President Trump was mocked Monday night for seemingly not knowing the words to "The Star Spangled Banner." At the College Football Playoff National Championship game in Atlanta, GA, Trump mouthed parts of the anthem — though it wasn't clear what he was actually singing.
And while the world is debating whether the president knows or doesn't know the lyrics to the national anthem, his body language revealed something more: He was nervous. That's according to nonverbal communication and human behaviour expert Patti Wood, who told Refinery29 that Trump's body language pointed to the fact that he was in a stressful situation.
"There's inconsistencies in his behaviour throughout the anthem — and it's not a long song," Wood, who has more than 35 years of experience as a body language expert, said. "He had two choices: He could be very solemn and still, or he could be rousing and look up to the crowd, sort of saying: Isn't this fantastic? This is our national anthem. He didn't do either of those."
Trump has spent months crusading against the NFL, specifically Black athletes, who have chosen to kneel during the national anthem as a way of protesting police brutality and racial inequality. And just hours before the game, he revived the controversy, telling the audience at the American Farm Bureau Federation in Nashville, TN: "There’s plenty of space for people to express their views and to protest, but we love our flag and we love our anthem and we want to keep it that way."
For Wood, Trump's behaviour was the "antithesis" of how he has said people should behave while "The Star Spangled Banner" plays. First, he broke away from the norm established by other elected officials, who typically sing the whole anthem. And then his behaviour throughout the song made it seem like he was uncomfortable.
"For the brief period that he has his hand over his heart, he's tapping with the tip of his fingers over his heart. That's highly unusual," she said, adding that the movement is a comfort cue and generally shows the person is feeling anxious. She continued, "He's tapping faster than the anthem, which typically signals a desire to get through it — to get to the other side of the anxious situation."
Wood also pointed out that the president was swaying while the anthem played. She said: "That would be normal if it was a fight song or a rousing song. But there's a solemnity to the national anthem, so people stand still as a sign of respect and reverence."
That's certainly something that we've seen Trump do before. "He does this normally when he's standing in a situation where nothing is going on and he is not in control of it," Wood said. "It's a comfort cue. You see this on children and the elderly."
Though we don't know what was going on in Trump's mind while the stadium sang "The Star Spangled Banner," his body cues point out that his anxiety was really taking over. Wood highlighted that at the beginning Trump seemed unsure of whether the anthem had begun to play, either because it started differently or he couldn't hear due to the noise in the stadium.
There's also the chance he just doesn't know the lyrics. And he's not alone on that front, either. According to a 2014 Harris Interactive survey, about 61% of American adults don't know all the words to the anthem. But it's worth pointing out that, unlike Trump, those people are probably not on a "patriotic" crusade against those who choose to protest under the protection of the First Amendment.