The Snap and the Scowl: The Trump Mugshot Ignites a Tinderbox Nation

We often discuss the long-standing question of whether it is better for your client to smile or not smile in a mugshot. Some believe a smile conveys a lack of contrition while others view a frown as looking guilty. In the first mugshot of a former American president, Trump (or now Inmate P01135809) rejected both the “carefree smile” and the “disapproving frown” and went with seething scowl. It is a mugshot that unfortunately will resonate with both extremes in our political system.

In Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, the devil Mephistopheles (Marlowe spells the name “Mephistophilis”) shows him Helen of Troy, “the face who launched a thousand ships” that released a firestorm.

The Scowl is likely to launch millions of ships . . . all in the wrong directions.

For District Attorney Fani Willis and many of her supporters, the mugshot clearly holds a type of trophy kill appeal worthy of framing and mounting on a wall. This is one of those moments long portrayed on teeshirts and other merchandise for many on the left.

For many Trump supporters, it is a moment of gratuitous insult of a president who is now being prosecuted in four different states just before an election where he is the leading Republican candidate.  For the most extreme, it will be portrayed as a virtual declaration of war, proof that the establishment will use every means to prevent another 2016 populist victory.

It is noteworthy that, like his critics, Trump is already selling merchandise with the mugshot and a “Never Surrender” slogan.

In that way, the mugshot will be the rallying cry at both extremes in our political system.

For that reason, I believe the mugshot was a mistake, an inflammatory moment wisely avoided in New York by another Democratic prosecutor. It is entirely unnecessary for the most recognized face in the United States.

The fact, however, is that many on both sides relish the rage. I have previously said that the most unnerving fact of what I have called “the age of rage” is that people secretly enjoy it. Rage is addictive. It allows people to say and do things that they would ordinarily avoid in public. It is a license to hate blindly and excuse all means to achieve an end.

I think that the Georgia, New York, and federal January 6th indictments are unwarranted and threaten free speech. Moreover, it is valid for many to object that these prosecutions could have occurred years ago, but were launched just before the presidential election so that Trump will be running from court to court through the general election.

It is also true that the Mar-a-Lago case is more serious and more substantive . . . and that threat is continuing to grow as a threat for Trump as witnesses change their testimony and Trump aides confirm key prosecution claims.

Likewise, while I believe the case against Trump in the Georgia indictment is weak, there are defendants in that case that face stronger claims on specific election-related crimes.

Of course, in an age of rage, reason is the first to die. We cannot allow that to happen;  we cannot allow rage addicts to drive our political or legal processes. We have the greatest legal system in the world. We will sort out these issues from the criminalization of political speech to the claim that Trump can be barred from the ballot even without a charge or conviction.

Courts are likely to divide on these issues. However, we remain a nation of laws. That tradition takes a certain leap of faith. We do not support that system only when we prevail. That is the view of court packers like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.,Y.). Notably, Ocasio-Cortez even said that she does not understand why we need a Supreme Court.

Even law professors and legal commentators have called our Constitution “trash” and called for the country to “reclaim America from constitutionalism.” That is the greatest danger of these times: that our deep divisions will cause us to lose faith in our defining values and in each other.

The Trump mugshot captures a defining moment for our country. It will define us. I believe that it is paramount that appellate courts consider the merits of the free speech and other challenges to the Georgia, New York, and federal cases. That may be difficult if judges support these prosecutors in demanding trials before constitutional appeals are taken. Appellate judges could agree, in good faith, that challenges are premature before any convictions.

The important thing is for citizens not to be played as chumps. We will sort this out. The courts will address these important legal issues as citizens resolve the equally important political issues raised by these prosecutions.

The merchandising and madness aside, we have more matters to resolve . . . together.


This column appeared on

441 thoughts on “The Snap and the Scowl: The Trump Mugshot Ignites a Tinderbox Nation”

  1. Robert David Steele, the former CIA and military intel agent :

    “I can tell you that what is in Anthony Weiner’s hard drive, and what videos exist via Jeffery Epstein, WILL BRING massive arrests – in time. Trump’s legacy could be truly great if he was to purge the CIA, stop the extortion, prosecute the pedophiles and reinstate the death penalty for pedo’s convicted a second time. Pedogate is his path to greatness.”

    “There is a full court press to stop PedoGate from being looked at because if people knew the true motives behind the pedophilia epidemic, they would do more than march on Washington. They could actually seed a revolution, with the spark coming from decent American parents who want to protect their kids. Our politicians are compromised.”

  2. It is a mistake, and a very large one, not to see what is being done to Trump as part of what is being done to parents, Catholics, pro-life people, Mike Lindell, Catherine Englebrecht, and so many more. We have an extraordinarily partisan “justice system” that appears to be operated entirely by partisan Democrats. Jack Smith prosecuted former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and obtained a conviction. It wasn’t until the case reached the Supreme Court that anyone noticed the acts committed were not crimes. Two layers of judges allowed this travesty to proceed. This is what we are up against.

    1. I am assuming that Turley has lost his perspective on this because he is so close to the law aspect and sees what he has always held as truths. But he is underestimating the peril to us all when the lawlessness sweeps across our land, which has already started. The election facts of stuffed off site boxes, ballots showing up in middle of the night, machines hooked to the internet, polling places blacked out during counts, botched recounts, intimidated precinct workers, mules, more votes than voters some places, the count that stopped in middle of the night in multiple states. ALL of this was never accepted in a coordinated effort by those in power jas valid enough to even investigate. Think about that for a moment. That we are here talking about Pres Trump’s mugshot should surprise no one given what was allowed in 2020’s election. And more importantly the lies and cover up that have continued.The system is so corrupt now it is bringing all pressure to bear to turn back the ONLY ONE who could stop the greed and list for power.
      I love Turley normally but on this he is wrong. If the mugshot is galvanizing people to wake up, I say let’s help. I will buy and wear one to call attention to our desperate hour if need

  3. Trump is being illegally attacked and Turley wants to pretend there’s some sort of equivalency.

  4. Why, Professor Turley, would I want to ‘come together’ with people who hate me, have not just *advocated* violence but condoned and encouraged it to the tune of billions of dollars of damage and many deaths? Sorry, but there is no justice and can be no peace with people capable of the outrages that have been perpetrated over the past few years. The political left has removed themselves from serious consideration on ANY topic with their tyranny.

  5. “However, we remain a nation of laws.”

    Anyone who can say this with a straight face is delusional.

  6. It amazes me that no one understands that every document that was in his possession when he left office is his personal property. No one can legally question this and Trump has to answer to nobody regarding them. I guess they need the Supreme Court to tell them this but somehow these idiots will still disagree. Read the damn Constitution, morons!

    1. No-one ever complained about retired Presidents taking ANYTHING they wanted until the Clintons cleaned out the Whitehouse and then had to return it. Though I never read that was done. Xiden to all his papers when he was VP. And had no legal right to take anything. Yet did and no-one complained.

  7. The professor is displaying either incredible naivete, or incredible dishonesty in this article. It is perhaps kinder to believe it is naivete. Unfortunately, given the present state of affairs naivete is just as dangerous, maybe more dangerous, than dishonesty.

  8. With all respect, professor – and I do greatly respect you – the rage on both sides is not comparable. One side wants to be left alone. We want to have our own thoughts, not take experimental and deadly gene therapy, protect our children, and believe in God. The other side are fanatical totalitarians. The righteous anger of self-defense cannot be compared to the psychotic oikophobia of leftist activists.

    If you want to avoid civil war, we must have secession now.

    1. If we have secession, that guarantees a war as well. Face it, we are headed to a hot war, the only thing about it is what historians will call it.

  9. You miss the one key thing that propels Trump’s popularity in the first place.

    He consistently and unflinchingly represents me. That’s MY face!

    His mugshot face is exactly how I feel every time the Democrat party commits yet another corrosive atrocity against my once-Great country. And THAT is why his polls just keep going up – the Democrat party is CREATING the Trump legend even as they try to hobble him.

    No other Republican primary candidate now stands a chance because they are untested by the Democrat hate machine.

    Trump has passed every test. He’s The One.

    1. I usually support Mr Turley, but when does the law apply only to Conservatives in a Democratically appliesd miscarriage. When Tyranny is Law, Revolution is mandatory. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Civility is over. Bring it.

    2. Jimmy D. Locke… That is the best description of how I feel I have ever seen. May I copy and paste it on my wife’s forehead?

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