Photographers of heads of state are explicitly mindful of rank and importance in choosing not just who to photograph, but how and how much. In this case, the photos of the Trump – Abe meeting, his first with a foreign head of state, were taken by an Abe photographer and later distributed as handouts to western media. What’s strange, and telling, is that there is no obvious or traditional pecking order here, leaving the photographer to guide off the family and its dynamic to determine who deserved what kind of attention and placement. (Of the seven photos I’ve seen of the Abe – Trump meeting, only two or three are circulating widely. You can see all seven here at the Daily Mail.)
Since Trump was elected, the Pollyannas have been assuming a shift in behavior. The photos confirm how much Trump, post-election, continues to play by his own rules. And they relay his difficulty sharing the limelight with any colleague or team member outside his own relations.
In a drastic departure from protocol, there is only one non-family member in attendance for Team Trump, the erratic General Michael Flynn (who reportedly was offered the National Security Advisor role earlier in the day). Even then, he is only fully visible in two pictures. In both cases, he’s on the periphery like hired help. He receives no recognition from Abe, and, in contrast to the kids, he looks like Trump’s appendage.
Besides two photos of Trump and Abe alone, the most provocative photo is clearly the one showing Ivanka in the meeting with Trump, Flynn, Abe and Abe’s interpreter. A visual corollary to Trump’s most aggressive tweets, her presence flies in the face of concerns over personal and political boundaries, and conflicts of interest.
What most people will not appreciate without seeing the larger edit is the prominence of Jared Kushner. On that score, Kushner and Ivanka are in four out of seven photos while Trump is in five. Of course, Ivanka is in the meeting photo while Kushner isn’t pictured, though it was reported he was in attendance.
Kushner, however, shares a photo alone with Abe in which he owns the floor, and he is the central figure in two others. Looking at all seven pictures, it appears thatJared is smack in the middle of things. At the same time, he seems subordinated to his wife and his father-in-law, his attention in the photos more consistently focused on Trump or Ivanka while father and daughter focus on Abe. In terms of the command structure, though, the photos validate Jared and Ivanka, or Ivanka and Jared, entrenched at the top.
A couple of side notes: You might notice how Flynn is wearing brown shoes with his dark suit, a pairing that shows up in other images. I can’t say if the practice reflects an idiosyncratic fashion sense or, perhaps, the defiant-oppositional nature he shares with Trump. And, for those of you tracking the fashion side of the Trump conflict-of-interest story, it appears Ivanka is again wearing the bracelet she was hawking after the 60 Minutes interview. It’s the one giving impetus to the #GrabYourWallet campaign.
Finally, what the photos glaringly illustrate is how Trump continues to shun the domestic press corps. If the normal instinct of a President-elect would be to counter the foreign eye with domestic media or, even more so, his own photographer, Trump just doesn’t seem to care.
(photos: Japanese Prime Minister’s Office via Reuters. Daily Mail caption 1: All smiles: Exactly what was discussed remains unknown – as do Kushner and Ivanka’s roles in the meeting. Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (far right) was also present. He has been offered a position as National Security Adviser by Trump. Daily Mail caption 2: Meeting: Abe and Trump shake hands in what was the President-elect’s first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader. Daily Mail caption 3: Confidence: Abe said the meeting had renewed his confidence in Trump and in the future relationship of the US and Japan. Trump had said worrying things for Japan pre-election. Daily Mail caption 4: In-laws: Abe speaks with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, at Trump Tower in Manhattan. Handout via Reuters.)