It was an irony lost perhaps only on the White House that, almost nine months after he entered office, President Trump’s official photographic portrait was finally released … on Halloween.
After all, it presented a very different image of the president than had most of his previous snaps. It is unlike the portrait that had often been used in the past few months on Mr. Trump’s Twitter profile, showing the president with a fearsome “You’re fired!” look on his face, and unlike the one on his White House Twitter account, in which his hands are clasped and he has a look of deep concern.
The portrait, taken by the White House photographer Shealah Craighead, is also unlike the highly airbrushed official portrait of Mr. Trump’s wife, Melania, which was released in April and features a Sphinx-like first lady, albeit with a soft focus. It does not include his trademark red tie (like the one he wore at his inauguration), nor a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap.
It does not remotely resemble the famous portrait of Winston Churchill — you know, the one taken by Yousuf Karsh in 1941, in which the former prime minister of Britain is scowling, with one hand on hip — who, The New York Times reported in March, was Mr. Trump’s model of choice.
Instead, it depicts Mr. Trump in front of the de rigueur American flag, in a navy suit with flag pin, white shirt, patterned blue tie — and big grin. The orange glow has been toned down, but it is the smile that really sticks out. It almost looks as if he’s being tickled. The word chortle comes to mind.
That the president and his team chose this image of benign cheer to adorn government offices across the country and to represent his administration is pretty striking, not simply because it seems to suggest “Hey, I’m enjoying this gig” or because it is counter to so much of Mr. Trump’s usual threatening, fight-picking, wall-building posturing. It is also something of an anomaly in the presidential portrait continuum, where the exhibition of restrained gravitas often seems to be the overriding imperative.
This generally means folded arms, and a sort-of smile. Occasionally, teeth are involved, but even then, the glee is measured.
The first official portrait of Barack Obama, for example, in 2009, featured the then-president looking seriously at the camera, the sides of his mouth just beginning to quirk upward — more of a suggestion of a smile than an actual one. In 2013, for his second term, his portrait showed him looking pretty cheerful, but posing in front of his desk with arms crossed.
His predecessor, George W. Bush, had his photo taken in the Roosevelt Room, and while his eyes were crinkled genially, his smile was contained.
That it took Mr. Trump, who was known to choose his own photos during the campaign, and his team so long to settle on the smiley image suggests a deliberate choice, especially for an administration where appearance has always been part of the calculus (all those “central casting” generals).
Which either means we’re about to see a new side of the man, or that he’s trying to hedge his bets. Trick or treat?