On Thursday, Donald Trump held an "agricultural roundtable" with governors and congressional officials. The president then proceeded to post several photos of the roundtable on Twitter — but apparently failed to notice that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was facepalming at the meeting. By Friday morning, the tweet had been deleted, but Kelly's facepalm had already become iconic online.
This widespread fascination with Kelly's facepalm appears to be rooted in the fact that Kelly often seems to have visceral reactions to Trump speaking. The former general also notoriously facepalmed back in September when Trump was speaking at the United Nations — where, among other things, the president threatened to "totally destroy North Korea," The Washington Post reported.
Facepalms are not the only ways in which Kelly appears to express his exasperation. In August, Kelly was photographed with his head hanging and eyes drooping during a Q&A at Trump Tower that focused on the white nationalist gathering in Charlottesville. It is entirely possible that cameras merely captured Kelly at some inconvenient moments — but his various visceral reactions have nonetheless routinely prompted speculation.
After the U.N. speech, for example, Reddit users tried to zoom in on Kelly's watch to see exactly when he facepalmed during Trump's speech. Some social media users speculated that he facepalmed while Trump was talking about destroying North Korea, while others insisted that the facepalm preceded the president calling North Korea a "band of criminals."
Kelly's body language has been under constant scrutiny for the past year, especially as he's risen to his current position as Trump's chief of staff. Vox's Matthew Yglesias suggested that Kelly's latest facepalm was symbolic his "diminished standing in the Trump administration" — and pointed out that the photos Trump tweeted on Thursday were official White House releases, which makes it unlikely that they were purely accidental.
Kelly has reportedly been growing increasingly frustrated with Trump, as administration officials claim to the Washington Post that Kelly has gradually lost much of his influence and credibility. Despite being Trump's chief of staff, the Post reported that Kelly has not been consulted on many important decisions concerning personnel, nor has he been privy to all of Trump's calls. The White House did not comment on the report.
Kelly is also facing another potential problem this week, ahead of former FBI Director James Comey's upcoming book release. According to Comey's book, Kelly described Trump as "dishonorable" for firing Comey. Comey writes that Kelly even threatened to quit in protest over his firing, but that he urged Kelly to remain in his position because Trump needed honorable people around him. By revealing this alleged exchange in his book, however, Comey reportedly risks further aggravating the relationship between Kelly and Trump.
Perhaps it wouldn't be noteworthy that Kelly facepalmed at a meeting if it hadn't already occurred on prior occasions. In fact, Kelly's visceral reactions have garnered so much attention that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was forced to address them during a press briefing after the photo of him facepalming at Trump's U.N. speech went viral.
“I would certainly not read anything into that picture,” Sanders said at the time. “Probably, just like the rest of us, we're tired trying to keep up with this president who's working hard every day to help America.”
Sanders added that Trump and Kelly had "a great chemistry," Business Insider reported.
Suggesting that Kelly's facepalm at the recent roundtable reflects his "diminished standing" in the administration may seem like an exaggeration. Maybe he really is just tired. Still, Kelly has now been photographed multiple times in a similar fashion, prompting a ceaseless stream of speculation that he is exasperated with the Trump administration, or that he can't wait for his time in the White House to come to an end.
Either way, it doesn't look like his purported exasperation is going to lift in the near future.