In the Age of Botox reading faces has become a lost art. At least, it has for people of a certain age.
And yet, your ability to read someone else’s face is crucial to your ability to function in society. The quicker you pick up subtle cues the better off you will be. After all, human conversation is not the same as an exchange of epistles. Presence matters. Your ability to connect in non-verbal ways matters.
It is not an accident that practitioners of deconstruction—you know, that philosophical version of the pogrom—believe that those who privilege speech are establishing a culture that represses everyone’s inner troll. In its own peculiar way deconstruction promotes social dysfunction and dislocation. When people converse, when they overcome the urge to text, they form social bonds that are vastly better than those they establish by sending out text messages.
Anyway, yesterday I remarked on the humility I had recently seen in both President Obama and President-elect Trump. Since several of my friends had seen the same thing, I was confident that I was not hallucinating.
Then again, you never know.
Yesterday in the New York Times Mark Leibovich explained what he saw. His analysis is salient and consistent with mine.
Leibovich begins by pointing out that, to some extent, vanity must drive any presidential candidate. Of course, it's always possible to have too much of a good thing. As I have occasionally pointed out, during this election cycle the Republican Party had too many vanity candidates.
But, that was for another day. Leibovich writes:
There’s something inherently vain about running for president. You spend months touting yourself as someone who is better suited to an impossible task than anyone else in the United States. This is not normal. It takes immense chutzpah and (no doubt) self-delusion. And then you are granted the wish, and everything changes. Your vanity is suddenly joined by — if not overrun by — a sense of shock, fear and, you would hope, humility.
But the, he continues, being elected is a transformative event. And it will be so for anyone who possesses a moral sense.
But something happens to prospective presidents the moment they are elected, historians have observed. It’s difficult to describe, but the enormity hits fast and hard. “There’s something about the office,” the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said in The Times last month. The context of her remarks was whether it would be possible for even Trump to be transformed.
Trump’s humility was on display when he acknowledged that he had won on Wednesday morning. And it was clearly on display when he met with President Obama in the White House on Thursday.
In Leibovich’s words:
I watched Trump again Thursday, as President Obama hosted him at the White House. The president-elect was deferential and gracious as the media entered the Oval Office. He also conveyed the same hesitant vibe as he did on election night, which was oddly reassuring. “The fact that the president-elect looks a bit shocked and more somber today is the most heartening thing I’ve seen in days,” tweeted Tom Nichols, a professor at the United States Naval War College and a vocal Trump critic during the campaign.
At least Trump was human enough to be nervous, or humble enough to let it show all over his face. Yes, this was really happening, and the realization was sinking into Donald J. Trump like the initial drips of anesthesia: His life had changed utterly, and so had the world.
As I suggested yesterday, it’s a hopeful sign.