Trump's Onstage Lurking Creeped People Out During Second Debate

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  • Donald Trump
    Donald Trump
    45th President of the United States
  • Hillary Clinton
    Hillary Clinton
    American politician
(Rick T. Wilking/Pool via AP)
(Rick T. Wilking/Pool via AP)

The second presidential debate on Sunday, Oct. 9, between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton featured a town hall-style format in which both candidates could sit on high-back stools, surrounded by a circle of undecided voters who were there to pose questions to them.

While a more formal debate positions the candidates behind a podium or a desk, the town hall format puts candidates in the occasionally awkward position of having to assume a casual pose during a serious event.

trump stands behind clinton
(Photo: Getty Images)

On Sunday night, as many on the Internet pointed out, this resulted in Trump assuming a somewhat menacing and threatening pose.

Trump was on his feet from the beginning, frequently pacing the stage behind his opponent as she spoke. Clinton, on the other hand, usually took a seat after she had finished speaking.

trump clinton body language
(Photo: Getty Images)

When asked about Trump’s onstage pacing by a reporter while boarding her plane after the debate, Clinton commented that “he was very present.”

Some found (dark) humor in Trump’s body language, quickly launching widely shared Internet memes.

Many others pointed out that Trump’s stance was a classic way to convey intimidation.

And experts agreed.

“His body language spoke so clearly,” Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who has written on the psychology of body language, tells Yahoo Beauty. “This bullying stance and sniffling — that’s his telltale sign, definitely, the sniffles. It’s all bullying. The hulking, the glaring — he’s expressing the bullying overtly. It’s not even hidden.”

Krauss Whitbourne muses that such unbridled physical aggression might also reflect Trump’s now notorious inability to regulate what he says and does.

“One wonder how much of this is staged and how much of this is his ability to filter,” she says. “He’s leaking this communication all over the place. Is it intentional? Is it unintentional? Either way, the effect on viewers and the audience and Hillary — I assume — is: ‘I’m going to rough you up unless you’re careful.‘”

After the leak of the 2005 Access Hollywood tape in which Trump describes sexually assaulting women, and after his campaign’s pre-debate press event with women who have accused former President Bill Clinton of rape and unwanted sexual advances, his body language, some noted, read as as almost predatory.

Krauss Whitbourne also adds that Trump on Sunday night conveyed the impression of someone “backed into a corner, fighting, in the ring, saying, ‘I’m going to use my body to overpower you.'”

This expression of aggression, she says, comes not from a place of strength, but perhaps from the opposite.

“Underneath it all, it’s a basic sense of insecurity. If someone has to overstate this in their body language, you have to wonder why. Is he 5 and he’s on the playground, and has to show this harassing aggression?” Krauss Whitbourne asks.

Why so many viewers of last night’s debate feel such a visceral response to Trump’s body language?

“He got himself in the camera right around Hillary, right behind Hillary,” Krauss Whitbourne explains. “She’s small, he’s large. We identify with the victim, and she looked like the victim, even though she didn’t act like one. We, in her place, would feel victimized. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been targeted by bullies at some point in our lives, and that’s the primal element this brings out.”

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