You might have heard that French President Emmanuel Macron and President Donald Trump engaged in the handshake version of a bitter locking of the lips before the NATO summit in Brussels. Why was this such a hotly discussed topic on social media? It seemed inconsequential enough. Two world leaders shaking hands. Innocent, right?
But it was more than that. Recently, Macron admitted that “My handshake with him, it’s not innocent.” Apparently, seven words are worth a thousand more. He went on to describe it as “a moment of truth.” The handshake was more like two serpents interlocking and refusing to let go. Taken in full context, though, the handshake carries with it a strong symbolism. Trump has a history of theatrical handshakes that, according to CNN writer Chris Cilliza is “battle of wills and a battle for power wrapped up in one.” For instance, Trump’s meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe featured another brass-knuckle test of might which also went viral on social media. Another victims include recently planted Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and Vice President Mike “Mikey” Pence.
Macron went on to describe Trump’s diplomatic strategy as being similar to the world-renowned thugs Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Apparently the handshake was meant to replace leadership posture and command respect. Even leaders of the free world have to play “finger-dragging acrobatics” with dictators on occasion (and other leaders of the free world that wish it wasn’t so).
Is a Macron branding his “formidable handshake”? Many eyes from the always buzzing press were on Macron’s and Putin’s potential knuckle-buster during their meeting in front of Versailles Palace. However, no knuckle-busters in sight unfortunately. Seven seconds passed and no incident occurred that would set social media on fire. Another chance for a contest of veins and flesh once inside the luxurious confines of the palace, but no cigar.
Macron and Putin were all set to bat around difficult topics such as Syria and the Ukraine. Macron also used the Monday meeting as an opportunity to bash state-run media outlets in Russia, decrying them as “organs of influence” whose sole function was to spit out lies and the froth of an ex-KGB agent. You have to admit, Macron has serious knuckles to lamblast Putin’s favorite Trumpet blowers in front of the media. “I will not budge an inch. No sir,” seems to be his mantra. I like Macron, at least for now.
More importantly, how will history judge Macron’s handshake with Trump and his subsequent “nothing is sacred” attitude with our beloved Vladimir? Will he be known as the leader of the free world strong-arming two of the world’s most notorious strongmen? Possibly, but the world is waiting to pounce, in my view. For some odd reason, the world’s stage likes imbuing Trump’s bull-headed attempts at diplomacy as displays of strength. Macron showed temporary strength dealing with a brain-dead bully, but that display of fortitude and aggression will have to be repeated many times over to cement the dynamic of Trump as an inferior bending to the will of his French counterpart. Narcissists don’t like to be seen as inferior.
Even so, handshakes are the next best thing when you want to show dominance in the Age of Push One Button and Its All Over.