Did Trump reveal everything about how he’ll govern on ‘The Apprentice’?
Want to really know how President Trump feels about something? Keep an eye on his chin — it’s a window into his soul.
So says body language expert David Givens. “The visible contraction and bunching-up — which may telegraph the onset of a human cry — suggests that, in public, Mr. Trump finds himself in a chronic state of higher-than-average emotional arousal,” said Givens, an anthropologist who directs the Center for Nonverbal Studies, in Washington state. “This is likely to be seen in the White House . . . an unconscious mood sign to reckon with.”
Givens offered his analysis after watching episodes of “The Apprentice” and its sequel, “Celebrity Apprentice.” He was one of six experts asked by the Globe to analyze Trump on his long-running NBC reality show.
The country is a little more than a week into the Trump administration. But with no record as an elected official to draw from — and with the news that he plans to announce his Supreme Court nominee live on primetime TV Tuesday — Trump’s long-running NBC show, artificial as it may be, seems like a body of work worthy of study. The goal was to answer the quickly evolving question: How might Donald Trump lead?
As reality-TV fans know, Trump’s “Apprentice” was (and continues to be, with a different host) the business version of “Survivor.” Contestants vied to get hired by Trump, who always seemed to be riding in a limo, flying in a helicopter, boasting about his properties, and, of course, uttering his famous line, “You’re fired!”
The “Apprentice” panel watched episodes from the 2004 debut season (when Omarosa Manigault — now working with the White House Office of the Public Liaison — was the breakout star) and from 2015, Trump’s final season on “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Turns out, “Apprentice” Trump conducted himself a lot like President Trump.
The cockiness, the confrontational style, the flaring lips — all the mannerisms that became so familiar to fans of his show, and his campaign, remain on full display. In fact, switch out the boardroom set of “The Apprentice” for a podium in front of the Lincoln Memorial or the Resolute desk in the Oval Office and you might as well be watching Trump’s new show, “Me, President.”
Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, zoomed in on a boardroom scene from the 14th episode of Season One, in which Trump grills four remaining contestants on who should get fired.
One contestant, Amy, turns on the man she’s having a relationship with, Nick.
“That’s the end of that marriage,” Trump says. “You’re a cold-hearted person.”
In the end, Trump fires Nick — and also fires Amy, because, as he explained: “If [a person is] not loyal to you one time, don’t give them a second chance because they won’t be loyal to you the next time.”
Scripted or not, that is a line out of Trump’s real-world playbook. Loyalty is of paramount importance to the president — look no further than his circle of advisers and nominees, some of whom have been by his side since early in his campaign run or before. That would include Jared Kushner, husband of Trump’s daughter Ivanka and now a senior White House adviser.
Hendriksen’s take on the episode: “Of course, we can’t extrapolate from reality TV how he will govern, but this seems to be a very different mind-set than Abraham Lincoln’s famed team of rivals.”
Michael Bronner, a licensed mental health clinician with Thrive Boston Counseling — who has never met or treated Trump — said “The Apprentice” boss displayed “histrionic,” “narcissistic,” and “grandiosity” traits in some episodes.
Emphasizing that his observations were not a diagnosis, Bronner said such traits might make a person less likely to take responsibility for mistakes “because somebody else advised him to do it.” And, Bronner added, “[I]n the opposite scenario, for him to take credit for all the right decisions, even if they were suggested to him.”
Neal Hartman, a senior lecturer in managerial communication at the MIT Sloan School of Management, analyzed a scene from a “Celebrity Apprentice” episode in which Lorenzo Lamas, who starred on “Falcon Crest” in the ’80s, refuses to name two team members who should be fired. The actor tells Trump he believes everyone on the team worked diligently. Trump pushes him to name names but he digs in, so finally says, “Lorenzo, you’re fired.”
“What might we learn from these episodes of ‘The Apprentice’?” Hartman asked. “At times, Trump asks reasonable questions and appears to listen to the responses. He is often impatient and is not hesitant to push people to get to the point he is looking for. He seems to almost delight in causing rivalries to develop among colleagues.”
Of course this is not just something Trump does when he’s playing Trump on a reality show. The real-life Trump seems to delight in pitting interests against each other, too, a leadership style told regularly in headlines. “Trump pits Boeing, Lockheed against each other” (The Hill, Dec. 22, 2016). “Trump pits his staff against the media” (Politico, Jan. 11, 2017). “Trump Pits Himself Against Washington” (RealClear Politics, Jan. 21, 2017).
Before Trump was elected, critics said they could never imagine him as president. And yet, month after month on the campaign trail, Trump auditioned for that very role with voters and won.
His opponents — and the bulk of the press and pollsters — failed to see how persuasive his portrayal of a leader was. In our TV-centric age, perhaps we should have asked a casting director to predict the election.
In Los Angeles, here’s what casting director Sheila Conlin had to say after studying “The Apprentice” at the Globe’s request.
She emphasized that her observations were of Trump as a reality show candidate, not a man. Even so, it’s analysis many might find applicable to his new role as president.
Trump, she said, “embodies the perfect storm as an ideal candidate for reality TV.”
She listed the pertinent qualities: He is “narcissistic,” “has his own opinions,” is “clever and motivated by a challenge or a competition, but does not like rules.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s manner on the show seems so similar to his presidential campaign — and first few days in office — that a Newsweek review of the show’s premiere in 2004 could have been written yesterday.
“Like the gold-encrusted doors to his Fifth Avenue apartment, everything Donald Trump says is over the top,” the magazine wrote, “Like when he claims that ‘The Apprentice’ . . . is ‘the No. 1 show on television’ when it’s really No. 8 . . . The funny thing is, people are buying every morsel he has to sell.”