reading the signs

Trump Has Lost the Will to Be Blond

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

After four long years, a new reality seems to be rearing its head — less garish and gilded, less divided. Yes, Donald Trump has stopped dyeing his hair. Earlier this month, the 45th president appeared at a press conference about the administration’s vaccine-development efforts with an entirely silver mane — not an orange streak in sight. The news ricocheted through the press and social media. Thus far, the silver looks to be permanent. Trump seems done with dye.

Since the president’s hair has always been a barometer of his politics, it behooves us to interpret this transformation. To begin, we should consider the context. This press conference marked another first for Trump: He acknowledged, albeit briefly and probably unconsciously, that he was on his way out of the White House. “This administration will not be going into a lockdown,” he said. “Hopefully, whatever happens in the future — who knows which administration it will be — I guess time will tell …” he trailed off. It wasn’t a complete sentence, but the (accidental) meaning was clear: Some other administration will be replacing his. And he knows it.

There is a parallel between the hair and this admission of electoral defeat: Trump was letting truth creep back into both his hair and his words. The self-applied hair color faded away right along with the refusal to acknowledge Biden’s win. Was it intentional? Will it continue? Clearly, not in any steady fashion — Trump continues to careen between conceding loss and claiming election fraud.

But that hardly matters. On Monday, the administration at last acknowledged Biden’s transition. And this admission was augured by the abandonment of presidential hair coloring. This signals a sea change: Trump is loosening his grip, slowly letting go of the elaborate, theatrical pageant of his presidency.

Many older male politicians dye their hair, of course. But they do so discreetly, in keeping with the decorum of a certain kind of straight masculinity — maintaining a reasonable, human color, touching up roots, allowing some gray at the temples (think Mitt Romney) — masking their artifice, dissembling their vanity.

Trump in November 2019; note the uneven coloring. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

By contrast, Trump’s hair has always embraced artifice and chaos. It was never permanent dye, and we know he applied it himself (badly) — Ivanka has admitted as much. His hair telegraphed instability, veering in color from corn silk to dark auburn. Even more egregiously, he never applied the dye evenly. His roots were always visible. This root show was never just slight regrowth of gray. Trump simply didn’t dye the entire length of his strands. Instead, he let several inches of his naturally white hair appear above the dyed sections, boldly crashing through the “fourth wall,” admitting the total theatricality of his persona. The resultant two-toned effect blithely disregarded the conventions of ‘upkeep,’ proclaiming its own artifice before anyone else did. The style too was a marvel of design — a lofty sculpture created with heavy backcombing and hairspray, hovering precariously above the bare pate beneath.

The hair was conflictual, illogical — and proudly so — sending contradictory messages: I am blond; I am gray. I am young; I am old. I am bald; no, I’m not. I care about my appearance; I neglect it utterly. The hair, that is, offered an ongoing visual translation of the ever-shifting lies and contradictory claims that defined Trump’s presidency.

Now, though, like Dorothy when she at last reaches the Emerald City, we’re catching a glimpse behind the curtain and seeing a different version of the president — our own (far more malign) Wizard of Oz. And like the Wizard, he has been revealed as a blustering charlatan — a man winding down his attempts to alter both his appearance and the election’s results.

Of course, Trump is relinquishing his hair color far faster than he is the presidency, still pursuing his many frivolous lawsuits, accusing various states of (nonexistent) election fraud. Uncannily though, last week, the central figure in those fruitless lawsuits, Rudy Giuliani, wound up an unwitting participant in Trump-world’s hair color theater of the unconscious, in which septuagenarian tresses reveal the thoughts hidden inside the heads they adorn.

At a press conference last Thursday, which even Fox News called “light on facts,” a wild-eyed Giuliani made baseless claims of election malfeasance, insisting he had — but could not produce — “hundreds of sworn affidavits” attesting to voter fraud—and even lying about what he had just said earlier that day in court (this too was pointed out by Fox News).

As Giuliani sputtered blatant falsehoods for 90 minutes straight, a fascinating thing happened: Rivulets of watery black dye came streaming down his cheeks — fleeing the gray temples they were meant to conceal. Rudy mopped at his face with a handkerchief, but the damage was done — the world had seen it.

The media leapt upon it: What was this cascading substance, which gathered speed as it mingled with Giuliani’s famously copious flop sweat? Regular, permanent hair coloring, properly applied, would not do this. Not even shampoo-in temporary color, like Grecian Formula or Just for Men (or “Just for Henchman” as Stephen Colbert mused), would do this. No, the only likely explanations were: a discount-brand root spray that Giuliani had neglected to let dry, or, more embarrassing still, some hastily dabbed-on black mascara.

In any case, the runny, shoe-polish-black stuff (wait, could it actually be shoe polish?) felt clueless, flimsy, and shabby, underscoring the clueless, flimsy, shabby nature of Giuliani’s (and Trump’s) election lies. The color was there to dissemble Giuliani’s gray hair, his age. But as it dripped down his face, it did the precise opposite.

Rudy’s hair had gone rogue, refusing to participate any further in his lies, rejecting its own fake black coating. You know it’s bad when your own hair refuses to cover for you.

But dripping dye or not, Giuliani will likely persist in his slavish devotion to Trump’s delusions of an election comeback, even as the administration finally permits Biden to begin his transition. There seems as yet no end to Trump’s democracy-damaging actions.

We should not be surprised. This administration has always been both deeply fraudulent and oddly open about that fact. And part of its theatricality always lay in the peculiarly doctored, adorned, and hyper-artificial look of so many of its players. From Melania’s high-gloss finish, with her immovable hair, fashion-shoot contouring, and blank stare, through Ivanka’s glazed, impervious blondness, and Jared’s Botox’d silence — the whole lot felt like they’d wandered out of a stilted magazine advertisement.

Giuliani’s recent tonsorial mishap was unintentional. It felt as if his hair had been compelled, despite itself, to follow Trump’s lead. It figures: Giuliani has always performed Trump’s delusions at a bizarrely heightened level. Where Trump grimaces and sneers, Giuliani screams, drips with sweat, and rants maniacally until his eyes nearly leap from their sockets, as if possessed from within by Trumpian madness.

Only Trump, with his half-and-half hair color and unblended orange makeup, let us see the seams showing — perhaps because as the most powerful of the clan, he could permit himself such carelessness, even flaunt it. His badly done hair and makeup signaled his blatant disregard for even the semblance of naturalness.

Now, though, his hair is reverting to its natural color, more plainly speaking truth. Perhaps next that pouf on top will deflate, or the orange makeup will disappear. Time will tell.

If this trend continues, maybe hair honesty will infect the entire White House, running unchecked through it like COVID. Maybe we’ll start seeing all the sleek platinum and honey highlights (Kayleigh, Ivanka, Melania, Hope) turn to frizzy brown or even gray. Maybe Botox’d brows will start to move. Nah … the women and younger folk of Trumpville are too professionally burnished for that. Their impeccable surfaces will outlast the administration — they all have futures to consider (as Fox News anchors, or, God forbid, candidates in their own right).

But with the color draining from Trump’s (and Giuliani’s) hair, we see all we need to. As so often with this administration, the apparently trivial, the superficial, the thing you’d never imagine worthy of attention — in this case, the coiffures of men in their mid-70s — has become a blinking neon sign of truth.

Trump Has Lost the Will to Be Blond