Long before he became president I was already fascinated by the changes in Trump’s facial expression. During the primaries his face was pompous and aggressive, especially when he was attacking one of his opponents, but he would occasionally smile or laugh and look almost human. During the presidential campaign, and in particular in the debates with Hillary Clinton, he looked more aggressive but less pompous, in fact somewhat concerned, because he knew that she had superior knowledge about every subject that could possibly be brought up, and that he had to try and keep the focus on her vulnerabilities, the e-mail server and the Clinton Foundation. And then he won the election and his expression changed again. In his mind, becoming US President and the most powerful man in the world confirmed his status as a uniquely talented and successful human being, and he mistook the formal authority the presidency comes with for an intellectual and moral authority. His facial expression now became a combination of arrogance and disdain, and even more aggressive when his talents or achievements were questioned.
One hundred days into his presidency we have seen a couple more faces. Arrogance and disdain is still the default, but Trump has added a sheepish grin when he’s being asked about something embarrassing he doesn’t want to talk about, like how in the world Michael Flynn ever became National Security Advisor, and a somewhat comical expression of mental emptiness when he’s holding up an executive order he has just signed that he may or may not have read, like that time when Steve Bannon put himself on the National Security Council without telling the boss. And just like the looks have changed, so have the sounds. During the campaign, speaking at mass rallies, Trump was basically a screamer. With a high pitched voice he would hurl the insults towards his opponents, the accusations towards the press, and what turned out to be mostly lies about his future policies into the halls and hangars where his events took place. But when his staff finally got him to use the teleprompter to keep him on message and avoid his freelancing his speech became sullen, often with wrong intonations, and sometimes reduced to a whisper.
Trump knows that fully prepared speeches he reads off the teleprompter are not his strength, and lately he has returned to his screaming mode to try and conceal that thus far his presidency has brought about only destruction, by reversing sensible policies of the Obama era. He has not been able to get any legislation passed, and all his initiatives have stalled either in Congress, like the health care bill, or in the courts, like the Muslim ban, without much perspective of getting out.
According to Trump, no other president has achieved as much as he has during his first hundred days. This morning the New York Times has one full page listing those ‘achievements.’ The thrust of the article is that Trump’s main accomplishment is shattering the protocols and customs of the presidency, and replacing them with a mixture of secrecy, vulgarity and ignorance.
Some pundits think that Trump is learning on the job, and that his flip-flopping on a host of issues is a sign of growing political maturity, rather than spur-of-the-moment opportunism. For them, there is a bridge in Brooklyn for sale, with a warrantee from the Trump organization.