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Justice Kagan’s Facial Expression During Trump’s Speech: An Appreciation

Yeah, I have a thought or two about President Trump’s speech to Congress last night. But there’s a moment that struck me, and apparently many others, and that has Sisterhood written alllll over it: Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s facial expression as Trump mentioned Israel.

Some necessary context: At that moment, Trump had just reached the part of his speech where he “reaffirmed our unbreakable alliance with the state of Israel.” Trump is talking, I’m listening, I look up, and suddenly, there, on my laptop, looking back at me is… my own facial expression in that moment. But on the face of Justice Elena friggin’ Kagan. Who knows what she was actually thinking about. (Complex legal arguments? Puppy corgies?) But in my fantasy version, the expression said ‘I will not be pandered to.’

Normally I’m not the biggest fan of expression-interpretation journalism. We don’t know what famous people are thinking, or, frankly, what anyone is, just by looking at their faces. Why pretend? And isn’t this especially unfair to women, whose, ahem, resting faces come under such scrutiny? That, and I personally have the kind of face where what I’m really thinking is apparent. (Example: ‘What, you don’t like that sandwich?’ ‘No, no, I’m just full.’ And it’ll be totally clear from my face that I’m not full, and will be getting a slice of pizza after.)

But what’s so compelling about analyzing Kagan’s facial expression in that moment is that there she is, someone who absolutely, given her line of work, cannot say what she’s thinking. With her words. Is there a rule about faces? Probably not!

Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at [email protected] Her book, The Perils of “Privilege”, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2017.

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