Donald Trump’s comments condemning white supremacists may have been belated – and heavily scripted – but body language experts say they were largely sincere.
On Monday, under mounting media pressure, Mr Trump took to the podium to call out white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK. Three days earlier, a hundred of them had descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, in protests that lead to three deaths and dozens of injuries.
Mr Trump had initially attributed the casualties to “violence on many sides”. On Monday, however, he called out the hate groups specifically.
“Racism is evil,” Mr Trump said, in hastily arranged remarks at the White House. “And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
Body language experts Susan Constantine and Lillian Glass both told The Independent that the remarks appeared scripted, and devoid of the President’s usual ad-libbing – an indication of the seriousness of the topic. But both women agreed that Mr Trump couldn’t help letting slip some telling body-language cues.
“He’s got to either concentrate on his words and reading off the script, or on showing the right affect,” Ms Constantine said. “I’ve found that what he does is he reads the script, but at the moment he feels he wants to add emphasis, he uses hand gestures.”
Ms Constantine pointed to his signature bouncing, up-and-down hand gesture, which she says connotes his anger. The gesture, she said, is similar to someone shaking their finger. It means: “I am telling you with a level of certainty, I will absolutely not put up with it.”
Ms Glass also saw signs of authentic anger from the President, especially when he talked about one of the weekend’s victims.
When discussing the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, she said, the President “breathes in through his nose, which shows he is angry”. She compared the breathing to that of a bull before it enters the ring. His upturned palm, she added, shows he was speaking honestly on the subject.
Charlottesville, Virginia Protests
But Ms Glass also noticed something odd about his remarks – a new gesture she had never witnessed the President making. The movement – a sort of pinching of the thumb and forefinger – is a gesture she says was pioneered by John F Kennedy, and parroted by every president after him.
“I guess he’s trying to be contained, because he’s got this new gesture,” she said. “…In essence, he’s starting to get more in-script and more in the politics of the matter.”
Despite this, Ms Glass is convinced that Mr Trump meant the bulk of what he said from behind the podium – whether or not he wrote the words himself.
“He’s very controlled because he knows this is such a divisive issue,” she said, “…But he does leak out his anger and passion when he breathes through his nose, and his honesty comes out through his hand being open.”
Ms Constantine concurred.
“When he’s talking about how he wants everyone to love each other … he’s using his hand gestures,” she said. “And as a body language expert, that ‘s what you look for: Do the words match the gesture? If he didn’t feel that, his hands would be on the podium.”