(Dan Hill introduced the use of facial coding in market research. He is the author of four books, including “Emotionomics.” The opinions expressed here are his own.)
July 29 (Reuters) - I expected disgust - and its first cousin contempt - to be the most frequent emotions on Donald Trump’s mug as he announced his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. After all, disgust would make perfect sense. It’s an emotion in keeping with Trump’s repeated comments about the current state of America as something that smells and tastes bad - if not literally, then at least metaphorically.
But what caught me by surprise was how often sadness appears on Trump’s face. For a guy who’s as rich as he is, it’s striking how being a winner in the “pursuit of happiness” doesn’t seem to factor into Trump’s emotional profile. It is this sadness, which appeared roughly a quarter of the time during his campaign kick-off event, that sets Trump apart from most other presidential candidates.
Trump does display the classic forms of disgust - one’s nose wrinkles or upper lip curls, as if protecting the mouth from a poisonous substance. This was not all that surprising, given that disgust is about rejection. News flash: Trump rejects how the United States is being run by its professional politicians.
OK, so how about anger? Trump does show plenty of it. Anger constituted nearly a third of his emoting during his announcement. A slightly more toned-down version of Trump was on display the other day in the candidate’s Laredo press conference, with skepticism (smiles accompanying lacerating remarks) being more prevalent than anger. Nonetheless, on a day-by-day basis on the campaign trail, Trump’s become the Howard Beale of U.S. presidential politics.
Remember the classic 1976 movie “Network”? Peter Finch played Beale, the esteemed, longtime anchor of the UBS Evening News, who regains strong ratings after he galvanizes the country by exhorting viewers to open their windows and shout “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Anger is an aggressive emotion, rooted in the impulse to strike out at those viewed as unfairly blocking progress. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), a former amateur boxer while at the Naval Academy, hit out at Trump by calling the crowd at his anti-immigration rally in Phoenix “crazies.” Emotions are contagious.
In a classic case of tit-for-tat revenge, Trump insisted that McCain is “not a war hero.” Trump said McCain was only deemed “a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
Trump’s ensuing non-apology involved his labeling McCain “yet another all-talk, no-action politician who spends too much time on television.” (Irony may not be Trump’s long suit, given that he is a reality-show TV star most famous for the line “You’re fired!”)
But I digress. Anger isn’t what distinguishes Trump in the wild, wooly and overcrowded Republican field this election cycle. Tough-talking New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, for example, shows every bit as much anger as Trump. Yet Christie is now overshadowed by the Atlantic City casino owner.
Instead, it’s sadness that is Trump’s particular forte. That emotion is evident twice over.
First, Trump almost never smiles except to employ skepticism. It’s like Pixar’s new film Inside Out, which animates a little girl’s five core emotions - joy, anger, disgust, fear and sadness. Kill off joy (or happiness), and you begin to get the picture when it comes to Trump. I’ve facially coded all the announced launches for the new crop of presidential candidates to get a feel for how the candidates compare emotionally, and nobody is as negative as Trump.
Second, nearly a quarter of all Trump’s emoting at his kick-off event in Trump Tower involved sadness. This was also true as Trump stood waiting for the mayor of Laredo, Texas, to surrender the microphone to him on Thursday. Sometimes it manifests itself in Trump lowering his eyes. Other times, sadness is revealed, along with other emotions, as Trump knits together his lowered eyebrows or raises his chin to form an upside-down smile.
Of those two facial expressions, the former doesn’t really present the essence of Trump the grumpy politician. Like the underfunded McCain of the 2000 election cycle, Trump’s running his campaign less like a brow-knitting, focused candidate and more like a free-wheeling, off-the-cuff, let’s-let-the-press-serve-as-my-campaign-staff kind of impresario.
The eyes-shut, blind-to-who-he-insults version of Trump is a good runner-up for being the tell-tale look that best describes and explains Trump as apprentice candidate. Fully a seventh of his emoting in the Trump Tower was of this variety.
But it’s Trump’s upside-down smile that gets my vote when it comes to emotionally encapsulating the version of Trump now on the campaign trail. Trump’s a pouter. Like in that old Lesley Gore song “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want to,” he expects to get his way, and when he doesn’t, he wants to spoil the party. Just as an emotionally arrested child might.
This is all of a piece with Trump’s passionate campaign persona. That’s his appeal. He “cares” - even if it’s quite possible that what he cares about most is the Trump brand.
Maybe he’s disappointed at not simply being crowned king. Or maybe he really is disappointed about how “stupid” everybody else is in the country except for himself - and the supporters who adore him.
This candidacy can’t end well. Trump’s annoyingly annoyed, and happy to be sad. A supposedly badly floundering United States, Trump insists, needs equally badly the genius only he can bring to the White House. That’s the apparent, underlying emotional storyline here.
But the businessman in Trump should realize that what people buy most of all is happiness and the hope of future happiness. In Trump’s newest, on-the-stump reality show those emotions are missing in action. (Dan Hill)