* Trump loves a strong visual. Image from The White House. Public Domain.
President Trump, as is his wont, preempted the news cycle today by abruptly ending a press conference after a testy exchange with CBS reporter Weijia Jiang and CNN’s Kaitlan Collins. But most of the press is over-simply describing what happened.
If you didn’t see it, it began when Jiang, who was born in China but has lived in the U.S. since age 2, asked why Trump insists on seeing COVID-19 testing as an international competition.
Trump sidestepped the question, then fired back, “Maybe that’s a question you should ask China.”
He then turned to Collins for the next question. But Jiang, wasn’t done, and Collins let her ask a very pointed follow-up: “Sir, why are you saying that to me, specifically, to ask China?”
It was a very good query, but Trump dismissed it as a “nasty question. ” He then he tried to skip over Collins to take a question from a different reporter.
But Collins wasn’t having it, and tried to ask her question anyway.
“No, that’s OK,” Trump said. (If you’ve not noticed, the “OK” part is one of his ways of dismissing people.)
“But you called on me,” she protested.
At which point Trump abruptly ended the press conference and walked out.
The reporting on this tends to say that he stormed out. But from the video, it appears that he was very much in control.
He wasn’t storming out. He was punishing the press crew for tolerating two uppity women. The message was very clear: if the press pool continues to let such women challenge him, he will punish them all, like a grade school teacher punishing the entire class when one person acts up. (I don’t know if they still do that, but that was a staple of my childhood.)
My guess is that his base saw it that way, too: as Trump, the alpha male leader firmly taking control…over women who don’t know their place.
Which brings me to my second point. Why doesn’t he wear a mask?
Because, now that everyone else visiting the White House, including the press corps, is required to wear masks, Trump as the only unmasked person looks bold, decisive, and very much in charge.
This was extremely evident in the video of him putting down Jiang and Collins. Their masks made them them look timid, weak, and partially faceless. Trump, unmasked, was the only complete human image in the video, and as such, again, very much the alpha male.
Please don’t read this as saying I approve. I don’t. Rather than being an actual leader and leading by example, he’s trying to project an image of leadership–and not a kind of leadership I approve of, anyway.
But the image of Trump unmasked and full-faced makes its point extremely dramatically, and whatever else you say about Trump, the man knows TV showmanship.
It is a clearly deliberate visual designed to reassure his base, while subliminally making a strong point to the few remaining independents.