Is Republican presidential nomination front-runner Donald Trump a dictator in the making? A report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests he is, based on a body-language analysis that finds he and former Iraq strongman Saddam Hussein, along with other strongmen throughout history, share a key oratorical gesture.
The gesture is called “Dictator’s Finger,” because it’s seen only in people who believe they are infallible.
“The moment we saw Donald Trump raise his index finger for the first time in a debate, we saw the connection with dictators throughout history,” says Nelson Pottsmann, professor of communications at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director of the MIT Center for Body Language and Non-Verbal Communication Studies.
According to body language specialists, “Dictator’s Finger” has three characteristics that distinguish it from other types of pointing gestures that a person makes while delivering a speech.
- The index finger points straight up, or as close to straight up as possible
- The elbow remains rigid and close to the body throughout the gesture
- The gesture accompanies a point on which the speaker will entertain no counterpoint
The gesture is commonly associated with Saddam Hussein, who employed it frequently in his speeches, both before and after he was ousted as leader of Iraq, but it recurs throughout history among dictatorial leaders, including Benito Mussolini, the fascist leader of Italy from 1922 to 1943.
Adolf Hitler was a frequent user of the gesture as well, although Pottsmann emphasized he wasn’t comparing Trump to Hitler. “Hitler was a special case,” he says. “It’s like the difference between a Yoga Master and a suburban housewife who’s just trying to lose weight. They both stand on mats but the comparison ends there.”
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