Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were likable presidents. George W. Bush was welcome at any backyard barbecue because he was quick with a funny quip and a relaxed demeanor — "a guy you'd like to have a beer with," as the media put it during his first campaign for president.
They all smiled.
President Donald Trump, on the other hand, doesn't seem as likable. He doesn't smile enough — he has a nice smile when it comes out, but uses it too little.
Perhaps it's a sign of the times. America is divided philosophically, requiring seriousness from the Oval Office, but little of President Trump's legislative agenda has passed Congress, so serious times don't necessarily justify presidential frowns.
Members of Congress are usually beholden to the president of their political party. In the early 2000s, the House supported President George W. Bush because they believed in him. Supporting his policies made them likable, and many bent their policies to gain his support. Perhaps members of the current House and Senate are more concerned about their own political futures and less about Trump's, so they're less likely to bend their philosophies just to give him a legislative victory.
Most politicians smile regularly — and so do presidents. Bill Clinton was rarely photographed without a smile. Ronald Reagan had an attractive, engaging smile. Jimmy Carter often grinned from ear to ear. Dwight D. Eisenhower, new to national politics like Trump, had a beautiful, warm smile to accompany his high public approval ratings for all of his eight years in office. They were all likable.
Whether Trump admits it or not, he's a politician — and politicians usually smile. A smiling president announces to the world that the president is happy in the job, can accomplish his or her political objectives and is satisfied with him or herself. Trump is rarely seen smiling.
Mother Teresa once said that "peace begins with a smile." Perhaps as Trump has demonized the national press, and they him, there's not much to smile about. If Trump, a master media manipulator, would smile more, perhaps he'd uplift others and his press relations might improve. So might his legislative record.
Trump often looks stern, serious or miffed. These looks usually don't generate broad support, but smiles do. Smiles uplift other individuals. They often illustrate success or happiness, something to cheer about — an inner peace, perhaps. Frowns do the opposite. Look at today's magazine covers in grocery store checkout lines — most all have pictures of smiling faces. Why? Because smiling faces sell magazines. Likewise, smiling politicians are often reelected. Their likability trumps their policies — or lack thereof.
Voting is an emotional act. Voters support people they see and like. President Barack Obama was elected and reelected — he had a warm smile. The same was true for Reagan and Clinton. The national press may be so against Trump that they'll portray him negatively at every opportunity. Most Democrats wouldn't be caught dead supporting Trump. They figure that being "anti-Trump all the time" is their best strategy, especially since Democrats outnumber Republicans nationally. Look for them to be motivated in the midterm elections in 2018, though frowning at an incumbent president regularly rarely results in voter support. Smart Democrats smile even when they're critical of the president.
Trump seems self-conscious, tweeting at early morning hours and picking unnecessary media and political fights. Upping his likability quotient would benefit his standing with voters. Given his legislative record and low opinion poll ratings, Trump needs to improve both. Smiles from the president, especially when photographed, can help.
Trump, who touts his ability to go directly, unfiltered, to voters, needs a winning smile before the 2018 and 2020 elections to prevent major Republican losses in the House and Senate. If Congress flips to Democratic control, Trump may see himself impeached, and he will be convicted if Democrats control the Senate. Smiles from him between now and then can only be productive. Frowning or scowling, no matter how serious our times, only feeds the opposition.
Perhaps Trump should adopt as his mantra the lyrics of a fellow New York/New Jersey kid: Frank Sinatra's version of "When You're Smiling" offers great advice:
When you're smilin', when you're smilin',
The whole world smiles with you
When you're laughin', when you're laughin'
The sun comes shinin' through.
When you're cryin,' you bring on the rain,
So stop your cryin,' be happy again
Cuz when you're smilin,' when you're smilin,'
The whole world smiles with you.
Smiles are contagious, Mr. President. Try one on and you'll see. ♦