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A Body Language Expert Analyzes Trump's Inexplicable Meeting Habit

March 31st 2017

Joel Silberman

What does one do when discovering they have less control than they thought they would have in their new job?


As Twitter users recently noticed, the answer, if you're President Donald Trump, is "rarrange the items on the meeting table."

The commander-in-chief's propensity for shifting things around his desk area was even the subject of a recent Jimmy Kimmel segment.

Why is he doing this?

As a business executive, Trump was accustomed to being in control all the time, of everything, and everyone — asserting he could do it all himself.

But he's learned that the reality of being president is a lot more "complicated" then he imagined.

It looks to me like President Trump is trying to take back control.

And that behavior pattern seems to have grown more acute as time goes on and the pressure from a failing legislative agenda and a former senior staff member asking the Justice Department for immunity from prosecution mounts.

When the Titanic was sinking the musicians played their instruments and the ship’s crew rearranged the deck chairs because, in those actions, they felt as though they were in control.

Throughout these first 70 some days of the Trump Presidency, I have seen body language in the president that is alternatively puffed up and deflated. It shows in the vigorously overly long handshake with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ...

... or the petulant juvenile lack of handshake with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Both moments were telling in their indicating of Trump insecurity.

As I remember the boardroom of Donald Trump's television show, The Apprentice, his desk was always neatly organized. 

As I watch him now rearrange items on the table in his presidential meetings, I see why the television set of the boardroom was so impeccably arranged. When actors are fidgety and want to play with things in front of them, a smart director makes sure there's nothing there for them to play with.

None of us know how the drama of the Trump presidency will play out, but I can say that the president needs to get better control of what he shows the camera or more of us in the audience will notice the unraveling on the screen.

It’s just like poker, it’s the tiny body tells that give you away.

Joel Silberman is a media critic and strategist as well as the author of the upcoming book "Politics Is Theater With Real Bullets."