’t get him to The White House.

How about some of the other candidates last night? Here’s who rose to prominence:

  • Pete Buttigieg probably “won” the debate. He turned to face whomever he was challenging on stage, showed no fear, and was a passionately (mostly angry, sometimes disgusted) left-of-center moderate. Positioning himself as a millennial, outside the Beltway figure, Buttieg also had the blessing of being at the center of the stage with three candidates all over 70 years of age. “I don’t need lessons on courage from you” was his snarly response to Beto O’Rourke in an exchange on confiscating military-assault-style guns (or not). The man with suddenly sharp elbows, Buttigieg has tons of cash on-hand and stands to gain from Joe Biden’s fade.
  • Speaking of Biden, heaven help a guy who can’t help himself. His verbal stumbles caused him to wince as well as often close his eyes: is that the mode of an older man who portrays himself as “wise”? His son, Hunter, did him no favors either in an ABC interview that aired before the debate. Why, at one point Hunter even covered his face with his hands in trying to explain away his credentials for pulling down $50,000 a month for a nothing-role with a Ukraine energy company. Like father, like son, the lack of articulation was significant.
  • Elizabeth Warren is now the front-runner and so was under frequent attack on stage last night. All along I’ve been arguing that she needs to take a page from Teddy Roosevelt’s book and be an upbeat, energetic reformer with enough gusto to show she loves America. O’Rourke’s attack on her as “punitive” and her inability to thank Biden for helping to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shows that Warren needs to vary her slightly less heated version of Sander’s monolithic anger. More displays of happiness would help greatly. Attacked, she responded at times with a mouth that hung open in surprise as evidenced by her response to O’Rourke: “So, um, I’m really shocked at the notion that anybody thinks I’m punitive.”

Of all the candidates at risk of not qualifying for the November debate, Amy Klobuchar fought like the one person determined to struggle to live for another day. The other three candidates on the far left or right of the stage averaged eight minutes of speaking time; she got in over 13 minutes. That said, Klobuchar was again full of fear, her voice quaking, her entire upper body quivering at times, and her face grim with a mixture of a mouth pulled wide in fear, lips pressed tight in anger, and disgust flaring her upper lip. Nonetheless, she made her points in favor of moderation (“at least Bernie’s being honest” about the cost of Medicare-for-all, she said to Warren at one point).

Nobody else mattered last night.

Among all the losers was a chance to make the debates better. How about a shorter format? How about letting the candidates each ask a question of another candidate, giving viewers a break from hearing the moderators grind through the same issues yet again? Finally, how about a question or two on Africa? The biggest trend of the past 40 years was the rise of China. The biggest trend of the next 40 years will be the rise of Africa, through the sheer weight of a swelling population if nothing else. America’s leaders have misjudged China’s trajectory badly. Will they do likewise when it comes to Africa’s future?

70-Year-Olds to the Rescue: The Third 2020 Democratic Debate

So another debate is in the books, and I’m not sure we’re a whole lot wiser for the three-hour marathon ABC News put us through as viewers. The good news is that at least it wasn’t as long as the seven-hour town hall on climate change that CNN hosted recently, a length more suitable to one of those 1920’s dancehall marathons than a town hall meeting highlighted by the presence of presidential candidates. Speaking of an earlier era, Joe Biden managed to slip in a reference to record-players but at least didn’t admit to showing up for the debate in his horse-and-buggy. Biden was definitely more caffeinated this time around, but I still get the sense that his campaign’s unofficial slogan is, “I won’t blow anything up.”

Who “won” the debate? Elizabeth Warren can always come across as measured and moderate so long as a bellowing Bernie Sanders occupies the stage. This time, Warren offered more details about her life and continues to look assured, informed, and utterly committed to reform. She’s about the only candidate on stage never subject to a bout of stage fright. Also doing well last night was Cory Booker, whose animated emoting—everything from big, genuine, generous smiles to indignation, surprise and more—makes him the candidate you might pay to watch as a stand-up comedian.

The other candidates ranged from okay to odd. Pete Buttigieg increasingly strikes me as Radar O’Reilly from MASH: always prepared, but simply not the star of the show. Kamala Harris has descended into displays of “spontaneous” joy to overset her scowling. Amy Klobuchar continues to come across as a nervous wreck. Somebody should give the moderate Minnesotan a tranquilizer before she hits the stage next time. At the far other end of the stage, Julian Castro looked ready to play Biden’s assassin: full of menacing, haughty glances at the front-runner. The also-rans are many. Everybody on stage appeared to like Beto O’Rourke, but nobody is likely to pick him as their VP. O’Rourke still comes across as a meek version of Robert F. Kennedy: youth and conviction, but no bare knuckles.

The night’s big loser might have been Andrew Yang. His give-away proposal during the opening statements was downright weird, eliciting tittering laughter from his colleagues on stage.  But that was just the start of his failure to capture the moment last night.

When Yang was asked why he was the best candidate to step up to the role of being Commander in Chief, he might have pivoted to the fact that as an entrepreneur he could argue that, ultimately, the state of the nation’s economy is what enables paying our large defense department budgets. Without money, nobody’s safe from China, Russia or losing the American dream. All in all, in the end, it was the three septuagenarians—Biden, Warren and Sanders—occupying center stage and promising to deliver us from Trump, a 70-year-old-plus leader himself. Of them, Warren seems the most in command of the details; Sanders the best at shouting, ever more hoarsely: “The house is on fire.” Meanwhile, Biden smiles and Trump continues to burn everything he touches.

Booker Finds His Mojo, and Warren Isn’t as Scorching as Sanders

Heading into this week’s two nights of Democratic presidential debates, the big picture looked like this. Based on national polls, fundraising efforts, and media coverage, the Democratic field consisted of five actually viable campaigns (Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris, and Buttigieg), and a bunch of mere candidacies. Among the rest of the contenders, O’Rourke, Booker, and Klobuchar were generally considered to be the Minor Three candidates with the best chance of hitching a ride with the Big Five, real candidates. How everyone performed on stage—non-verbally, emotionally—over the last two nights has scrambled that picture.

The Winners: Nobody benefited more than Cory Booker. Passionate, full of looks of happiness, surprise, indignation, and occasional sadness, Booker really brought it to Wednesday night’s debate. The odds are he’s now found his mojo. Nobody was more animated or emotionally versatile than Booker. The other two biggest winners were Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren from Tuesday night’s debate. But by comparison, Sanders was utterly emotionally monolithic: anger, combined with more anger and just a touch of disgust. If somebody did a remark of the 1976 satirical movie Network, surely the casting director would have to look no further in deciding who to cast as the raving anchorman Howard Beale: the man on TV screaming to millions “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” Alongside Sanders, Warren was also repetitively angry, but not as intensely so. She projected courage and conviction, too, but not as if she would rather burn down The White House than move into it.

The Losers: Occasionally stumbling for his words, and at other moments standing with his head bowed and lips firmly, even grimly, pressed together, Joseph Biden came across as more like a bobber at the end of a fishing line than our next President. Biden rode the waves, but not much more. For Kamala Harris, Wednesday night proved to be a minor disaster. The empathetic sadness she wove into her take-down of Biden in the previous round of debates turned into glum determination this time around. Maybe she didn’t expect to be pummeled by the likes of Tulsi Gabbard and Michael Bennet. But Harris looked like a woozy boxer at times, somebody taking it on the chin. Among the Minor Three candidates, Beta O’Rourke talked way too fast to emote much, failing to make a strong impression. In contrast, Amy Klobuchar made a definite impression: scared. As with the first round of debates, nobody exuded anxiety more than Klobuchar did; she appeared to be the mirror inverse of Warren’s pluck.

Everybody Else: Gabbard was close to phenomenal: unlike most of the 20 candidates on stage, she didn’t rush her words or fail to convey confidence and conviction. If there’s any justice in the world, she deserves to turn the Minor Three into the Major Minor Two: her and Booker. As to Pete Buttigieg, standing next to Sanders he tried to amp up his anger but got lost in the force field of Sanders’ greater, more radioactive anger. Julian Castro? Adept, but did you notice his tendency to arch his head back in a look of condescension not far off from Kirsten Gillibrand’s smirking. Marianne Williamson? She had a higher gear, emotionally and otherwise; she’ll be (likely) missed in round three. Andrew Yang’s flat affect undermined him, but not as badly as Bennet’s weak voice and tepid emoting, Jay Inslee’s ugly mouth grimaces, or John Delaney doing his best, wide-eyed and falsely smiling impression of what a prairie gopher or chipmunk might look like if running for President.

This week’s pair of debates provided a study in contrasts. On Tuesday, Sanders and Warren were ironically in the center of the stage, physically and emotionally, dominating the debate and making the “far left” seem downright central. Try as they might, verbally shooting at them from the wings, the party’s moderates lost out. Wednesday night’s debate was totally different. At center stage was the party’s main moderate, Biden, alongside center-left Harris. In this case, the center did not hold (up) well. Two other more or less moderate candidates, Booker and Gabbard, stole Wednesday evening and deserve to live to see another night on stage.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.