At Rev. Billy Graham's funeral in March, President Donald Trump massaged Vice President Mike Pence's thigh — reaching around first lady Melania — in an apparent effort at consolation. It was that classic display of male camaraderie — good ol' platonic leg-touching — that conveyed so much about their relationship. There's no contrast more stark than that of Trump-Pence and President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. A picture is worth a thousand words, and these photos of Trump and Pence vs. Obama and Biden reveal the depth of their differences — and will give you a much-needed laugh break.
As far as photography is concerned, vice presidents often get the short end of the stick. Unless they are giving remarks in addition to the president, they are often sidelined and their facial reactions become immortalized for all of us to enjoy.
Pence has his go-to face for Trump speeches — a faint, smirk-like look — like he's just witnessed a child trip and fall during a ballet recital. It's also how I imagine he reacts to boys being dragged off to inhumane gay conversion therapy camps in droves. It's a grin that a super-villain would flash along with the phrase, "IT SHALL BE DONE," before gathering infinity stones or something. It seems to show that Pence is Trump's loyal sheepdog — he doesn't serve the press any self-searching Gov. Chris Christie looks.
Biden's background faces during Obama speeches are only nominally better than Pence's, but just because it looks like he's auditioning for a dramatic movie role. He's a big fan of incorporating hand gestures into the mix, which I respect. It sort of looks like an acting coach has told him to imagine he's the president and is about to make an important decision.
The biggest contrast between photos of these executive branches can be observed in two-shots of president and vice president. In a good photo, their chemistry and respect for one another (or their general dotard-ness and buffoonery) can come across.
Photos of Trump and Pence together, for example, are uncomfortable. Apart from the knee massage at Graham's funeral, the duo show little physical affection for each other... and are almost always wearing suits that do not fit their frames. Trump and Pence share the same affinity for not-smiling, presumably because smiling precludes happiness, and happiness is a feeling, and feelings are for women. They often trade smiles for a saggy variation of duck-face, kind of like they just took a shot of apple cider vinegar.
Traci Brown, a body language expert and speaker, tells me in an interview for Elite Daily that Trump and Obama's styles are markedly different, which affects how they look with their respective VPs.
"We only see stoic looks from Trump — no attempt at true connection with Pence. There’s physical distance between them usually. No real happiness," Brown says. "But we have to remember that this is just Trump’s style. We don’t see him try to connect with many — especially those who should be close to him, like Melania."
Obama and Biden wore suits that weren't two sizes too large, so that already makes them more photogenic right off the bat. (Pence should watch Queer Eye; I really think it would be valuable for him.) Aside from the suits, though, Obama and Biden their confident postures, resolute expressions with easy smiles, at least presented themselves well. The American public thought so too. Newsweek reported that Obama's approval rating at this point in his presidency, as of April 2, 2010, was at 47.8 percent. Despite Trump's tweets to the contrary, Trump's approval rating is slightly lower, at 41.8 percent, Newsweek reported.
"I think Obama has a very different relationship with Biden than Trump does with Pence," Brown says. "We always saw Obama’s genuine smile (shown by the crow's feet in his eyes) and connection with Biden. He touches Biden on the arm and shoulder. That was his style with everyone!"
"As far a confidence goes — yes both sets have it. But it manifests itself differently," Brown says. She notes that Trump's confidence is more of a classic posture that is seen in other foreign leaders looking to appear tough, saying,
It's much more difficult to show it like Trump and Pence do. They stand symmetrically, and have their arms at their sides, exposing their chest and solar plexus area. They're confident enough to be vulnerable and exposed. That's what we see from dignitaries around the world. We saw Obama and Biden like this at times, but we also saw them confident enough to show emotion — either to each other or to their wives. So they showed a much more relaxed confidence.
Compare Trump and Pence's relative lack of emotion with the heartfelt tribute to Biden by Obama in January 2017. He awarded Biden the nation's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, and Biden quickly became emotional.
Brown says that although Trump doesn't show the same affection for Pence that Obama did for Biden, it doesn't mean that Trump and Pence do not get along — or that Trump has a problem with connecting specifically with Pence. She notes that "what we see is a pattern, [and] it’s not likely he has a special problem with Pence."
Obama and Biden's willingness to be emotional and vulnerable in front of the press suggests a deeper understanding of the human experience — one that doesn't subscribe to the fallacious thinking that men cannot emote, or that it is a sign of weakness. Indisputable though, is that Obama and Trump's bromances with their respective vice presidents are wildly different. And by different, I mean Trump is a ridiculous, orange cartoon of masculinity and we are all worse off because of it. But that's just me.