Body Language Expert Breaks Down Donald Trump's 'On Brand' Behavior During Fraud Trial

On Monday, October 2, 2023, former President Donald Trump appeared in a Manhattan courthouse to hear the opening statements of his civil fraud trial. The trial is the result of New York Attorney General Letitia James' claim that the politician and his sons were running their businesses in a fraudulent manner. In September 2022, James filed a massive $250 million lawsuit against Trump, per ABC News. If he's found liable, Trump could be banned from conducting business in the state of New York.

The trial kicked off in a big way. Never one to shy away from self-promotion, Trump, who's running for president again in 2024, told cameras outside the courthouse that the trial was an attempt to smear his name before the election. "This has to do with election interference, plain and simple," Trump stated, according to CNN. "They're trying to damage me, so I don't do as well as I'm doing in the election."

Trump's trademark bluster died down a bit as the opening statements began, but his body told a different story. According to Jess Ponce III, body language expert, communication coach, and author of "A.W.E.S.O.M.E.," Trump remained as furious and combative as ever as the opening statements rolled in. "Trump is definitely doing his best to remain composed," Ponce told The List exclusively. "Image is everything to him — and for him to sit there, not in control of the situation or narrative — definitely makes him uncomfortable."

Donald Trump was ready to rumble

Despite Donald Trump's attempt to play it cool, body language expert Jess Ponce III spotted several signs of anxiety bubbling beneath his outwardly calm appearance. His downright mean mugging of everyone around him was one sign. "This is to the point where he most definitely wants to explode. This explains the scowl on his face, which we've seen is not uncommon when he has to sit quietly," Ponce pointed out. 

Ponce went on to assuage rumors that Trump looked afraid during the trial, saying, "The look in his eyes is thoughtful. While some may see worry, there is more of a calculating glare in them. He's very aware that people are watching him and he remains steadfast about his innocence — and that he is the victim of a witch hunt. His internal dialogue may be telling him to look strong and determined, even if he comes across as distant or angry, which actually is quite okay and on brand for him."

Trump was obviously holding back some choice words as the people around him spoke, which was made all too evident by his forward posture, Ponce observed. "He is leaning a bit forward. This is typical of someone who is alert and ready. In his case, it might be a sign that he is alert and ready to attack." As a final note, Ponce added,  "He's holding everything close to his chest, but one thing is for sure, he's not cracking under the pressure. If anything, he is preserving his energy until he has the figurative and literal microphone."

Was Trump's courtroom presence a calculated move?

Donald Trump's presence at the New York courthouse, although not mandatory, was most likely a strategic move, inadvertently confirmed by his statement to reporters. He noted he came to "watch this witch hunt [himself]," as reported by CNN, but his assertive body language suggested a more active role than mere observation. Additionally, by employing his trademark angry/sad expression, a tactic to project his alpha male status, as noted by body language expert Judi James (via CNN), Trump conveyed an air of readiness to deliver whatever was on his mind.

While the former POTUS didn't address the court directly during the hearing, Trump's previous outburst against the judge who found him liable for fraud exposed his vulnerability regarding his personal achievements. Trump's rhetoric also awkwardly echoed his past unsubstantiated claims of systemic voter fraud during the 2020 election, when he pointed fingers at everyone but himself for the loss. 

Furthermore, his appearance at the hearing served as an additional statement in itself. Trump, once again, thrust himself back into the spotlight, effectively transforming the trial into another presidential campaign spectacle with him at the center. The looming question remains: How sustainable is Trump's unconventional approach to gaining votes by crying wolf before it backfires?