The Trump administration, lookism, and the Saudis

by on May 22, 2017 at 1:33 am in Current Affairs, Education, Philosophy, Uncategorized | Permalink

I’ve been guilty of this too, and I apologize.  It strikes me that it has become politically acceptable among some of the high status people in my Twitter feed to make fun — if only implicitly — of the ugly, idiosyncratic, puzzled, sweaty, or otherwise mockable images sometimes presented by members of the Trump administration.

I’ve also seen a tendency to use images to play on some of the ruling Saudis as fitting stereotypes of sinister or perhaps comical, or some combination of the two.  At the very least, “orientalism” is making a comeback, and with some of the people who have been objecting to Trump’s own stereotypes.

I do not see these as positive developments.  It is inevitable that, to some extent, we judge people by their looks, and in some instances it may be practical and indeed necessary as well.  That said, I doubt if it is a good idea to publicly mock the ugly and the mockable for being ugly and mockable.  Even if they are evil, or doing the world harm.

Many people (rightly) criticized Trump’s campaign imitation and mockery of what seemed to be a spastic individual.  Let’s say Trump had done the same imitation of a spastic who had been convinced of robbery and murder.  Would that have been better?  Well, maybe better but still not good.  Don’t mock the looks, even of wrongdoers, even if those are looks of stupidity or boorishness, and of course members of the Trump administration have not been so convicted.

What if there are some people born looking sinister (by our standards), but are perfectly nice and friendly?  Or say there were witches, and witches were bad, and most witches had long, crooked noses, but some other people did too.  Should we caricature/criticize witches for this appearance?

Furthermore, the standards for ugly and mockable are in fact not always so clear, and trying to cement them in with our mockery is problematic.

This also should be a lesson as to how easily people can slip into enjoying racist, sexist, and otherwise objectionable memes.  Returning to the Saudis, it is especially easy to use this particular photo because stereotypes of Arabs still are permissible in some parts of American discourse:

Would that photo have been retweeted so many times if it simply had looked like a normal Western bureaucratic meeting?  And yes, you can use this photo to show Trump is a hypocrite, relative to his earlier pronouncements about the Saudis, but of course the picture communicates much more, namely that the Saudis have a very different and sometimes strange-looking (to us) culture.

We should not hesitate to criticize what we think is wrong.  But criticizing the appearance of various wrongs, as embodied in the looks of various people, is going a step further.  Don’t let the wrongdoers distract you from the reality that your use of images may be promoting an unjust generalization, or in fact mocking people for non-objectionable cultural elements.  In other words, the use of images may be promoting “lookism.”

This is one of the most serious problems with photos on Twitter, namely that we are not good enough to use them carefully.  Right now, the unjust philosophy of lookism is on a rampage, bigly.

1 ohwilleke May 22, 2017 at 1:37 am

Color me curious. What the heck are they doing in that picture and is it even real?

2 Anonymous May 22, 2017 at 2:01 am

I saw it on Twitter with jokes, before the meaning came along. I gather that it was kind of a tech/theatrical ribbon cutting.

The strangeness of the photo is multilayered. What is the sphere? What is the dramatic lighting? Why does everyone in the photo seem to be communicating a different emotion? I like that the man in the center looks unsure, but the guy at bottom right seems to have seen it all before.

Society does denigrate the ugly and unstylish, but I think something completely different is going on here.

Saudi Tech Pomp surprises westerners, and their responses surprise in turn.

3 Charlie May 22, 2017 at 11:08 am

I have seen this before here:

Half joking.

4 Mogden May 22, 2017 at 1:41 am

I don’t know what this image is telling us, but it is certainly one of the most eye catching shots of a group of politicians in recent years.

5 LE May 22, 2017 at 1:46 am

You’re right. That photo would be unremarkable if they were all wearing western clothing.

6 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 2:33 am

Apart from the orb – that gives it a real trippy feel.

7 Harun May 22, 2017 at 11:20 am

I think the orb makes this photo an exception to any worries about fairness.

You have to publish this one. Its just too good.

8 Amos Zeeberg May 22, 2017 at 2:58 am


9 Jan May 22, 2017 at 6:57 am


10 Picador May 23, 2017 at 10:45 am

While I agree with the general point, and of course there’s some orientalism going on in some of the buzz over this photo, I think it’s also important to note that the dude in robes isn’t just some schmoe off the Riyadh streets: he’s an honest-to-god monarch, who dresses that way to highlight his ostensible God-anointed kingly bona fides.

The hypothetical to consider, then is not “what if they were all wearing business suits” but, rather, “what if that were Elizabeth Windsor dressed in an ermine-trimmed red velvet cape and a jewel-encrusted crown, and carrying a scepter”.

In that hypothetical, I think people would make a lot of jokes about how fucking ludicrous monarchs are, and how the British are weird and backwards. I would be one of them. Citizens of monarchies should be embarrassed at every opportunity until they do something about it (which, to their credit, the good people of Saudi Arabia have tried to do many times in the face of brutal repression).

11 Kevin Burke May 22, 2017 at 1:50 am

One criticism I’ve seen is that past Presidents have had advance teams that would have been able to imagine the visuals from the items on the President’s agenda on foreign trips, and veto or alter the activities to create a better image.

In that sense an advance team is a proxy for the President’s competence, and on that bar, or, the prevalence of images like the one in the post, he seems to be doing poorly.

12 Zeitgeisty May 22, 2017 at 3:14 am

That’s a good thing. People are sick and tired of the stage-managed bs and “optics” practiced by Obama, Clinton etc

13 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 3:29 am

You left out Reagan, who was a true master at having things stage managed. And it is reasonable to believe that many, if not most, of Trump’s most fervent supporters are also big fans of Reagan.

And saying that a man famous for starring in a TV show which was stage managed to appear less than stage managed doesn’t do ‘optics’ just shows that you can fool some of the people all of the time.

14 Ricardo May 22, 2017 at 3:39 am

“I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves. but they can get very excited by those who do. That is why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and it’s a very effective form of promotion.” — Donald Trump, “The Art of the Deal”

15 Axa May 22, 2017 at 6:28 am

That would be a possible explanation if Trump had actually wrote the book.

16 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 11:33 am

Come now, who are you going to believe, Trump’s lawyer or the man that wrote the book?

‘On Monday, July 18th, the day that this magazine published my interview with Schwartz, and hours after Schwartz appeared on “Good Morning America” to voice his concerns about Trump’s “impulsive and self-centered” character, Jason D. Greenblatt, the general counsel and vice-president of the Trump Organization, issued a threatening cease-and-desist letter to Schwartz. (You can read the full letter at the bottom of this post.) In it, Greenblatt accuses Schwartz—who has likened his writing of the flattering book to putting “lipstick on a pig”—of making “defamatory statements” about the Republican nominee and claiming that he, not Trump, wrote the book, “thereby exposing” himself to “liability for damages and other tortious harm.”

Greenblatt demands that Schwartz send “a certified check made payable to Mr. Trump” for all of the royalties he had earned on the book, along with Schwartz’s half of the book’s five-hundred-thousand-dollar advance. (The memoir has sold approximately a million copies, earning Trump and Schwartz each several million dollars.) Greenblatt also orders Schwartz to issue “a written statement retracting your defamatory statements,” and to offer written assurances that he will not “generate or disseminate” any further “baseless accusations” about Trump.’

17 DBN May 22, 2017 at 10:21 am

In spite of that, shit happens. Remember when Barack Obama bowed to the Saudi king during his first visit? And the George H. W. Bush vomiting incident has a dedicated Wikipedia page.

18 Harun May 22, 2017 at 11:14 am

Obama sure got a lot of “halo” photos.

I suspect having the photographers personally like your politics helps a lot.

19 BDK May 22, 2017 at 4:10 pm

Most good lawyers spend a lot of time carefully proofreading and revising briefs and demonstrative exhibits, in part because the audience–judge, jury, opposing party–can easily be distracted by typos, awkward sentences or even odd formatting and font choices. When I started practicing, it seemed like spending time (and thus client money) on these points was a terrible waste. But I sucked it up and realized that maybe there was a good reason for it, since it was clear that all (or nearly all) of the best advocates all thought it was important work.

I now also believe that in litigation–as well as in life more broadly–attention to detail on points that are not themselves substantive does matter. Whether or not its fair (I think it is fair when it comes to matters of choice), details like choice of clothing, photo ops, and even fonts in a written work do communicate things. Obviously we should avoid judging people based on factors they cannot control (eg, the “long and crooked noses” type thing from Prof. Cowen’s post), or that they may have never had an opportunity to learn. For example, if a pro bono client of mine showed up for an immigration hearing with his tie hanging down between his belt and knees, I may help him retie it, or may just let it fly without saying anything–I obviously wouldn’t mock him for his mistake. But I believe that the American president should be a professional who should know that kind of stuff, and if he doesn’t, his staff should help him out. I’m not limiting my criticism to Trump’s inability to get his tie right, of course, but his consistent ability (and his staff’s) to screw up simple things and just look incompetent, goofy, or clumsy (eg, this picture, or Spicer hiding _among_ the bushes).

This administration’s communications efforts are like a legal brief full of typos and sentence fragments in 14 point Comic Sans. If you like the substance of what Trump stands for, you should be pissed off that his incompetence is setting back the substance of your agenda.

20 TMC May 22, 2017 at 9:37 pm

How does that apply to this post?

21 mulp May 22, 2017 at 1:56 am

I find photos to be distractions in news and commentary. Written and spoken word, with occasional quality graphics are best.

That said, I did wonder where the half dozen photos each of Obama, Michelle, and Clinton that were a constant for 6-7 years came from.

While Obama was accustomed to posing, he was aware of his pose and could deliver appropriate images, Trump does pose all the time, but he seems to have no idea how he looks.

Thus, Trump is unique, new unflattering photos are a constant, while for others they aren’t, thus the heavy repetition of the same small numbers of unflattering photos.

22 dearieme May 22, 2017 at 3:48 am

“I find photos to be distractions in news and commentary. Written and spoken word, with occasional quality graphics are best.”

Best for thee, perhaps, and best for me. But there are people who learn a lot from a photo, and who aren’t much good at learning from text.
I dare say that’s why the newspapers carry photos.

23 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 4:14 am

There are a lot of ways to manipulate with images, as distinct from manipulating images themselves.

For example, one commenter noted that Trump’s eyes are closed. Undoubtedly, they were not closed the entire time – pictures are selected for any number of reasons, but absolutely no one presents a flattering image to the camera 100% of the time.

And one of the easiest ways to avoid Prof. Cowen virtue signalling sin of lookism is simply not to look. Trump is America’s commander in chief, not model in chief, and his appearance (leaving aside how appearance and health intersect, as Trump’s health may become a public concern, hopefully without the excessive secrecy involving Wilson’s stroke) is irrelevant to his discussing the need to fire Comey due to ongoing investigation into Russian intervention in America’s recent election with everyone – Comey and the Russians, not to mention on twitter and national TV.

Here is a decent link concerning Wilson –

24 FG May 22, 2017 at 9:51 am

I’m skeptical that anybody can “learn a lot from a photo”. Maybe *conclude* a lot.

25 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 11:25 am

Actually, there are photos showing the aftermath of an event – say a plane crash – that can be quite instructive. For the crash investigators, that is, as such pictures will never be broadcast by the media. That sort of reality is simply the sort of thing that most people would rather not see, and the media indulges them.

The same is true of war, of course. The anecdote I remember reading from a war photographer talking about seeing a man intestines thrown over a tree like someone had TPd the branches. He said he didn’t bother to even take a picture, as there would never be a venue in which it could be shown (obviously, this was pre-Internet).

26 derek May 22, 2017 at 8:27 am

Nope. Obama was photographed in awful poses and unflattering light all the time, we simply didn’t see those ones

The photos used are a very good indication of the political persuasion of the one who published them.

27 Alain May 22, 2017 at 11:11 am


28 Harun May 22, 2017 at 11:15 am

Right, they instead published a lot of “halo” effects on Obama. It was pretty obvious.

29 BDK May 22, 2017 at 12:25 pm

Trump declared the media an “enemy of the American people” and his incompetent communications staff mostly just screech at reporters and whine about how difficult and unfair everything is. These antics may play well with some of his base, but he and his team should expect that their antagonistic and childish behavior may have consequences. Two old chestnuts come to mind–take your pick:

a) Play stupid games; win stupid prizes.

b) Never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel.

Behaving like an ass to everyone around you is a life strategy I guess, but only a moron is surprised when people don’t like it.

30 msgkings May 22, 2017 at 12:57 pm

Exactly right. Trump has set the terms with his behavior from day one of the campaign, and he expects the press/opposition/Republican party to treat him all nice now?

31 TheAngryPhilosopher May 22, 2017 at 1:51 pm

No. The press started it, not Trump.

Trump’s political positions – especially on immigration – guaranteed the unflattering treatment he would get. Look up the political leanings of journalists and reporters sometime; they skew Democratic in a major way. Romney got the unflattering treatment too (not to the same extent, of course, but Romney also doesn’t look as physically unflattering as Trump), and Romney’s positions were way more acceptable to the members of the press than Trump’s. Trump was getting the unfavorable coverage long before he declared the media his enemy.

32 ladderff May 22, 2017 at 2:10 pm

Msgkings, that is am absolute lie. There is nothing Donald Trump could do, including being elected President, to get the political class to treat him fairly or even to respect their own moral and legal responsibilities toward him. I call it a lie because I can’t really believe this could be anything but obvious.

33 msgkings May 22, 2017 at 2:15 pm

Well of course, you are a known hysteric around here. In the real world, people reap what they sow. Romney wasn’t treated like this by the press, heck neither was W. They were editorially opposed by much of the media, and supported by plenty of other outlets. But there was mutual respect from both sides. Trump probably enjoys this by the way.

34 TheAngryPhilosopher May 22, 2017 at 8:31 pm

@ msgkings

I assume you’re addressing me, given that you’re talking about Romney (and I’m flattered that you think I’m “a well-known hysteric”). On Romney not getting the same treatment in the press, I agree that they were much more lenient on him.

On W though, you’re dead wrong. Do you not remember the absolute flood of photos of him looking clueless? Do you really think there was “respect” for him in the press? I mean, this was in the NY Times:

And don’t forget what Colbert did to him at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner!

[Admittedly, finding photos of W looking stupid was so easy that it’s hard to blame the press for doing it. It was shooting dopey-looking fish in a barrel. Incidentally I agreed with them that W was an awful, awful president.]

35 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ May 22, 2017 at 11:22 pm

Read some McArdle, boys. And learn exactly how sad this thread will look to your future selves.

In four years you will be demanding never-Trumpers, and pretending you were

36 Potato May 22, 2017 at 11:41 pm

I’ve always been a never Trump-er, but let’s be real.

The press has been overwhelmingly, actively against him from the beginning. Actively. In every press room and editor’s office, they actively try to destroy him. And I almost see the point in, “well yeah, he’s literally against all of our values. But more importantly, he’s actively trying to lower our status. And he’s everything we hate personified. Dumb, intellectually incurious, anti-cosmopolitan, inarticulate, wealthy through business and family not entertainment or politics, gaudy, etc ad nauseam”

I mean I also think he’s an idiot. And there is no way he’s within the top 1 million qualified Americans that could be president. Maybe not in the top 50 million. 70 million? 100?

I despise W as a president but also respect him as a person. Hes a Wilsonian, which in utilitarian terms is catastrophic and horrifying. Wilsonians should never be elected. Ever. Whether they’re Hillary Clinton or W. Are Wilsonians better than “roll the dice?” Tough call.

What I do remember is W being skewered in the media. Long before Iraq or Afghanistan. And McCain, the supposed darling conservative of the media, being annihilated in the media during the campaign. They were just as out to get McCain as trump.

W was an incoherent rich boy draft dodging racist who stole the campaign. Romney bullied gay and minority youths, tortured animals, shat on the poor, thought blacks were the descendants of Cain and thus unclean, declared a war on women, etc.

Find me a conservative running for a contested office where the media does not attempt an assassination.

Find me a liberal in a contested seat that doesn’t get hero treatment.

37 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ May 22, 2017 at 11:59 pm

The “percentage positive coverage” fallacy is wearing through.

In fact, it has always been dangerously close to Trump’s only defense.

Start anywhere. Mocking McCain for being a POW? All the coverage of that was just so negative.

But even then it was a huge mistake to think that made it OK, or the press wrong.

38 chajusong May 22, 2017 at 2:01 am

This post is a wild overshoot. I haven’t seen anyone *criticising* the photo – people are just really amused by it because there’s a strong tradition in popular culture of cartoon villains manipulating glowing orbs, and purple glowing orbs in particular, and POTUS’ closed eyes further the impression that he’s communing with the orb in some way.

There’s also a sense in which the fact that the orb appears to be a globe, coupled with the *diversity* of dress around it, lines up with conspiracy-theory ~new world order~ nutjob imagery, which also often features glowing globes. This lines up with your criticism of the reaction around the photo, I think, but I don’t think it’s well-placed – it’s not about the specifics of the Saudi dress, but the mix of western + non-western dress along with the globe.

My sense of the reaction is that it’s mostly delight and bewilderment at the fact that real life has given us a photo that touches so many recognisable visual tropes from both children’s fiction and conspiracy theories simultaneously, but nobody thinks there’s anything to actually *criticise* here. It’s a funny photo.

39 Amigo May 22, 2017 at 2:19 am

The first image I thought of was Sarumon and his crystal ball in Lord of the Rings. But I thought maybe that reaction was what Tyler was criticizing. I don’t have Twitter and rarely do social media, so have no idea of other reactions. I try to imagine any other president in the photo (for example Obama) and I don’t think it would be any less striking. It’s not that Trump in in the photo, it’s the image that looks like people are channeling energy into a glowing ball.

40 Steve May 22, 2017 at 10:14 am

+1. The picture is really funny.

41 clamence May 22, 2017 at 10:45 am

+1, this is exactly it. and Tyler’s complaining about the shallowness of Twitter is like saying the biscuits are a bit too pasty at KFC

42 byomtov May 22, 2017 at 11:33 am

I agree.

43 msgkings May 22, 2017 at 12:58 pm

Thread winner

44 TheAngryPhilosopher May 22, 2017 at 1:55 pm

The picture is extremely funny. Unfortunately, I get the sense that many people are taking this photo as confirmation of their beliefs when it is no such thing.

And it’s exactly the kind of thing that the Democrats would have whined about had Obama been there instead of Trump. Tyler is completely correct about “lookism”.

45 Lanigram May 22, 2017 at 2:04 am

Tyler wrote this post as cover so he could post the unflattering photo of Trump. Like most elites, he hates Trump. Yawn. More TDS. But, just keep it up, every day the resentment grows and the elite’s grip on the country is ever more tenuous.

46 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 2:32 am

Maybe. I certainly would not have seen it without Prof. Cowen’s aid. On the other hand, I cannot personally imagine what makes it so mockable, actually. Seems pretty thin to hang such a virtue signalling post on, to be honest.

47 Jim Buckalew May 22, 2017 at 5:51 am

There is an added pathos to this post in that Trump is a funny looking man who througghbcharisma has been able to bed a lot of models whereas Cowen is an extremely ugly looking man who had to marry a visa-needing Soviet lady.

The anguished cry of why does this man succeed in a facet of life where I struggle is palpable.

48 aMichael May 22, 2017 at 9:02 am

I’m hoping your irony is on purpose. Also, younger Trump, when he was supposedly sleeping with lots of models but who knows of that was true, was a normal looking man.

49 FG May 22, 2017 at 9:54 am

I didn’t believe this, but Chris Rock of all people said this in his recent GQ profile. Something along the lines of “when I was in clubs in the 80s, he would walk in, and all the women wanted him”. And Chris Rock doesn’t even like Trump.

50 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 11:21 am

‘but who knows of that was true’

John Miller was considered a very reliable source on Trump.

51 TMC May 22, 2017 at 9:42 pm

How many do you sleep with vs marry X how many he married. Trump wins.

52 FG May 22, 2017 at 9:53 am

Even for this comments section: too mean-spirited.

53 msgkings May 22, 2017 at 12:59 pm

Is “charisma’ what your people call “billions of dollars”?

54 Sam Haysom May 22, 2017 at 3:29 pm

shorter msgkings “I’m lonely.”

55 msgkings May 22, 2017 at 3:46 pm

LOL that all you got?

56 Alain May 22, 2017 at 8:18 pm

Spot on.


57 Barkley Rosser May 22, 2017 at 3:50 pm

Calling you on your bs, Jim. Tyler’s wife had been in the US for some time when he met her. She was not a “visa-needing Soviet lady.”

58 Potato May 22, 2017 at 11:50 pm

True and besides the point. Attacking a person for their personal relationships is more than factually wrong. It’s incredibly disrespectful, hilariously irrelevant, and shows IMAX levels of insecurity projection. We all enjoy hours of entertainment due to Professor Cowen’s comments. Those who disagree and have no argument feel the need to lash out at a clearly superior mind in the only way they understand, juvenile humiliation over something that is completely irrelevant.

Bravos to Dr. Cowen for speaking knowing he will be bombarded with the word salad of idiots, racists, and a clearly schizophrenic Prior.

59 Skip Intro May 22, 2017 at 11:52 am

Yeah, those elites sure are losing their grip on the country. I look at the current administration, full of yeoman farmers, plumbers, third grade teachers, nurses, and first responders, and I am heartened!

60 msgkings May 22, 2017 at 1:00 pm

LOL yeah Trump really hates elites.

61 BC May 22, 2017 at 2:44 am

Political correctness, sensitivity, complaints of various -isms, etc. only apply when in service of left-wing objectives? Shocking. We figured that one out from the hysteria surrounding Trump’s nomination of a woman to be Secretary of Education, which was far more severe than the allegedly sexist opposition to Hillary Clinton.

62 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 3:36 am

‘We figured that one out from the hysteria surrounding Trump’s nomination of a woman to be Secretary of Education’

Well, be honest, it was hysterically funny when she said as part of her confirmation that schools could need guns to defend against grizzly bears –

63 rluser May 22, 2017 at 5:57 am

It’s true that the serious can be amusing. No sooner had she uttered the words than this happened: At least CT isn’t grizzly country.

64 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 11:19 am

And yet notice that no one feels the need to keep weapons on hand in a school to shoot a bear either – well, apart from our Secretary of Education.

65 rluser May 22, 2017 at 9:12 pm

Yet in Brent Scher’s telling of the tale, “Police were brought in to assist in the situation by the school district’s superintendent Tim Connellan, as neither DePaolo Middle School or Hatton Elementary School had the resources available to deal with the situation.” As a result of a bear spotting the superintendent called in folks armed with guns to assist with the situation and kept them on hand until the perceived threat was gone.

66 Dick the Butcher May 22, 2017 at 8:18 am

You brought it up. Let’s talk about stupid.

Corrupt, incompetent Hillary’s entire campaign was far more stupider than that grizzly bear/gun comment. Here is the entire Crooked Hilary months-long boner translated (imagine shrill, whining voice): “Vote for me you inbred, racist idiots!”

Crooked Hillary is not president.

I want President Trump to abolish the Dept. of Ed.

67 Centrist May 22, 2017 at 11:11 am

Give it a rest, shill. No one’s talking about Hillary but you.

We have our own problems with a very crooked president, and all you can talk about is a candidate with no political power. You’re pathetic and living in the past. Give it a rest and let the the adults have a conversation.

68 Barkley Rosser May 22, 2017 at 3:53 pm

Now now now. Fox News has made it clear that the most important issues we are facing, the ones the FBI Special Counsel should be investigating, are corruption at the Clinton Foundation and the murder of Seth Rich, who leaded the DNC files to Wikileaks, meaning of course, nothing to any of those Russia-Trump campaign links stories we have heard so much about. Sean Hannity has assured us of this, so it must be true.

69 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 11:16 am

‘Let’s talk about stupid.’

Talking about a loser as if she actually matters is stupid.

70 Some Guy May 22, 2017 at 2:45 am

This is the first time I’m seeing this picture, and I’m an avid consumer of online news.

Perhaps your Twitter feed has become too much of an echo chamber?

It is a pretty goofy picture though. Why are they holding an orb? And why are President Trump’s eyes closed?

71 A May 22, 2017 at 5:22 am

The photo is on Breitbart, the Guardian, CNBC, Huff Post, ABC News, Buzzfeed, NY Post, etc…

72 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 5:27 am

Really? Who would ever think that Breitbart, of all media outlets, would engage in ‘lookism.’

73 Thiago Ribeiro May 22, 2017 at 5:56 am

“And why are President Trump’s eyes closed?”

He is asking the Ancient Spirits of Evil to transform this decayed form to Mumm-ra, the ever-living!

74 Jeff R May 22, 2017 at 10:47 am

They found one of Seven Seeing Stones! It must the lost stone of Annuminas! All of Fornost rejoices.

75 Flat Eric May 22, 2017 at 3:34 am

It’s not just the Saudi setting. The glowing orb is pretty weird and it results in their faces being lit from below, which as everyone who has ever heard a ghost story around a camp fire knows, is a spooky look. Perhaps there’s a slightly serious point about incompetent press management (like when a politician stands in front of a sign that can be cropped to read “evil” or some such) but mostly it is just a very funny picture.

76 Message May 22, 2017 at 3:35 am

These particular desert people INVITE mockery with their thobes. They can AFFORD the mockery (which is also a credibly costly message of solidarity with their own desert tribe) because they have oil.
If they depended on selling industrial exports they would sensibly wear western business suits because it is an established CONVENTION, seen as practical (to more than the white west – Asians will also see thobes as strange) rather than prestigiously, defiantly exotic.

77 dearieme May 22, 2017 at 3:49 am

What’s a thobe?

78 Jaldh May 22, 2017 at 8:24 am

It’s something you put on with your wizard that.

79 chuck martel May 22, 2017 at 6:29 am

One has to give the elite Arabs credit for maintaining their traditional dress in ceremonial circumstances in spite of the near universal adoption of the British business suit by the rest of the world. Their eccentricity is hardly unique, however. Texans and Albertans favor wide-brim hats on notable occasions, judges and graduating collegians wear robes. It’s interesting that Soviet politicians adopted the most conservative of Western business attire. It’s also quite likely that Arabs and others find the American penchant for wearing athletic jerseys odd. The fact that a person on the street wearing a Patriots shirt with the number 12 and the name “Brady” on the back could be anyone in the world but Tom Brady is remarkable.

80 jb May 22, 2017 at 4:28 am
81 oneeyed May 22, 2017 at 4:50 am

straussian post

tyler’s trying to demonstrate to us the symptoms of complacency, hence “lookism”, “problematic”, “stereotypes”

key take away is if these thoughts ever crossed your mind then you’re part of the problem

82 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 5:02 am

I thought the key take away was the Trump’s tax plan has to pass, now that a group of people are putting their money and prestige behind it. Because at this point, as the political pressure against Trump keeps mounting from various directions, it is important to try to save the necessary political capital required to ensure that the rich get richer while the poor get their health care cut.

Though like anyone that has ever counted on Trump to do anything other than what benefits Trump, they will likely crap out. Admittedly, it was a pretty good bet though – Trump’s tax plan certainly benefits Trump.

83 XVO May 22, 2017 at 12:32 pm

Exactly, why should people get to keep the money they earn with the work they trade to others? People are just so entitled. The community let’s them continue to work without committing any violence against them so the community is owed 33%.

84 Zach May 22, 2017 at 5:13 am

Um, the glowing power orb isn’t actually part of Saudi culture AFAIK… it’s what they come up with when they decided to parrot superhero movies instead of reality when designing the Potemkin counter-terror center to convince Trump that they mean business… and I bet it worked.

85 Thiago Ribeiro May 22, 2017 at 5:54 am

“Um, the glowing power orb isn’t actually part of Saudi culture AFAIK… it’”

Didn’t Muhammad use one to defeat his enemies? Or was it Skeletor?

86 A May 22, 2017 at 5:15 am

I think Cowen is underplaying the hypocrisy context underlying these visuals. Trump previously condemned Obama for bowing in front the Saudis, providing military goods, and avoiding the phrase “Islamic terrorism”. Then, this trip shows Trump appearing to curtsy, providing military goods, and avoiding the phrase “Islamic terrorism”. This photo caps a full itinerary of hypocrisy and false pride, by showing Trump fully embracing local norms.

87 Sam Haysom May 22, 2017 at 6:06 am

How about the cynicism of creating fake hypocrisy context? Trump attacked extremism in his speech and more to the point the problems wasn’t so much that Obama was extremely fellatiotory towards Islam and extremely petty towards Christianity (which he was) or that he didn’t criticize Muslim extremism enough while talking to the Saudis- but that even when discussing the issue in the United States Obama really like to soft peddle malfeasance by Muslims and deny any causal root between the two.

This kind of causal interference was not something he was willing to do for other ideologies.

88 rluser May 22, 2017 at 6:35 am

Not sure what speech you heard, but I distinctly heard Trump calling out political leaders to condemn “Islamic terrorism”

89 Eric S. May 22, 2017 at 8:59 am

No you didn’t

90 rluser May 22, 2017 at 9:22 pm

Next time listen more attentively:

91 Qwest May 22, 2017 at 9:27 am

The different takeaways are due to the fact that Trump’s prepared speech did not include “Islamic Terrorism”, but he referenced it near the end of the speech, Trump later sent out a representative to clarify that the phrasing was an error due to exhaustion/

92 Anonymous May 22, 2017 at 9:09 am

It is pretty amazing. Trump can go “full Obama” on this trip, and beyond with sword dances and orb sightings.

And a certain sort of Trump voter will swear it is what they asked for.

I suppose we should be thankful. We are back to a sane position where it is not the Muslims you worry about. It is the terrorists. What a long loud angry loop though, back to where every past President put the emphasis.

93 Anonymous May 22, 2017 at 9:14 am

“Orb lightings”

94 Sam Haysom May 22, 2017 at 10:45 am

Obama’s problem was that he couldn’t shift out of sycophantic mode for Islam when he returned home. Trump can. That’s the differnce.

95 Centrist May 22, 2017 at 11:15 am

Have you ever shifted out of sycophantic mode?

Have you ever posted, or are you even capable of thinking, critically about the president?

96 Sam Haysom May 22, 2017 at 11:16 am

I rarely post anything about the president he is what he is. But glad you didn’t have an argument so you were reduced to whhhinnninnng.

97 msgkings May 22, 2017 at 1:43 pm

Shorter Sam: “Nope.”

98 Jeff R May 22, 2017 at 11:01 am

That is fair; I would just point out, though, that if Trump didn’t do those things, the same people calling him a hypocrite now would, in all likelihood be saying “can you believe how disrespectful Trump was to the Saudis? ZOMG he’s going to cause more terrorism because he didn’t bow!”

99 Centrist May 22, 2017 at 11:16 am

Would they really be saying that? I know no one who would say that, or who suggested that Obama prevented terrorism by bowing.

100 Jeff R May 22, 2017 at 11:43 am

The point is that they’d be critical regardless. In the same way Trump could take a dump on his desk and people on the right would defend it, Trump could personally broker a two state solution in Israel and people on the left would be all “TRUMP YOU MONSTER!!!!”

101 msgkings May 22, 2017 at 1:44 pm

Indeed, that’s where we are now, both sides completely deranged by the other. The bad news is there’s no real mechanism for it to change, the good news is it’s mainly an online thing.

102 Anonymous May 22, 2017 at 2:40 pm

Why on earth would that kind of “real Trump” go to SA?

You can be sure that many ground rules were worked out before the trip. Explain how any “real Trump” could let that happen? That is, assuming that he hasn’t just had tutorials to pass Globalism 101.

103 rayward May 22, 2017 at 5:55 am

Someone has finally figured out the mind of Trump: he is the first AI president.

104 Cptn Obvious May 22, 2017 at 6:07 am

The Saudis are evil, without their money, there would probably be little or no islamic terrorism.

105 Borjigid May 22, 2017 at 8:30 am

That was probably the case 20 years ago, but at this point it has metastasized.

106 lbc May 22, 2017 at 6:14 am

Trump doesn’t understand anything about the Middle East, nor does he seem to care.
From his speech, it is clear that he wouldn’t be able to name 3 differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia if he was asked to.

107 Govco May 22, 2017 at 1:00 pm

That’s fine, he should focus on the 57 united States.

108 TheAngryPhilosopher May 22, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Give me a break. Trump is the President, he gets briefings all the time on all sorts of things – he’d be aware of much more than just the basic differences between Saudi and Iran. He’s way more informed than you are, and probably was even during the election.

The crucial factor was that his speech was to a roomful of Saudis. Of course this will shift what he says.

109 rayward May 22, 2017 at 6:17 am

What does one learn form Twitter? The kind of foolishness that Cowen describes in this blog post. What can one learn from Twitter? Don’t use Twitter. Does it matter that Trump has committed America to the Sunni side in the sectarian conflict in the region? Does it matter that he has committed $100 billion in advanced munitions in that conflict? The violence in the region is a proxy for the sectarian war between Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and Iran (Shiite). Trump has greatly increased the odds that the conflict will escalate into an all out war between these two enemies, with America having little choice but to join the fray. Why would Trump do that? Because he is an ignoramus who relies on Twitter and “the shows” for information to make decisions that affect the fate of America and the world.

110 Twitt May 22, 2017 at 9:49 am

The average Twitter joke is very mild

111 Evans_KY May 22, 2017 at 6:21 am

Lookism is a crutch we use to categorize the World in its fast paced form. Deplorables. Fascist. Nazi. It is easier to dismiss another person and their otherness. Americans are tribal at heart and chafe at dissent.

We can hope the magic orb imparts empathy, humility, curiosity, and joy to our President.

112 liberalarts May 22, 2017 at 7:19 am

Deplorables, Fascists and Nazis are all behavioral choices, and thus on the table for criticism. The lookism identified in this post is really more about things that are more often baked in the cake of ones genes or ethnic upbringing. I fully agree with Cowen’s warning about this. People made (make) fun of Trump’s hair, his ancestral name “Drumpf,” and the looks of some of his blue collar supporters. To me, and I really dislike Trump, those were cheap shots that don’t serve anything. Of course, his supporters mocked Hillary’s looks too, so it is not as if they were innocent in any way. Actions, though, those are on the table. There is plenty of material there, so why go for the cheap shots.

113 Anonymous May 22, 2017 at 9:22 am

The hair might be a signal of vanity and denial. Serious gentleman just cut their hair shorter and shorter as they age.

If I don’t do this a good breeze can make me look like Count Olof.

114 Thomas May 22, 2017 at 11:00 am

Yeah, listen to this guy. It’s not petty and juvenile when the left does it, it’s very, very serious! Wow if you actually believe this.

115 Anonymous May 22, 2017 at 12:37 pm
116 Evans_KY May 22, 2017 at 12:04 pm

With respect to ideology: I live in a very conservative state. These people are fundamentally good but many have disengaged the skeptical and analytical part of their brain. They feel left behind. They are deeply afraid of change and the foreign. The propaganda of Fox and Rage Radio has confused them. Does this make them disposable? Should I mock them?

I view the impulse to judge based on appearance or affiliation as a crutch. As rational, educated adults we must always be cognizant and skeptical of sleight-of-hand attempts to manipulate our primal selves. Who thought that photo was good press for Trump? He looks like a toadie and a buffoon. Who wanted to mock him? Did we fall for it and to what end?

117 John Smith May 22, 2017 at 2:14 pm

Evans_KY. Are your confederates wrong? If Kentucky fell through a hole in the ground, a la corvette museum, would any “educated adults” – those you have in mind anyway – care?

With much family in Kentucky, but much exposure to “educated adults”, my experience is that the former would be entirely left behind by the latter, if at all possible.

118 Evans_KY May 24, 2017 at 3:01 pm

John Smith. No, they are not entirely wrong. Bernie and Trump had the best chance in this area. Clinton was a goner as soon as she said deplorable. Such contempt does not go over well here.

119 Qui-Gon Jinn May 22, 2017 at 6:56 am

This happened at the end of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It’s really common on desert planets like Tatooine or Saudi Arabia.

120 Jar Jar Binks May 22, 2017 at 7:04 am

Don’t compare our glowing orb to their glowing orb!

121 Axa May 22, 2017 at 7:22 am

In that photo, at least Trump looks confident.

This one is even funnier: Bannon surruoned by his enemies =)

122 TH May 22, 2017 at 7:24 am

Sorry, just typed in “Obama birth certificate” into your search engine but came up short … I was sure I’d find tons of posts proclaiming your outrage about those lies peddled by Republicans and the current “President” … but no, nothing. But here you have plenty of time to write this …. hmmmmmm. What does that say about you?

123 Anon Guy May 22, 2017 at 8:46 am

You are held to a higher standard than the right wing conspiracy theorists. Sorry, that is the price you pay for being the guardians of social morality. The priest caste should be expected to practice what they preach.

124 Centrist May 22, 2017 at 11:19 am

What caste is the president; just curious?

125 Josh May 22, 2017 at 8:43 am

Didn’t it turn out that trump was not mocking that guys disability but was just doing his go-to flustered mannerisms?

126 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 11:11 am

No. Watch for yourself –

127 josh May 22, 2017 at 12:42 pm

I’ve seen the video, but the problem is, the reporter doesn’t do that even a little:

and Trump has done that kind of weird gesturing thing to refer to other people that are not disabled.

Not proof positive, but after having actually watched a couple of videos of Serge Kovaleski, I’m not sure that could be an impression.

128 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 1:26 pm

Here I was, thinking you were going to link to a Fox News clip – – as that dovetails with your original point about ‘just doing his go-to flustered mannerisms.’ Though it may have been a good choice not to, as the clip pretty shows how Trump’s mannerisms are related to what he is saying, and generally do not go on for an extended period.

People can watch and decide for themselves. For my part, that was the very first time I have actually seen the video (I rarely bother to watch anything like that on the Internet .- generally, reading and WFMU are my main interests online). Seems pretty obvious to me what he was doing in that clip, which was something that a virtue signalling Prof. Cowen would not agree with.

But then, I have not been able to take anything Trump says or does seriously or literally for around 3 decades at this point.

129 josh May 22, 2017 at 2:28 pm

I lean the opposite way on this one. The fact that the reporter doesn’t actually have spastic mannerisms makes me think he is just doing a more extended version of what he is doing in those other clips.

130 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 3:13 pm

Sure, people can reasonably disagree about Trump. We have our opinions of what was captured on video, and that is how it goes. And there is truly no question that Trump is a showman who likes performing (meant neutrally) in front of an audience.

131 collin May 22, 2017 at 9:10 am

I would suggest the opposite here…This is the definition of a showman with the Saudia’s putting on a good show for him and our country. To be honest I don’t think the nation minds is our President has some fun in foreign nations and this is something Obama 2nd term did poorly for the press. And even some of the embarrassing dressing humanizing the President to most citizens. To be honest you are sounding a lot like a sour grapes SJWs here.

That said, the orb picture was for the ages

I suspect this will improve Trump’s approvals but it will be short term compared to AHCA and Comey firing fallout.

132 aMichael May 22, 2017 at 9:14 am

What about looks that are chosen, and what they may reveal about character? By this, I refer to comb overs and fake tans as signs of one’s insecurity. Yes, clothes are chosen, but are context dependent. I don’t care that cultures have different clothes, but if a president suddenly started dressing Saudi royalty for press conferences, isn’t that revealing something important and shouldn’t we talk about it? I realize this is different from some of your concerns, but there’s an area where lookism on some level is important. Also, how should we react to politicians who engage in lookism? Trump did this more than any candidate in modern history. Part of me can’t help but enjoy seeing him get a taste of his own medicine though I worry we’ve moved to a new equilibrium where lookism in all its forms is okay as long as the target is not in your tribe.

133 Thomas May 22, 2017 at 11:05 am

Hillary looked all natural and if she didn’t it was because of SEXISM!

What is this cognitive defect that causes uber partisan leftists like Mr. Michael here to pretend that their side only does this for serious, respectable reasons? Meanwhile your side is dressed in all black committing assault. Can you give us a dumbass dissertation defending antifa, Mike?

134 Centrist May 22, 2017 at 11:21 am

Who is dressed in all black committing assault?

Do you really want to characterize all by the actions of a few (though seriously, who are you referring to specifically), then get offended by SJW behavior from others? Doesn’t that seem hypocritical to you?

135 msgkings May 22, 2017 at 1:49 pm

Once more, whataboutism is all Trumpistas have left

136 aMichael May 22, 2017 at 7:21 pm

“uber partisan leftist”?

Please, tell me more about myself that I didn’t realize until now. My wife would also be very interested to learn about my new ideology and partisan leanings.

137 A Definite Beta Guy May 22, 2017 at 9:14 am

So I assume this is a criticism of the prison labor pictures that swirled through Regressive-Left Twitter this weekend. Just because there is a white prison guard and a majority African-American chain gang cleaning the highways, does not mean the US has re-implemented slavery. Nor does it mean we should not use prison labor.

138 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 11:05 am

Naw, the U.S. just continued in it, not reimplemented, in this case – ‘Some viewers of the video might be surprised to learn that inmates at Angola, once cleared by the prison doctor, can be forced to work under threat of punishment as severe as solitary confinement. Legally, this labor may be totally uncompensated; more typically inmates are paid meagerly—as little as two cents per hour—for their full-time work in the fields, manufacturing warehouses, or kitchens. How is this legal? Didn’t the Thirteenth Amendment abolish all forms of slavery and involuntary servitude in this country?

Not quite. In the shining promise of freedom that was the Thirteenth Amendment, a sharp exception was carved out. Section 1 of the Amendment provides: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Simply put: Incarcerated persons have no constitutional rights in this arena; they can be forced to work as punishment for their crimes.’

139 A Definite Beta Guy May 22, 2017 at 12:55 pm

Yes, if you are convicted of a crime, you can be compelled to work as punishment. That’s not Antebellum slavery.

140 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 1:28 pm

Just the forced to do labor without pay part.

141 A Definite Beta Guy May 22, 2017 at 2:00 pm

And minus lifetime status, kidnapping from other continents, and having your children born into bondage.

142 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 2:39 pm

You know, I decided that adding ‘imprisonment for life without possibility of parole’ would have been too obvious. Nope.

‘kidnapping from other continents’

It is fair to say that the kidnapping part was less important than this – ‘having your children born into bondage’ Most slaves in America were not imported, as noted here –

On the other hand, someone escaping from a lifetime of performing uncompensated labor can still count on being pursued to the full extent of the law, just like in the Antebellum South. Though of course, the reason is viewed through a different lens now than then, but an escaped slave was just as guilty of a crime as any convict in prison today.

143 aMichael May 22, 2017 at 9:18 am

Perhaps a tit-for-tat strategy is optimal to fight back against​ politicians who engage in lookism, though I fear it will spill out and affect public discourse about other politicians and public figures who were not engaging in it.

144 Slugger May 22, 2017 at 9:48 am

99.9% of the purpose of any Presidential trip abroad is to generate feelings and concepts through the use of staged ceremonies. In our world, serious negotiations are done by staff below the top level and likely require little face-to-face. Then the top guys gather for the ceremony. They use out-sized scissors to cut ribbons, silver shovels to turn over soil, big pens to sign proclamations. Presidents get their picture taken in the homelands of significant voting blocs. Almost the entire purpose is to create images that will cause warm fuzzy feelings. That’s the point.
I thought this picture was strange and amusing. Lots of people thought the same thing.
Right now, Trump is posing for pictures in Israel. In a few days, he’ll be in the Vatican. I doubt that he is having any significant confidential discussions with Netanyahu or His Holiness that will alter our course with these interest groups. Lots of amiable pictures will result.

145 Brian Donohue May 22, 2017 at 9:53 am

Twitter has this habit of working itself into a big lather, followed by disappointment that the world-changing forces it unleashed didn’t do shit.

146 Twitt May 22, 2017 at 10:14 am

Saying “Twitter” is as meaningful as saying “the Internet,” and in that broader sense, sure. But just as with the Internet, one may choose one’s sources.

The main benefit of Twitter is the speed. An orb circles the globe in seconds. If you are using it right, you don’t treat that too seriously until the story shows up .. on Twitter:

147 MOFO. May 22, 2017 at 3:06 pm

” If you are using it right, you don’t treat that too seriously until the story shows up .. on Twitter”

You have got to be kidding.

148 Twitt May 22, 2017 at 5:27 pm

Twitter’s software could use some improvement, but the fundamental user experience is based on who you follow. If you do that correctly, you don’t even need to use the search function, the trending, the moments, or any of the things that might direct you to strange characters.

Here is a list of fairly responsible people, and at least one to keep an eye on:: @amcafee, @AndrewYNg, @AnnieLowrey, @BCAppelbaum, @benbernanke, @CassSunstein, @DanTGilbert, @econjared, @EdwardTufte, @erikbryn, @fmanjoo, @foxjust, @FukuyamaFrancis, @jbarro, @JustinWolfers, @LHSummers, @matt_levine, @MerriamWebster, @Noahpinion, @PTetlock, @realDonaldTrump, @ReformedBroker, @ritholtz, @RobertJShiller, @rodneyabrooks, @R_Thaler, @ryanavent, @TheStalwart, @TimDuy, @tylercowen, @willwilkinson

149 Lanigram May 23, 2017 at 1:44 pm

The Twitt Tribe of Twits

150 The Anti-Gnostic May 22, 2017 at 10:14 am

The Middle East is an ancient, complex place with many difficult issues for libertarians, economists, and other academics to chew on. Tyler manages to neatly backflip around all of them.

151 Jay R May 22, 2017 at 10:24 am


152 bob May 22, 2017 at 10:26 am

It has nothing to do with what the folks look like. It’s about the silly orb. Tyler you just haven’t watched enough Saturday morning cartoons.

153 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 11:00 am

Too busy playing chess as a child, one can suppose.

154 Gil May 22, 2017 at 10:57 am

This strikes me a something I learned when I was four under the general heading of “good manners”. I was taught that you don’t make fun of peoples name, looks, race or ethnicity, except that self deprecation is usually ok. Gender wasn’t on that list when I was a kid, but is in the process of being added now.

Good comedy is often in conflict with good manners, and I think that is the way it should be even if the result is sometimes fails to be either good comedy or good manners.

155 bort May 27, 2017 at 4:56 am

You’re a good boy. Don’t make fun of ethnicity (except for the thousands of exceptions)

156 peri May 22, 2017 at 11:15 am

Because he’s so opaque, despite his seeming openness, Trump’s appearance is one of the few things we have to go on. It just confuses me. I don’t understand why a rich man doesn’t have his clothes tailored, or why he wears a suit all the time like he’s a funeral director, even when he’s at his resort. I didn’t pay attention to him before this year, but I have a vague impression he used to be well-turned out.

I think some people hoped his daughter, one of the most poised and stylish members of the glitterati, who seems to work much harder than she really needs to, and her husband would exert some influence on his presidential image. But she clearly has no sway even over his personal appearance.

Basically his appearance suggests mental instability to me, like that “Grey Gardens” woman who wore sweaters on her head. Or else that he won’t listen to anyone, ever, not even a gorgeous daughter in her field of expertise.

Or maybe she told him to go for for a no-A/C, wrinkly-suit, Depression-era demagogue look.

157 TheAngryPhilosopher May 22, 2017 at 2:14 pm

Honestly, I prefer this over obsessive image-tailoring. One of the reasons I favored Bernie Sanders over Hillary was precisely that Sanders didn’t seem to care much what he looked like, while Hillary seemed to employ a team to pick outfits for her – sort of an extension of the fact that all of her remarks and speeches and mannerisms looked like the product of focus groups and committees. It made her seem phony and lacking principles.

158 msgkings May 22, 2017 at 3:49 pm

+1 on this, a yuuuge reason Trump beat Clinton, and Bernie almost did, was about this.

159 Beauty Premium May 22, 2017 at 11:36 am

The way you know that Tyler is trolling is that he never discusses the impact of Trump selecting people for his administration, particularly women, based on their appearance.

160 Soros McSorenstein May 22, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Which is why Sarah Palin and not de Vos is the secretary of education.

The way you knew Tyler is trolling is that he never discussed that our potentially DL president had a “body man” best known for getting tea bagged in a UNC frat house.

161 Krandall Krandallson May 22, 2017 at 11:47 am


162 Bill May 22, 2017 at 11:57 am

This will play well in the South, particularly with the headline: Trump Announces Support for Sharia Law and Order in the Middle East.

163 Adam May 22, 2017 at 12:23 pm

I guess I’m confused about what the stereotype is behind that photo? To me, it looks strange because it is a picture of three world leaders with their hand on a glowing orb (a globe, apparently). That’s kinda weird. Is there something I’m missing?

164 TheAngryPhilosopher May 22, 2017 at 2:21 pm

It evokes a sort of “Bond villain” or “League of Shadows” cartoon-bad-guy feel, especially with the ominous face-underlighting and the fact that the glowing orb appears to be a globe. And since the three involved are ‘President’ El-Sisi of Egypt, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, and Donald Trump, this image plays nicely into the leftwing view of the world.

I do have to hand it to them – the picture got a giggle out of me.

165 Ricardo May 22, 2017 at 2:36 pm

“I do have to hand it to them – the picture got a giggle out of me.”

Exactly, it is objectively funny. People laughed at Obama standing on the pitcher’s mound wearing his mom jeans and late night comedians loved flashing pictures of Bernie Sanders on his bad hair days.

166 KM32 May 22, 2017 at 12:47 pm

“but of course the picture communicates much more, namely that the Saudis have a very different and sometimes strange-looking (to us) culture.”

Strange stuff like slavery, cutting off the hands of thieves, murdering teens who share illicit kisses, beating unveiled girls fleeing a burning building until they’re forced back inside, and giving the death penalty to any non-Muslim who enters their holy cities? Stuff like that?

167 bort May 27, 2017 at 4:58 am

bold boy, stop using stereotypes and xenoisms

168 jorgensen May 22, 2017 at 12:59 pm

(1) The people retweeting that photo are not responsible for what you read into it.

(2) “By the time a man is forty he is responsible for his own face.” – Abe Lincoln

“At 50, everyone has the face he deserves.” – George Orwell

(3) Given the life he has lived, the campaign he ran and his manifest unfitness for public office, there is nothing that could be said about Trump that would be unfair to him.

169 msgkings May 22, 2017 at 1:53 pm

#3 is the most correct. The dude reaps what he sows.

170 TheAngryPhilosopher May 22, 2017 at 2:32 pm

(1) Left-leaning people use the photo as confirmation of their world-view, when it has no such meaning. Tyler complains about this. Is there something wrong with that?

(2) I too choose to live life in accordance with flippant remarks by famous people. But this was all unnecessary because Disney already taught me that ugly people are evil. Hillary is a great example.

(3) The premise (“given the life he has lived…”) is your opinion, the conclusion (“there is nothing…”) is flagrantly false. For example, the claim that he is like Hitler is unfair. I’ll be charitable and assume this point was hyperbole, but wrong is wrong.

171 Li Zhi May 22, 2017 at 4:54 pm

Your example is a poor one. Hitler was a man, Trump is a man. They are alike in that. Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany and subsequently subsumed the responsibilities of the president, Trump was elected POTUS, again a clear similarity. I could go on. I don’t know (but I’ve not looked into it and am “historically challenged”) of ANY example of Hitler sexually assaulting women, so that probably is one difference. From Wikipedia:” Hitler’s leadership style was to give contradictory orders to his subordinates and to place them into positions where their duties and responsibilities overlapped with those of others…” and “Hitler typically did not give written orders; instead he communicated verbally, or had them conveyed through his close associate, Martin Bormann.” Yeah, no similarities.

172 TheAngryPhilosopher May 23, 2017 at 12:23 am

This is so stupid it’s hard to even know where to begin. Ok, so, what, you’re arguing that Trump is worse than Hitler because Hitler never had a “pussygate” video? (By the way, as gross as that was, it wasn’t “sexual assault”, he was bragging that the women let him do it). Oh, and Hitler is similar to Trump because they were both elected to lead a nation. Yes, obviously this is what I was talking about (this is sarcasm, by the way, which I have to actually point out explicitly because I’m afraid you’re so thick you wouldn’t get it). And, Hitler and Trump manage subordinates, in a vaguely similar way. Wow, what a meaningful comparison! (sarcasm again, obviously)

No, clearly I wouldn’t be talking about things like this:

And clearly we wouldn’t be talking about people who think Trump is an anti-semite, or is pandering to anti-semites:

Are you going to defend these comparisons? Or are you going to stick to the nonsense you wrote?

173 Mind The Gap May 22, 2017 at 6:01 pm

Kind of BS that a “philosopher” would be so sure of what *other* people think.

Dude, you are supposed to be unsure about what *you* think.

174 TheAngryPhilosopher May 23, 2017 at 12:10 am

I talk to a lot of left-wing people. They don’t think that this photo proves a world-spanning Saudi-Trump Axis, but to many of them this photo is evidence that there is something sinister about Trump, in much the same way that the famous “can’t-get-out-the-door” photo was evidence that Bush the Younger was stupid ( They use these images to build mental connections, e.g. “Bush = Stupid” and “Trump = Sinister/Evil”. Doesn’t mean the conclusions are necessarily wrong, but it’s not a logically sound or even empirically sound way of building these associations.

Also, your view of philosophy is bizarre. It’s as if you read a few pages of Descartes and then just concluded that “philosophy = doubt, all the time”.

175 Mind The Gap May 23, 2017 at 10:20 am

Bad answers, most critically you go from assumptions about all “left leaning people” (because now you day you’ve met a few) to assumptions about my reading history.

Would a real philosopher make so many ready assumptions? Of course not.

176 prior_test2 May 22, 2017 at 2:51 pm

As a note from metafilter, Prof. Cowen’s picture is actually cropped. A full size picture can be seen here –

177 msgkings May 22, 2017 at 3:26 pm

Shorter me: farting noise.

178 Li Zhi May 22, 2017 at 4:12 pm

At 55, TC is *long* past the age where he ought to have known better than to confuse appearance and form with substance and function. OTOH, academia is rife with this kind of nonsense, and it’s probably difficult and expensive to “fit in” without behaving like the rest of the herd. Probably the worst aspect of this is that it is a type of bullying. Every time I see (photos of) Trump with his toupee/comb over in that fake shade of yellow, I notice. I may get used to it, I may not, but I still find it mildly disgusting. I make no apology for that, but since I’m not 14 years old, I also don’t see any reason that Trump’s, or Cowen’s (who also is on the plump side, (but likely less so than me.)) physical appearance has a bearing on the value of their thoughts and deeds. Academia is just as in love with the form of an argument, rather than its substance, as the general population is with appearance. Is there really any difference? Better late than never TC, better late than never. Of course, the oldest debate tactic is ad hominem attack, isn’t it? It’s in our herd nature to follow leaders, and leaders generally have a variety of physical appearance traits which probably signal at a biological/instinctive level. (Otherwise it’s really hard to understand why most societies are so male-dominated…)

179 Barkley Rosser May 22, 2017 at 4:14 pm

This is the first I have seen of this photo, although I do not do twitter. Have those spreading it around declared it to show anything sinister or whatever? I think it is just funny.

The photo I have seen all over the internet has been the one of him bowing to King Salman to receive his golden medal award necklace. This has tended to be spread by people who are against Trump politically, and the accompanying verbiage about it has been all about what a hypocrite Trump is/was given his criticism of Obama for bowing to King Abdullah when he met him, although Trump’s defenders have noted that he did not bow when he met King Salman, only when he was receiving this medal.

As someone who actually knows some of the members of the Saudi royal family, I find it amusing how able they are to embarrass US presidents when they meet them by getting them to go along with various normal Saudi social customs, and this has cut across both parties. A US president is trying to be friendly and diplomatic and go along with their customs, and then, poof!, there they are in trouble back in the US when photos appear of them doing so. Both of the Bushes got in trouble for being photographed holding hands with Saudi kings, something not yet mentioned by anybody, but a lot more embarrassing in the macho West than holding some goofy looking glowing globe. Actually, the only recent US president who I think managed to avoid getting some embarrassing photo of himself taken while meeting those guys was Bill Clinton, although he certainly did some other pretty embarrassing things.

180 Ricky Tylor May 22, 2017 at 5:29 pm

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181 Alexander Supertramp May 22, 2017 at 6:48 pm

A photo itself cannot be orientalist. A painting can be. When Napoleon went to Egypt the painters of his time captured the Zeitgeist. Was it wrong? That is a matter for art historians. The curation of the photo, how its dressed and addressed can be orientalist. Trump as Alice in Wonderland is funny. The way images (any inanimate) are projected, the context surrounding them, the way they are curated makes a huge difference. This is also true of marketplaces in general.
Let’s take an example of chains on benches. For some, this a simple solution. There are bench stealings so there are chains on benches. However, it matters if there is space inside the store, in which the benches could be placed at closing. Let’s say also that behind the chains of the benches, on the inside of the window, there is book placed so when the passerby sees the book, he sees it through the chains. Now, if this book is say, Plato’s republic, perhaps that is funny. But if the book is instead, a book about Basquiat with his image on the front, the passerby if flooded with a translated image meant to instill a feeling, perhaps unconsciously. It is indeed orientalist or worse.
If you have a photo of a dead child in a war zone hung up in their living room, and one could also say that is orientalist. Put it on the front page of a newspaper and it ceases to be such.
If you have a market place, say the Union Square farmer’s markets, you can assume that most of the produce is curated correctly, in this case that is organically. But what percentage of this produce would you be willing to subject yourself to if you are aware that a percentage of it is not organic? 15%? 10%? I’d say zero. That not one thing should be bought unless you were sure that 100% of it was organic. OF course, markets do not work this way and in any industry there will be a percentage that is fraudulent.

182 Adam May 24, 2017 at 11:16 am

A photo can be every bit as orientalist as a painting. To suggest otherwise implies that photography is a completely neutral recording of reality, rather than an art form.

183 bort May 27, 2017 at 5:03 am

lookist, orientalist, stereotypes etc etc

Still trying to figure out what Americans mean in their ideological modes. still baffled. it sounds very earnest and righteous, though.

184 jonathan May 22, 2017 at 8:18 pm

Note to Tyler, the term “spastic” is considered very offensive in the UK. It’s akin to calling someone a “retard” in the US, maybe worse.

185 Adam May 24, 2017 at 11:14 am

It’s pretty offensive and archaic in the US as well. In context, it’s clear that Tyler doesn’t mean it as a slur, but it’s still a bit shocking to see the word in a setting like this blog.

186 bort May 27, 2017 at 5:04 am

yeah, I’m trembling with offence and indignation

187 Boonton May 22, 2017 at 9:48 pm

Something to keep in mind. I just got home after a long day to see news headlines that at least 19 people are dead in England at an Ariana Grande concert.

As I note the headlines what catches my attention isn’t this ‘strange’ picture of Trump and some Saudi’s touching some odd glowing orb. What catches my attention is not even half a year ago we were told by this person that it was wrong to take Saudi money for a charity because Saudi’s oppress gays and women. We were told that in the first 60 days he would order a comprehensive plan to defeat ISIS. Now it is well past 100 days and we are now told the new policy is to take hundreds of billions from the Saudi gov’t to sell them weapons. That a bombing attack on ISIS was cancelled because Michael Flynn lobbied against it on behalf of his Turkish client which wants to go soft on ISIS as it keeps the Kurds in a partial check.

The odd culture I see most is not Saudi culture but American culture specifically this ( Here we have Trump watching American pop country singer Toby Keith doing a concert in Saudi Arabia, with American flags draped behind him playing to an all male audience because, of course, Saudi Arabia does not allow women to have freedom.

Meanwhile in England actual free women and men bleed quite possibly because ISIS remains undefeated after Trump’s promise. Is there any image that speaks more to what a disgusting fraud right wing pop culture has become? Any image that says what a pathetic piece of shit Keith and this fool in the White House is? Perhaps if they invent a time machine Keith could go back and play concerts for exhausted guards and staff at Nazi concentration camps.

188 lil wayne May 22, 2017 at 10:46 pm

these bitches be selling their souls. well, I want my money back.

189 jorod May 22, 2017 at 10:47 pm

I wish Trump would get the Saudis to recognize Israel and allow synagogues and churches in Mecca and Medina. That would be a real accomplishment.

190 Thorfinnsson May 23, 2017 at 12:05 pm

Physiognomy is real.

People who look sinister usually are sinister.

This certainly holds true with the Saudis.

Of course Tyler Cowen is a fucking bitch who deletes comments so this pathetic blog post isn’t surprising.

191 Ricky Tylor May 23, 2017 at 3:45 pm

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192 GoneWithTheWind May 23, 2017 at 4:04 pm

Ask your self why you would notice “the ugly, idiosyncratic, puzzled, sweaty, or otherwise mockable images sometimes presented by members of the Trump administration.” and never have noticed the same things in the Obama administration. Maybe then you will understand it is your problem and not Trump’s.

193 Michael S May 23, 2017 at 7:28 pm

The photo is funny because of the orb, not because the brown people with moustaches wearing funny hats.

Was there a bit of Orientalism in some of the commentary? Sure, probably (I haven’t read all of it). But for me, that picture would absolutely remain hilarious if the Saudis were replaced with white Congressmen. It’s all about the orb.

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