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Moments after his booking at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, Georgia, Trump posted his mug shot with the caption "NEVER SURRENDER" on X, the site formerly known as Twitter. 

Political analysts say Trump's stern expression in the photo is intentional.

"He's communicating to his supporters that he takes this very seriously, that this is something that that all of his supporters should take very seriously," said Basil Smikle. "When Donald Trump talks, he talks with a language that suggests they're not targeting him. They're targeting his supporters, they're targeting his followers, and that the people charging him are making attacks on democracy. So through all of that narrative, this mug shot is certainly going to be used as an opportunity to continue to promote that kind of sentiment among his supporters."


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A mug shot is a visceral representation of the criminal justice system, a symbol of lost freedom. It permanently memorializes one of the worst days of a person's life, a moment not meant for a scrapbook. It must be particularly foreign to a man born into privilege, who famously loves to be in control, who is highly attentive to his image and who rose to be the most powerful figure in the world.

"‘Indictment’ is a sort of bloodless word. And words are pale compared to images," said Kaplan, a former speechwriter for Vice President Walter Mondale and Hollywood screenwriter. "A mug shot is a genre. Its frame is, ‘This is a deer caught in the headlights. This is the crook being nailed.’ It’s the walk of shame moment."

Not even President Joe Biden, who otherwise has declined to talk about his predecessor’s legal problems, could resist remarking on the mugshot. "Handsome guy," he said sarcastically.


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Recent history is full of politicians seeking political dividends from their booking photos. They’ve offered large smiles or defiant smirks and tried to make the best of their predicament.

Yet this is one of just 45 presidents in all of U.S. history — not only someone who held the keys to the most powerful government in the world, but who held a position that for many these days, both at home and overseas, personifies the United States. To see that face looking at a camera whose lens he is not seeking out — that's a potent moment.

"There’s a power to the still image, which is inarguable," said Mitchell Stephens, a professor emeritus at New York University who has written a book about the place imagery holds in modern society and how it is supplanting the word.

"It kind of freezes a moment, and in this case it’s freezing an unhappy moment for Donald Trump," Stephens said. "And it’s not something he can click away. It’s not something he can simply brush off. That moment is going to live on. And it’s entirely possible that it will end up as the image that history preserves of this man."

With the Associated Press.