Let's talk about how Trump's hands don't match his face and what that says about America right now

Let's talk about how Trump's hands don't match his face and what that says about America right now
Trump on 60 MinutesThe White House
  • President Trump's face is one color, his hands are another, and it seems the longer his presidency goes on the more striking the difference is.
  • Trump wears makeup because he wants to seem healthy and vigorous while he is performing the character he's created for himself over the years — because he has always placed a higher value on seeming rather than actually being.
  • Over his presidency the performance has become lazier and less capable.
  • But people still did and do support this hollow performance. Legendary urban planner Jane Jacobs wrote about the American tendency to substitute image for substance in her final book 'Dark Age Ahead.'
  • In the book this tendency — accompanied with a disrespect for science and an absence of logic in policymaking — it is a harbinger of doom for this country.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

The president's face is orange, his hands are a white-ish gray. The difference is getting more and more stark as his presidency goes on, and it is a sign that something is deeply wrong in America.

Trump's appearance has always been garish, but for some that was part of his charm. They considered that his real self — a man with the audacity to barrel through convention and get things done. But as his physical facade has cracked, so has that image.

The coronavirus laid bare to many what to some had been obvious, Trump is a man who only pretends at productivity and competence and he has no intention of giving up that charade. In fact — if that space by his hairline where his tanner ends and his real complexion begins is any indication — he's only getting sloppier at it.

The question is whether or not America will continue to play along with Trump. If we do we have chosen to enter a state of decline — the kind that can destroy advanced civilizations.

American myth making gone wild

Trump is a sign that the American tendency to allow for myth making has blown up into a complete absence of logic.


When Donald Trump entered the public's imagination he had a golden tan and a perfect smile. He was selling condos, hotels, casinos — anything that smelled of money. But behind the myth, he squandered the massive inheritance his father left him and went deeply into debt. As he's gotten older and reality has started to seep into his public image, his golden tan has turned orange.

Read more: Jared Kushner floating launch of a new Trump-branded media outlet, GOP sources say. It's another sign of a looming 2020 defeat.

So it was when Trump descended the escalator inside Trump Tower to begin his run for president in 2015. The tan was orange, but his camp pushed back on rumors that he brought a tanning bed into the White House. Former aide and Apprentice winner Omarosa Manigault claimed he used one every day. Trump's vanity turned into a state secret.

Tans are supposed to signal vitality and health and a life spent outdoors. But that isn't the life Trump has. It's yet another shallow, obvious production — a piece of myth making that many Americans don't mind. It is, however, getting clumsier.

In an episode of 60 Minutes schduled to air Sunday (the White House has already released footage) the difference between Trump's crypt keeper hands and his highlighter face serves as a stark reminder that he was recently a very sick man.


Trump is doing his best to perform otherwise, but we all saw him get taken to Walter Reed Medical Center. We all saw his doctors avoid basic questions from journalists. We all saw how labored his breathing was as he made a statement after walking up the steps of the White House. He had his tan back, but when someone is that sick a tan doesn't even make sense. You have to hope that whoever applied it was wearing a hazmat suit.

And as Trump's physical appearance has become more disheveled, he has also become ineffectual. He has not been able to sell a Biden-crushing October surprise to the American people — not through the Justice Department or the FBI. Only Fox News is carrying his rallies live. He's getting walloped in the polls much harder than he was in 2016. Whenever he is asked to talk about what he'll do with a second term in the White House he only talks about past grievances. There are no more catchy "Build the Wall" slogans.

Trump isn't trying to make sense to the entire country anymore, only his base. He doesn't think he has to, and neither do his associates. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani — now almost exclusively a purveyor of conspiracy theories designed to boost Trump — has the same problem. His face is orange, his hands are gray.

Let's talk about how Trump's hands don't match his face and what that says about America right now
Rudy Giuliani in an episode of Frontline on PBS.Frontline via YouTube

Giuliani's lies are more bizarre than ever but he, Fox News, The New York Post, and the White House do not seem to care. They believe enough of the American people will not require that there be any substance to the words he or Trump say about, for example, Hunter Biden. They believe that all we care about is how these people want things to seem — about the myth — not how they actually are. They believe we have no need to make things make sense.

Legendary urban planner Jane Jacobs wrote about this dangerous tendency in her 2004 book Dark Age Ahead (she also perfectly called the mortgage crisis of 2008, so it's worth a read). The entire book was a warning, a description of the signs she was seeing within our culture that told her our society was moving toward decline. She called the substitution for image as substance a "longstanding North American disconnection from reality" dating back to the latter nineteenth century. And she saw it becoming more and more of a problem.


Some of the other things she worried may sound very 2020 to you: Greed becoming culturally admired as competence. Unrealistic promises become admired as cleverness. Ideologues motivated by fear handing out prefabricated answers for any circumstance or complex question. Politicians who glorify the past. And finally, a fortress mentality — a desire to close our doors to the outside world.

Jacobs said that all of these things come together to create an environment where logic, truth, transparency and science are not respected. Instead myth takes hold. That, she says, is what pushes an advanced society into a dark age.

Trump's appeal to some of this country has always been his cold business man greed, his incredible boasting that "he alone" could fix this nation and take it back to a better time — that he could keep the forces that threaten to change us from without and within at bay. He is a caricature of what America looks like in a state of decline. And now that he is beginning to unravel, you can see it clearly on his hands and face.