What Donald Trump's Mugshot Expression Really Means, According To An Expert

On Thursday, August 24, former President Donald Trump had his mugshot taken at the Fulton County jail in Atlanta, Georgia, along with close to 20 other people also accused of attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Although this marked Trump's fourth indictment in 2023 alone, this was the first time the former head of state posed for a mugshot. And with Fulton County authorities releasing Trump's mugshot soon after he was freed from jail on a $200,000 bond, those in the know have weighed in on what he may have been trying to convey with his facial expressions.

According to Jess Ponce III, body language expert, communications coach, and author of "A.W.E.S.O.M.E.: Seven Keys to Unlocking the Speaker Within," Trump seems to be largely unfazed by his ongoing legal troubles, and it shows in his mugshot. "He appears to grow stronger and stronger with his political base after each arraignment, and today was no different," he said. "Look at his mug shot. It is the strongest, most definitive picture to date."

Ponce also remarked that Trump's Atlanta mugshot strongly resembled a professional campaign photo, which is, of course, noteworthy given that he is seen as the odds-on favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination in the 2024 elections. "He looks angry and determined. His raised eyebrows show vigor and resolve," he added.

Unflappable in the face of adversity

Donald Trump exuded supreme confidence while addressing the assembled media in Atlanta, as further explained by body language expert Jess Ponce III. "[H]e was direct and confident in his posture," Ponce said. "He stood with certainty and stayed on point, not the least bit shaken by the circumstance." He observed that the former president seemed clearly in control of the situation as he headed to his airplane and ignored the reporters who were approaching him for comment.

Although the felony charges against Trump in Georgia are among several he's facing in the run-up to the 2024 election, Ponce noted that the former president's address was in line with others he's made in relation to that topic. "His unwavering claim of innocence has proven to be a great campaign strategy," he continued.

Only time will tell if Trump's strategy pays off in the end — that is, if his legal issues don't affect his bid to represent the GOP in the 2024 election. But his body language has definitely made it clear that he won't give up even as the charges against him keep adding up.

A scowling branding exercise

Not everyone agrees with Jess Ponce III's "vigor and resolve" interpretation of Donald Trump's mugshot. The Associated Press simply describes Trump's look as "scowling at the camera" with his "brows furrowed as he stares into the lens." The Washington Post concurs with the "scowl" point, but goes one step more fanciful and describes Trump as "glaring up at the camera with beetle-browed fury in a weird mash-up of the 0.5 selfie aesthetic and 'Wanted: Dead or Alive' classicism." 

CNN, however, reports Trump's team stating that the former president merely intended to "look defiant," and that's that. The reader might be inclined to think that Trump intends to look defiant toward the charges levied against him, or perhaps toward the U.S. criminal justice system. But as the Associated Press reports, Trump said of his mugshot in a campaign fundraising email, "This mugshot will forever go down in history as a symbol of America's defiance of tyranny." In this statement Trump analogizes himself to America. So what tyranny is Trump-America — the implied "real" America — defying? Why, the tyranny of Other-America — the "false" America.

Such statements are consistent with Trump's messaging to date and emblematic of Trump's mugshot being, as The Washington Post concludes, just another branding exercise. Some speculate that Trump's red, white, and blue color clothing scheme against the plain gray background of Fulton County, Georgia sheriff's department was no accident. 

Historical booking number: P01135809

Time magazine joins the ranks who those who took Donald Trump's mugshot — booking number P01135809 — as depicting a cruel or harsh persona. "He's looking straight into the camera," the outlet writes. "His platinum blonde cotton candy wisp of hair shimmers in the harsh jailhouse lighting. His eyes are locked in a hard stare. His mouth is flattened in a grimace. Instead of smiling like some of his co-defendants, he appears to be scowling."

Regardless of whether or not the reader interprets Trump's expression in a positive or negative way, as determined and valiant or aggressive and snide, all sources agree that it's historic. Trump's photo marks the first time that anyone can say "presidential mugshot" in a sentence in a non-fictional, non-satirical way. And to be sure, it's reasonable to assume that the mugshot will push a polarized American public further and further into pro- and anti-Trump camps, both with very different interpretations of Trump's expression. 

Time points out that mugshots arose in the 1800s as a way to ensure that accused criminals could be identified if they ran away. But to say that Trump's face is instantly recognizable worldwide is an understatement. And yet, unlike earlier authorities, Fulton County refused to waive the mugshot requirement for Trump. This decision not only provided us with a snapshot that perfectly encapsulates the times, but it also serves as the worst type of American benchmark.