A Taxonomy of Donald Trump’s Facial Expressions

The outgoing president’s journey from reality television to the Oval Office is evident in every smile and every scowl.

trump close ups
Mandel Ngan/Brendan Smialowski/Getty

Of the many head-benders of the Trump era, the dialectic between absurdity and extreme gravity has been one of the hardest to manage. We have been obliged to take an unserious person very seriously indeed. It has hurt our brains. It has reminded us, again and again, that the 45th president of the United States is simultaneously a reality-television star and an aspiring despot.

Is it possible to separate his hammy entertainer’s chops from his raw political efficacy? Or his charisma from his incoherence? No, it is not. But we can begin an analysis. And we can start by classifying some of his major modes as an orator and a performer: the masks of Trump.


ATLAS SHRUGS

He’s got the whole world in his hands. Why not just drop it and let it bounce a couple of times?

trump with arms out
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TOASTMASTER GENERAL

In Trump’s speeches, the horrible little prose-y bits that Stephen Miller wrote were always just padding. The rambling, the ad-libs, the lurching sensation of his mind in motion: That’s what the people were there for.

Trump pointing
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IMPERIAL POUT

Clownish dismay at the nastiness of all the nasty, nasty people. With perhaps an obscenity building behind it.

Trump with a downturned mouth
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GOLDEN BOY

Basking in the regard of the world: I am adored, I am despised, I am the nucleus.

Trump smiling
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STAGE WHISPERER

I shouldn’t say this but ... that’s exactly why I’m saying it.

trump whipsering
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SERIOUS PERSON

Pretending to consult notes. This is what “presidential” looks like: bored.

trump pursing lips looking around
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HISTORY MAN

The glower of the autocrat, the strongman scowl. Off camera, you can hear the tap-tap of the sculptor’s chisel.

Glaring Trump
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WHITE POWER

A curiously zestless, heavy-bodied gesture, this slouchingly raised fist nonetheless gets the point across.

Trump raised fist
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MERRY PRANKSTER

He never laughs, Trump. Too risky. The joke he is perpetrating is so enormous that if he allowed himself to laugh he might burst.

Trump winking
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