As handshakes go, it was unusually intense: a fierce and protracted mano a mano of white knuckles, crunched bones, tightened jaws and fixed smiles that sent the internet and the world’s media into a spin.
It was also, Emmanuel Macron has revealed, entirely intentional. At his first major appearance on the world stage, the 39-year-old French president displayed a relaxed confidence and steely purpose that altogether belied his youth and inexperience.
Emmanuel Macron and others have noted that US president’s handshake is a claim to superiority, and are fighting him in kind
“My handshake with him – it wasn’t innocent,” Macron told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper in an interview on Sunday. “It’s not the be-all and the end-all of a policy, but it was a moment of truth.”
The much commented-upon power play, during which each man held the other’s gaze for a long moment, was described by one observer as a “screw you in handshake form”. It ended when the US president, after two attempts, finally succeeding in disengaging.
“Donald Trump, the Turkish president or the Russian president see relationships in terms of a balance of power, Macron said. “That doesn’t bother me. I don’t believe in diplomacy by public abuse, but in my bilateral dialogues I won’t let anything pass.”
As Jonathan Freedland comments:
They say the handshake originated as a gesture designed to prove that both participants were unarmed. But Donald Trump has rewritten that rule along with all the others. In the hands of the US president, the handshake is a weapon.
Still, Trump’s fellow world leaders have been swift to learn the new rules. Canada’s Justin Trudeau went for a pre-emptive grip of the Trump forearm, making any Gorsuch-style yank impossible, while Macron fought alpha male fire with fire. Thanks to Trump, what was once a gesture to indicate being without weapon has triggered a new unarmed race.
You can bet that Trump is smarting about his defeat. So what will he do to regain dominance when they next meet, now that he has lost the element of surprise and world leaders are aware of his rudeness? Trump should be careful since Macron in 30 years younger and looks a lot fitter and stronger. Trump’s best bet might be to try a surprise new maneuver. Maybe knee Macron in the groin so that he doubles over in pain? That would be a more powerful statement of US superiority over France than relabeling French fries as ‘freedom fries’ in the Congressional cafeteria menus. Such a move would be catnip to Trump’s supporters who see violence and rudeness towards others as the signs by which Trump is making America great again.